As a soon-to-be father of two I’ve been thinking recently about the books that made a major impact on my childhood. These books had a style, imagination, characters, or story that made a profound impact on the twisting of my soul and the deranging of my mind.
Like most things induding movies, video games, and cartoons I plan on using books to relive my own childhood vicariously through my children while simultaneously nerdifying them. Now, I’m not talking just Green Eggs and Ham here but also the chapter books and novels I can’t wait for my kids to become familiar with.
The Once and Future King by T.H. Whyte
To be fair, I didn’t really read this book until I was in my early twenties, and I wasn’t really aware of it until I saw Magneto reading it in his plastic prison or, at least, that’s what I thought at first. Turns out I was intimately familiar with the tale of King Arthur coming of age as the Wart in Sir Ector’s manor via the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone (incidentally also the name of the first section of the novel) which I certainly saw about ten gazillion times as a kid. As Arthur is mentored by the eccentric and backwards-in-time –living Merlyn he finds himself learning all the lessons a good king should learn via magical forays into the structures of the animal kingdom. As Arthur grows he becomes a king who tries to rule by the edict or Right Makes Might and not the opposite. Also, having been written in the 20th century, it is pretty close but far more accessible than Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur but lacking in none of the adventure and fantasy of the Arthurian Tradition.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
What a terrible bore everything is! Poor Milo is completely underwhelmed by just about everything until one day he receives a box that contains a strange tollbooth that takes him into the Kingdom of Wisdom. Accompanied by the Watchdog Tock Milo travels through the warring cities of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, the Doldrum caves and deals with a variety of other creatures all while searching for the Princesses Rhyme and Reason. Along the way Milo learns to appreciate the world with a sense of wonder and adventure by interacting with a variety of arts and sciences themed characters. This book has a specifically 1960s feel to it that is in many ways due the impact of Jules Feifer’s illustrations that has an iconic and classic feel to a story that isn’t actually based in any one place or time.
Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
This book was introduced to me as part of the letter writing unit in elementary school, and to be honest, it didn’t make the life changing impact on me that the other books on this list did. Having recently completed by Masters of Arts in Childhood Education and Special Education however, I came into close contact with the book and flipped through and started remembering a great deal of things that are interesting about the book. First of all, it is entirely written in the form of correspondence—which makes it great for teaching letter writing—and also shows that letter writing is not only a great way to get in contact with people normally out of reach (such as authors or athletes, celebrities etc) but also as a way to express oneself. The main character Leigh learns to express himself in both letters and in a journal as a way of letting out all of the emotions he is having problems coping with as his parent’s marriage is falling apart. While I hope my kids don’t have to deal with that particular issue it is full of many child appropriate lessons about broken families and self-expression and doesn’t have a “happy ending” in the way that other children’s books do.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
This book is amazing. To be fair, Shel Silverstein is amazing though. It operates on levels that can be appropriate from kindergarten well into adulthood and handles with fantastic intricacy the importance of parenting, love, relationships, and growing up and growing old. The book is undeniably inspiring but also immensely sad in a way that makes adults nostalgic in the truest meaning of the word—you feel as if something has been lost to you—and for children can be both eye opening and a point of wonder for them to take with them. The book leaves you both warm and sad but also hopefully and happy for the relationships that were true and positive in your life—the ones where you gave because you wanted to and not because you felt pressured to.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess
What can I say about Green Eggs and Ham? It is a great book for beginning readers and the artwork and wordplay of Dr. Suess is bar none some of the most amazing stuff out there for kids. Also its fun to grow up and try to recite the whole book with your friends in various states of mind. Green Eggs and Ham? Buy it. Read it. Eat it.