Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Books for a New England Fall

So, ages ago, Jen asked for some recommendations for children's literature.  And I was like, sure thing.  And then, big surprise, I never did it.  Well, Jen, your ship has finally come in.

The first of three installments:

Children's Literature (chapter books)

Young Adult Literature


To begin:

Children's Literature

Well, The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes.  This one is first, because of my dad.  He taught middle school for many years in some rough neighborhoods, and I often heard him mention this book, and its power to impart the complicated and distant concept of empathy.  It's a Newbery honor book, and with good reason.

Every read Nancy Drew?  Or the Boxcar Children after they stopped living in a boxcar?  Or any other book about a child solving mysteries?  And even when you're reading it as a kid you're like, this doesn't seem real.  Well, my friend, that's your childhood self understanding that the stakes aren't high enough for you to really buy in.  Enter The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin.  It's mysterious, it's suspenseful, and while not scary, it's real enough that you believe every step.  James introduced me to this one, so I've only read it as an adult, and it's a gem.  Also a Newbury prize winner.   

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare.  You wanna know why?  Because it's New England at Halloween, and all I want to do is read this on a bench in Salem, MA.  I read this book in Jr. High and promptly developed a fascination with the Salem Witch Trials* that lasted through two - count them - two productions of The Crucible.  So, yes, it's spooky, but it's also a story of an outsider, which any young teenager can identify with, be it 1687 or 1994.  Won a Newbury prize (big surprise).

So, at this point, you could have gotten this information from the list of Newbury prize winners.  That's true.  Well, how about Nell's Quilt, by Susan Terris?  This is one of this first chapter books I remember reading that had a really tremendous impact on me.  It's a well crafted story about self-hood and the power of choice.  It's not a happy book, but powerful.

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers.  Oh, you think you know Mary Poppins?  Maybe.  But maybe not.  The original Mary Poppins sounds a little different from Julie Andrews's depiction**.  She's sassy and a bit sharp.  Also - prepare yourselves -  there are twin babies in addition to Jane and Michael.  This is a perfect fall read, because it's just as good on a cold-outside-cozy-inside night or a windy, sunny afternoon.

Happy reading.

*Also in Jr. High I read a book about the Black Plague and later wrote a paper on it, so I think I was just drawn to darkly flashy events in history.

**I actually think Julie Andrews plays Mary pretty true; it's just that the rest of the film is very, very sweet, it kind of mellows her out.


  1. I just read the Witch of Blackbird Pond last weekend. It was good but I liked The Bronze Bow better.

    I will have to check out the other books you listed. Thanks for the recommendations.

  2. Scary that I just read The Hundred Dresses on Sunday. I recently heard about it and I really enjoyed it. I always know I'm doing okay if I'm on the same wavelength as Valerie.

  3. I want to read Mary Poppins!
    I am so excited about the rest of these installments.
    So excited.

  4. YES! i totally forgot about this or I would have passive aggressively mentioned something, such as "gosh, you know what i would love? A list of books to read. I feel like i asked someone to do this, now who was it? Whoooo..."

    Anyway, totally excited. I'm literally running to the library while i type this because i know how to use literally correctly, and yes, i'm that talented.

    Thank you!!

  5. simply delightful. I did the same thing with witch of blackbird pond. and while I didn't not act in the crucible twice, I did read it many times and was severely tempted to try out, which, as you know, is saying something.

  6. also, I can't wait for you other lists. I need a good book to escape to for awhile. I have been tempted to pick up Harry again, but we all know how that ends. pure happiness in the midst, a very tall cliff at the end when there is none left to read. also, your thoughts on her new book? are you going to read it? I'm afaid I will want Harry and obviously that won't be it. let me know if you are brave enough to try it.

  7. I'm so happy that you included The Hundred Dresses, because it's one of my absolute favorite books- period. Also, did you ever read Many Moons? The original illustrations are also done by Louis Slobodken, who, as you probably are aware, was the illustrator for The Hundred Dresses. If you haven't read that one yet, I highly recommend it!