Sunday, September 11, 2005

13 Books, 20 Minutes

Jim: In this week's book discussion, we're focusing on children's book. That's due to the fact that Gina and Krista asked us to because they'll be doing a survey of children's lit in this Friday's the gina & krista round-robin. We're happy to assist. Next week, we'll be discussing Tariq Ali's Street Fighting Years. This week, we'll be noting a book that stood out in childhood. Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Ava, Jess, Ty and myself, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Mike of Mikey Likes It!, C.I. of both The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, and we're very lucky to be joined by Folding Star who ran the weblog A Winding Road.

Ava: I asked to go first because when this feature was discussed, I claimed E.B. White's Charlotte's Web which was something that many of us involved would have selected. The illustrations are done by Garth Williams and this is a book that had a huge impact on me. It was read to me before I could read myself and it's one I read repeatedly in elementary school. Confession, it's also a book I still pick up when I'm feeling depressed. Last paragraph of the book:

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and
grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his
heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone
comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

Kat: My choice is one that only two people involved had heard of, The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward, with pictures by Marjorie Hack. I loved this book, as much for the pictures as the story. The Country Bunny is a Sally Field type, plucky and feisty. She wants to be one of the Easter egg carriers. Each year, there's a contest and the fastest bunnies are selected to deliver the eggs. Although the Country Bunny is one of the fastest, she is told that it's too bad she has so many children or she could be one of the five selected. She makes an argument, which always struck me as both common sense and feminist, and she gets to be the fifth carrier. She also becomes the bravest carrier and as she attempts to deliver the final egg, "the loveliest egg," up a snow covered hill, Grandfather Bunny arrives with gold shoes that will assist her. So it's a story with feminist overtones and Country Bunny gets a snazzy pair of shoes to wear as she breaks through the glass ceiling, what's not to love?

Cedric: My favorite growing up was a little book called The Harlem Globetrotters and Basketball's Funniest Game. A nephew has the book now and we pass it around because it's an easy book and because it features African-Americans. Also, a kid who might not read something else, if he or she likes sports, will usually pick it up. Growing up, we all fought over this book. I don't just mean when we were little. But my sister had it before me, okay? It was passed down to her and then it was my turn. When I was reading bigger books, she tried to claim it back and kept saying she had only "loaned it" to me. It's funny now, but there were some intense fights over this book. I called my brother to find out the credits for it and it's by Clare and Frank Gault and illustrated by Charles McGill. It's probably not a great book, I'm sure it isn't. But it's one that's held the interest in my family.

Jim: My favorite book was a sports book too and is far less weighty than your choice. But it's by the same authors and I didn't know that. Clare and Frank Gault. It was my dad's book so it was also passed on.

Cedric: Really?

Jim: Yeah. Dick Ericson did the illustrations though. It's called How to Be a Good Baseball Player. My dad got it when he was nine-years-old. I don't remember this, but my mom says he read it to me over and over even when I was in the crib. Baseball's real big with my dad. He coached my little league team. Ty, Jess and Ava tease me about moving in with Dona over at her place with Ava but if they see the book there, they'll know I've moved because I wouldn't live anywhere without that book. What I can remember is Dad going over this book with me all the time when I was in elementary school. As summer approached, he'd pull out the book and we'd read it and look at the pictures. It's really an instructional book and I'm probably choosing it more for memories than the book itself but here's a quote:

How do you throw a fast ball?
One way is to grip the baseball with two fingers across the seams.
Or you can grip the ball using two fingers along the seams.
And some pitchers like to use only one finger across the seams.

Dona: As a dull gaze sets over everyone from that quote, I'll go next. I can't pick one. I can narrow it down to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prarie series. And from that, I can narrow it down to the first book or On the Banks of Plum Creek. I loved the books. I hated the TV show. I may be the only one who feels that way but the book seemed to have some hard hitting emotions and moments, stop laughing Jim, and the TV series seemed to be like Lassie. I kept waiting for Melissa Gilbert to get petted on the head every episode. But I love the books. All of them. And Jim, if you don't stop laughing, I'll eviscerate you for choosing an instructional book. I love those books.

Folding Star: I loved the Little House books, too. I read them over and over as a kid. I also read the books of Beverly Cleary over and over again, especially the Ramona books. But the one book that always comes to mind when I think of childhood favorites is Cleary's Dear Mr. Henshaw. It's such a great book. It's about this boy who wants to be a writer and, as a class assignment in elementary school, writes a letter to a children's author. The book takes the form of his letters to the author and later the journal the author suggests he keep. For anyone who ever wanted to be a writer when they were a kid, it's a wonderful book, but it also really deals well with the emotions kids may be dealing with after their parents divorce, and just in general with feelings about adolescence. It's just an amazing book.

Betty: I like the Ramona books too. I'd forgotten them until I started reading them to my own kids. It's like rediscovering the books all over again. My favorite changes from week to week depending on what the kids are into. Currently, they want Robert Bright's Georgie. That's a book about a little boy who's a ghost and it has the ink drawings that the kids get excited over.
This summer, at my oldest's day care, there was a Halloween in July thing where they got to dress up and read books. They had to make their own masks with construction paper and sacks and they did that in day care so it wasn't a stress for the parents. But during that week, one of the books they read was Georgie and this was really hard to find a copy of. But we "had" to have it and I remember those days so I finally found a copy on the internet. Let me do a quote because I just feel like I'm rambling here. (Laughing) Maybe because I'm not reflecting on the past but the topic pulls me very much into the present. Here's the opening of the book:

In a little village in New England there was a little house which belonged
to Mr. and Mrs. Whittaker.
Up in the little attic of this little house there lived a little
ghost. His name was Georgie.
Every night, at the same time, he gave the loose board on the stairs a
little creek,
and the parlor door a little squeak.

It's a cute book and at a time when the youngest is worrying about monsters under the bed, it's great because I can say, "I don't think it's monsters, I think it's Georgie!" and peace is restored and bed times met.

Mike: Mine's a Halloween book because I always loved Halloween best because you got to dress up in costumes. Christmas is great for presents, but Halloween's still my favorite. My book is by Bernard Wiseman, he did the words and the pictures, and it's called Halloween with Morris and Boris. It's about a moose and a bear who go trick or treating. My favorite character was Morris the moose. Boris was kind of a know it all and had a short temper. Morris ends up being a clown for Halloween and Boris ends up being a ghost. They get candy and go to a party and play pin the tail on the donkey and bob for apples. I just liked the book when I was little. Halloween, the color of the drawings.

Ty: I liked the colors in one book when I was little too. Ickle Bickle Robin by Edna Mitchell Preston and drawings by Norman Bridwell. The red on the robin's chest always looked like orange to me and that color just stood out. I would stare at the pictures even after I could read myself. The parents of Ickle Bickle Robin are arguing about whether he's old enough to fly or not. The dad thinks he is but the mom thinks he isn't. Then when he does fly, the dad's the one who's worried. It's a funny book.

Jess: I think my book's funny too. It's Maurice Sendak's Pierre which is part of the Really Rosie series. This was the first book I "read." I say "read" because we had the Carole King soundtrack to Really Rosie and it played all the time. She sings the words Sendak wrote to her own music and melodies. So I knew the words from the song and I'd turn the pages while I sang the song to myself. Here's the opening:

There once was a boy
named Pierre
who only would say,
"I don't care!"
Read his story,
my friend,
for you'll find
at the end
that a suitable
moral lies there.

When I was a kid I thought it was "that a suit and a bull more all lies there." That's what my folks tell me. I guess I was just coming up with words I knew.

Rebecca: I'm going with a book I hated. It left an impression, but I hated it. Martha Tolles' Katie For President. So here's the basic plot. Katie wants to be president of the class. Her rival is Lynne Colby. They don't like each other. Turns out Lynne envies her just as much as Katie envies Lynne. What that has to do with election, I don't know. But Katie has to deliberate over whether to even vote for herself. That's before she finds out that Lynne's an okay person. The "happy" ending? Katie loses the election to Lynne. Katie's fine with it. Even when a note that destroyed her chances to win was written by Lynne's friend and Lynne knew about it. It was all too much to stomach and another "Empathy, girls!" story. Young girls need more victory stories, not lessons in how to be happy about losing.

C.I.: Interesting. I'll go with an obvious choice. The Curious George series. And from that, I'll go with Curious George Rides a Bike. H. A Rey is the author. The drawings were always a big deal to me. Monkeys were big with me. Chim-Chim on Speed Racer, Lance Link . . . And riding a bike is a big thing when you're a kid. I still remember the day the training wheels came off. I was in the drive way, my mother had taken them off. She gave me a push down the drive and, here's the point of the story, as I went down the drive, I turned and started down the sidewalk. No, I don't fall or crash or skin my knees. When I stopped, I stopped because I was ready and didn't fall over. Here's the point, one oft noted over the years, when I turned, I turned left.

Jim: I like that story. We hope this helps, Gina and Krista. Next week, Tariq Ali's Street Fighting Years.

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