I’ve lately had an inordinate amount of free time on my hands which has led to much retrospection, which has in turn lead me to my chosen topic–childrens books. One of my most prized memories is of reading the entirety of Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children without any help. I was seven years old at the time, and I distinctly remember lying down in the hall late at night, so that the light from under my parents closed door could illuminate the pages of my book. I couldn’t put it down, and the quality and charm of the book itself made me an instant fan of what I perceived as “big kid books.” Thus began my bibliophilic journey.
Today I’d like to share a scant handful of my favorite children books, and also confess which famed children books I’ve never even read.
1. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgeson Burnett. My initial interest in the book was honestly piqued by the protagonists name. My own name being Mary, I immediately felt a kinship with her, (in spite of Miss Lennox’ rudeness) and resolved on liking her even if she kept being a snobby nuisance. Of course, I excused some part of her impertinence to her having been made an orphan due to her parents unfortunate and unexpected demise, but this magnanimity on my part was often stretched due to Mary’s determined obstinance. Fortunately however my persistence paid off, and as Mary grew along with the garden I became entranced with her story. Having a robin for a friend is pretty cool, and who wouldn’t lose their head even a little bit over a country lad like Dickon. He was my very first romantic ideal, truth be told. There is something pan-like in his music making merriment, and yet an idea of ageless wisdom in his sage comprehension of individuals and circumstance.
I suppose one of my biggest reasons for prizing this book is because of the message I perceive in its pages. Both Mary and Colin appear as rather tyrannical babies throughout a substantial portion of the book, but Burnett skillfully presents opportunities for the reader to comprehend, forgive and even love these characters. I see the message of the book as one of love. Even the most unloveable, hopeless people can change–both mentally and physically. Mary overcame her surliness and became a rather delightful (if blunt) young lady, and Colin overcame substantial physical infirmity because something in a hidden garden sparked the beauty within each of their souls. I don’t suppose I’ll ever quite get over never having found my own, private garden, but I’m sure my time will come.
2. Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes. I am convinced that I experienced my first sensations of patriotism as I heard my mother read this book aloud. Using the framework of the American Revolution, Johnny Tremain tells the story of a young, prideful apprentice blacksmith who (spoiler ahead) irreparably damages one of his (understandably much-needed) hands whilst working on the sabbath (naughty). The resulting emotional journey he experiences, combined with a skillful retelling of historical occurrences, crafts a compelling tale of coming of age and mystery–two of the things I don’t mind indulging myself with on a regular basis. I love stories with believable and sympathetic character development, and each time I read this book I enjoy it more.
Johnny is a bit of a pompous braggart at the beginning, but he (not unlike Mary Lennox) becomes more valuable to the reader as he matures. Oh, and as he rebels against the infamous ‘lobster” red coats.
3. Heidi, Johanna Spyri. Don’t watch the movie–I don’t care that it has Shirley Temple in it–skip it and simply relish the lovely simplicity that is the book. This is the book that gave me the gumption to try goat cheese, this is the book that made me want to read the bible so I’d know who the prodigal son was–this book is my LIFE. It contains so many valuable ideas and messages, plus the pervading idyllic nature of Heidi herself brings out more Romantic in me than any Marlowe poem ever could.
This book made me want to be healthy as a child, because HEIDI ate healthily and I wanted to be her. This book made me wish I had curly hair like my sister Anna–because Heidi’s hair was curly. Heidi’s own irrepressible love for her home made me admire the beauty of my own area, and even though I didn’t have goats to charm my eyes, there were certainly enough cows for sufficient contemplation.
I could go on for quite some time about Heidi–suffice me to say that at an early age I was hopelessly enchanted by the idyllic world Spyri shared, and that even the mention of the book sparks spontaneous rhapsodies on my part.
4. Heartbeat, Sharon Creech. This books eludes description. It is a part of who I’ve become. Simply read it and you’ll understand.
Aaaaaand if that’s too vague here is a bit of a rundown: the book is written in free verse (that in itself won me over immediately), and essentially it is the story of how a young girl called Annie reconciled every trying and perplexing situation she encountered by running around her neighborhood and listening to the thump of her own heart. I. Love. It.