Last week, I wrote about terrible children’s books. Elsie Dinsmore tops the list, followed by that ridiculous and condescending “Pat the Bunny.” But, I’ve always lived by the motto “Life is too short for a bad book.” So, I don’t usually waste my time reading something that doesn’t interest me, unless someone is forcing me to read a book about haunted pianos for school credit or patting the bunny happens to be my child’s favorite activity. With those exceptions, I have no problem tossing a book aside and moving on. That’s the thing, isn’t it? Not being forced to read something you don’t like. Sometimes people ask me how to make their kids love reading just as much as I do. (I seriously would marry reading if I could.) And that’s what I tell them, don’t force it. If your kid hates something you think they should love, put it down and walk them into the library and say, “This is your smorgasbord, read anything your little heart so desires. I will read with you and together we will discover something lovely.”
And if they need a break, give it to them. If they only want to read how-tos for paper airplanes or Marmaduke cartoons let them! They are gateway drugs to the harder stuff like Johnny Tremain.
Reading is a discovery. The moment reading becomes a task, a learning tool or a requirement, reading loses it’s magic.My brother hated reading. For years, all he would check out of the library were books on how to draw vicious animals and Garfield cartoons. Then, one day in high school, I walked in on him reading my copy of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” and I was all, “WHOA! WHOA!” And he said, “Shut the door, I’m busy!” He finished it in a day. I only finished it because it was required for my Shakespeare class in college.
This is the brother who loves Jeff Shara, whose books have never interested me. He’s read more books on Gettysburg than me, which isn’t hard since I’ve read precisely zero. He likes his books hard, factual, cold and full of in-depth analysis. He’s the one who made me read Neil Postman and I’ve never been the same since.
So put down your beating stick. Fan out the books and walk away. Magic only happens in small moments when adults aren’t looking. Or haven’t you read those books?
Here are my favorite children’s books as of late. They all have one thing in common–magic, mostly of the ordinary variety, but sometimes fantastic. I want to know what your favorites are too.
1. Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder
The first two pages of this book are full of ordinary wonder, that will make anyone believe that mermaids are knocking on the pipes in their bathrooms.
2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
A boy raised by ghosts. Is it ridiculous to say this story is haunting? Probably. But beneath the bone dust lies real heart.
3. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
This book is so wise and plain, yet fanciful and complex. I also credit this book for teaching me that love is not marrying a vampire and having his babies.
4. The Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Remember when I said that magic only happens when adults aren’t looking? E. Nesbit is the author who taught me that. I recommend letting her teach you that too.
5. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
“I write, not for children,” George MacDonald once wrote, “but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.” And I think all good children’s writers would agree.
6. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
This book still colors how I see children growing up in New York, with clotheslines in the apartment and piles of potatoes on the floor. No dose of reality will convince me otherwise.
7. The Rescuers Series, specifically Miss Bianca and the Orient by Margery Sharp
These little imaginative books are so exquisite, with their charming details and hard-boiled plots. Also, Miss Bianca is a tragically overlooked little mouse, who is genteel but never mousy.
8. Danny The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
Of course, I love The BFG and Matilda, but this impish book shows a boy grappling with his father’s vice in a way that gives the power back to anyone who’s ever seen their hero knocked for a loop. Also, its just a good story.
I could go on all day…Now, it’s your turn. Tell me your favorites.