Friday, March 11, 2005

Kiddie Lit

You know you're a big geek (I mean, bookworm) when your punishment as a child was not "You're not allowed to watch TV" but "You're not allowed to read."

Mind you, this happened only once -- as I've mentioned, I was quite the goody two-shoes growing up. But still, it was a very revealing statement.

Books have always been important to me. As a child, I spent most of my free time reading, and, rather like a toddler, I especially liked reading my favorites over and over again. Here are some of them:

The Little House series: I'm a huge, huge fan of the Ingalls clan. I can still recite lines from these books. Well, except for Farmer Boy -- Almanzo and his family didn't hold the same appeal for me, and I think I read that book only once. Images from these books stay with me today: the house built into a hillside, mornings so cold that quilts cracked with frost, Laura's and Mary's lunch pails and slates, Laura's simple dresses and Nellie Olson's fancy frocks… I can't wait to share these books with my kids.

Chronicles of Narnia: Of course. I need to re-read these as an adult; when I was a child, the Christian allegories went right over my head.

Island of the Blue Dolphins: The resilience of the heroine still amazes me, and I'm still moved by the scene in which her wolf dies and leaves her truly alone on the island. I often wondered what her life was like after she was rescued.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: I had a happy childhood, but sometimes the thought of running away and living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art appealed to me immensely.

Harriet the Spy: I wanted to be Harriet, at least her spying persona. As a child, so focused was I on the spying escapades that I paid scant attention to the themes of loyalty and childhood alienation and loneliness. Those I picked up as an adult.

Light a Single Candle: I was fascinated by this tale of a blind girl and her guide dog. Since the protagonist lost her sight as a child, I became more than a little concerned that this would happen to me, too.

The Judy Blume canon: I read them all, culminating in the verboten Forever. No one else, it seemed to me, spoke as plainly and candidly about so many different tough childhood experiences. I wonder if any of these books (especially Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret) seem dated now.

The Diary of Anne Frank: One of my favorite books, period. Seeing the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam was very nearly a transcendent experience for me.

I Am Rosemarie: A selection from my Holocaust-obsession period, around age 11 or 12. I'd love to get my hands on this book now to see if this account of a girl's internment in, and liberation from, Westerbork is sugar-coated at all.

Runaway's Diary: Even now this book haunts me. It's the actual diary of a teenager who ran away from home in the late 1960's; she lived on her own for several months and was killed in a car accident while she was on her way home. The "author" of the book saw the accident and noticed the diary not far from the accident site. I've tried, unsuccessfully, to find out more about this book -- I still want to know more about Cat Toven, the girl; her family; and what happened after she died.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden: What was it about my adolescent self that was so drawn to accounts of insanity? This is a fascinating book about schizophrenia. During this same period (around age 12 or 13), I also discovered Sybil; Lisa, Bright and Dark; and The Three Faces of Eve.

For anyone still awake, what are some of your favorite childhood books?