Friday 6 October 2006

Great Reads from My Childhood

In the previous piece covering SCBWI’s What Makes a Children’s Book Great event, critic Julia Eccleshare said: "The great books are the ones that make readers."

Here is a list of the reads that made me a reader – and yes, I count comic books as good reading:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott– I identified with Jo March, writing and writing, all those hopes and dreams, the pretty older sister, the tomboyishness, the suppressed girlishness, and then, the desire to nurture all those homeless children. But what did Lawrence see in Amy?

Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – I wanted to smoke a corn cob pipe and sail away on the Mississippi which would have been a tough job given that I lived in the Philippines. Years later I found my own Huckleberry best friend in Mandy Navasero, a photographer who took me on unbelievable adventures and showed me how to eat a pineapple while driving. My Tom Sawyer was from a collection of Children's Classics and beautifully illustrated by Edward F. Cortese. My favourite illustration was of three boys stark naked smoking a corn cob pipe after Tom runs away and everyone thinks him dead.

The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop. When the first Chinese brother swallowed the sea, his head swelled up to an enormous ball. Unforgettable. It’s a real shame that the politically correct brigade have deemed such a great story racist.

The Beverly Gray Mystery Stories by Claire Blank. I had a set that belonged to my grandmother who, not having attended high school or college, tried to improve herself by reading. I remember turning to a page at age four and realising that I could read! This mystery serial from the 1930s had heroine Beverly Gray struggling to become a journalist (which I’ve done), travelling the world (yup, me too), marrying an Englishman (uh huh), and struggling to get her book published (oh yeah). Every girl with ambition should read it.

The Prince and the Pauper by Samuel Clemens– For a long time, I didn’t make the connection between Samuel Clemens (author of The Prince and the Pauper) and Mark Twain (author of Tom Sawyer). But how many times have I read the chapter in which Miles Hendon discovers that his “prince of dreams of shadows” is truly the prince of England? Wonderful! This is probably the book I read the most number of times.

Green Eggs and Ham by Doctor Seuss – I do like the Cat in the Hat and all the other Seuss tales, but as a child it was Green Eggs and Ham that really made an impression. I do so like them Sam I am, I do so like Green Eggs and Ham!

Spiderman by Stan Lee – I was a devotee of the American comic book serial. Spiderman/Peter Parker seemed so vulnerable and alone, I identified with all the stuff about trying to belong. And I loved the muscular illustration. I learned to draw soles of feet by copying Spiderman cartoons.

Sergeant Rock by Robert Kanigher, illustrated by Joe Kubert – guns and German enemies and young, vulnerable soldiers being sent to the front line. I adored Sargeant Rock and spent all my spare pocket money on the DC comic book. I also wasted many hours copying Joe Kubert’s illustrations, and when Joe Kubert turned his hand to Tarzan for DC Comics, I turned my hand to Tarzan as well

Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Yeah, yeah, it was an American radio programme wasn’t it? But as a young person, I only knew it as a comic book serial and a cheap paperback series. Which I read avidly. And yes, I loved the Disney movie. And I read the Mars Series as well.

Charlie Brown by Charlie Schulz . I wished I could be there for Charlie Brown, give him a break from all the cruelty of the kids who populated his world. I loved Lucy though, who charged five cents for a psychiatric consultation, more lucrative than running a lemonade stand like the other kids. And Snoopy who had literary ambitions. And Schroeder who played Beethoven on a toy piano. And especially Linus who believed in the Great Pumpkin.

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. Ah, the surprise ending. I could read O. Henry stories over and over again. And I did.

Oliver by Charles Dickens. I first heard of Charles Dickens when my father took me to the movie in a down town cinema in Manila. Watching Oliver! the musical, made me rush to the school library and take out Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations. That’s why I would never knock Hollywood. It introduced me to a world of reading I would never have accessed as a child in the third world.

The Book of Naughty Children by Enid Blyton. This led me to read everything else that Enid Blyton wrote. I especially loved the first two books of Noddy, when he discovers Toy Town and builds his own home/ Reading Enid Blyton now, I don’t get the same buzz she gave me in my childhood, but I will never forget. She gave me that feeling of “urgency” that Julia Eccleshare talks about, that ‘must read more’ feeling that children’s authors can only hope for in their audience.

Tintin in Tibet by Herge. Billions of blue blistering barnacles in ten thousand thundering typhoons! I read this one over and over … as well as the others. And I spent hours copying little details from the drawings – the way the waves in the sea had a foamy crest; the shape of the back of someone’s head; the peak of a mountain.

1 comment :

  1. Laurence only sees the adult Amy and so he can see what we, from primarily Jo's perspective, miss. Amy doesn't only know how to say nice things, look nice, and act properly, she enjoys these things for their true goodness. She grows from a precocious and petted twit into a woman who knows how to make everyone around her truly comfortable and welcome, skills which are rare. I wish I had those skills, for they are true gifts. Amy is less driven by an unseen need like Jo, and rather picks her way through life, placing each step delicately and cleverly. (At least, that's why I think Laurence falls for Amy....her grace.) Pardon me, for being so wordy. Great list!


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