When I speak at schools, students often ask me what books I read when I was their age. I can usually remember one or two, and I often say that I really ought to make a list someday. With help from my sisters, I finally started that list. I posted it on my web site. Here are some of my favorites.
The Color Kittens, the story of “two color kittens with green eyes, Brush and Hush,” who had “buckets and buckets and buckets and buckets of color to splash around with. Out of these colors they would make all the colors in the world.” They dreamed
“Of a purple land
In a pale pink sea
Where apples fell
From a golden tree.”
Until I found an old copy at a rummage sale a few years ago, I hadn’t realized that Margaret Wise Brown wrote it. I still love the soft illustrations, the gentle tone, and the playful language.
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss. I can remember Mom reading this one to my sisters and me. We all listened in suspense as the poor bewildered boy with the magically appearing hats bravely made his way up, up, up that winding staircase with the executioner following right behind him. The thought still makes me shiver.
Angelo the Naughty One by Helen Garrett. The story of a boy who runs away on his sister’s wedding day because he is afraid to take a bath. "Papa said he was a disgrace to the family and Mama was ashamed, but Angelo was always naughty. He even yelled when his face was washed!" I loved the friendly, exotic (to me) illustrations and the descriptive names of Angelo's brothers and sisters: Maria Rosa, the eldest one; Gloria, the rough one; Juanita, the sweet one; Louisa, the bright quick one; sturdy Thomas; Miguel, the tiny one; and Antonio, the baby, whom everybody loved. After a vigorous scrubbing, a ride on a prancing black stallion, and the festive wedding, Angelo’s father calls him the Brave One because he is no longer afraid of water.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. A breakthrough book for me. What freedom she had! What a name! I delighted in reciting it: Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking. I loved how strong she was, how she lived with a horse and a monkey, and how she shared her gold with her friends Tommy and Annika. I wanted to be her.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Naturally, I identified with Jo. I imagined myself a tomboy and a writer and even started calling myself Jo instead of JoAnn. I picked up a copy a few weeks ago and was amazed to recognize how familiar it all was. I must have read it many times.
What makes these books so memorable to me? The same things that grab any child's attention: thrilling, imaginative stories about brave, clever, determined characters who figure things out for themselves, who make mistakes and make amends and are loved in spite of their faults. Exciting language with rhythm, rhyme, and wordplay. Surprise and wonder, comfort and reassurance. I hope that kids today still find these things in books. Plus welcoming laps to sit in and people who care enough to read with them.