Monday, September 22, 2008

On Our Harry Potters...

HALLIE: I was over at Buttonwood Books this week to talk about my "1001 Books for Every Mood" and as I wandered around the store I found myself, as usual, drawn to YA titles. There were all the Harry Potter books which I read and loved.

There, too, were so many of the books I devoured as a kid. "Wind in the Willows." "A Wrinkle in Time." "Stuart Little." "The Little Princess." "The Secret Garden." "Anne of Green Gables."

But my "Harry Potters" were the Oz Books, starting with "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." If you haven't read the original, you're in for a treat. The cyclone is in the opening chapter, and the description of Kansas would make any little girl want to run somewhere green: "When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it.

Shades of "Grapes of Wrath."

From the Wonderful Wizard I went on to "The Marvelous Land of Oz" and "Ozma of Oz" and on until I'd consumed all 15 or so that Baum himself wrote, each one with new fantastical creatures, good against evil, a Homeric journey in the guise of an episodic trek to somewhere (or to get BACK from somewhere), overcoming obstacles along the way.

So...what were your Harry Potters?

JAN: I guess I was never much for fantasy -- not even as a kid. My aunt Clare lived next door and was a former school teacher, and pretty much the source of all novels that both my mother and I read. She gave me "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott, which I adored, and then "Eight Cousins." I also loved "Celia Garth" by Gwen Bristow, which was about a young woman, a dressmaker in Charlestown, who becomes a spy for the patriots during the Revolutionary War. I think I was especially intrigued with the descriptions of muslin and the idea that each dress had to be specially made. Then I read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, no kidding, seven times.

To this day, I love going back in time, not forward to sci-fi. Magic doesn't do it for me, I absolutely hated "Alice In Wonderland". I did read and enjoy "The Hobbit", but couldn't get through the trilogy. I enjoyed the first Harry Potter book, but not enough to read the later books.

ROBERTA: I can't say I had a "Harry Potter", although I read and loved plenty of books. "Wind in the Willows"--a total classic. Ditto "Winnie the Pooh". And all of E.B. White's books, "Charlotte's Web", "Stuart Little", "The Trumpet of the Swan". Need I even mention Nancy Drew?

But I don't remember waiting on the edge of my seat for a sequel, maybe because there was no media/Internet working us up into a frenzy for an author's next book?

Now this is embarrassing, but when I was a young, gawky, geeky, miserable teen, I adored the short stories in "Stories to Live By"--a collection gathered and originally published in "The American Girl" in the '50's. Stories about going steady, cheating on the football field, being overweight, first dates--I read these until the binding crumbled. In fact, in the very first article I ever had published, I wrote about one of these stories--how I showed it to my stepdaughter and we had a mini-connection over it. (Those moments were few and far between in the early days.)

I think there's a link back to Harry Potter there too:). After all, he never quite feels like he fits in either....

HANK: You mean other than sneaking "Marjorie Morningstar" and "Butterfield 8" from my parents' bookshelves? And I read the "Thurber Carnival" when I was about 12, I think. And love love loved it.

I had a huge love affair with horse books--there was some series, which I can't find now but I bet Mom still has them...which included "Golden Sovereign" and "Midnight Moon"? And "Silver Birch"? About a teenaged, maybe, girl who had horses. I adored them. Anyone know more about these? There was another author who wrote "Cammie's Choice" about another equestrian teenager who obviously had to make some choice which I forget what was. Plus all the Misty of Chincoteague books. (I had to clean out stalls in the mornings, so I loved reading about others who did, too.)

"Diamond in the Window" by Jane Langton, was so pivotal for me. Charming, intelligent, clever, and shows kids could be smart and still be cool. I could read that again, right now! Love it. It's right up there with Wrinkle in Time, another true true classic.

And because my grandson Eli is really a great reader now, at age 5, I got to share the Edward Eager books with him. They're also fantasy, about 4 siblings who have adventures. "Knight's Castle", "Half Magic", "Magic or Not". So witty and so clever! And even at my age, 53 years OLDER than Eli! still wonderful.

Let's see. Narnia--didn't read til college! Hobbit and Rings--also college. Harry Potter, loved. Loved them all.
Oz, yes. Little Princess, no. (I just never liked that book. I think it's creepy.) Charlotte's Web, loved it but too sad for me as a kid.

My next door neighbor two year old and I read "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus", which is pretty great. And "Knuffle Bunny". And I'm pushing "A Hole is to Dig" pretty hard. But that's probably funnier for adults.

RO: I wasn't much of a fantasy fan as a kid - not now either. I seem to remember reading a lot of biographies when I was little. And of course, like Hank, my spiritual books. Although I wasn't shovelling too much horse manure in Brooklyn. I devoured the Misty and Black Stallion books. And dog books...Irish Red was one of them. Then I stumbled upon a copy of The Group. 'Nuff said?

HANK: Hallie, are you doing a 1001 books for kids? (And yay for Buttonwood Books. That's a fantastic store.)

HALLIE: No 1001 Books for Kids...but what a great idea. And "A Hole is to Dig" is a favorite of mine, too, and it's in "1001 Books for Every Mood. When Jennie the dog packs her bag to leave home, the potted plant asks: “Why are you leaving?” “Because I am discontented. I want something I do not have. There must be more to life than having everything.” Ah, words to live by.

So...what books have stuck with you since way back when?


  1. I was right in there too, Hallie, with the Oz books. What wonderful stories. I was delighted when my sons read them, also, when they were 10 or so, and I could relive some of my childhood.

    My sisters and I read the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series over and over again. And I gave myself nightmares by reading Poe and Sherlock Holmes when I was about 8 (as soon as the light went out in my bedroom, I KNEW there was a grate in the ceiling that the snake was going to start coming through...). Of course Alcott, but not just Little Women: also Little Men, reread many times. I read lots of Jules Verne, too, as well as biographies of women: Jane Addams, Clara Barton, and so on. And yes, all the Black Stallion books. Nancy Drew. Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. All this was well before junior high school.

    Thanks for the memories!


  2. Somehow I missed Laura Ingalls Wilder, Edith. But I also read all of Poe and Sherlock Holmes and Alcott and HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN Clara Barton?? Anyone remember the Betsey, Tacey and Tibb; or "Seventeen"?

  3. Like the rest of you, I think I've had a book in my hand as long as I can remember. And I enjoy re-reading the books that gave me joy when I was a young girl - all of which have been mentioned here. My all time favorite books and character though was and still is, Kay Thompson's Eloise.
    Hank - I also remember sneaking my Mom's copy of Butterfield 8 - scandalous! And I think I must have read Marjorie Morningstar a dozen times and may have to do that again soon.

  4. Oz, Hallie, Oz. I read three in one summer day, and ended up with a headache. And, Alcott - Little Women, Little Men, Eight Cousins, and Rose in Bloom.

    I loved a book called Snow Treasure about Norwegian kids smuggling gold out from under the noses of the Nazis. And, a collection of short biographies of ballerinas - To Dance, To Dream. I'm short and stocky, and not built like a ballerina, but it was a beautiful book.

  5. Oh Lesa,
    I'd forgotten about Little Men, that was definitely a big part of my Louisa Alcott phase. (I've been up to her house in Concord three times - and recommend it to anyone visiting Boston.)

    And Kaye, I didn't even hear about Marjorie Morningstar until my daughter picked it up in high school. Also, a Tree Grows in Brooklyn. But it was actually a treat to find there were great books I hadn't already read. It's so hard to find stories that you can get completely lost in.

  6. Oh, yes, yes, yes, the Oz books. Other bests in the series--THE ROYAL BOOK OF OZ, THE MAGIC OF OZ, THE SCARECROW OF OZ. I loved them and I still do. One of the delights of my younger years was reading them to my children. I am convinced that is part of the reason number one son is a writer now. And wonderful, wonderful, I am now reading them to my grandchildren.

    For a writer to create such joy far into the future is grand, isn't it?

  7. Definitely Oz. And then Narnia (which I ended up using for my MA thesis. And Alcott (Loved AN OLD FASHIONED GIRL) and Noel Streatfield's Shoes series and Enid Blyton and my grandmother's Gene Stratton Porters and Zane Grey and the Tarzan books and of course WIND IN THE WILLOWS and ALIE IN WONDERLAND and so many more.

    And the thing is, I still go back and reread them all. What joy!

  8. Mine was definitely Walter Farley's The Black Stallion series and Albert G.Miller's Fury series. In fact I wouldn't read anything if it didn't have a horse in it. That's one reason I did read the Trixie Belden books. I was just a tad obsessive. :-)

  9. I was going to mention SNOW TREASURE, but Lesa beat me to it. I got it out of my school library way back in 4th grade and I can still picture the cover. I also liked the YOU WERE THERE series of books. And of course, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

    When I was in my teens I loved all the Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney books. I might have to go re-read some of them!

  10. I love this thread! My mother lived in England when she was a little girl, so we had Arthur Ransome's Swallows & Amazon series and Enid Blyton's Five books, too. I also loved the Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables.

    The books that REALLY made me want to be a writer, though, were Phyllis Whitney's mysteries for young readers (really, honestly, I think they were for young GIRL readers). Mystery on the Island of Skye. The Vanishing Scarecrow. And so on and so on. I still have my copies (they're out of print which is so wrong), plus all of her books on writing, which I asked for as Christmas and Birthday presents years and years ago.

    She died this year, before I could get my kids' mystery out there and agented and published. It'll be dedicated to her someday.

  11. Now this is fun to think about.

    Definitely all the OZ books. I liked the pumpkin-head guy. Yay!

    And Betsy, Tacey and Tib -- yes! yes! Wasn't it Tacey who got so sick and had her long red curls cut off? (Scarlet fever, was it?) And later she was the quintessential Gibson girl.

    Also Noel Stratield's 'Shoe' Books (Ballet Shoes, Circus Shoes, Skating Shoes, etc.)

    And Betty McDonald's Miss Piggle-Wiggle books.

    And Susan Coolidge's What Katy Did, What Katy Did Next ...

    I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (I remember Ma having a calico dress with buttons that looked like ripe blueberries), and a few years ago, when I visited the cabin that was the Little House in the Big Woods, that was a nice little moment of connect.

    I also read Gone With the Wind when I was very young. I was in the hospital and very sick, and someone found a copy, thinking I might need a LONG book to read (despite some of its adult themes). Another adult book: The Incredible Journey. Also I read biographies of dancers and composers -- Mozart, Beethoven, Margot Fonteyn, Anna Pavlova, Maria Taglioni, etc., and Janis Joplin -- what the...? I was not a fan. Interesting though. Talk about yer adult themes!!

    I snuck a copy of The Exorcist when I was in sixth grade or so. It didn't give me the willies, much. Then I read that author's (William Peter Blatty) memoir: I'll Tell Them I Remember You, an unexpected choice for a 12-year-old kid, but I still remember that book quite well.

    And a ghost story novel that probably began my fondness for paranormal mysteries as a genre: Amie, Come Home.

  12. I don't know if there was one series that hooked me, but I did love things like The Boxcar Children and Trixie Belden, as well as Nancy Drew. Like many of you, I read Louisa May and the Cherry Ames books, and another series about three stewardesses which I can't recall.

    A family favorite was ANDREW, THE BIG DEAL. If you haven't read it, you must. Narrated by a wonderful thirteen-year-old boy who is reminiscent of Holden Caulfield.

    By the time I reached eighth grade or so I had graduated from Nancy Drew to Mary Stewart; while she didn't have a series, she had about ten great suspense novels, and I read them all in succession. So I guess she was my JK Rowling.

  13. Okay, okay, I'm taking notes...of the books I missed.
    -Phyllis Whitney mysteries...never read any and obviously now I must.
    -The Shoes books...we had them but I didn't read them.
    -Snow Treasure
    -You Were There series
    - Enid Blyton

    Already love, love, love Eloise.

    All of which makes me think of Anne of Green Gables...who could forget her?

  14. I never needed any encouragement to read. My writing moment came when I'd read Georgette Heyer's Regencies so many times I knew what was coming on the next page. I turned to some other authors' Regencies (late '70s) and some were so bad I figured if they could get published so could I. Went on to write 32 Regencies as well as my 17 (to date) mysteries.

  15. That's pretty cool. Getting a chance to write a book in a series that had enthralled you as a kid!

  16. Meg Ryan references the 'Shoe' books in You've Got Mail. I remember seeing that movie with a group of girlfriends (readers, all), and one of them murmured "What the hell are the 'Shoe' books?"

    I twitched like I'd been tasered and RAISED MY HAND and said "I know the Shoe books! I know the Shoe books!" And someone in the theatre shushed me.

    Quite right.

    I put my hand down, chastened, but had to laugh that it didn't take much for late-30s me to revert to the hand-waving 4th grader who loved the Shoe books.

    I'd be hard pressed to say which was my favorite, though Party Shoes was my first. A gift from a second-hand bookstore in Scotland; the previous owner had hand-colored all the illustrations, and I remember had tinted Selina's dress pale pinkish cream with a blue ribbon.

    Man, I gotta get those books again.

    Shame on my earlier typos, too.
    Noel Streatfield deserves better.

  17. We didn't have a TV until I was 7 so I had a lot of chapter books read to me and I started reading very early.
    The books that were read to me that I most remember eagerly witing for the next book were:
    The Bobbsey Twins series
    The Five Little Pepper books.
    The Happy Hollisters series
    The Oz books

    The books I read as fast as I could were:
    The Black Stallion books
    The Little House books
    All of Louisa May Alcott
    All of Terhune's dog books (Lad a Dog etc)
    And of coarse the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, Cherry Ames and then I started through Agatha Christie.

  18. "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Not only did Ray Bradbury capture exactly what it felt like to be a kid, but his prose was like nothing I had ever read before. I consider his novel my first "real" book, and I proceeded to devour everything I could find by him.

    Richard Brewer

  19. Another set of horse books was Flicka, My Friend Flicka, and Thunderhead, author's sur name was O'Hara I believe.
    Hallie, if you should do a list for children, a very old one that should pass through every child's hands is The Little Engine That Could--it got nosed out in popularity by Dr. Seuss.
    Even today the line, "I think I can, I think I can...." flows through my mind during the tough times.

  20. Jeez, that cover brought me back. My dog Max looks like Irish Red! Thanks for digging up that pic. I remember the Flicka books too. And another about a kid named Henry and his dog Ribsy. Anyone remember that?

    FYI One of the Shoe books is coming out on dvd with the kid from Harry Potter (just to come full circle.

  21. Susannah C.--I just saw that there's a NEW Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle out. I think it's written by MacDonald's daughter and someone else. Thanks for the reminder--I keep meaning to pick it up and see what "problems" Mrs. PW has to deal with today!

  22. ::perks:: Shoe book? DVD? Daniel Radcliffe? (Now he would make a very nice wounded returning soldier, a pivotal character, in WWII-era Party Shoes.)

    And another Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? Becky, I even call my search dog Miss Slow-Eat-Tiny-Bite-Taker after one of the PW characters. :-)

  23. My husband wants me to throw in the Freddie the Pig books... they must have been great, because you can't touch one of the originals on Alibris or ABEBooks for less than a hundred bucks...though not nearly as much as a first edution of ELOISE that goes for over a thou.

  24. The earliest books I remember reading as a series were Walter Farley's Black Stallion books followed almost immediately by Terhune's Lad: a Dog series. Then all the Misty books and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (still comfort reads, to this day.) From there it was on to Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney until I took a big jump -thanks to the influence of an 8th grade teacher - into Leon Uris and James Michener.

  25. I forgot to mention The Borrowers series (so magical for me to picture people even smaller than I was...) and the All of a Kind Family series, from which I learned almost everything I knew about Jewish holidays and traditions.

  26. Lovely to see someone mention Thurber, Hank. I suspect he's in danger of being forgotten, which would be a shame. "The Night the Bed Fell" is a comic masterpiece.

  27. Oh, I love reading about everyone's treasured books. So many good ones. Nobody really guided my reading, and my parents weren't big readers, so I pretty much went from Up a Road Slowly (Irene Hunt) to Treasure Island, to Stephen King to Everything you ever wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask! But I did discover Jane Eyre along the way and read the covers off of it.

    I had my own YA renaissance when Pom was younger: Laura Ingalls Wilder Books, Misty of Chincoteague, Harry Potter (up to four, when she demanded that she be allowed to read them to herself!).

    I must note that I read The Little Princess, too. Yes, kind of creepy--but in the best creepy way!

    Thanks for the great post, Hallie1

  28. Trixie Belden. I wore mine out. She was the thinking girl's Nancy Drew.

    (But only the first 6 books, before they got assigned to a writing syndicate.)