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
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.
*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.