Last week I posed a question about reading children’s books as an adult:
What children’s classics did you first discover as an adult (Harry Potter doesn’t count), and how did it make you feel–old? young again?
CAAF obliged me here (in a post with a title I loved), Mr. Teachout here (not too shabby on the title front himself). Over at Shaken & Stirred, the lovely Gwenda weighed in with two titles, one of which, I Capture the Castle, is a favorite of my friend Margot and on my to-do list. One reader submitted Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Another reader wrote as follows:
I’ve been reading mostly mid-20th-century kid lit to my kids for the last few years, and though I’ll happily recite our favorites–Roald Dahl (especially Charlie, James and the BFG), Walter Brooks’s Freddy the Pig series, Sid Fleischman’s Americana tales like By the Great Horn Spoon!, and so on– I wouldn’t say many of them have been striking literary experiences for me. I’ve enjoyed their enjoyment of them, more so than the books themselves.
One exception– though I have to admit we’re still in the process of reading it– is Johnny Tremain. It really is a well-written and psychologically acute portrait of a young man’s progress, and I can tell my sons are pretty transfixed by the hardness of life in Revolutionary War era Boston, by Johnny’s wavering on the edge of bad habits and criminality, and by the way his search for a place for himself parallels America’s need to escape England’s control and take charge of its own destiny. (Okay, maybe they don’t get that yet, but Dad sees it coming.) I’d rank it among the better novels I’ve read (or read half of) lately, irrespective of genre.
I’ve never read Johnny Tremain, but the Roald Dahl reference strikes a chord. The book of his I really cottoned to was none of those mentioned by my correspondent but The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. Wonderful indeed. I can remember how this book felt in my hands. The title story may have been my first conscious experience of reading a story within a story. I still feel a shiver remembering my dismay and delight at being returned from the nested story, about an Indian yogi who cultivated the power to see through opaque things, to the story proper, about Henry Sugar, who was inspired by the yogi’s story to develop such powers himself. When I first read the story, I became absorbed in the embedded history of the yogi to the point of forgetting about Henry Sugar entirely. Coming back to his story–being treated to more story, even after the yogi’s had ended–was deliciously satisfying; I hadn’t known that stories could be quite so sly and rich.
Thanks to all who wrote. And don’t forget to visit Chicken Spaghetti for kids’ books blogging. (Which reminds me of another personal all-time favorite: Chicken Soup with Rice.)