The Book Meme: Day 13

Day 13 - Favorite childhood book OR current favorite YA book (or both!)

The first book I ever read was a battered red hardback edition of L. Leslie Brooke's Johnny Crow's New Garden, first published in 1935. Mom and Dad had read it to me aloud scores of times, and I knew it pretty well. We were in Beaufort, SC, visiting Mom's parents when, the story goes, I began flipping through the pages and reading aloud. I was, apparently, able to link the words on the page to the way they sounded, so I guess that counts as reading. If pressed, I will admit that I hope the first lines I ever read were:

"And the rhinoceros
Said 'Puffickly preposserous.'"

From there I graduated to more contemporary picture books, and by far my favorite was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. There is something remarkable about Keats' collage work, though I couldn't tell you just what. I suspect the real reason I became so fascinated by the book is the fact that the main character is named Peter. As I've mentioned here before, one reason I find the idea of minority representation in media so important is that I have always been powerfully drawn to stories about people with my name or my coloration; as a brunette, I have always considered Ultra Boy and Timber Wolf my favorite members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as opposed to blue-haired heroes like Superboy. Perhaps for similar reasons, I always considered the brown-haired Peter Parker way cooler than that crowd of identical blonde guys in the Avengers. I mean, honestly, who could tell Hank Pym from Steve Rogers from Clint Barton from Don Blake? The fact that Keats' character shared my name helped me identify with him; how frustrating must it be to have no one on the page or on the screen who shares something with you? 

But as my tastes grew more sophisticated, I started picking up new favorites: Donald Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown books were a highly enjoyable way for a kid whose head was full of trivia to imagine himself a hero. I was also fond of Beverly Cleary's tales of Henry Huggins and the Quimby sisters, Beezus and Ramona. In fact, Cleary's Beezus and Ramona was perhaps the first book with a female protagonist that I really identified with, primarily because of Beezus' frustrations and eventual fulfillment in her art class. I too took an out-of-school art class and found it enormously important to my creativity and my confidence. And like every kid my age, I delighted in the works of Roald Dahl. The improbable events of James and the Giant Peach made it my favorite of his books, but it was only a hair ahead of Fantastic Mr. Fox; there was something about the way Dahl described the foods the starving animals stole--particularly the plenty looted from the Bunce farm--that made me salivate. I was also disturbed by the ironic body horror of The Magic Finger and deeply, deeply creeped out by the Vermicious Knids (mentioned in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but not actually seen until Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.)

Late in my elementary school career I started pick up biographies of various figures from American history, particularly the Bobbs-Merrill series Childhood of Famous Americans, originally written by Augusta Stevenson, but continued by others. These reddish-orange hardbacks were, I now know, kind of sneaky, as they ostensibly told of these figures' childhoods with only a relatively short discussion of their adult accomplishments. And since those childhoods were not always well-documented, I suspect a good deal of what I read was either apocryphal or purely fictitious. Still, books like Abraham Lincoln: Frontier Boy, Sitting Bull: Dakota Boy, and George (Washington) Carver: Boy Scientist helped instill a lifelong love of history in me.

But if I had to point to one book--okay, two--that fired my imagination and influence me to this day, I would have to point to a pair of creators who first came to my awareness as the illustrators of a completely different Lincoln biography, called simply Abraham Lincoln: Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. The lithographs created for the book are remarkable, particularly the striking image of the rangy Lincoln standing up in a carriage and blocking out the sun in order to gain right of way. The tales of Abe's youth were certainly memorable, but they pale compared to the artwork.

At some point in my elementary school days--I don't know when, I don't know where, though Glenwood School's library is a pretty likely candidate--I stumbled across another book by them. I suspect I was drawn in by the beautiful lithographic illustrations, but there's no question that the subject matter would appeal to me as well. It was D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, my introduction to the underpinnings of much of our culture, and I devoured it. Repeatedly. To this day, when I hear of a figure from Greek mythology, the image I have is the version from the d'Aulaires' book. I soon stumbled across a second volume of theirs, this one illustrating the mythology of Ingri's birthplace, Norway. The book was then called Norse Gods and Giants, and I dove into it with gusto. Having first come across mention of Thor and the other Asgardians in Marvel Comics, I didn't find the images of the Norsemen's tales burning themselves into my skull quite as firmly as those of the Greeks, but I still loved the book, and like its predecessor it came home with me as often as I could check it out.

When my own kids were born, I was surprised and delighted to stumble across a big paperback edition of the Greek myths. I immediately purchased it and was quite satisfied to see how well-worn and foxed the pages became. I was frustrated, though, to learn that Norse Gods and Giants was out of print. Thankfully, Kelly was not as easily defeated as I, and she kept digging until finally, on Valentine's Day, 2010, this happened:

PC Norse Myths.jpgThe book had been republished in 2005 under the title D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths, with a new preface by Michael Chabon, and I happily dove right back into it. Recapturing a piece of your childhood is enormously satisfying however it occurs, but it's especially sweet to have it laid in your hands by someone you love in your adulthood.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 18, 2018 9:37 AM.

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