I have been an intense reader my whole life, starting when I surprised the pants off my parents by reading my favorite book to myself when I was three. Now, they weren’t as surprised as they could have been, because I’d started memorizing books a few months before that, and it took them a while to realize that I was actually reading. And since toddlerhood, my love for books has only gotten stronger. When I was in elementary school, the library put a book limit on my card because I was determined to read the entire children’s section, and would take out dozens of books at a time. The past few years I haven’t had the brain power to do much reading, but this year, to my immense pleasure, I’m back on track! I’ve had a great book year, I even hit my book goal on Goodreads last week. So in sort of a celebration of that, here are some of my favorite books from childhood, I can highly recommend all of them!
1. Matilda: I feel like Roald Dahl’s books are universally loved among children. Even if they haven’t read any of his books, name me a kid who hasn’t seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Matilda was my favorite because I hardcore identified with her. I wasn’t the sort of genius that Matilda was, but I had a 3rd-grade superiority complex and was constantly frustrated by everyone who was “stupider” than me. Thank goodness I’ve outgrown that. I also saw myself in Matilda when it came to families. In most books aimed at kids, parents are either Perfect or Abusive and Evil. Most authors grossly underestimate a child’s ability to move beyond black and white thinking. But Matilda’s parents were 100% grey, it’s not that they were intentionally terribly; it was more that they were completely self-involved, and they simply didn’t care. I secretly wished for a happy ending like Matilda’s- to find an adult who cared, one who would take care of me. Unfortunately, fiction is fiction, and life is life. It’s still a great book, I promise.
2. The Way Things Work: My Aunt and Uncle on my dad’s side always bought us educational gifts. It bugged my sister sometimes, but I never had a problem with it. I’ll read anything, cereal boxes, the backs of shampoo bottles, so for me, any book is great! When I was in 3rd grade I received a giant tome called How Things Work. It took a very engineering approach and had what seemed like infinite pages of anything and everything you could possibly image, taken apart. I tried reading the whole thing through multiple times, but every time, I’d skip a page because I saw something cool, and I’d never get back on track. If I had been better at math, this book could have slid me into an engineering job, for sure.
3. Jacob’s Rescue: In my quest to read through the children’s section, I read some pretty boring books, but I also picked up some that would change me. I’ve written before about how my Holocaust Special Interest really affected my personality, and this book right here is what started it all. I didn’t know how important it would be at the time, it was just the next book on my list. Let me tell you, I must have read this thing a dozen times the first time I took it out. And I kept taking it out. I’d never read anything like it before, and it started my need to know everything that happened during that time. 3rd grade me figured knowing everything was the closest I could get to helping, 55 years later.
4. The Monster at the End of this Book: This is mostly important because was one of the first books that I read regularly to myself. My sense of humor has always been a few degrees off everyone around me, but it wasn’t with this book. I don’t care how young or old you are, this book is funny. Grover is neurotic and silly at the same time, and he breaks the fourth wall, which when I was a tiny little thing, was hilarious!
5. The Phantom Tollbooth: Have you ever read a book after seeing the movie? Especially a movie that you love? For me, it really goes well. Movies give me a very visual interpretation of a story, and reading the book is a very different experience. This is one of the few exceptions to that. I got this movie out of the library week after week. Watching it is a really bizarre experience, it was made in the seventies and is part live action, part animation, filled with slightly trippy musical numbers and Dali-esque scenery. The book has equally weird illustrations. I think I was ok with both interpretations because the idea of a land with words and numbers were considered important, and where the goal was Rhyme and Reason was so appealing to me that I was willing to accept any interpretation of it. This story is so important to me, that the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason are going to be my next tattoo!
6. A Little Princess: This is a classic, one that didn’t bore me at the time. If you’ve heard this story, you probably know why it was one of my favorites, just like Matilda. Adults who have no right to be taking care of children are eventually ousted by loving adults. On top of this, it’s a great riches to rags to riches story, with a strong female protagonist, and lots of adventure along the way! The book was made into a movie back in the 30s, and I loved it. And I was so excited when I found out that the movie was being remade! Unfortunately for little autistic me, there were several very loud and overwhelming battle scenes, and I eventually ended up running out of the theatre. I still haven’t seen the end of it.
7. Good Families Don’t: Let’s face it, farts are funny, and the author who wrote this book very skillfully makes sure everyone knows it. I loved it and wanted to hear the story over and over, but for whatever reason, this wasn’t a book I ever really read to myself. I loved reading to myself, because I could go fast, and skip the boring parts and read my favorite parts over and over, but there’s something really nice about being read to. I don’t know if other early readers have had this experience, sometimes every though I could read to myself, I still liked being read to. So this book is special, mostly because it was something that I read with my parents. We’d spend time together doing something I liked and we’d laugh together. This book is good memories all around.