A recent Facebook meme had me posting ten books that, for whatever reason, had stayed with me. As a nerdy nerd, narrowing it to ten was hard, but also fun. And it’s planted the seed in my mind about books we carry in our hearts and heads, and why, and how, and I’m so grateful for my parents who read every day, and read to us, and encouraged us to read, and bought us books.
And since it’s nearing the holidays, and Languishing loves to give you gift ideas (see here, and here, and here…), let’s just kill both our birds with the one stone, shall we? I hereby declare 2013 the year of the book, and you should chose your favorite book and give copies to everyone you love. What is better than getting a new book? Very little, if you ask me. As a bonus, many of these are often available at thrift stores in nearly new condition for less than 80 cents. Frugal and fantastic: that’s the Languishing way!
Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish: I’ve mentioned her before, but I remember as a girl being incredulous at the way Amelia Bedelia viewed the world. She has many books, but Thank You, Amelia Bedelia is one of my favorites.
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner: We received a boxed set of the first four books, like this one, as a gift from someone when V was but wee. When I was a girl, there were no books I would rather read for a long stretch of time. They kept their milk cold but tucking it into the stream! They found dishes at the dump! As a full grown feminist, their gender roles are a bit too restrictive for my tastes (really, Jessie? You have to do all the cooking? Why can’t Benny cook a little?), but they are resourceful, polite, and so thankful for what they do have. The first 19 books are by Ms. Warner, FYI, and I love all 19 of them.
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: Now I’m a firm believer that children can and should handle a lot of grown up poetry, but there is something magical about Silverstein’s take on the world, his playfulness, and the song-writing skills he brings. V has been reading me his poems since she was 4 years old, and it’s still one of our favorite ways to pass the time in the car. “If you are a dreamer, come in..”
Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol: Again, I have discussed the joy that is Encyclopedia Brown before, but truly, I loved reading his stories. They had that handy “How did Encyclopedia know? Turn to page 112 to find out!” feature, which I liked much more than the find-your-own-adventure books.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren: It’s no surprise, I suppose, that a third-generation American-Swedish girl would fall in love with Pippi, but I’d argue it’s no surprise when anyone falls in love with Pippi. Like The Boxcar Children and Where the Lilies Bloom, Pippi’s parents are MIA, but she has a suitcase full of gold coins and a wacky imagination, so everything’s a lot more cheerful at Pippi’s house. V loves Pippi, and it does my heart good to read stories of these kinds of adventures with my fourth-generation American-Swedish girl.
Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill Cleaver and Vera Cleaver: This is a young adult novel set in the Appalachian Mountains, and Mrs. Holtz, may she rest in peace, drug our class all the way through it in junior high school. This book meant the world to me when I was thirteen: Mary Call, the main character, holds her family together through almost unimaginable hardship, and shows ingenuity, stubbornness, and an impressive work ethic throughout. Apparently, when your dad has a stroke, stories of people whose lives are harder than yours are very appealing, especially when they survive the ordeal in someway. The family in this book reminded me of a slightly older Boxcar Children family, but with even fewer resources. Heart wrenching and beautiful.
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo: Another choice of Mrs. Holtz, this is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read, and since I’ve studied Faulkner more than many, I think that’s saying a lot. It was hard because of the subject matter, but also because I couldn’t get my brain around the storytelling style. I remember not understanding what was going on in the text, and being frustrated, but then I clearly remember when I finally understood: there was a light bulb moment, fairly rare in my time in high school, when the whole story clicked for me, and I can still recall how it moved into my bones. This book is brutal, and beautiful, and if you’ve never read it you probably should.
Very Special People by Frederick Drimmer: It’s not so much that I recommend Very Special People, because that would be presumptuous of me. It’s more in the interest of full disclosure: this may be the most influential book of my life. My parents had bought me the children’s version of this book, apparently, which I loved, and so when they found the whole grown-up version at a rummage sale, they picked it up for me. It was a standard-sized Bantam paperback, but over 1000 pages, and I wore it out. I read it cover to cover perhaps thirty times, and the spine gave out around reading 22. Drimmer’s not especially good at objective reporting, but his stories of the lives of circus sideshow performers still fascinate me. (I replaced the disintegrating copy in 2001 with a hardbound copy Tenessa and I found at the largest used book store I’d ever been in, Strand in New York City.)
So, there you have it: Languishing’s Best Bets for Vintage-y kids books this year. And truly, what adult couldn’t do with a little rereading of Pippi Longstocking or Where the Sidewalk Ends? While you’re at it, if you can’t find these books in the thrift shops in your neighborhood, and despite my links to Amazon and Barnes and Noble, above, please support your local bookseller this holiday season. I know that Zandbroz (in Fargo and Souix Falls) would greatly appreciate your business, and you could probably do every bit of your holiday shopping right there in that one store.
What are your favorite books from childhood, gentle readers? Have you read any of mine? does Pippi Longstocking scare you a little? Do tell.