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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Favorite Influential Children's Books

In all honesty, this post's subject should be part of a series. I LOVE picture books. There is just something about them that is purely magical. I loved them as a kid, but as an adult I am realizing how much I learned from them--how much they shaped my dreams and my ambitions, how much they guided my actions in choosing the right.  And sometimes they even became a curious influence on my personality.

Below are some of my favorite books. By no means is the list complete.

Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban

The main character, Frances, is a picky eater. The only thing she will eat is bread and jam! Her mother, instead of forcing her to eat what is prepared for the entire family, consents to France's request to eat only bread and jam. Soon enough, however, Frances gets tired of bread and jam and notices her friend's lunch which consists of a feast containing a cream cheese, cucumber, and tomato sandwich on rye bread, a pickle, a hard boiled egg and little containers of salt and pepper to go with it, and a thermos bottle of milk, a bunch of grapes, tangerine, and a cup custard and a spoon to eat it with. Frances looks at her friend eat his lunch as he makes each of the foods come out even. Gradually Frances realizes the joy of a variety of food and comes to school the next day with a thermos cream of tomato soup, lobster salad sandwich on thin white bread, celery, carrot sticks, and black olives. a little carton of salt for the celery, two plumbs, a tiny basket of cherries, and a vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles. But best of all, she makes it come out even.  

This book inspired many a school lunch. The variety of foods in the book just tantalized my taste buds, but as often as I tried, I could never make my food come out even. 

Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss

A review from another writer: "Poor Horton. Dr. Seuss's kindly elephant is persuaded to sit on an egg while its mother, the good-for-nothing bird lazy Maysie, takes a break. Little does Horton know that Maysie is setting off for a permanent vacation in Palm Springs. He waits, and waits, never leaving his precarious branch, even through a freezing winter and a spring that's punctuated by the insults of his friends. ("They taunted. They teased him. They yelled 'How Absurd! Old Horton the Elephant thinks he's a bird!'") Further indignities await, but Horton has the patience of Job--from whose story this one clearly derives--and he is rewarded in the end by the surprise birth of... an elephant-bird." 

This book taught be, above all else, perseverance and enduring to the end through the storms of life. Horton never gave up! Life may be hard at times, but in the end, it turns out just fine. 

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Another writer's review: "Alice Rumphius lived with her grandfather. She wanted to grow up to be just like him -- travel, live by the sea. He said she had to do one more thing -- "You must do something to make the world more beautiful." Throughout the course of the story, Alice grows up, travels, and moves by the sea. Still discouraged about her third life purpose, Miss Rumphius finally finds her own way to make the world more beautiful and to pass along the message of her grandfather." 

This book taught me to find a fullness of life no matter which direction life took. But not only is there joy to be found in the simple pleasures of life, one must seek for it and choose to be happy. Miss. Rumphius was never married, but she found other ways to enjoy a full life. This is a great example of non-radical feminism. 

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: Written and illustrated by John Steptoe

The king as asked that the most beautiful daughters in all the land join him so that he make pick his bride from the most beautiful of them all. Daughter number 1 is proud, haughty, and vain. She makes fun of her sister and along the way to the king is rude to all those she comes across. Daughter number 2 loves her sister. She tends a little garden and becomes friends with a snake. On the path to the kingdom she demonstrates her love for everyone and is truly selfless. You can guess who the king chooses in the end. (PS, there is a surprise ending!)

I love this book because it illustrates the importance of being selfless and kind. But above all else, the pictures are divine.

Oh, Brother by Arther Yorinks and illustrated by Richard Eigelski

This book speaks to the power of brotherhood. These twins are constantly bickering, leading to them becoming lost as sea. They are constantly getting into trouble and are finally stopped by a kind, old gentleman who gives them a home, food, and teaches them his trade. In the end the boys recognize true kindness and find their parents again through hilarious circumstances. 

Although I love my sister, Kellie, dearly, there were a few years when we clashed and got along less often than not. This book reminded me of the enduring love we had for each other. Today I consider Kellie one of my best friends. 

Roxaboxen by Barbara Cooney

I can not praise this book enough. Roxaboxen simply spoke to my imagination as a child and continues to do so. How I longed for a place isolated from the world like Roxaboxen. Roxaboxen is a place where the children of the town were simply children who imagined great battles (boys against girls), made forts, and had their own town lined with desert glass. They even had a cemetery, but the only thing in it was a lizard. 

A review can not do it justice. I tried. 

The Clown of God by Tomie DePaola

Another Review: "In this retelling of the old French legend, a juggler offers to the Christ Child the only Christmas gift he has. The full-color pictures with subtle tonal modulations are an integral part of the design of the lumious pages full of movement and vitality. The Italianate aspects of the setting are beautifully realized." 

This books makes me cry every time I read it. It taught me at a young age that making others happy made God happy and that anything good can be and is a spiritual gift. It also taught me that the smallest offering is great in God's eyes. God loves his children very, very much and knows even the least of them. 

Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

Another's review:  "This is the story of how young Patricia Polacco's wise Russian grandmother helped her get over a fear of thunderstorms. On summer days Patricia hates to hear the rumbling thunder of a storm in the distance. She fears “the sound of thunder more than anything.” But her grandmother, Babushka, knows exactly what to do – it’s time to make Thunder Cake. Thunder Cake is special; it must be made while the storm is brewing and finished just as the storm arrives. Although Patricia is scared, she helps Babushka collect the ingredients for the cake on the farm. As they gather and bake, Babushka teaches Patricia how to count the seconds between the thunder and the lightning to figure out how far away the storm is. Patricia says she’s still scared of the storm, but Babushka brushes her fear aside pointing out all the things Patricia did to collect ingredients for the cake, things only a brave person could do. “Brave people can’t be afraid of a sound, child.”

As always, Polacco’s illustrations are intricate and evocative. Babushka is at once stern, strong and warmly comforting. Polacco has carefully rendered items that make this old farm come to life: beautiful wood furniture, metal milk cans, and old-fashioned wooden butter churns. The resemblance between the girl and her grandmother is obvious in their matching smiles and similar ways of standing. The text is balanced between dialogue and narrative and feels much like a story that would be told by the fire on a stormy night. Counting the seconds between the thunder and lightning pushes the story along and adds a touch of urgency. The last page of the book includes the recipe for Thunder Cake." 
When I was younger, I was afraid of nearly everything--thunder, fire trucks, fire, earthquakes, tornados... and even more things made me nervous. This book helped me overcome my fears by realizing that fear doesn't have to paralyze me. It was great to find a character I could so readily identify with. 


What are your favorite children's books? I would love to know! 


Julie said...

Roxaboxen has to be my favorite book on this list, and for the very same reasons you wrote about.

This post does my mama heart good. It's nice to know that it really did matter. I'm so glad we shared those moments together.

Erica said...

I LOVE these reviews! I was thinking of some children books I need to buy and now I have a few more to add to my list ;)