For those you might have missed my article in Press this week, I have posted it here. You can leave your most memorable books in the comments if you wish.
Back to school time.
I have always loved this time of year. There is something calming about returning to the classroom, the schedule, the set expectations, and the homework. Yes, I was one of those odd kids who enjoyed homework. I especially loved research projects. I know it is a little weird, but remember that I am a librarian and love to answer reference questions.
I enjoyed most of my homework. I liked reading the textbooks, I enjoyed taking tests, but most of all I loved essay questions. I could write sheets and sheets on any given topic. Feel free to ask any of the teachers or professors that I tortured with my long, insanely detailed and meticulously cited papers or essays.
The one thing I didn’t enjoy much was English class. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dread the “ordinary” stuff. I loved diagramming sentences. I lived to dissect the English language and show off my knowledge of prepositions and dangling participles. Sadly most of that ability has fallen to the wayside and I am not as impressive as I was in school, but I still enjoy it. What I feared more than anything was the reading assignment. All too often, the book chosen was something I didn’t enjoy and just couldn’t get into. Occasionally, though, I would get lucky and be assigned a book I simply loved.
I still remember my enthusiasm over the books that I read in sixth grade. Mrs. Gunthiner was fantastic at selecting books that wouldn’t just entertain but engage each and every one of us. I am sure we read more than two books that year, but two of them still burn bright in my memory. The first is Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman. This was a rare book that was enjoyable to both the boys and the girls. (It should be noted that I am taking some of the more exact plot details from Barnes and Noble and the American Library Association website – my memory’s not what it used to be either – but that doesn’t diminish my love for the book.) I still remember one cold Sunday afternoon in early January, curled up on a pile of pillows in a sunny patch in my room reading this book. The world around me dissolved and I was climbing the Citadel with Rudi. That is a sign of a good book. Almost twenty years later, I remember the feeling of gripping the book, holding on to it, wondering if he would finish his quest to climb to the top, a feat his father died trying to do.
Incidentally, Banner in the Sky is a Newbery Honor award winner. The Newbery Award, named after 18th century British bookseller John Newbery, is awarded annually by the American Library Association. Sometimes I don’t like the actual award winner, but the honor awards are some great finds. Feel free to stop by the library if you are interested in looking over the list.
Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright was the second book. I remember we read it right after Banner in the Sky. The Barnes and Noble description of the book reads, “Portia and her cousin Julian discover adventure in a hidden colony of forgotten summer houses on the shores of a swampy lake.” That is the worst description of this book I can imagine for such an incredible, magical book. It was awarded with a Newbery Honor in 1958. After reading it, I dreamed of living in a place where I would see magical houses, meet fascinating people, and seeing gorgeous lakes. I guess I can now cross that off my list.
But not all books were good experiences. Like all students, I was forced to read books that I found annoying and downright dull. Eighth grade was a particularly bad year. We read Tom Sawyer, and the teacher tried to cram Laura Ingalls Wilder down my throat again. Now, if I had been allowed to read Tom Sawyer on my own at my own pace, I would have loved it. However being forced to read aloud one chapter a day for a month and struggling to keep the class at the same place made the book seem endlessly boring. Discussing the proper use of words and why the teacher felt the book should be cut from the curriculum because it was offensive didn’t help any either.
And we then we have Ms. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Let me start by saying that I know I am going to get some feedback here, and I am fine with that. I know there are people who enjoy reading her books and think they are great pieces of American literature. I know that I have lived in three states that love to have her as a part of their history. I felt she was boring and whiny. The teachers in Centerville (only 2 hours from De Smet, the famous Little Town on the Prairie) started cramming Laura down our throats in first grade, reading it aloud after recess. I fell asleep. In third grade, we were required to read one of the books, our choice, and then take a test on it. It was the only English test I failed until I took British literature in college. Every grade after that and throughout college until I dropped my English major, her works were pushed, prodded and crammed into my brain. They were compared, scrutinized and obsessed over. Even in my history program I couldn’t avoid it. One of the professors wrote a few books about her.
But enough of my whining about Ms Wilder. Now, I want to hear about your most memorable books from your youth. National Children’s book week is November 12-18. We would like to have a display of your most memorable books growing up. It doesn’t have to be your favorite, most loved, most recommended book. It can be your least favorite, most hated, most dreaded book ever. It doesn’t have to be a book you read in school, just a book that you read from your childhood or through your college years. Write it down on a slip of paper and in November we will create a list of books from your suggestion. We will have a display in the library of the books so other people can read them and discuss them. If you can’t remember the title, stop in and we might be able to reunite you with your most memorable book.
Labels: article, children's book week, Press