…but these are my top ten most influential books from childhood. (If you haven't been following the Fuse #8 readers' compilation of Top 100 Children's Books, you should not miss these truly stellar posts!) As Liz B stipulated, I've listed them in order of importance. And I am defining middle grade as what I read before the age of 12, whether or not I was supposed to…
1. The Dark is Rising (I had the same set pictured above, worn into tatters…)
2. A Wrinkle In Time (also tatters)
3. The Outsiders (sobbed more than when Franklin the rabbit died)
4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (something about the scene where the recidivist Edmund peels off his dragon scales was redemptive for me, and of course, who is immune to the charms of Reepicheep)
5. Timothy and Two Witches (the least important of my most important books, yet now the cover has fallen all the way off)
6. Ballet Shoes (enough said by all of us on this subject, but I identified with Mustard Seed)
7. By the Shores of Silver Lake (Manly, my first love)
8. A Girl of the Limberlost (I've always longed to dress like a pale, luminous butterfly)
9. The Witch of Blackbird Pond (the lust for finery, the powerlessness of being unjustly wronged, the nobody-understands-you-i-thought-it-was-just-me angst of it all)
10. The Great Brain or Trumpet of the Swan or Banner in the Sky, it's a three way tie… (racked with laughter, love or tears at every pages, respectively…)
Anyways, in honor of the Fuse#8 list compilation project, I thought I would reprint the blog post I wrote for the lovely Shelly B at Write for a Reader some time ago. I suppose it's my apologia to only being able to list the few titles above…
BECAUSE OF A BOOK
I remember car trips long before car seats, the three of us lying in the back of the station wagon in the night. My mom read by the light of a flashlight in the front seat. The glass on the window was cold, and I would press my face against it and look out in the dark desert sky, trying not to let my brothers see me cry. Banner in the Sky. Where the Red Fern Grows. The Outsiders. Ah, Ponyboy.
I remember hiding in my closet with a pillow and Jello powder stolen out of the garage, reading the entire Narnia series. Sitting high up in our avocado tree reading A Wrinkle in Time and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Crowding under the steps of our classroom bungalow with Pam Ling to recite the poem from the front of The Dark Is Rising books. “When the Dark Comes Rising, Six Shall Turn it Back/Three From the Circle, Three From the Track…”
I read the Little House books by my nightlight, even though the shadows scared me, and The Girl of the Limberlost on the piano bench, instead of practicing. I held Anne of Green Gables low enough in the church pew that you might confuse it for the Bible. When we visited my grandma, I stole into her linoleum basement and read books from my mom’s childhood, with battered covers and titles like Sal Fisher at Girl Scout Camp, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, and even one about a particularly dashing student nurse named Cherry Ames. To this day, even my daughters have been known to exclaim, “Pshaw, Mrs. Shaw, and all the Little Shaws!”
Because of a book, I had Fancies. I knew that, if caught in a thicket, rowan and ash would protect you from Dark Magic. Likewise, a Highway was old magic, neither Light nor Dark, so our station wagon was vulnerable in traffic on the 405. I believed that eyes flashed when angry, a boy traced a girl’s cheeks with a thumb just before a kiss, and that you could be stricken if caught out in the rain, though I was vague on the details. I pined for lawn and muslin, fine whalebone stitching, dressing gowns and/or smoking jackets; and yes, if you had asked me I would have used the word pined. Thought I had not even the smallest bustle, I still hoped to live in a house overlooking an azure sea/apple orchard/Sunnybrook Farm with a cupola and a garret, a root cellar and a grape arbor. A secret garden would be ideal, but I’d settle for a veranda. In fact, I’d pull right up to it in my surrey and pass a pleasant afternoon on the settee in the parlor with a cherry cordial and a thick slice of icebox cake.
Because of a book, I’d hold warm salt against your ear if it ached, make an onion poultice or a mustard plaster for your chest if you had galloping consumption, the aigue, or even a fainting spell. Dropsy. Horsehair. Battenberg. Petit fours. Kid gloves. Real silk stockings. A muff. I’d have come calling and left you my card. My name was probably Lavinia, and I was here for the High Season. Or the Grand Tour. Or cream tea in the drawing room. Or as a companion for my aunt, Her Ladyship, who was of a Higher Station. I hoped I wasn’t being forward. I demurred.
Because of a book, I was never quite sure where I was, what you just said, or why I should know things like, say, 5 x 7. “Never hold a lady by her arm,” said I, at five, to my father, while getting out of the station wagon. “You, sir, are either a jealous husband, or you’re insane.” What can I say? I was always looking for a duel, or at least fisticuffs and a few boxed ears.
Because of a book, I went to study at the school that had Emily Dickinson’s house on campus. I took 36 English classes. I went to a Writers Program in the UK and took more. Because of a book – because of a thousand – I began to write.
Because of a book, I have never had anything I Fancied – not a single mustard plaster or a cupola — and yet I have always had all of them. Because of a book, I had Expectations. I expect I still do.
And that, as someone in a book once said, has made all the difference.