April 10: Books I Loved but Will Never Re-Read (submitted by Brandyn @ Goingforgoldilocks)
I couldn’t think of much that fit this weeks topic so I changed it a bit. Rather than look at books I liked but wouldn’t want to reread, I’m going to talk about books that I liked but only (fully) appreciated upon rereading them years later. As a teacher I reread a lot of children’s books and often get a very different impression of them, as an adult.
1. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein– As a kid, this story made me so sad. The boy takes everything from the tree, and the tree just gives it happily. But I had to teach it to my class as an adult, and so I reread and realized that it’s a metaphor for the relationship between a parent and a child. The tree loves the boy unconditionally. The boy loves the tree but feels the need to leave the tree and make a life for himself elsewhere. However, he returns at various points for support/guidance/branches. The tree always gives it, in the same way a parent loves and supports a grown child.
2. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams– This is another book that totally went over my head as a little kid. I mean I appreciated the story about how the boy’s love for the rabbit makes it real. But a lot of it is really about what it means to grow up and grow old, and how that affects our relationships. I think that if I were to pick it up again thirty years from now, I’d probably spot other things that I didn’t get rereading it recently.
3. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney– I happened across this essay about this book a few weeks ago and vaguely remembered the book from my childhood. I reread it and discovered a beautiful story about what “a life well lived” really means. Of course, the answer is different for different people, but for the titular character, it means having a sense of wonder and leaving something beautiful behind.
4. Charlotte’s Web by EB White- I liked this book a lot as a kid. In the end, I think I saw Charlotte’s children (whom Wilber befriends) as his way of replacing her. I don’t think there was much judgment on my part for that. But as an adult, having experienced both friendship and grief, I give a lot more weight to this sentence: “Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” I understand now, in a way that I didn’t as a child, that we can find new love in our hearts but we can’t replace the people we’ve lost.
5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett- This was a favorite of mine as a kid, but as an adult, I definitely see Uncle Archibold and his actions differently. I think for a while I saw him as almost villainous as a kid. I saw the ending as his reformation. Now, reading it, I see that he was a character torn up by grief over the loss of his wife, and trying desperately to protect his child in the only way that he knew how.
6. Peter Pan by JM Barrie– I loved Peter Pan as a kid. He had it all, his own magical land where he could be a kid forever and play with mermaids and fairies and other children. What else could a child want? But even as I kid I sensed some sadness in him and now I understand it’s because he wouldn’t grow up. Children, even if they don’t like the idea of growing up, are essentially future-oriented. Without a future, Peter lives in an eternal present. And while he has a lot of playmates, he lacks a family. “There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.”
7. Amelia Bedelia by Peggie Parish- I remember that this used to crack me up as a kid. I would laugh so hard that my stomach would hurt. Recently, I used this book to teach my class about puns and idioms. I realized that even though the humor still holds up, it’s also an illustration of the fact that people communicate in different ways (even when they’re technically speaking the same language) and understand things differently. It’s a good lesson to remember.
8. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown– Yes, hear me out on this one! When was the last time you took a moment to appreciate the moon? Or the clocks in your room? Or the socks? As a kid, I remember reading this with my dad before bedtime and then saying goodnight to the things in my room. I still think there’s something to be said for looking at the ordinary things in your life, the things you don’t really notice, and just acknowledging them.
9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle- As a kid, I definitely enjoyed the story about a girl traveling through space and time to rescue her dad, alongside her brother and her secret crush. But rereading recently allowed me to see that there was so much more to it. At one point a character says “Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.” I don’t think I had any idea what that statement meant when I first read it. But now it seems like the perfect thing to tell a heroine who doesn’t fit into what the world expects of her, or what she expects of herself. And that’s not even getting into some of the scientific, religious, and philosophical themes in the book!
10. Cinderella– As a kid, I was familiar with many different versions of Cinderella from around the world because I would compare and contrast them. I loved that all of them had some form of magic and that Cinderella got her victory over her tormenters and lived happily ever after. As a teen (and developing feminist) I scorned Cinderella as the heroine who needs her fairy godmother to wave her magic wand to produce a prince who could provide a happy ending. But as an adult, I see it differently. Cinderella is a heroine who survives years of abuse at the hands of her family without losing her characteristic kindness and good heart. I think she deserves some credit there. What she really wanted wasn’t a prince at all: it was a night off and a chance to go to a party. It was only after she met the prince and fell in love, that she became interested in anything more than that.