HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So once, I liked Beefaroni. And once, I liked Catalina salad dressing, you know that orangy red stuff? And I used to really love--
Well, okay. I’ll say it. Nancy Drew. I really loved Nancy Drew. But if you read the Nancys now.…
So. Just read this from a fabulous brand new YA author.
And then let us know what you think.
Worst Books from My Childhood
When I became a parent, I looked forward to being able to share the books I remembered fondly from childhood with my kids. But what I quickly discovered, unfortunately, was that some of those books didn’t quite hold up to the test of time. In fact, on re-reading, some were downright awful, to the point that my kids seriously questioned the younger me’s reading tastes. Here are a few that let me down:
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
I was so excited when I saw this on the shelf of our local independent bookstore! I could remember insisting that my parents read the story of Mike and his anthropomorphic steam shovel repeatedly, sometimes multiple times on the same night. So I grabbed a copy and raced home, eagerly anticipating the look of delight on my children’s faces when they got to experience it.
Well, guess what. Turns out that this book is all about the destruction of the environment. Mike and his steam shovel Mary Anne plow over forests, lakes, you name it…all in the name of progress! While this was perfectly acceptable at the time it was written, the illustrations of Mary Anne churning up a gorgeous landscape definitely feels painfully dated. They literally pave over paradise and put in a parking lot.
My preschoolers were understandably horrified. The book ended up in the donation box.
Bridge to Terabithia
I had very distinct memories of certain parts of this story. The boy drank coffee for breakfast! His friend Leslie is the fastest kid in school, even though she’s a girl! All of that stayed with me for decades, delivering a warm fuzzy whenever I heard the title.
Sadly, I’d managed to block out the ending entirely. Spoiler alert: Leslie dies. And not in any earned way, or even to advance the plot. It’s a pointless death that, worse yet, happens offscreen. And it’s also implied that her death is the main character’s (Jess’s) fault.
When we hit that chapter, my kids stared at me, dumbfounded. One started crying, and asked, “But why did she have to die?”
I had no answer. Mind you, this isn’t the first book we’ve read where an important character experiences an untimely demise: The One and Only Ivan, the Harry Potter books…we’ve navigated all of those brushes with mortality, because there was generally a solid reason the character didn’t make it. But here, the lesson seemed to be, “Hey kids, life is sometimes random and cruel, and you could die at any moment if you dare to play outside by yourself.” Not exactly what I’d been hoping to impart.
A Wrinkle in Time
I know, I know…But before you protest, I’m going to ask: have you read this book as an adult? Because if you haven’t, I can assure you that it simply is not very good. And that broke my heart. I’d always listed this as my all-time favorite book from when I was a kid. I bought the t-shirt from Out of Print. I purchased the set when my kids were still too young for them, just because I was so excited to find a collector’s edition.
And guess what? A Wrinkle in Time is actually terrible. Really, really bad, and riddled with novice author mistakes. There are scenes with four or five characters in the room, but only two of them speaking; the others’ presence is not even mentioned for quite literally pages. The plot is slow, ponderous, and poorly explained. The character’s motivations are at best unclear, and at times inexplicable. Halfway through the book, my kids quite seriously asked, “Were all books boring when you were our age?” And I couldn’t fault them for it. Because, aside from a (very) few exciting moments, most of the story meanders along without making any forward progress.
Mind you, there are books that hold up well. The Phantom Tollbooth is still wonderfully inventive and charming. Tuck Everlasting sparked an interesting conversation about whether or not it would be cool to live forever (surprisingly, my kids decided “not cool for them, but okay for our cat,” because they can’t bear the thought of him dying). The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was a bit messier than I remembered, but they enjoyed it. And of course, everything by Roald Dahl is still genius.
As the debut author of an upper middle grade book, part of me dreads the day that my children read The Other Boy to their own children. Will the story of Shane stand the test of time? I hope so, but it’s impossible to know for certain.
I’d love to hear which books from your childhood held up well, and which…not so much.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: First, congratulations for the amazing reviews of THE OTHER BOY. Hurray!
But wait, I loved Wrinkle. Didn’t I? And I loved the Edward Eager books, but think they hold up. Don’t they? I do NOT like the Little Princess. SO depressing! But I know Hallie disagrees.
But I’ve got to tell you—you know that Shel Silverstein book The Giving Tree? That is so distressing I can’t even imagine what the point was.
In fact, I have a next door neighbor who read it when she was seven. She cried for THREE WEEKS. I am not exaggerating. Her mother told me not to say the word “tree,” because it would set her off again.
Reds and Readers: How about you? And M.G. is giving a copy of THE OTHER BOY to one lucky commenter!
And please, take a moment to check out M. G.’s groundbreaking and heart-touching new book. We are so pleased the author is joining us today.
M.G.Hennessey is the author of “The Other Boy,”(https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062427663/the-other-boy) the story of a transgender boy’s journey to acceptance that Jill Soloway, award-winning creator of , called “a terrific read for all ages” and Ami Polonsky, author of called “an emotionally complex and achingly real read.”