September 8, 2010

Child's Play

Some things from childhood are pleasures to re-discover in your adult life.  Favorite movies, cartoon shows, toys, games, hiding places, foods (well, maybe foods are both good and bad… pop tarts haven’t exactly been the same since the seventh grade).

Chicken pox, I have discovered, is not one of these things.  Ladies and gentlemen, I have (in the past week) managed to give myself shingles.

This is merely the latest and greatest in my recent outbreak of personal health debacles.  I could elaborate on how utterly miserable it makes you feel, I could go into detail about the interesting markings that have cropped up on my body because of it, but instead (as is my wont), I am going to talk about books. 

There are certain books which one reads as a child (or should have read as a child) that are, for various reasons, truly delightful to re-visit in adult life.  Here is a short list of books that kept me company in the middle school lunchroom and that I still crack every once in a while.

*Anything from the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.  I will admit, I am utterly biased on this one.  Brian Jacques came to my middle school.  Brian Jacques read to us.  Brian Jacques was an utterly cool and wonderful guy.  Because of this, there is a soft spot in my heart for Brian Jacques.  Nevermind that the books are all pretty much the same after a while, nevermind that they exhibit some of the most blatant racial stereotyping in children’s books (all the bad animals are stoats, rats and weasels and the good animals are badgers, mice and otters?  But what happens if someone is born and rat and just wants to be a good guy?  Huh?  Take that, British mouse supremacist!) I still love this series.  It was one of the first “epic” fantasy series’ that I dug my little paws into, and I think that it has really shaped me as a reader.  Because of this book, I have, for years, wanted to try Damson Cordial, Meadowcream, ‘Marchpane, Shrimp n’ Hotroot Soup, Deeper n’ Ever Pie, oh I could go on.  Especially before or after any epic battle scene.

*His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.  This is one of those “side of the fence” books.  I first read The Golden Compass when I was far too young to understand the Christ allegory and religious discussion going on in the book.  In college, I gave it to one of my roommates to read and she railed that it had more Jesus than The Chronicles of Narnia.  I seriously had to go back and re-read it to understand what she was talking about.  Of course it was clear as day at that point, but I found it so funny that I had never seen this before.  Like any good children’s movie, this series of books will give completely different (and utterly enjoyable) reading experiences to audiences depending upon the reader’s age.  Because of that, it is definitely worth re-visiting.  Especially if you can imagine the wonder and terror it would inspire in a child who doesn’t quite understand the religious stuff yet…

*Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.  This may be a big old “duh” and so I was hesitant to add it to the list, but really, how could I not?  I was of the generation that grew up with Harry Potter.  I started reading them when I was ten.  The last book came out when I was twenty-one.  As was the author’s intention, Harry aged with me.  And it was precisely because of that that I so loved the series.  It was part of my ascension into adolescence and later adulthood.  When the final book came out, I was living at Shakespeare & Company with about 40 other twenty-somethings.  It was amazing how many of us, despite the fact that we had had a twelve-hour day, despite the fact that we would have a twelve-hour day the next day, stayed up and waited on line at the local bookshop until midnight when we purchased our books and promptly went scurrying home to the theatre to read for a few hours before passing out.  I think we all felt the same way; like this book was the completion of our childhoods.  Like when the series was over, we would have to become new people somehow.  Move on to other things…. grown-up books.  Whatever it was, I still pop out my Harry Potter books sometimes.  I definitely tend towards the later books rather than the earlier ones just because I find the writing more engaging, but they are most definitely all a part of my permanent collection.

*The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  When I was in high school, I had an awesome AWESOME math teacher.  Once, for a project, she gave us a list of choices.  One of the choices was to read The Phantom Tollbooth and do something creative with mathematics inspired from the book.  I can’t, for the life of me, remember what my project wound up being about (it was a math class, after all), but I do remember the book.  Holy wow.  Philosophy, wordplay, deep concepts, all in the sweet little guise of a children’s novel.  I don’t think I can emphasize how much I love this book.  If you haven’t read it, go read it.  Seriously.  Now.  Okay, maybe after you finish reading this…

*Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.  I have a confession to make.  Despite having memorized the animated movie version, I never read this book as a child.  When I graduated from undergrad, some near and dear friends discovered this oversight and gifted me with the book to correct it.  I promptly read the book (as one is wont to do with gifted books), and despite the fact that I was a grown-up, despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen, despite the fact that I was sitting at my corporate desk-job at the time, I cried like a baby at the end of it.  It’s just one of those stories that will get you every time, no matter what.  And that is truly remarkable.

Obviously this is just a smattering of what might be on this list.  Instead of going on ad noseum, I’m interested to hear about others’ additions.  What books did you read as a child that you still crack now and again?  Why?  What importance did they have on you as a reader and/or a person?  Even if you don’t wind up posting the answers to these questions to the internet for all to see, it’s certainly worth thinking about.  Studies show that books have a profound effect upon the adolescent psyche to the point of being unable to replicate in the classroom the learning that goes on when a young person reads a book.

I guess, in certain circumstances, you are what you read.


Em said...

Lovely reminiscing Dani. My companions in middle school were Swiss Family Robinson and a variety of horse and dog books- particular Marguerite Henry (I STILL want to go to Chincoteague for Pony Penning Day)and Roald Dahl's lovely works. In high school I was introduced to fantasy by my best friend and fell in love with Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, and Mercedes Lackey, the later two of whom I still love rereading.

Thanks for sharing! (and yes I totally want the Redwall cookbook so I can try some of those things too!)

Danielle said...

I totally forgot about Piers Anthony! I used to love his books!!