Thursday, April 2, 2009

Who do you love?

Last summer the newspaper The Telegraph reported on a survey of British adults' best-loved authors. The results showed that four out of the top ten were children's authors. Enid Blyton, a name well known to anyone who grew up in a Commonwealth nation, won top honors. Roald Dahl took second place.

In fact, the earliest chapter book I recall reading on my own was by Enid Blyton - and it was utterly magical. Literary merit and societal changes aside, her stories have enthralled legions of young readers around the world and it is no wonder that many adults who have not picked up a Famous Five book in decades still hold her dear.

I recently read Laura Miller's The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, which is a fascinating personal journey through the works of C.S. Lewis - a very readable mixture of literary criticism, history and memoir. Miller describes well the way we read as children - in a way that is all-consuming and powerful to a degree that we cannot reproduce as adults. Regardless of how you feel about Lewis in particular, I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in this intersection between children's relationships with books and adults' desires to shape the ways in which children read (or the content of their choices).

Take a moment to think back on the books that gripped you as a child. Do you remember reading and re-reading them obsessively? Have you read them since? Have you since read anything else that transported you to that same degree?


Kathleen Arends said...

Yes, as a child I could be so much more immersed in a book than I can now. One of the earliest favorites I can remember was "The Mysterious Flight to the Mushroom Planet", by Eleanor Cameron. I felt that its mix of fantasy with ordinariness was in the perfect proportion, and subsequently read every book I could find about David, Tyco Bass and the Mushroom People.

Vista Academy said...

Great post, Laura. As a child, the books which gripped me were from the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I gobbled these up, and couldn't wait to order the latest ones from the Scholatic Book order each month.

Tim Costello

Laura Simeon said...

The Choose Your Own Adventure books are still very popular! I bought a bunch of the original paperbacks on eBay and put them out for 4th & 5th grades to enjoy during silent reading time.

They're now publishing beginning chapter book versions of the CYOA series as well as updated (incorporating new research) editions of the originals.

Robin Russell said...

My sisters and I began reading Enid Blyton as girls when we moved to Bangalore, India. I vividly remember our weekly visits to a small book stall in Russell Market (no relation) where we'd "sell back" the stack of books from the previous week for about a rupee less than we'd paid for them. Like Laura, it was the Famous Five which grabbed me most. I was in envious awe of the utter absence of adult supervision. I think the mother once packed a picnic basket - complete with Ginger Beer of course. As an adult I look back on those books and cringe at the overt racism and sexism. At the same time I remember how dear they were to me and how dear the memories of them are to me now. Quite a peculiar feeling.