Great Books for the Young, and the Young at Heart
I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. Instead of talking about just one book this week, we’re going to focus on where it all begins — a little kid and that first page.
What was your favorite book when you were a kid? Were you a Judy Blume girl? Did you drag your copy of The Hobbit around with you? Did you love the clever cartoons of Shel Silverstein? Or did you cry every time you reread Charlotte’s Web? (I did.) It’s a little sad to think that question will probably only have one answer not too many years from now — it’s Harry Potter‘s world and we’re just muggles in it.
I loved all of those. I liked Harry Potter too — but my favorite was The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. More human than Tolkien, this was a fairy tale complete with wizards, princes, talking cats and unicorns that live in the sea. For a 9-year old, the idea of the ageless, changeless unicorn being transformed by magic into a fragile, frightened, emotional princess made sense on a level I never realized was rooted in simply growing up. The message — you are still you, no matter what form your body takes — was one I was happy to cling to in that most changeable time. I still have that book — the last few pages are gone and it’s been falling apart for years, but despite the passage of time, it’s still the same book. I’m a big fan of books for young people in general and I love discovering new books aimed at a young audience. Here on my website, you’ll find a couple more of my favorites, classics and some brand new picks.
We know that adults who read were once kids who liked to read, and kids learn by what they see around them — adults reading. I was lucky in that regard — my house was full of books. Most of my friends grew up the same way. But we were children of the middle class and even though it never occurred to us at the time, guess what? Lots of kids come from households that don’t have the time, energy or resources to spend on reading.
That’s where organizations like Jump Start come in. Jump Start is dedicated to early childhood literacy, and their big event is called Read for The Record. Find out a whole lot more at www.readfortherecord.org.
Highly recommended for you and the young reader in your life:
From back then
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle (of course)
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, and then please go on to read A Wind in the Door. Her work made me feel smarter and introduced me to the concept of singing stars and an interrelated universe. At 12 I didn’t pay much attention to the theology but I was all about dragons!
From closer to now
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman (book 1 of His Dark Materials) The movie is coming out this winter but they’ll have to work overtime to beat the thrill of Lyra’s attempts to save her friends at the icy end of the world. Plus, everyone has a companion talking animal! Read my review here.
Abarat by Clive Barker, and the sequel, Days of Magic, Nights of War. Gorgeously illustrated by the author who sets aside his usual gory fare but keeps his breathtaking inventiveness. See my earlier review.
Un Lun Dun by China Meiville — one of my favorite contemporary SF writers turns his talents to young adult fiction with a fairy tale where nothing goes exactly as it should.
One thing I can’t help but notice about my picks is that they all have strong female leads, something I hungered for as a young reader. I’m sure you have favorites of your own, please let me know what they are and we’ll see about posting your choices and maybe putting you on the air here at XM. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put ‘what were you reading’ in the subject line.