I spent a delightful afternoon with some old friends. I helped my books find their home in the new house. There are shelves downstairs, shelves in the hall, shelves in the guest room.... As I have educated our children at home, and as I am thoroughly in love with books, we have acquired quite an extensive library... despite the fact that the librarians at Brentwood and Franklin know me by name. Several years ago, I was given this guideline for purchasing books: "If you think you will want to read it to your grandchildren, you should buy it." Turns out, my grandchildren and I have our work cut out for us.
Jen and I talked this morning about book-love, and about how there is a romance in just holding the books and finding their place. As I lovingly placed each on the shelf, I thought about the long hours of delight each has offered my children and me. I made a mental note of the ones Joshua and I have yet to read, and determined that he will not leave our home without having encountered certain favorites. As I handled these books that have given so much to me, I wanted desperately for you to know them.
Today, favorite children's authors. Finding a favorite author is like finding a friend. You know you can trust her. You come to know how she views the world. You know you want to spend more time with her. Here are a few authors about whom I can say, "pick up anything with this name on it and read. You will be glad you did."
Beatrix Potter: I frequently give a collection of Beatrix Potter as a baby gift to those I truly love. I can not describe to you the hours of joy Jemima Puddleduck, Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin and their friends have given us. Potter had a beautiful command of the English language, and uncanny insight into human nature. Whether you are 2 or 42 these stories are for you.
A.A. Milne: My other favorite baby gift is the collected stories and poems of Winnie the Pooh. If you read Milne in his original voice (not the Disney adaptations) you will find a man of insight and great good humor. I gave the book to my cousin and her husband. She told me they began reading the stories to one another before their kids were old enough to appreciate them because they enjoyed the humor so much. Read one story. That is all it will take. You will want them all.
Marguerite de Angeli: The Door in the Wall is one of the very best books I have read about life in the Middle Ages. This story demonstrates that when your life seems to be falling apart, perhaps God is simply setting in motion the very events that will make you what you were always intended to be. Beautiful and challenging. Winner of the Newberry medal. de Angeli also spent several years living with the Amish and writing stories based on her experience with them. Yonie Wondernose and Henner's Lydia have been favorites.
Jean Craighead George writes about nature in a most compelling and intriguing manner. We started with My Side of the Mountain (thanks mom) about a boy who runs off into the Adirondacks and lives on his own for a whole year. We read about his discoveries, inventions, and adventures. We read that whole trilogy. Then, we read the Julie of the Wolves trilogy. Julie's life in Alaska fascinated us. I can't imagine a more engaging science curriculum. George was one of those names we began to take from the library regardless of the title. We read about owls in the shower and birds in Colorado who had to build their nests twice. There is a strong conservation message and a bit of evolution. I found those to be good discussion points.
Gene Stratton Porter was also a woman who was fascinated with God's world. You can hear it in her Newberry award winning Girl of the Limberlost about a girl growing up in the swamps with no idea of who she is until she developes a romance with moths and butterflies. It changes the way she sees everything, including herself. The story is far more complex than that sentence makes it sound. Complex and lovely. Keeper of the Bees is probably my personal favorite of her stories, though we have read several. They may come across as formulaic, but I find them heartwarming. And her knowledge of all things natural is quite expansive. Again, a pretty painless and engaging introduction to God's world.
Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire were a husband-wife team that wrote and illustrated remarkable children's books. They are winners of the Caldecott medal for illustration. Their specialty was biographies...biographies of Lincoln, Washington, Franklin, Columbus, Pocohontas and others. But my personal favorite, my VERY favorite is their collection of Greek myths. I have my World History students read Edith Hamilton's Greek Myths...it is the standard text. But, I am telling you, the stories are just as vivid and well told here, and much more accessible and beautifully illustrated.
Elizabeth George Spear tells stories of historical fiction that you will not be able to put down. They were of the guaranteed "Mommy, PLEASE, one more chapter, PLEASE!" variety. I don't think I will ever get over The Bronze Bow, and I have now read it three times. Getting to encounter Jesus, live and in the flesh, from the point of view of a skeptic, is priceless. And her sympathetic insights into Pharisaism are invaluable. The Sign of the Beaver and The Witch of Blackbird Pond are also absolutely required reading (Both are on my American History reading list.). Sign of the Beaver for honor and survival, Witch of Blackbird Pond for insight into Puritanism and grace.
Genevieve Foster was a mother, then a grandmother, who wanted her children and grandchildren to know the history of the world. She believed they would understand it best if told in the form of a story. So she told them stories. Fortunately for all of us, she decided to write these stories down in the form of several "slices" of history built around the lives of significant individuals. These include Augustus Caesar, Christopher Columbus, and George Washington, among others. I love how she seemlessly knits together characters from all over the world who happened to be living on the earth at the same time. Hers are cohesive, interesting, enlightening works.
Robert McCloskey: Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal constitute a right of passage so far as I'm concerned. Nothing quite beats a reading of Blueberries for Sal just before heading over to Clovercroft to pick our own blueberries. Ahhhh, childhood. If you were to ask Jake to give his top five favorite books in our whole house I can guarantee that Homer Price would make the list. He and I have read it twice just the two of us. From the overactive donut machine to foiling bank robberies with a pet skunk, Homer has delightful, unusual adventures.
Meindert Dejong: The Wheel on the School was our first of Mr. Dejong's books. We fell in love with the students, with Holland, and with the storks. Then we read about Tien Pao floating away in his family's sampan on a rain-swollen river in Japanese occupied China. After a large dose of adventure and terror, he finds himself on an American airbase in The House of Sixty Fathers. We've also read Shadrach, Along Came a Dog, ....
Finally, two series that we enjoyed reading in their entirety: Probably three years ago, Kelsey and Jake and I read C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia back to back over a two month period. We read them chronologically according to Narnia time (meaning we started with the Magician's Nephew). It was a singular experience. By the time I got to the Last Battle, I was a wreck. As so very many of the characters whose stories were still fresh and vivid to us reappeared in the final book, I lost it. I cried through most of the last half of the book. Fortunately, my children are accustomed to that. No problem. The other series that we read in it's entirety was Laura Ingalls WIlder's "Little House" series. What an amazing snapshot of life in the late ninteenth/early twentieth century in the western U.S.! We read about living in cabins and dugouts, about maple sugaring and swarms of grasshoppers, about tragedy and triumph, about loss and love. We read about a family who was FOR one another, ALL the time, no matter what. That is a beautiful story.
*Originally published 8 June 2008. Particularly poignant now that one of the aforementioned grandchildren is on the way. :)