Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about books I read as a child. Barnes and Nobles new “rating system” has made me realize how many books that I loved as a child have fallen out of favor with the current generation. There does not seem to be nearly as much a sense of nostalgia among teachers today. My teachers in elementary school always made it a point to read to us. Usually the books they chose weren’t whatever was new and hip; they chose books they considered to be classics. By the same token, whenever I asked my school librarian for recommendations, she would immediately steer me to similarly classic books. These books helped shape who I am today (a creative Victorian with a strong sense of feminism). They provided me with good, solid outlines of characters to immulate. I’m not fully versed in current elementary-level literature, but most of what I’ve seen appears to be geared more toward action, adventure and fantasy or superficial fluff about very materialistic characters. While that’s all well and good, not all of these books provide the same ground work for a love of reading that my friends and I were privileged enough to have.
So, in a fit of nostalgia, I’ve made a list of some of the favorites among my friends and me, and reviewed some of my top favorites.
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott- Most girls are told they should read Little Women at some point, but very few move past that and read this book. While I adore LW, I actually love LM more. This tells the story of Jo and her husband and the school they run for boys and girls in her aunt’s old mansion. It is a quite old-fashioned book, but I love the simplicity of what is expected of the children. They are good because they want to be and if they misbehave, their misdeeds are used to teach them how to do better instead of as reasons for harsh punishment. The capers that the kids get up to are amusing and refreshing. I always wanted to grow up to be like Jo March Bhaer and run a school full of lively children while being a successful writer. Jo was my idol- she was smart, witty, patient, and creative- and I’m still working to be as much like her as I can. I think this is a great book to remind kids of the simple joys of childhood that are missing from today’s society.
Mr. Tucket Series by Gary Paulsen- If you’re looking for a good, old-fashioned adventure tale, this series is great. Really, this author is great for adventure. Gary Paulsen writes these tales of boys out in the wilderness surviving on their own. In the Mr. Tucket series, Francis Tucket is separated from his family on the Oregon Trail and survives being a prisoner in an Indian camp, as well as learning to make his own way as a young man of the west, all the while searching for his family.
Stepping on the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn- This World War 2 story was always fascinating to me. I not only loved the characters, but I also loved the complexity of the problems they ran into. Life in WW2 mid-western America was highly patriotic with nearly every family having someone off at war, but these two girls had to confront how to react to a deserter. Should they help him because they know he’s a good person? Or should they turn him in because he wouldn’t make the sacrifice their brothers willingly were making? While I enjoyed the rest of the series as well, this book packs an emotional punch that shouldn’t be missed.
Dear America/Royal Diaries series- While American Girl books were my gateway drug to historical fiction, the Dear America and Royal Diaries series were my brand of choice for most of my elementary school years. The groundwork for everything I know about history, I gleaned from these books. They made the people and places real for me. They also provided strong female role models who provided examples of perseverance, courage, and strength. The stories of these young women and their places in history became vivid and alive and I wanted to know more. I found myself spending hours researching the events that I read about. They helped to foster I life-long love of history, as well as of reading.
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary- This was one of the first chapter books I remember reading. I love reading about the mischievous Ramona and her practical sister Beezus. It was just a fun, enjoyable book. Reading books like this made me want to read more. (Side note: I am greatly disappointed in the casting choices for the upcoming Ramona and Beezus movie)
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine- I can’t resist a good Cinderella retelling and this book went above and beyond. Characters that in the children story were flat and rather uninteresting became quirky and complex and alive. Ella had to save herself from herself, as well as taking on her evil step-sisters and a misguided fairy. She didn’t wait around for the prince (who was decidedly charming and funny) to save her. She took care of herself and still got her happily ever after.
Some others that were popular back in the day:
True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Orphan Train Adventures by Joan Lowery Nixon
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia Maclachlan
Babysitters’ Club by Ann M. Martin
Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler and Jared Lee
Chicka chicka Boom Boom! By Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert
Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine
Boxcar Children series by Gerture Chandler Warner
Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon
Superfudge by Judy Blume
Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Ryland
BFG by Roald Dahl
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
What was your favorite book in elementary school and why?
(recycled from previous blog 3/5/10)