My First “Favorite Author”

Last Thursday, Beverly Cleary, acclaimed author of numerous children’s books, died at the age of 104(!). When I was really little, before I could read well ((like five or six) my parents would read me several chapters from her books each night before I fell asleep.

I remember reading about Henry Huggins, Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, and of course Ralph Mouse. But Ramona Quimby had (and has) a special place in my heart. I simultaneously wanted to be her and felt like I was her. She was the first literary character that I remember really relating to. I felt like she was my friend.

Beverly Cleary obviously lived a long life. Her books touched many readers in some way, and they certainly played a big part in turning me into a reader. She will be missed. I am grateful to her for all the literary friends and adventures.

On Race, Justice, and Other Pressing Issues of the Day (and also books)

protesters holding signs

Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

It’s been a crazy time. It continues to be. I saw someone say that it’s like the Spanish Flu and the mass protests of the late 60’s/early 70’s happened during the Great Depression. I also saw a tweet (can’t find it right now) saying that “Not even in my darkest hours of 2016 did I imagine telling my husband that we’d have to eat dinner out of our quarantine rations because I didn’t have a chance to go shopping before the police curfew.” And yet, here we are.

I haven’t posted until now because I wanted to give myself a chance to process my thoughts. That’s still ongoing, but I feel like I can start to express myself. First of all, I want to state that Black Lives Matter. Absolutely. Unequivocally. It should go without saying, but it unfortunately it doesn’t. So it falls on all of us to say it, and believe it, and act on it.

protesters walking on street

Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

I can only talk about this from my own experience as a white woman. One who reads a lot and tries to understand and empathize with others, but who has ultimately experienced the world from a position of racial privilege. A lot of the talk about institutionalized racism makes me think of a few things:

  • One is Thug Life, which is urban slang coined by 2Pac Shakur. It was also the name of a hip hop group consisting of  2Pac, Stretch, Big Syke, Mopreme, Macadoshis, and The Rated R.  The name is an acronym for “The Hate U Gives Little Infants F*cks Everybody.” I have to confess that I’m only familiar with it because it was referenced in a  best-selling YA novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I think it’s talking about institutionalized racism. The systems of oppression that we all absorb as we go through life (“the hate we give little infants”) then  oppresses the next generation, even the oppressors (“f*cks everybody”).
  • One is a song from the musical South Pacific called “You Have To Be Carefully Taught.” As a card carrying theater geek, this is more my musical wheelhouse.  Written in 1949 it was of the first songs in a musical to explicitly deal with racism, arguing that it’s not something that we’re born with but rather, something that’s nurtured within us.  In it, a man contemplating an interracial relationship talks to a woman contemplating a marriage to a man with two mixed race children from a prior marriage. The lyrics to the song are: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/ you’ve got be taught from year to year/ it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear/ you’ve got to be carefully taught/ You’ve got to be taught to be afraid / Of people whose eyes are oddly made / Or people whose skin is a different shade / You’ve got to be carefully taught /  You’ve got to be taught / Before it’s too late/ Before your are six / Or seven or eight / To hate all the people your relatives hate/ You’ve got to be carefully taught. ” I believe that those lyrics are true, but we are taught racism even if our relatives don’t actually sit there drumming it in our “dear little ear” because systems of racism in our society teaches us and the ways that different races are portrayed (or not portrayed) in media.  Therefore, we reach a point where we either take part in that system, either actively or passively, or we can try to tear that system down.

I’m not going to say that I’m not a racist, because that doesn’t accomplish anything. In many ways, I’m luckier than most. I grew up with parents who explicitly taught me that no one was superior to anyone else on the basis of their skin color. They taught me that our merit is determined by our actions not our race, religion, nationality of ethnicity.  They read me anti-racist books as a child and made sure that I had exposure to people who were different from me, and that I interacted with people who were different. But I still live in the same world as everyone else. That’s a world that has systems of privilege and oppression built into it. I’ve benefited from those systems more than I deserve because of the color of my skin. I don’t like that, but it’s true nonetheless.

Over the last ten days or so, I’ve done a lot of reflecting about how I can help to rectify a system that’s been broken for hundreds of years. I wish that I had a definite answer, but I don’t. When I’m unsure, I look to books to help me. Fortunately #BlackLivesMatter has an awesome anti-racist reading list (as well as an incredible list of resources to help white people be allies).

 

 

I’ve read a few of these, but I hope to read many more. As an educator, I also hope to make use of some of these wonderful books in the future. I believe that reading has taught me empathy. It has taught me compassion. I believe that education can change the world. If we read with an open mind and an open heart we can learn to be better. We can learn how to be effective in changing these systems.  And don’t forget to buy your books from Black owned independent bookstores! There’s a pretty comprehensive list here.

I think that there are a lot of people who do want to support this movement, but don’t feel able to, either because they can’t protest or can’t donate. But there are other ways to make your voice heard. One of my favorite resources is 5calls.org. This allows people to call the appropriate legislators about issues that are important to them. Just enter your location. You’ll see a list of issues (at the moment there are a number of issues around police reform listed) . Click on one, and you’ll get the phone number of the legislator or representative to call about a certain issue as well as a suggested phone script (which you can modify as much or as little as you want). It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s effective. #BlackLivesMatter also has lists of actions that anyone can take from their own home for no money, such as phone calls, letter writing, and petitions. If you can’t go out to protest, or don’t have the money to make donations, there is still important work to be done. Most important of all, we have to VOTE for people who will make the changes that we need a reality. There is NO excuse for not voting.

The last thing that I want to do is add to the noise around this topic without contributing anything meaningful. But I believe that there are meaningful ways for all of us to help create a better world for all. The first step is often reading, thinking and looking inward. But that should be where it starts. The next step is turning it into meaningful action in some way. That way may look different for each of us.

On a related topic:

group of people parading in street

Photo by Rosemary Ketchum on Pexels.com

I know that JK Rowling has come out with some trans-phobic statements of twitter that have hurt a lot of people. I love her work, but I do not support her statements or her opinion. Trans Lives Matter. Trans rights are human rights.  If you want to help the Trans community at this time there are a lot of ways to do so.

To learn more about the work that needs to be done, visit the Trans Justice Funding Project, The National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, The Okra Project, The Trans Women of Color Collective, and more. 5calls.org also has entries that support Trans rights at times, particularly when there is pending legislation about them.  Bookmark that site, since it’s so valuable for activism on a regular basis.

If you want to read more about transgender issues and gender identity, great. That’s important work that can to break down bias’ we didn’t even know we had. It can open minds and spur further activism. You can find a number of wonderful lists online for adults here and here, teens and young adults here, and children and teens here and here. You can also find lists for all ages.

It’s sad that JK Rowling chose to use her platform and influence to express harmful idea. But she also gave us a book series that teaches us to stand up for what’s right, that silence equals complicity and that by joining our efforts together we can accomplish great things. Let’s take that lesson and use it.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Read As A Child

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

April 28: Books I Wish I Had Read As a Child

While I’m of the firm belief that children’s literature can be enjoyed at any age, I do wish I’d encountered these books earlier in life:

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_1. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling– My deep dark secret: I didn’t read Harry Potter until I was in college. I can’t remember how old I was when the first book came out, but I was still in “child” territory definitely. I think it may have been the first book I avoided due to the hype. I avoided the series for a long time. Then I wished I’d read it earlier!

 

 

51u5q5-bzl._ac_uy218_2.The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente– This author is a fairly recent discovery for me, and this book didn’t exist when I was a kid, which is unfortunate, because I think the whole series would have been my jam!

 

 

511dus14-9l._ac_uy218_3. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine– Another book and author that little me would have gone nuts for. Fairy tales and story heroines are and were my thing! But I think I would also have enjoyed this one a bit more if I’d read it younger.

 

 

 

81rxbvyofvl._ac_uy218_4. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo– I read this book with my students for the first time a few years ago. I remember wishing that I’d read it with a class in my childhood. I think I got more out of it as an adult reading it in an academic setting (it’s a surprisingly rich text and I might not have picked up on everything on my own!), but reading it as a child in that setting might have helped me appreciate the magic a bit more.

 

 

81szgsmnzl._ac_uy218_5.Esperenza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan- I think that the Little Princess aspects of the plot of this book would have appealed to little me. But I also think that the historical and cultural setting would have taught me a lot. There weren’t a lot of books from/about the experiences of  POC when I was a kid (even fewer than there are now!).

 

 

61gh98fh3il._ac_uy218_6. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch- I think that this book was around when I was a child, but for some reason I never encountered it. It’s too bad too, because I think I would have loved it! A kick butt princess who saves the prince and then promptly dumps him for being a total loser? Yes please!

 

 

81oxn5iufnl._ac_uy218_7. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak-Maybe it’s good that I didn’t read this one until I was an adult because I think it would have destroyed me if I’d read it as a tween/teen. But I think it would have destroyed me in a good way.

 

 

 

51co4tjztjl._ac_uy218_8.The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson– I discovered Eva Ibbotson via her romances (which are now being marketed as YA) and they’re lovely. But she also wrote wonderful books for a middle grade audience. I enjoy them now, but I wish I’d read them when I  was the “proper” age.

 

 

811ppqnzgql._ac_uy218_9.Rules by Cynthia Lord- Through most of my childhood and adolescence I put up a “socially acceptable” front. My goal was basically not to do or say anything weird enough for my peers to tease. While I think that many people can relate, this book shows just how arbitrary and silly those “rules” really are, and how much is wasted trying to uphold them.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Childhood Favorites

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

July 2: Childhood Favorites

Since I’ve written a lot about my favorite novels as a kid (The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Matilda, Island of the Blue Dolphins etc) I thought I’d talk a bit about some of my favorite picture books that I loved in my early childhood.

51mv1xuuql-_ac_us218_1. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown– My memories of this one aren’t vivid because I was so young, but I remember my parents reading it to me at bedtime and then saying “goodnight” to the things in my bedroom. There’s something very comforting about taking a few minutes to acknowledge things that are familiar like that. 

 

 

61wpg9cp-4l-_ac_us218_2. Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parrish– I loved Amelia Bedelia as a kid. I would crack up at her getting confused by words and phrases with more than one meaning. A few years ago I read it with my students and was surprised at how well a lot of the humor held up.

 

 

3. 912022d0sql._ac_ul436_ Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe– This African story is very similar to Cinderella. I think that reading this was one of the first times that I realized that fairy tales crossed cultures and that variants of the same themes showed up around the world. Interestingly, I tried to find out more about the “African Tale” and couldn’t find out what country in Africa it came from. It’s dedicated to the children of South Africa but the illustrations are inspired by the ruins of an ancient city found near Zimbabwe.

b1pncojkds._ac_ul436_4. Town Mouse and Country Mouse by Jan Brett- I think that this was the first time that I realized that different people (or mice, in this case) have different tastes and what one person love, another might dislike.  Neither one is right or wrong. It came as an epiphany to a little kid.

81o43lr3gql._ac_ul436_5. Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola– This story always made me laugh. I loved watching Big Anthony have to eat all the spaghetti, but I was always a bit concerned for his health at the end.

 

 

61ygpmell4l-_ac_us218_6. Eloise by Kay Thompson-When I was about six I couldn’t imagine anyone having a better life than Eloise. She lived in the Plaza and did whatever she wanted. Actually, that still sounds pretty good!

 

 

5157xlbzfil-_ac_us160_7. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney– I think a lot of the reason that I loved this book was because it wasn’t at all stressful. I often became very invested in the fate of fictional characters, which could cause stress. But in this case, the relaxing illustrations and the gentle story allowed for a sense of calm.

 

51habt16eql._sx260_8. Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McClosky- Whenever I see a bunch of ducklings walking in a row, I still think of this story. I empathized with the ducks’ plight: crossing the street always made me nervous, and I always felt a bit relieved when the police stopped traffic to let the pass safely.

 

51nvefbi7wl9. Curious George by HA Rey- I related to Curious George. Much like him, I was curious about the world around me. But unlike him, I usually thought about the consequences before I did things, which kept me from getting into trouble all the time like he did. But I did enjoy reading about his crazy adventures.

 

51oose0avsl._ac_ul436_10. Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel– I think that Frog and Toad thought me a lot about friendship. There was always a level of give and take. Frog and Toad were very different people (well, anthropomorphized amphibians) but they met in the middle and maintained a solid friendship in spite of those differences.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Want My Future Kids to Read

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

November 14: Top Ten Books I Want My Future Children to Read (Or nieces and nephews, Godchildren, etc.)

Well, I don’t have children. In theory I’d like one or two someday, but we’ll see. I’m not ambivalent, so much as overwhelmed at the enormity of a parent’s job! But I do love kids. I have students. I’d want them to read these. I’d want any future godchildren I might have to read these. And if I do have children I hope they read them too! Books have contributed so much to making me the person that I am. I think that these had really positive impacts.

51igzsbi-ul-_ac_us218_1. Matilda by Roald Dahl– As a kid, I liked this book because it was funny. I still like it for that reason, but I see more to it now. Matilda Wormwood is a character whose identity was largely formed by what she’s read. I believe that this gave her a strong sense of justice. Matilda hates a bully, and she’s surrounded by them. But while many children with abusive adults in their lives grow up to be abusers themselves, I don’t see this as Matilda’s fate. Her avid reading gave her a sense of the world. Her intelligence allowed her to understand the implications of what she read. The combination gave her a sense of right and wrong (certainly she’d never have gotten that from her parents!) and fueled her to become a person who doesn’t stand idly by while people are suffering. I think that’s an important lesson for any child.

So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.

61bwr8sfvhl-_ac_us218_2. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards– I remember reading the “about the author” page of this, and being shocked and delighted that it was indeed written by that Julie Andrews! But Oscar/Emmy/Grammy winning author aside, it’s a beautiful story about an orphan who finds an abandoned cottage not far from the orphanage.  She fixes it up and makes it truly hers. Eventually this cottage leads her to find a family and a place where she belongs. I see this book as being about the creation of a family. It’s not one that Mandy is born into but rather one that she makes for herself.  I think it shows that whatever circumstances you’re born into, you can create a place for yourself. It might not be lavish or fancy. The people around you might not be perfect. But that’s not necessary for happiness.

“Mandy tidied the weeds and pulled out some of the summer flowers. It saddened her to do so. She was parting with beloved friends.”

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hogsdsen Burnett– In some ways, this is probably similar to Mandy. It’s about an orphan creating a home and her family for herself. But the orphanage where Mandy lives isn’t hostile. It’s just not meeting her emotional needs. On the other hand, Mary Lennox finds herself in a house full of strangers, on the bleak moors of England (after having spent most of her life in India). Her guardian, her Uncle Archebold is a man who still actively mourns the wife he lost ten years earlier. He closed away the garden she loved after her death, and hides the son to whom she died giving birth. Uncle Archibold isn’t evil- he believes that he’s doing this for the boy’s delicate health. Nonetheless, he’s created an environment where it’s impossible to breathe. He’s buried his pain, but in doing so he has also buried the things that can help to ease it. It’s only once Mary opens the garden and brings her cousin outdoors that this family can begin to heal. Because it’s unhealthy to keep the past buried. Especially when it’s painful. Because then it festers and grows. Sometimes to only way to heal is to open up. It may be more painful at first, but the healing is genuine.

“One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts—just mere thoughts—are as powerful as electric batteries—as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live… surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.

51srrilel-_ac_us218_4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott– I remember the first time I read this book. I  loved all the characters but I wanted to be Jo. I remember sobbing at Beth’s fate. And unlike many readers I remember being sort of glad that Jo turned down Laurie’s proposal. Even at ten I saw that they made great friends, but as life partners they’d be disastrous. But this is really a beautiful depiction of family life. At home and at a distance. Jo has a pretty happy home environment, but she’s not satisfied until she exposes herself to more of the world. A happy childhood with a loving family is a wonderful foundation in life. But most of us need to spread our wings at some point. If we’re lucky, we can do that, knowing that home is always a place where we can return when we need to, and that family will be there for you no matter what.

I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil my copybooks; and I make so many beginnings there never will be an end.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_5. Anne series by LM Montgomery (as well as Montgomery’s other work, but Anne is non-negotiable!) I’ve mentioned my Anne obsession before in this blog. She was my first literary kindred spirit. I felt like I grew up with her. As a younger kid there was Anne of Green Gables, as I grew a bit older there was Anne of Avonlea, and so on. Anne’s optimism always stands out for me. I try to be optimistic, but I find it very hard! Anne has every reason to expect the worst, but still manages to see what’s good, and beautiful around her. Her romanticism can get her into trouble sometimes, but it also makes her wonderfully resilient. That’s a good lesson for any kid to learn.

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

Anne of Green Gables

512350qjy9l-_ac_us218_6. The Sneetches, The Lorax, Horton Hatches the Egg or The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss- I think that Dr. Seuss is great. I love the stuff that’s pure silliness a la The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. But I’m always impressed by his ability to teach a lesson in rhymes and colorful pictures. He illustrates the tragic absurdity of racism and war in The Sneetches and The Butter Battle Book respectively. He illustrates the heartbreaking shortsightedness that polluters show in The Lorax. And Horton Hatches the Egg proves that it’s love and care, rather than just biology, that truly makes a parent. I can’t choose just one because I think that these are all important lessons for kids to learn.

“But now,” says the Once-ler, “now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The Lorax

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_7. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– I know so many kids who fell in love with reading thanks to this series. Even if I didn’t think it was a great read (which I do!) it would be worth putting on for that reason alone. But though JK Rowling writes about kids and for kids in this series, she doesn’t talk down to them. The reader is able to grow with the characters. The first few books are shorter with narratives that are seemingly self contained. But as the series progresses (and the readers and characters get older) the books become more involved. We start to see a much larger story arc being built.  It grows darker. Happy endings aren’t guaranteed for all the characters. But it also shows a world where elves, ghosts, wizards, and witches coexist. There are struggles, but those struggles teach empathy (who hasn’t felt bad for a house elf now and then?). In fact, some studies have shown that Harry Potter fans are more likely to be empathetic people. I believe that empathy, and the ability to act on it, is one of the things that then world desperately needs.

“Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

c1ohnstw6ts-_ac_us218_8. The Fudge Books by Judy Blume– Choosing just one book by Judy Blume is a close to impossible task. You can check out a little essay I wrote for Girls at Library a while back discussing how she’s impacted me as a reader. I chose this series for a few reasons. I loved a lot of Blume’s “pre-teen girl” books like Are You There God It’s Me Margaret (the book which made me think that menstruation was going to be the most fun thing ever, and led to some significant disappointment a few years later) But not every reader is a girl. For the record I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a boy reading a book intended for girls. If anything it can combat ignorance. But my first exposure to Judy Blume was simple fun. I read Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing with my dad several years before I was actually in fourth grade. But I loved it. I loved the Hatcher family. I loved Fudge. I loved Turtle (who happens to be a dog), and Sheila the Great, and Peter. I read a few of these to my students over the years and they loved them too. Sometimes it’s nice to have something that just makes kids enjoy reading.

“I wanted them,” Fudge whined.
“I know you did. But we can’t buy everything you want.” Mom told him.
“Why”
“We don’t have the money to buy…” I could tell Mom was having a hard time explaining this. She thought for a minute before she finished. “…just for the sake of buying. Money doesn’t grow on trees.”
“I know it doesn’t grow on trees,” Fudge said. “You get it at the ATM.”
“You can’t just go to the ATM whenever you want money,” Mom told him.
“Yes you can,” Fudge said. “You put in your card and money comes out. It works every time.”
“No. You have to deposit money into your account first,” Mom said. “You work hard and try to save part of your salary every week. The cash machine is just a way to get some of your money out your account. It doesn’t spit out money because you want it. It’s not that easy.”
“I know, Mom,” Fudge said. “Sometimes you have to stand on line.”
Mom sighed and looked at me. “Got any ideas Peter?”
Double Fudge

61wniu1hbzl-_ac_us218_9. The Henry, Beezus, and Ramona books by Beverley Cleary– Henry Huggins lives on Klickitat Street alongside  Beezus and Ramona Quimby. We follow these characters as they bond with animals, build clubhouses, prove themselves worthy of jobs, deal with annoying siblings, and try to behave like grown ups. I found these characters easy to love because they thought like kids. They saw the world as kids do. They understood parts of what they experience, and what they didn’t understand their minds filled in, often with hilarious results. I put these on here, because childhood is often confusing. Kids get all kinds of mixed messages, from adults, from the media, from their peers. Sometimes it’s helpful to have some literary friends who, like you, are just trying to figure it all out.

“Ramona could not understand why grown-ups always talked about how quickly children grew up. Ramona thought growing up was the slowest thing there was, slower even than waiting for Christmas to come.
She had been waiting years just to get to kindergarten, and the last half hour was the slowest part of all.”

Ramona The Pest

51cbwb1nmql-_ac_us218_10.  Fairy Tales– I think I’ve shared one of my stranger childhood habits on this blog before: I used to go to the library and take out as many versions of a given fairy tale as I could find. Then I’d compare and contrast. “In this version the stepsisters cut off their toes to fit into the glass slipper” vs. “In this version they just try to shove their feet in.” Then of course there was Cinderella’s fairy godmother doing her favors vs. her mother’s ghost. And no, I did not just limit myself to Cinderella.  But my own childhood weirdness aside, I think  that fairy tales and folklore have a lot to teach us. They speak to something really primal in us. I believe that’s why we see the same themes appear in so many stories from around the world. That’s why they inspire so much of my own writing. They address the child’s fear of not being loved and cared for (whether it’s through inadequate, or absent parents), the fear of being lost in the woods, without resources. They look at the hope that we have when we make a wish, as well as the risk that comes with getting something for nothing. Some of our societies greatest artist in a variety of fields, from Neil Gaiman, to Stephen Sondheim, to Anne Sexton, have been inspired by these stories and the warnings and lessons therein.

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Neil Gaiman (Coraline)

51mv1xuuql-_ac_us218_11.  Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown– (am I allowed to do this? Because just 10 won’t do in this case!) Yes this is a book for very young children. But I loved it. There was something so reassuring about it. The predictability, the consistency. I remember that my parents would read it as a bedtime story, and afterward, I’d say. “goodnight” to the things in my room. I think that there is something lovely about taking stock of your surroundings, even if they’re nothing particularly remarkable, and just acknowledging them.

“Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”

As I look at this list, I notice that a lot of these are books by white writers, featuring white characters. I think part of the reason for that is the fact that when I was a kid there was even less diversity in publishing than there is today. But I wouldn’t want my hypothetical kids/godkids/whatever to only read books that reflect only a small portion of humanity. In terms of children’s books featuring POC I’d encourage them to read many books including The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Come on Rain by Karen Hesse, My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvitis, Esperenza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. I realize that by tacking this on to the bottom of my list it seems like I’m just doing it to be PC. I’m not. I really believe that’s its important for children to see their own experiences reflected in literature. This books on my list reflect my experiences to an extent. But having read about other ways of life, other kinds of families in different parts of the world, has been a huge factor in giving my an appreciation of the diversity of human experience. I think that’s important for every kid to have. I wish I had time to go into more about why the books I mentioned are good but I don’t.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books as a Kid

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week I’m featuring some f my favorite books from childhood. For the purposes of this list, I’m considering books that I read under the age of 13.

61zj9bc2qwl-_ac_us218_1. Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak– A lot of kids are drawn to other Sendak work like Where the Wild Things Are and Pierre. I like those too. But there’s a special place in my heart for this book, about  a girl who must save her baby sister, who has been kidnapped by goblins. It’s dark and some kids might find it scary. I know I did! But it was one of those books that was empowering in spite of the fact that it was scary.  The heroine uses the skills and wisdom that she learned from her father, to prove that  scary goblins are ultimately childish bullies themselves.

When Papa was away at sea, and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still- but never watched. So the goblins came. They pushed their way in and pulled the baby out leaving another made all of ice.

51igzsbi-ul-_ac_us218_2. Matilda by Roald Dahl- My dad read this too me when I was about six or seven. I loved Matilda then, and I do now. She was crazy smart, teaching herself to read and do difficult math before kindergarten. She didn’t put up with any bad behavior from anyone- especially the adults who should know better.  Some parts of the story made me and my dad laugh so hard that my mom came in to listen along with us. So it was a family bonding thing as well as a great book. I recently read the book with my students and it was so wonderful to see another generation of kids fall in love with Matilda.

“There aren’t many funny bits in Mr Tolkien either,’ Matilda said.
‘Do you think that all children’s books ought to have funny bits in them?’ Miss Honey asked.
‘I do,’ Matilda said. ‘Children are not so serious as grown-ups and love to laugh.”

51-np75sehl-_ac_ul320_sr218320_3. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery- I spoke a bit about my love for Anne here. As far as I was concerned, she was the coolest kid to ever accidentally dye her hair green, get drunk on current wine, or break a slate over the head of a teasing boy. I appreciated the later books in the series at different points in my life, but as a kid, I related most to young Anne in this book.  Later on , I related more to older Anne, as she grew.

“They keep coming up new all the time – things to perplex you, you know. You settle one question and there’s another right after. There are so many things to be thought over and decided when you’re beginning to grow up. It keeps me busy all the time thinking them over and deciding what’s right. It’s a serious thing to grow up, isn’t it, Marilla?”

51srrilel-_ac_us218_4. Little Women by Lousia May Alcott- I read an adapted edition of this book in second grade and immediate sought out the full book. I struggled through it, and eventually made it all the way through a little later on. I loved all the March sisters: Jo was so imaginative and adventurous. Meg was practical and smart. Beth was so kind hearted and Amy was a hopeless romantic. I could relate to all of them on one level or another but I related to Jo the most, because like me, she was an aspiring writer.

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.”

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett- I discussed this one a bit here. I love the story of the orphan in the gothic mansion full of secrets. I loved that she was able to make a place for herself in such a strange place. It was wonderful to see isolated children like Mary and Colin discover friendship and creativity. I soooo wanted to discover a secret garden of my own. A part of me still does.

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”

61bwr8sfvhl-_ac_us218_6. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards– I was about nine when  I read this book. I found it in a store and I decided to read it because it sounded a  lot like The Secret Garden.  Like that one, this was about an orphan who creates a small pace just for herself, and ends up finding a family. I remember about half way through I was loving it so much that I flipped to the “About the Author” page at the end of the book and I was shocked to see that “Julie Edwards” was the married name of Julie Andrews, the Academy Award winning actress best known for films like The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins! I also discovered that she’d written several other novels for children. They’re all lovely but this one is by far my favorite!

“Mandy tidied the weeds and pulled out some of the summer flowers. It saddened her to do so. She was parting with beloved friends.”

51uvxo85zl-_ac_us218_7. The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell– This is based on the true story of Karana, a Native American of the Nicoleno tribe, living on San Nicholas Island in the 19th Century. When her tribe falls on hard times the new chief leaves via canoe to find a new land. Eventually he sends a large canoe for the others to join him.  Karana and her brother are left behind. They live alone on the island until her brother’s death, when Karana is completely isolated. She befriends the animals living on the island and makes a life for herself for eighteen years. I suppose the idea of being completely alone for that long fascinated and horrified me as a kid. I tried to imagine how this girl must have felt and how she could have survived.

“After that summer, after being friends with Won-a-nee and her young, I never killed another otter. I had an otter cape for my shoulders, which I used until it wore out, but never again did I make a new one. Nor did I ever kill another cormorant for its beautiful feathers, though they have long, think necks and make ugly sounds when they talk to each other. Nor did I kill seals for their sinews, using instead kelp to bind the things that needed it. Nor did I kill another wild dog, nor did I try to speak another sea elephant.
Ulape would have laughed at me, and other would have laughed, too — my father most of all. Yet this is the way I felt about the animals who had become my friends and those who were not, bu in time could be. If Ulape and my father had come back and laughed, and all the other had come back and laughed, still I would have felt the same way, for animals and birds are like people, too, though they do no talk the same or do the same things. Without them the earth would be an unhappy place.”

51dtol9n8al-_ac_us218_8. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder- As a kid I was sort of fascinated by the idea that most of humanity existed without the comforts that I enjoyed every day. On one hand I thought that it might be kind of fun to live off the land and your own hard work. But I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my running water to try it. I kept my homesteading confined to the page!

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”
“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”
But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.
She thought to herself, “This is now.”
She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

51syki73tbl-_ac_us218_9. Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume– This is the first book that I remember made me laugh out loud. It was another book that my parents read to me when I was very young. I liked the depiction of the sibling relationship.

Some people might think that my mother is my biggest problem. She doesn’t like turtles and she’s always telling me to scrub my hands. But my mother isn’t my biggest problem. Neither is my father. He spends a lot of time watching commercials on TV. That’s because he’s in the advertising business. My biggest problem is my brother, Farley Drexel Hatcher. He’s two-and-a-half years old. Everybody calls him Fudge. I feel sorry for him if he’s going to grow up with a name like Fudge, but I don’t say a word. It’s none of my business.

51bkx0sulel-_ac_us218_10. Ramona the Pest by Beverley Cleary– Ramona Quimby was my spirit animal as a kid. I could relate to her. She never really meant any harm, but she always got herself into trouble anyway. I liked other characters in the series; Ramona’s sister Beezus, and their neighbor Henry, but this was the first to have Ramona as the protagonist.

“She was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next.”