Children’s Lit Corner

Our library is installing new carpet. Because I am the Youth Services Librarian, this mean that I have spent the past several days moving all the children’s and young adult books (actually all the books in the library, but I am most concerned with the youth areas) into safe places as the ancient carpet is torn up and the new carpet is laid. It is a huge job. But now all the junior fiction is laid carefully and in order from the Zs to the As in the storytime room so we can quickly restock the shelves over the next few days. The young adult fiction is somewhat more jumbled in the community room, but I trust our faithful librarians and eager volunteers will quickly put those books back in the correct order as well.

Right now I am taking a much needed break in order to write. When I move books in such large quantities, my arms discover muscles they had forgotten about. There is sometimes a temptation to grab more books than my hands should really carry, and the dreaded “Librarian’s Thumb” can set in, but the main ailment I notice after moving so many books is that I feel very, very hungry. This isn’t a hunger for food, though. It is a deep craving to read the often forgotten treasures I uncover in the library bookshelves.

There are scores of these treasures that call to me from the bookshelves, and their voices are even louder now that I have so recently stroked their tattered spines and slipped them gently from their usual spots between their newer brother and sister books on the shelves. You see, as much as I enjoy the up and coming new authors, the magical or blood-curdling (or blood-sucking) books with shiny covers that fly from the shelves, I have a soft spot for the older books, the sometimes overlooked remnants left over, not from the Flood, but from a time before vampires and wizards and wimpy kids came into popularity.

Those high-profile, exciting, and hugely entertaining books certainly have a place. For one thing, they entice children and young adults to read, always a plus for me. Also, they tell an exciting story and can immerse a young reader in a new world of imagination in ways a video game just can’t. But before Harry Potter, before the Hunger Games, and before Captain Underpants, there were other wonderful and still valuable books for children and young adults.

One of the hidden treasures I packed carefully into the storytime room was the 1957 Newbery Award book, Miracles on Maple Hill, by Virginia Sorensen. Virginia was born in 1912, lived in Manti and Provo during her girlhood, and was a member of the Church. In a time when not many LDS writers were being recognized outside the religious community, not only was Virginia a prolific writer, but she won the most coveted and prestigious children’s fiction award in the nation! Miracles on Maple Hill is a timeless story of Marly, a young girl who moves with her family to a New England farm community. The characters are carefully drawn and believable. The way Marly learns to find small miracles in the world around her is something that would appeal to children of any era.

I grew up surrounded by books, and often when all the month’s library books had been long devoured, my siblings and I would prowl the bookcases in the basement for something to read or reread. One of our favorites was James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks. When Gail Carson Levine wrote Ella Enchanted in 1997, winning the 1998 Newbery Award, she brought the genre of retelling old fairy tales back into popularity. Of course Robin McKinley had written Beauty, a young adult book about Beauty and the Beast back in 1978, and later rewrote it from a different perspective in Rose Daughter, in 1997. James Thurber, however, made up his own fairy tale, and his use of language, unforgettable characters, and happily ever after intrigue makes The Thirteen Clocks an outstanding and exciting original story.

I know if I start describing each treasure I rediscovered in the bookshelves, this blog post would run on forever. So for sake of space, here is a list of just a few of the many old favorite books that called to me from the floor of the storytime room, along with a very brief description. These are not books written by LDS authors for an LDS audience, but they are books that have appealed to children from all cultures, including our own, in time past as well as now.

  • Arabel’s Raven, by Joan Aiken, When Mortimer the Raven joins the Jones family, they are never the same again.
  • The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander, Legend and mythology are blended in the tale of an assistant pig keeper who becomes a hero.
  • The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynn Reid Banks, A toy Indian placed in a magical cupboard comes to life.
  • The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion help.
  • The Crow-Girl, by Bodil Bredsdorff, A girl is orphaned and must leave her remote cove to find others. She finds adventure on the way.
  • The Secret Garden, by Frances Burnett, A ten-year-old girl discovers the mysteries of a locked garden when she moves to England.
  • The Stories Julian Tells, by Ann Cameron, Six stories about Julian and his family.
  • The Limerick Trick, by Scott Corbett, An experiment gone haywire makes a boy speak only in rhyme.
  • James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl, James is unhappy living with his mean aunts, until magic makes a peach that becomes his home.
  • A Toad for Tuesday, by Russell Erickson, Warton the toad is captured by an owl who wants to eat him for dinner on Tuesday.
  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, by Nancy Farmer, In futuristic Africa, a family’s children are kidnapped. They are saved by remarkable means.
  • Bunnicula, by James Howe, What happens when a cat thinks the family’s pet rabbit is a vampire?
  • Redwall, by Brian Jacques, Medieval mice defend their monastery against mean rats.
  • The View from Saturday, by E. L. Konigsburg, How the experiences and friendship of four children help them in a school competition.
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, by Betty MacDonald, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle loves all children, good or bad.
  • The Quigleys, by Simon Mason, Hilarious books about a normal family.
  • Owls in the Family, by Farley Mowat, The adventures of a family that adopts two owls.
  • The Borrowers, by Mary Norton, Little people, no taller than a pencil, live in old houses and borrow what they need from humans.
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien, A widowed mouse turns to some rats whose imprisonment in a laboratory made them wise.
  • The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett, Tiffany is a young girl who finds out she is a witch and must save her little brother.
  • The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin, When an old man dies, he makes a special treasure hunt in his will for some old acquaintances.
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson, The six mean Herdman kids become involved in the community Christmas pageant.
  • How to Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell, Billy takes on a bet that he will eat 15 worms. His friends find “tasty” ways to cook them.
  • Abel’s Island, by William Steig, Stranded on an island, a mouse must use all of his resourcefulness to survive and return home.
  • Homecoming, by Cynthia Voigt, Four children on their own learn to find their place in the world.

I would love to hear about some of your favorite books for children — especially those that might be out of print and only available in the library, or in your own personal libraries.

Kathryn Poulter, Pocatello, Idaho

This entry was posted in Children's Lit corner, The Past through Literature, YA corner. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Children’s Lit Corner

  1. Tod Robbins says:

    Wow. We’ve got to get Virginia Sorenson in the Mormon Lit Database among so many others!

  2. Jonathan Langford says:

    Many beloved and familiar titles among those you list here. Some additions/comments:
    - Arabel’s Raven (and the other Arabel and Mortimer stories) are truly hilarious. Joan Aiken is also much-beloved in our family for her alternate England series (starting with Wolves of Willoughby Chase)
    - Lloyd Alexander is, in my opinion, possibly the best writer of YA fantasy ever. The Prydain chronicles do a better job of growing up with Taran (the main character) than any other fantasy series I know. Mormon lit connection: Lloyd Alexander came out to BYU once at the invitation of Jim Jacobs, a faculty member who wrote a biography of Alexander for his dissertation.
    - I like The Wizard of Oz, but actually think that the 13 following books in the Oz series by Baum are all better. The series was later continued by other authors (particularly Ruth Plumly Thompson), but none of them did as well as Baum did. Back in my youth, I would trawl through old dusty libraries to see what volumes they had — libraries with little turnover had a better chance in this respect than newer libraries.
    - Some books you didn’t mention are the Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron. We seldom see mention of any of these except the first, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet; but there were 5 overall. I thought the last couple of books were the best (Mr. Bass’s Planetoid and Time and Mr. Bass).
    - Owls in the Family is wonderful, as is Never Cry Wolf, also by Mowat. On the theme of books with animal misadventures, Gerald Durrell also wrote a number of books about collecting for zoos. My favorite of his books, though, is My Family and Other Animals, about growing up on the Greek island of Corfu. And of course we can’t forget My Side of the Mountain, by Jean George.
    - Years ago, I happened across an old but deeply hilarious book about living on a chicken farm titled The Egg and I. I then found and read its (sort-of) sequel, the Plague and I. I don’t know if I would ever have come across them if it weren’t for old-book browsing in a library. Looking at your list, for the first time I realized that the author, Betty MacDonald, was also author of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories.

    Truly, nothing can replace a library. I know that collection management is an important thing, and that one needs to keep up-to-date with titles, but I mourn a little bit whenever a library throws out old books.

  3. Marny says:

    Tod, which Mormon Lit Database are you talking about? Virginia Sorensen is in this one: http://mormonlit.lib.byu.edu/lit_author.php?a_id=283

  4. Marny says:

    After going through the mythology section of the library in fourth grade, I found Lloyd Alexander and Alexander Key in fifth grade. They started a life-long love of fantasy and science fiction for me. I still reread those books.

  5. Thanks for the great list of golden oldies. I would add Elizabeth Enright’s books about the Melendy family beginning with The Saturdays– as well as Eleanor Estes’ Moffet books. I loved these books, so did my daughter and now my granddaughter.

  6. Darlene says:

    Thanks for this great list!

    I love the old books. It gets me in trouble when potential agents or editors ask me, “What do you like to read?” because all of my favorites were published many years ago. I loved _Jacob Have I Loved_, for example.

    Jonathan, I just discovered _The Egg and I__ a couple of years ago and loved it.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      I still remember laughing so hard my sides ached when I read her description of “Gammy’s [her grandmother's] cookies.”

      I need to get a copy of that book…

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