Hello to all, hello to 2013! After a month off of updating the site, I figured it was time to jump back into the web. So, without further ado…
I grew up in a family that loved reading. Books were everywhere, bookshelves in almost every room. My sister used to have to be told to put her book away at the table. I remember bringing a book to the first day of school when we moved back to Texas, but, after hearing that we weren’t supposed to have non-Christian books, I hid it under my shirt. We all love book stores– from Barnes and Noble to Christian bookstores, from Half Price to antique shops. I always enjoy browsing the shelves, seeing portals to other worlds, connecting with people from all times and places. A book allows you to time-travel, fight aliens, explore foreign countries, know strange people and real people (and real strange people), enter into different mindsets and imagine amazing possibilities. And so on and so forth. I could go on, but I want to stay on point.
While I couldn’t ever choose 5 favorite childhood books, here are five books/series from my childhood that truly shaped and influenced me (or maybe they were just memorable).
I just found out that these books were called “Moby Books.” Similar books were titled “Great Illustrated Classics” but there were a little too large compared to the books I’m talking about.
I had a great number of these books when I was growing up. Here’s a description from this website, where you can buy copies of these classics: “The MOBY BOOKS series of adaptions of classics were similar in style to Whitman’s Big Little Books of the 1930’s and 40’s. These books measure 5.5 inch by 4 inches and feature an illustration on every other page. At least 41 titles were available in this series during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In 2002, a handful of additional titles were issued by Playmore without the Moby Books logo.”
Each book contained an abridged version of the book, with one page of text and one page illustrations.
The art style of these books was also quite fun– simple line drawings. What I loved about these books is that they provided me with simple introductions to the great, wide world of literature.
They also gave me opportunity to brag about reading “The Time Machine” or “Tom Sawyer” — I tried to then move to the actual books, but they were a little too challenging for my fourth grade self.
Still, the Moby Books did what I hope to do for the rest of my life: take big concepts and grand stories and help young people understand and enjoy them.
The Phantom Tollbooth
This book is such a classic, Leslie Knope read it out loud in an early episode of Parks and Recreation.
Okay, well, that’s not a strong example, but it is a fun example.
This book is a wondrous journey into a world of imagination, letters, numbers, words, ideas, and more. It seems rather existentialist in many ways, but more often than not it’s just a bunch of play on words.
There’s a Watch Dog, who is a dog with a watch in his body. There’s the Humbug, who is, well, a bug who is a deceptive humbug. The Mathemagician is a Magician who uses Math. Every character, every little detail has some sort of meaning and story behind it. Norton Juster’s classic (along with Jules Feiffer’s illustrations) was an odd book with a compelling world.
Along with books by Roald Dahl and books by Paul Jennings, this book created within me a love for odd and strange things– fantastical creatures, mythology, movies by Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton, TV shows from JJ Abrams and Bryan Fuller, books on legends and oddities of history.
Along with that, this book (along with others) led me to a love of playful language. I love puns and little jokes about words– often I’m the only one laughing, but it’s still enjoyable. It’s fun to see the ways that our language wraps around itself and laugh at the overlapping segments– homonyms, palindromes, word games, etc.
The Phantom Tollbooth helped me see all of those wonders and joys in life.
The Boxcar Children Series
I can’t write about influential books and not include these! I still have a large box of these classics sitting in storage somewhere, hopefully to be enjoyed by my children someday.
The series starts with “The Boxcar Children” and is about four children who have become orphans. Eventually, they move into an abandoned boxcar and start a new life. But just when things fall apart… well, you’ll have to read it to find out!
Each book is basically a mystery or adventure story. The four characters– Benny, Violet, Jessie, and Henry– each have their own personalities and interests. It was fun to see how they interacted and grew together. The stories were rather simple, but also well composed– as a kid, I tried to guess the endings, but often was surprised how things turned out.
Little elements of the books interested me– they made bread and milk (pouring milk onto a piece of bread and eating the milk-soaked piece) sound SO delicious! In San Francisco, they went to a restaurant where they ate and paid according to the plates they ate off of– I still want to find a place that does that! And, come on, what kid (or adult) doesn’t want to spend at least one night in a box car? We almost did as a family a while back, but ended up in a regular cabin. But maybe someday…
I loved the family and how close they were. Growing up, I had one older sister, but reading this series allowed me to look into a larger family dynamic. I imagined what it would be like to have an older brother or a younger brother or a younger sister. I got to go along with them on their various mysteries or adventures, but also join them in day to day family life– and it was always fun.
Amazing but True! — Stories about People, Places, and Things- by Doug Storer
I’m glad I’m finally writing about this book, because every time I think about it, I can’t remember anything beyond this: it had cool stories, a yellow cover, and red edged pages (and pictures of the Taj Mahal and a platypus on the front). There’s a big story behind this book.
I don’t remember where we first got it– I should ask my parents sometime. Anyway, I remember having this book as a kid and it was always so fun to flip through it and read different stories. I held onto to it for years and years, and even brought it to school in eighth grade to share it with the class. And that’s the last thing I can remember about the book. A couple years later, I realized it was missing. Now, like I said above, our house was always full of books. So I assumed it was somewhere. But I looked and I looked– in room upon room, through shelves and boxes, under furniture and in the garage– but no luck. It’s still possible it was in my house, hidden somewhere, but if that’s true, it’s now in a storage box somewhere in Houston, TX.
So in college, I finally got onto eBay and looked around for interesting purchases. And this book came to mind. All this time, it had been in the back of my mind, one of the prominent items that I’ve lost over the years– along with my green jacket in a church in England, my fifth grade story journal somewhere in the world, and my leather jacket at a Fridays in Texas. Well, none of those items could really be replaced, but I did a search for this book. Nothing. Once again, I had little to go on, but I tried again and again. I Googled, I asked Jeeves, I searched Yahoo (I would have Bing-ed but I don’t think it was out yet). And finally, I found it. After searching “Strange” and “Amazing” and “Stories” and random details from entries I remembered, I finally found it– on eBay. And I bought it. And I got it. And I’ve loved it once more. It’s really a great book. With stories from the first hot dog to the first use of rubber, from the Church pistols to the portrait in blood, from the 4-year old mother to Peter Stuyvesant’s leg, it’s a real fun read. This book helped me see there were strange stories and odd moments all through history and all around us. And you know what, you can find it here!
The Great Searches Series
All the books above were wonderful books to read, but sometimes it was nice to just have something to examine and enjoy. These search books were just that. More complex than merely a Where’s Waldo book, but simple enough for a kid to understand and learn. Basically each of the books in the series covered a different spectrum of things. There was:
The Great City Search
The Great Undersea Search
The Great World Tour
The Great History Search
Each book contained info pages and a large pictures that you were to examine and search for certain items. It was a very involved type of reading– you learned about the setting, the item, saw it being used or saw it in action, and saw how all the elements of the picture came together.
Each book helped you see the great intricacy of the oceans, of history, of a city, of the world. Each little person or animal or item mattered and it was up to you to find it and understand its purpose. What a wonderful practice for kids to develop indeed.
Anyway, I could probably list another 50 books and series and authors and more, but I will refrain for now. Hope you enjoyed my reflections– now it’s your turn. What books were important to you as you were growing up? Maybe it’s time to try them out again– you’ll never know what you might find!