Wednesday, July 13, 2005

We Interrupt This Broadcast....

....for a very special feature announcement here on Cautionary Tale. No, it's not the news that the White House Press Corps finally regained posession of their nuts, which the Bush administration has been apparently holding in safekeeping for them for several years now. Though that was pretty exciting news, I had a lot of fun reading the transcript of Scott McClellan's briefing yesterday. And el presidente will be here in my little ol' town tomorrow, imagine that! I hope he has fun at Black Expo. But that's not what I came here to talk about. Instead, in honor of the upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince I present to you my list of:
Now, it's not that I dislike Harry Potter! I find the books pretty charming, and I enjoyed reading the first three (then ran out of steam gazing on the phone book that was Goblet of Fire.) I mean no disrespect to Ms. Rowling or to the tons of people who are even now standing in line to get a copy of HBP. And I'm all for anything that gets kids and parents reading together. It just seems to me that, as a fan of kids' lit, there are a hell of a lot of books that never achieved this kind of stardom, but sure as hell deserved it. Their authors didn't make millions (I assume) but I re-read their books til the covers fell off. I've not had the impulse to re-read any of the Harry Potter books, except maybe the first one; once I knew how they ended, my interest waned. So following are some kids' books that I highly recommend, for both kids and adults. If you didn't read these when you were a child, you might want to think about reading them this summer. I'm going to make a list of them over in the sidebar later, so feel free to make further suggestions for the list in comments or email!
Over Sea, Under Stone, by Susan Cooper. This is the first in a 5 book series about some children who get swept up in an ancient mystery involving magic, King Arthur, and the holy grail. The series is good, but this first book was the one I loved best; in this, the characters are ordinary kids who find themselves plunged straight into a dangerous adventure. I liked these characters, and felt they got short shrift in the following books. But this book stands on its own as a great introduction to fantasy literature.
The Silver Crown, by Robert C. O'Brien. Pretty dark story--a girl named Ellen wakes on her birthday to find a silver crown on her pillow. She quickly discovers the crown is more than a pretty toy when her house is burned down, her family disappears, and she barely escapes being kidnapped by a man wearing a green silk hood. This book doesn't shy away from being scary, but Ellen is a great heroine--it's hard to find a book featuring a 10-year-old girl that isn't downright sappy. It's a gripping read, and there are bits that still creep me out even after having read it multiple times over the years. O'Brien also brought us Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, the first book I was ever tempted to steal from the library (I didn't.)
The House with a Clock in its Walls, by John Bellairs. Another creepy one--not too many kids' books explain exactly what a "Hand o' Glory" is! Lewis Barnavelt's parents are killed in an accident, and he goes to live with his Uncle Johnathan who turns out to be a real live wizard. The house has a mysterious clock hidden in the walls--can Lewis find out what it does before it winds down to doomsday? But Bellairs is also damn funny; I remember my mom snorting with laughter while reading this book when I left it out on the couch one night. My edition had Edward Gorey illustrations, too.
The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. Raskin has to be one of the cleverest children's book authors it's ever been my pleasure to read. Each of her books is a mystery (hmm, I'm developing a theme) involving word plays, puzzles, and secret identities. In The Westing Game, old Sam Westing has been murdered and 12 people fight to inherit his estate. Each has a piece of a clue to solve his murder, and the first to solve it wins the prize. What gets me, is--the puzzles are freakin' hard! None of this "Mirror of Erised" crap--come on, how difficult was that to figure out? Throw us a curve ball, JK! Make us think! If you can figure out the solution to the Westing Game before the final couple chapters, I'll give you a dollar. I love this book.
Danny, the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl. This is one of Dahl's lesser known books, standing in the shadow of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I far prefered this one. It's less dark than many of Dahl's works, but far richer in detail and character development in my opinion. Danny lives with his dad in an old Gypsy wagon in the English countryside; together they have a number of adventures, culminating in a mad plan to poach every single pheasant out of the local rich landowner's woods. It's a story of a real friendship between a parent and kid, again something that's not often found in children's lit. Another favorite of mine is the underrated Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, the sequel to CatCF. Willy Wonka in Outer Space, fighting the dreaded Vermicious Knids! I love it. Yeah, ok, Dahl might have made millions off his books.... but the others didn't, and you should read them all.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled series of odd photos and mutterings about life in midwestern America....