Posted by: Michelle Mitton | May 29, 2008

Books That Taught Me to Love Reading

Half Magic by Edward EagerI noticed I wasn’t the only one thinking about my favorite books from the past, Chris from Book-a-Rama had a few of her favorites and Mommysecrets is doing her own series of book lists, but I’m using this list to introduce the Week o’ Books (what?) Yes, the Week o’ Books–a highly sophisticated name for a highly sophisticated system where I have a stack of books I’ve been given to review but have been lazy about doing so. Instead, I’m going to mention one each day over the next week then give one away each day.

Simple, huh?

So here are the books that I wax nostalgic for from my childhood followed by the book I’m giving away. If you’d like a shot at winning please leave a comment on this post before the end of the day and I’ll put your name in the pot. If you are posting anonymously or without an email address attached to your profile please either leave me your email so that I can contact you should you win or keep an eye on tomorrow’s post because I’ll announce each day’s winner in the next day’s post.

1. Half Magic by Edward Eager. This story of four siblings who find a coin that grants them half-wishes appealed to my love of fantasy but less well known are the others in the series–Magic by the Lake, Knight’s Castle, Seven-Day Magic, The Time Garden, The Well-Wishers and Magic or Not?–which are also great reads and are good read-aloud novels. Before there was Harry there was Half-Magic.

The Great Brain by John D. FitzgeraldAlong the same genre is Time at the Top, an obscure story by Edward Ormondroyd about a little girl who finds a magical elevator, and The Swing in the Summerhouse, part one of a trilogy by Jane Langton. Funny thing, I actually had to write a letter to Ms. Langton for an elementary school assignment and she and I ended up corresponding for a short time. I believe she lived in Boston at the time. I had to go and Google her quick to see if she’s still writing and sure enough she is and has her own site.

2. The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald. Spencer just went through reading the series and it was fun to see him enjoy these as much as I once did. All about a smart-and-cocky kid who lives in early 20th century Salt Lake City and uses his genius to milk the neighborhood kids of allowance money–it has the feel of Tom Sawyer’s famous painting the fence scene stretched into a series. He’s the hero you love to hate. Highly recommended by both me and my 11 year-old son.

The Ten O'Clock Club by Carol Beach York3. The Ten o’ Clock Club by Carol Beach York. If you missed this charming–and I mean charming–story of the girls at the Good Day Orphanage I only pray it’s not too late to catch up and remedy the error. Unfortunately it’s not in print any more and searching for the author’s name at Amazon only pulls up Wanderlust: Erotic Travel Tales which I’m pretty sure isn’t quite the same.

My mother bought me The Ten o’ Clock Club and The Christmas Dolls (also by York) and I treasured both until the covers were tattered and torn. The Christmas Dolls tells the story of two misfit dolls that dream of being loved by a little girl and thanks to some Christmas magic they get their wish. The Ten o’ Clock Club follows the same group of girls when they try their hand at fortune-telling.

Very sweet–you can borrow my copies if you’d like. So long as you promise to return them.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander4. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. This series includes The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Black Cat, Taran Wanderer and The High King (if memory serves) and was my first taste of Tolkien-esque fantasy. My friends and I read and re-read this series up until junior high but do you remember where I said I had an elementary school writing assignment to write to an author? Well I also wrote to Mr. Alexander and he didn’t answer. Not that I’m bitter. Sure, he sent me a pamphlet outlining the many books he’d written but that really isn’t the same thing as a letter from an author you idolize is it? Oh well, I pulled through somehow.

Nancy Drew and the Password to Larkspur Lane by Carolyn Keene5. Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene. I’ve always loved mysteries and besides Nancy I’d have to add Trixie Belden (who was slightly cooler than Nancy based on the having-her-own-horse advantage–a horse is always better than a roadster when you’re 13). I suppose it also helped that she had a real boyfriend rather than Ned who seemed to be more of a bellboy than a boyfriend but at any rate, I loved Nancy and Trixie and before that it was Encyclopedia Brown.

I read every one of the books in these three series voraciously–which later lead me to Agatha Christie–and thanks to Nancy I’ve sworn that someday I will write my own mystery story. On the list of things to do.

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards6. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards. How many of you are familiar with this fantasy novel? Mrs. Tecca, my third grade teacher, read this to us and I loved every word from beginning to end (and I loved Mrs. Tecca too). It’s written by–get this–Julie Andrews of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music fame under her married name and it’s just wonderful. It’s been a few years but as I recall it’s the story of the Potter children who go on a magical adventure with their friend the professor in search of the great and wise whangdoodle. Something like The Wizard of Oz only much, much better and without the freaky flying monkeys. Edwards also wrote Mandy which reminds me of The Secret Garden and which I loved nearly as much–another little orphaned girl with a secret house and garden that she fixes up all by herself–great stories.

7. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I might as well throw this on the list since I’ve just mentioned it but A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy are also gems and must-reads. How many times have these novels been made into movies? I don’t know but I think I’ve seen every version that’s ever come out. Where else will you see Ricky Schroeder in a Buster Brown suit?

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald8. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. Again, Mrs. Tecca read this to us and I loved how she did funny voices for “The Cry Baby Cure” and brought the books alive. Did I mention Mrs. Tecca had been the school librarian before she was my third grade teacher? Every child should be so lucky as to have a teacher like that. Oh how I loved to hear her read to us.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is perfect for reading aloud for just that reason–the funny voices. Well, that and the chapters are perfectly contained stories so that if you stop at the end and don’t pick up the book for a month you don’t forget what’s happened and can start back right in without skipping a beat. Good stuff.

9. The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. I’ve mentioned this series before but they’re funny and clever enough that they’re worth repeating (though I won’t subject you to hearing my story of meeting Beverly Cleary again). I think I’ve read most of Cleary’s books except the “mushy” ones that were more romance than humor–I wanted Ramona, not kissing. I’ve read Henry Huggins’ books to the boys and they loved them just as I did at their age.

The Letter the Witch and the Ring by John Bellairs10. The Letter, the Witch and the Ring by John Bellairs. This probably qualifies as the absolutely scariest book I ever read as a kid. I was telling David about it the other day to try and get him to read it and when I raved about how scary it was and how he’d never be able to take it (you know, challenging his bravery and manliness in a weak ploy of reverse psychology to get him to read it) he started into it but put it down saying it was too scary. I think he was lying and that he just didn’t want to read it–it’s very difficult for me to get my kids to read a recommendation of mine–apparently I’m just not cool enough to have a real opinion–but if Aunt Melissa or Uncle Luke recommends something they’ll snatch it right up. Darn kids.

I should try reading it again to see if it really was that scary. I remember reading it at night and coming to a scene where the main character is riding in a car and glances in the rear view mirror and sees glowing eyes in the darkness of the back seat. I wigged out completely as only a ten year-old can wig out when she’s not supposed to be up reading so late.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg11. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. What kid doesn’t love this story? I should ask, what kid doesn’t think about running away from home (if just for a brief second) and this book tells the story of two kids brave and smart enough to pull it off by running away and secretly living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Don’t let that disturb you as a parent it’s a great story with a fun mystery wrapped in for good measure. It was my first introduction to Michaelangelo as a child. My kids and I have tossed around other places that would be fun to hide out and agreed that Disneyland would be terribly disappointing–what fun would it be to hide there when all the rides were closed?

Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster12. Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. I’d normally mention Anne of Green Gables but that’s on EVERYONE’S favorite list so I’ll give it a nod in passing (love it love it love it–it’s so great it’s beyond the worthiness of this little list) and mention this lesser-known work that is also wonderful. It has a similar feel to the Anne books and even has a sequel, Dear Enemy, which is also fabulous reading. It follows Jerusha Abbott as she works in an orphanage and corresponds with an unknown benefactor. I think it was even made into a movie long ago. Probably a Ginger Rogers movie–it has Ginger written all over it.

The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth13. The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth. Another unknown that any kid who likes dinosaurs would love. It’s about a little boy who finds an egg–you guessed it, it’s enormous–and hatches it only to find that it’s a dinosaur egg. The media finds out and the issues grow as fast as the little dinosaur. Probably the precursor to Jurassic Park from a kinder, gentler time–without the blood and carnage of dinosaurs making h’ors d’oeuvres out of the humans. I also liked The Shy Stegosaurus of Crooked Creek by Laurie Lawlor about some children that find a stegosaurus hiding out near their home.

Others not even mentioned: The short books about witches by Ruth Chew, Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater, She Was Nice to Mice by Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy (yes, Ally Sheedy the actress, when she was 13) and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. All wonderful books too. You’ll notice I refrained from raving about Charlotte’s Web which I consider a monument to the English language–it’s so obvious I figured I’d let someone mention it in the comments.


Your Toddler Month by Month by Tanya ByronTo start off this Week o’ Books here’s Your Toddler Month by Month: Your Essential Guide to the First Four Years by Dr. Tanya Byron. Published by DK Publishing (they tend to be a name you can trust) it’s just what it claims to be–a comprehensive guide to those formative years when you often look at the child you’ve produced and say, “Oh my gosh–how could this human being have come from me?”

Physical, mental, emotional development–it appears to be covered and my impression is that it’s a nice guidebook for some of those questions you might have such as: “Is it normal for my child to strip off their clothes in public?” The answer is, of course, yes. That’s why it’s advisable to dress your little exhibitionist in at least seventeen layers of clothes each day so that at least you’ve got a fighting chance of catching them before they get down to Buck Naked in the middle of Walmart. (That part is my own expert advice–not Dr. Byron’s. Though she can use it in the next edition if she wants to–free of charge).

Forgive me if I’m a little cynical when I see chapter headings like, “Communicating with Your Toddler” and “Managing Behavior.” I vaguely remember those years with toddlers and the days where I’d swear there wasn’t any way the both of us were going to make it through alive and sane. I could have really used a book like this.

A 90-day Food Diary by Jaqui HermannI’m also throwing in What My Toddler Ate Today: A 90-day Food Diary by Jaqui Hermann where parents can chart their child’s meals to improve eating habits and nutrition–not a bad idea is it?

But if you’d like a chance to read Dr. Byron’s pearls of wisdom for yourself and count your kids’ Doritos intake, leave a comment and you’ve got a fighting chance at winning something fun this week.

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