Top Ten Tuesday: Books About Book Lovers

For That Artsy Reader Girls’ Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

August 25: Questions I Would Ask My Favorite Authors (Living or dead. You can post 10 questions for one author, one question each for 10 different authors, or anything else!)

I honestly had trouble thinking of ten (interesting/intelligent) questions that I would ask out authors, so I decided to make up my own topic this week.

81hqtvxwu-l._ac_uy218_1. Matilda by Roald Dahl– For me, Matilda is sort of the OG fictional bookworm. I loved her as a child and I love her now.

81gw6tyoeul._ac_uy218_ml3_2. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman- In a lot of ways I’m very different from Nina, but we have one thing in common: we love reading so much that it threatens to eclipse reality at times. We have to be careful to remember that there are other things worth doing too!

81hkqvsgyl._ac_uy218_3. The Starless Sea by Erin Morganstern- I feel like this book is a love letter to bookworms everywhere.  We meet many bookworms in this book; bookworms that burrow into a world far below the surface of their earth, filled with books.  But perhaps we identify the most with Zachary, a grad student who comes across a book in the university library and finds a series of clues that leave him to a secret, ancient library.

911-t2bi6l._ac_uy218_4. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Daniel finds a book in the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” (I love the idea!) but when he tried to find other works by the author, he discovers that they’re being destroyed for reasons he can’t understand. He begins a race against time to rescue them.

9123eop9gil._ac_uy218_5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak– Nazi Germany is a bad place to be for a book lover like Liesel, who has to steal her beloved books to save them from being burned.

914bm5qdaul._ac_uy218_6. The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler– This book is about a librarian in Long Island who is sent an antique volume, that may have some connection to his family. As he reads the tale of circus and carnival performers, he comes to believe that the book might be the key to saving his sister’s life.

71hpnqntwul._ac_uy218_ml3_7. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell– This is a book about a girl who loves books so much that they inspire her own creativity. Cathy is a fan fiction writer who loves life on the page, whether it’s one she wrote or someone else did. But she has some difficulty figuring out life in the real world.

51gxczk1wal._ac_uy218_8. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett– In this novella, Bennett imagines what might happen if the Queen of England discovered a love of literature late in life. Would she neglect her royal duties in order to pursue her new passion? And how might the people in her life react?

812qcy9xysl._ac_uy218_9. 84 Charring Cross Road by Helen Hanff- This book is a collection of letters between Helen Hanff, a New York writer, and a Frank Doel, an London bookseller. Over the course of 20 years they carry on a correspondence, and a friendship, centered on their shared love of books. It’s a beautiful example of how literature can unite different people across oceans and cultural divides.

8142jxm8m6l._ac_uy218_10. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi– This memoir in books is about how the author, once a professor, gathered seven of her most committed female students in her Tehran apartment to read and discuss forbidden Western literature. As forces in the outside world seized hold of universities and censored artistic expression, these women read and discussed freely. Reading this book about book lovers committed to reading and discussing novels, made me realize just how subversive the act of reading a novel can actually be.

Top Ten Tuesday: Literary Rebels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

December 11: Freebie (Make up your own topic, or use a previous TTT topic you might have missed.)

This week I decided to go with an old topic. These are some of my favorite rebellious characters in books.

1. Randal Patrick McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– I’ve actually started to feel differently about McMurphy in recent years. When I first read this book, I was in high school and my sympathies were 100% with McMurphy as he tried to upset the routine in a  mental hospital, rallying the patients to demand better treatment. But since I started teaching, I saw how important routine is when managing large groups- especially groups of people who are vulnerable to upset and need consistency to feel safe. I started to see Nurse Rached’s reasons for wanting to run her ward the way she does, and McMurphy’s tricks (running a card game, sneaking in prostitutes) seemed like less an admirable attempt to think outside the box and more of a dangerous upset to a vulnerable population. 

2. Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood– It’s ironic that Offred’s rebellion against role that she’s been forced into as a woman, initially involves reading fashion magazines and sneaking cosmetics. Usually we see those things as part of the role into which out society pushes women. But when the basics of bodily autonomy are denied, when one’s clothing is no longer one’s choice and reading is forbidden, then secretly indulging in these ways of claiming your own identity are acts of rebellion. From these initial rebellions, Offered goes further, embarking on affair with a mean who also longs to escape Gilead. In doing so, Offred asserts her right to make choices about what she does with her mind and her body.  

3. Matilda Wormwood in Matilda by Roald Dahl– I love that this rebel us a five year old girl, who stands up to the adults who don’t live up to their responsibility to protect and care for her. In doing so she also “frees” her teacher, an adult who has been cowed by cruelty. Matilda is someone who has been told she’s powerless by everyone in her life, but flat out refuses to accept that. As a kid, I was very jealous of her ability to take power into her own hands!

4. Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– Jane is a rebel early on, with her Aunt Reed and at Lowood. But it’s really at Thornfield that she refuses to violate her principles, even when a part of her wants to. She’s given the opportunity to spend her life with the man she loves. He’s a rich man and she’ll live a life of luxury. Yes he’s secretly already married to a crazy lady, but no one has to know that. But Jane knows, and she knows that in trying to marry her anyway, without telling her, he tried to make her into something she’s not. So she leaves, even though it breaks her heart to do so. Rebelling against your own desires is one of the hardest things to do. 

5. Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– Scarlett initially seems like a perfect southern belle. And she is, until she doesn’t get what she wants! When she’s widowed a sixteen year old Scarlett refuses to live the quiet, dignified life that society dictates for her. Instead she goes dancing. And stops wearing black. And gets remarried. Her rebellions continue as she insists on living on her own terms in spite of a world that tries to dictate the terms. But she discovers that pursuing what she thinks she wants, may cost her what she truly does want. Actually I see Melanie Wilkes as a rebel too. When society turns its back on Scarlett and condemns her, Melanie remains a steadfast friend. 

41ocx2m77yl-_ac_us218_6. Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyoevsky– Sometimes rebelling against the status quo doesn’t lead characters to do “the right thing.” In this case, Raskolnikov  rebels against conventional morality by murdering a woman whom he believes the world would be better without. Regardless of his victim’s moral character, this act of rebellion has ripples that Raskolnikov never could have predicted, and he learns that sometimes when society says something (like murder) is wrong, we should just listen!

517zcqxmvll-_ac_us218_7. Valancy Stirling in The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– Valancy isn’t a rebel initially. She’s a 29 year old spinster who lives under the thumb of her domineering family. But when a devastating medical diagnosis gives her an expiration date that’s a lot sooner than she’d like, Valancy gets the courage to rebel, to live the way that she wants to, with the person she wants to. She’s definitely not what we tend to think of when we think of rebels. But she defies her surroundings and her inhibitions to live the life that she wants. IMO that makes her a rebel. 

31mezqr7t8l-_ac_us218_8. Pamela O’Flaherty in Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner– Again this is a seemingly odd choice in a book that’s essentially about rebels. Other characters are more overt about leading political rebellion. But for other characters, that rebellion is something that they were born into. For Pamela isn’t not. Pamela is an Irish American. She grew up far away from any conflicts between British and Irish, Protestant and Catholic. Her rebellion started in her very choice to leave behind that distance and throw herself headfirst into the conflict. 

51zdmvpgfgl-_ac_us218_Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery– A lot of critics see Becky Sharp as the inspiration for Scarlett O’Hara. Whether or not that’s true, only Margaret Mitchell can say, but Becky is a character who doesn’t have many advantages in terms of the world she was born into. She makes a place for herself in it by seeing the flaws in people- the way they see the world and the way that they see themselves- and exploiting those flaws. Vanity Fair is subtitled A Novel Without A Hero, and while that’s perhaps true, it does have a compelling, rebellious protagonist. 

519rvznz89l-_ac_us218_10. Satan in Paradise Lost by John Milton– When he announces “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heaven” Milton’s Satan tells us that he’s a rebel who won’t be beholden to anyone. He’s literally happy to be in the worst place imaginable, as long as he gets to do what he wants. According the William Blake, Milton (whether or not it was intentional), glamorized Satan making him an epic, almost heroic figure. “‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” So if you believe that, Milton was a bit of a rebel too. 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Page To Screen Adaptations

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

July 10: Best Books I’ve Read In 2018 (So Far) (This prompt was originally going to be a TTT throwback, but I know how much people love the bi-annual top ten books of the year and I forgot to add it to the list! Feel free to do a throwback instead if you want!)

Since I did a mid-year book post not too long ago, I figured I’d do a throwback this week.  I went with the Top Ten Book To Movie Adaptations.  But since I’m including TV/miniseries I’m just going with “page to screen”.

1. Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1995) I know that the 2005 film has its fans, and it has its good points. But for me, Colin Firth is Darcy. Jennifer Ehle is Elizabeth. That’s just all there is to it. Perfect casting. Beautiful adaptation.

pride-and-prejudice-1995-jane-austen-13601696-468-263

2. Jane Eyre (BBC 2006) There are several great adaptations of Jane Eyre, but I’ve always been partial to this one because it’s got a spirit of fun to it. Yes, Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens are probably better looking than the Jane and Mr. Rochester described in the book might be,  but they seem to love their characters. I read a review once saying this didn’t add any new colors to the story but it brought all of the existing colors to their full glory (or something along those lines). To me that says it pretty well.

47986_412554502176928_711010903_n

3. Little Women (1994) I think I saw this film for the first time not too long after I first read the novel. Maybe that’s why these actors seem fused to their characters. Or maybe it’s just really well cast! The film adds some outright feminism and political commentary that doesn’t feel extraneous at all. It also manages the tough plot points well. For example, whenever I watch it, I want to see Jo end up with Professor Bhaer rather than Laurie. And it doesn’t even bother me much when Amy is played by a different actress halfway through.

littlewomen1994

4. Anne of Green Gables (1985 miniseries) I’ve seen a few screen Annes (including the most recent “Anne With An ‘E'”) but to me, none of them have approached Megan Follows, who just is Anne to me.  This is another example of something I saw for the first time around the same time that I read the book, which may explain why it’s so definitive for me. I also just really like Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert.

anneofgreengables

5. Gone With the Wind (1939) It’s almost impossible to picture Scarlett O’Hara as anyone other than Vivian Leigh. Likewise, it’s hard to picture Rhett Butler not looking like Clark Gable. And yes, occasionally I picture the antebellum American South in something like old Hollywood technicolor, though I’m aware that plantation life was hardly as pretty as the film makes it look. Perhaps its a testament to a good film that I can forget about the ugly reality for a few hours as I watch it, and believe in the fantasy.

gone-with-the-wind-2

6. Rebecca (1940) This is an example of a film that changes some important plot points from its source material but still works as an adaptation because it maintains the mood and atmosphere of the book. Hitchcock made a wise move refusing to cast Vivian Leigh as the unnamed narrator. The same qualities that made her perfect for Scarlett O’Hara would have made her all wrong for this role. Also, whoever cast Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers really knew what they were doing!

563790da1a11fab25dfd0fead528cc30

7. The Age of Innocence (1993) I felt like the narration of this film did it a great service, which is rare, because in many films I find the device overbearing. We see the characters go about their lives, but in the book the weight of social norms and expectations as they did this was tremendous. In the film, we might not even be aware of this if not for the narration that lets us know about it at important points. It could have been done in a clunky way, but it wasn’t. For the most part, it works.

age-of-innocence_l3

8. The Princess Bride (1987) This is an example of an adaptation that could have gone all wrong. William Goldman’s novel indulged in tropes that it simultaneously satirized. That’s the kind of thing that is really hard to translate to screen.  It’s done just right. Instead of presenting it as an abridgment of the novel by S. Morgenstern with “commentary” from Goldman, we’re given a frame story of a grandfather reading the book to his sick grandson. It might not have translated at all, but it does.

the_princess_bride_0220-450x253

9. Matilda (1996) This film relocates the action of Roald Dahl’s tale from the UK to the US. Usually, that’s not a move that I’m a fan of with adaptations. But in this case, it doesn’t hurt the material. Casting wise, Mara Wilson was a lovely Matilda. The character needs to come off as smart and sweet without crossing too far into the precocious and annoying territory. Wilson finds just the right balance. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman are just the right amount of loathsome as the Wormwoods.

matilda-300x225

10. Bleak House (BBC 2005) I never thought a story about a legal battle over an estate would capture my interest, but Charles Dickens pulled it off in this book. I didn’t think a book with so many plotlines and characters could be done well as a TV miniseries, but this miniseries proved that wrong too. Most of the plotlines do make it into the series, and the ones that were omitted were the right ones. Plus it’s hard to go wrong with a cast that includes Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Carey Mulligan, Alun Armstrong, Anna Maxwell Martin and Denis Lawson.

430567

 

 

What do you think? Did I miss any?

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.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Fathers

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

June 13: Father’s Day related Freebiefavorite dads in literature, best father/daughter or son relationships, books to buy your dad, worst dads in literature, etc. etc.

I wouldn’t give up my own father for the best of these guys. But they are pretty amazing. Just a few notes: I didn’t want to include Atticus Finch because he shows up on all of these lists. Also, I found it interesting that so many of these were adoptive rather than biological fathers. In many cases they do far more for their children than the children’s biological fathers ever did. It just goes to prove love makes a parent. Not biology.

  1. Jean Valjean in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo- Early in the novel, ex-con Valjean turns away from a life of crime and tries to live as an honest man. But he only truly learns to love when he adopts the orphaned Cosette. He’s 110% devoted to her.
  2. Silas Marner in the novel of the same name by George Eliot- Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Silas Marner becomes curmudgeon and a miser. One night he finds a two year old girl wandering in the snow and adopts her. Little Eppie changes his life. He becomes more involved in the community, he makes friends and cares for her completely.
  3. Mathew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables– While his tough as nails sister, Marilla takes a while to warm up to the orphan Anne, Mathew loves her right away. He is the first person in her life to truly show her kindness, and he faces his fears to make her happy.
  4. Daniel LeBlanc in All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr-  Widowed father of a blind daughter, Daniel LeBlanc teaches his daughter, Marie-Laure to be independent by creating a scale model of their Paris neighborhood for her to memorize by touch. He also provides her with novels in Braille. When the Nazis invade Paris Daniel brings Marie to the coastal town of Saint-Malo, where he once again creates a model for her to learn her surroundings.
  5. James Fraser in the Outlander series– Over the course of 8 books (so far) fatherhood isn’t always kind to our hero. Unable to raise his biological children from childhood, Jamie still raises his fair share of kids, from the French pickpocket Fergus, to his nephew Young Ian. But when his biological children do enter his life later on, he proves that parenthood doesn’t end when one’s children are grown.
  6. Frank Gilbraith Sr in Cheapter By the Dozen by Frank B Gilbrath Jr and Ernastine Gilbraith Carey is an efficiency expert and father of twelve. He was rather eccentric, but his children’s book about him recalls a home full of children, laughter, warmth, and love.
  7. Pa Ingalles from the Little House series by Laura Ingalles Wilder is always present.  He had a major case of wanderlust but took his family along with them, giving them a view of life that few people did in the 19th century. He was able to go hunting and built a house but also taught his children to treat others with kindness and care and led by example.
  8. Horton from Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss- When Mayzie the bird lays an egg but can’t be bothered to hatch it, Horton steps in.  In spite  of the absurdity of an elephant sitting on a bird’s egg, Horton refuses to abandon his charge.
  9. Dr. Wilbur Larch from The Cider House Rules by John Irving- Dr. Larch is the founder and director of the orphanage of St. Cloud. He gives all the children in his care his attention and affection, but he loves Homer Wells like a son. Even as Homer grows up and makes his own way in the world, he and Dr. Larch maintain a powerful bond.
  10. Ned Stark in Game of Thrones by George RR Martin- once he left the series I lost a lot of my interest in the story actually. Everything he did was for the safety and well being of his children. No principle had priority above their welfare

And a few of the worst literary fathers on my “dishonorable mention” list:

  • Harry Wormwood in Matilda– Harry is a duplicitous used car salesman, who believes that everything he needs to know he can learn from television. He is initially horrified that his daughter, Matilda, isn’t a boy. His horror is compounded when it becomes clear that she would rather read a book than watch TV. Otherwise doesn’t much care what she does.
  • Jack Torrance in The Shining– From the beginning of this book, Jack isn’t an example of paternal excellence. He’s an alcoholic who has a tendency toward violence when her drinks. But when he gets a job as the winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, the now sober Jack, moves there with his wife and 5 year old son, Danny. As the ghosts of the Overlook invade his psyche Jack becomes increasingly unstable, until, finally, he ends up chasing his wife and Danny through the hotel with a croquet mallet.  But in his final moments he is able to wrench his mind free from the hotel’s destructive influence encourage Danny to escape. So perhaps, in spite of his many flaws, there was love at the bottom of it all.
  • Franklin in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- I spoke about his wife, Eva as a notable, but deeply flawed fictional mother. But Franklin is just as flawed. His sin is denial. He can’t- or won’t- see that his son is anything less than wonderful. When his wife tries to make him see warning signs in Kevin’s behavior he turns a blind eye. He pays for this in a major way.
  • Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- It’s one of my favorite books, but Heathcliff is still a nasty piece of work. He marries for revenge after his true love marries another man. Then he takes his anger and sadness out on his sickly son. Nice.
  • Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- I know he has his fans, and that his wife has her own issues (discussed here) but there is a very serious issue facing his family that he completely disregards. He has five daughters who can’t legally inherit his property. That means that following his death they’ll be without resources. His wife is, understandably, concerned about this, and he mocks her for it. To make it worse, he mocks her in front of his daughters, thereby diminishing their respect for their mother.