The Very Hungry Author got started one year ago on July 30! In honor of my blog birthday, I'm going to take some time to get a little nostalgic and remind myself exactly why I love children's literature so much, why it matters, and why I've embarked on this challenging, fun journey in the first place.
So here, in roughly the order I encountered them, are some of my favorite books that influenced me as a child reader and now, as an adult writer of children's books.
1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Well, are you surprised? I'm sure I've mentioned before that is is one of my favorite baby/toddler books. I typically gift it to brand-new babies as a board book so they can stick their fingers in all the little holes with no fear of ripping pages. Creative, colorful, and quite literally transformative. Not to mention, all that yummy food!
2. The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone
My first exposure to a clever twist ending when (spoiler alert) after much worry, Grover discovers that HE is the monster at the end of the book. Genius and hilarious.
I actually adored several Sesame Street books, including Don't Forget the Oatmeal, featuring predictable conflict between Bert and Ernie, and Down on the Farm with Grover, featuring predictable Grover antics like feeding spaghetti to the cows. Children love repetition and predictability, especially if it's all mixed with humor.
3. Corduroy by Don Freeman
Who in the world didn't feel awful for the poor bear without a home (and equally important, a button)? This is a simple book with a simple message about belonging and home, yet it's delivered through such a sweet and memorable character that it is an absolute classic.
4. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
On to chapter books. My first memory of this book is my dad reading it aloud to me at bedtime, then me reading it myself (and the rest of the series) once I was old enough. Love Ramona's fresh perspective on things, love her odd-man-out (er, odd-girl-out) lot in life. Her quirkiness was so refreshing, especially to someone who wasn't necessarily part of the "popular" crowd.
In 3rd grade, my best friend and I decided to be Ramona and Beezus for Halloween. I happened to be getting my hair cut in October and asked the hairdresser to cut my hair like Beezus. She looked at me in the mirror and said "What's a Beezus??" Oh, grown-ups.
5. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
This was read and re-read and re-re-read. Such great humor, rhythms, and illustrations. I still love reading these out loud to my students, and they still love listening. One of my favorites: Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out. Why can't I be this clever?
6. Garfield by Jim Davis
While not technically a children's book, I had a small collection of these books that I would pull out in the middle of the night if I couldn't sleep or got scared (telling you, WAY too active of an imagination here. I still scare myself just starting to imagine creepy things that go bump in the night. Maybe I should still have some of these in my nightstand). Anyway, Garfield is a wonderfully developed character who hates Mondays and loves lasagna. Sweet humor that will take your mind off murderous come-to-life dolls or shadow goblins.
7. The Babysitter's Club by Ann M. Martin
This is when it would be accurate to say I started to read voraciously; when I was about 8 or 9 and read literally one of these a day over summer break. I think my mom actually got tired of continually taking me back to the library to replenish my supply. Maybe not the world's most amazing literature, but it doesn't always have to be. Ann M. Martin hit on a niche that little girls loved (and still do; last year one of my students was reading The Ghost at Dawn's House and I couldn't wait for her to finish so we could discuss).
8. Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
Fabulous. Read the entire series and still think of Anastasia as one of the first strong female characters I related to. Funny, thoughtful, smart. I recommend these books still to many of my girl students that don't like the typical "little girl" books that are out there now (not that there's anything wrong with those).
I remember one joke that went over my head at the time. Anastasia heard her parents talking about salmonella. Not understanding it was the name of a type of food poisoning, she assumed they were talking about a man, Sal Monella. The irony is that it went over BOTH of our heads, until years later when I learned of salmonella and finally got the joke.
9. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
This book is so chock-full of interesting characters, it isn't dull for a second. And, although I had no idea what they were, the chocolate egg cremes that Harriet got after school had me drooling.
In 5th grade, my class put on this play. I was Mrs. Robinson, half of the snobby, stuffy, rich couple on Harriet's spying route. Fun stuff.
...and saving the best for last, as I love to do, my all-time favorite children's chapter book:
10. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Where do I start? I've read this book many times, probably because the first reading of it left such a strong impression on me. The book requires the reader to put things together as the pages turn, with little explanations (I know now this is called world-building, as opposed to info dump where the reader is basically told outright what they need to know).
As a child, it's a little confusing at first, but I loved that Lois Lowry respected my mind enough to know I'd figure it all out; and how much more delicious it was when it all clicked! This book forces the reader to re-examine so many small aspects of our lives that we take for granted. How would you describe sunshine to someone who's never experienced it? Snow? Pain? Love? And is society better off without these things? (I think we all know the answer to that).
This was the book that led me down the path of alternate society/ speculative fiction books, which I now write myself. My favorite question as an author is "what if?" I love answering my own questions by creating new worlds and putting all my imaginings on the page.
Thinking about my favorite children's books is definitely inspiring and motivating as I continue to polish my craft. There are dozens more I could add to this list, but these ten were the first that popped into my head (that's right, I wasn't really a Goodnight Moon or Dr. Seuss girl). Even if you're not a big reader as an adult, I guarantee you can think of at least a few books that shaped your childhood. Children make such an emotional connection with books, which is why children's literature is so important. Funny, touching, beautiful, simple, sweet...they're all crucial in developing a child's love of reading, pathway to learning, and new views of the world.
Now, what were some of YOUR favorite children's books? Let's reminisce!