My Summer Reading 100 Best Children’s Books by Anita Silvey
“The subject of all my work is the extraordinary heroism of children. I side with kids all the time.” – Maurice Sendak
About three weeks ago I was given the privilege to attend a district workshop where Anita Silvey, author, reviewer, and former editor of The Horn Book Magazine was a guest speaker. She is my latest Library hero! Ms. Silvey is an amazing and passionate speaker. She knows children’s books like no one else I have ever met. It was a humbling and energizing experience to hear her talk about her latest book, Everything I need to know I learned from a Children’s Book. I was really struck by the stories of different public figures and their interaction with Children’s books. I began to think about my life altering interaction with reading. Aside from my faith, most of my personality, life choices, and beliefs have come from the time I spent reading children’s books- right up to my career choice. You should definitely buy Anita Silvey’s books. They are really helpful professionally and personally! You can get them here.
Anita Silvey has another book out called 100 Best Books for Children. I decided that this summer I will embark on a journey to read Ms. Silvey’s book, the accompanying children’s books and record my memories, feelings, observations, and recommendations on this blog. I don’t know how this project will turn out, but I do know that I want to remember my interactions with these children’s books for a long time. I want to remember how I felt about them when I read them as a child, because I have already read a lot mentioned on the list, and how they relate to my life and beliefs as an adult. I want that recorded here in print, so I can remember and share with you. I hope you will interact with these books with your children. I hope you will get something out of my recommendations and I hope you will be entertained by my stories. I may not write about all 100 books, only the ones that seem to be relevant to my life.
I will be alternating this topic with blog posts for our Summer Reading Challenge, which will keep the library patrons updated on how much Mrs. Janson and I read, what we read, what we like and what we don’t like. Anyone who logs more minutes or books than we do, and is part of our Summer Reading Program, will win an invitation to our ice cream party. If you are only interested in reading blog posts for Summer Reading Challenge, then just type “Summer Reading Challenge” in the search box and you will see those posts.
Late spring: Silvey’s Introduction and My Own Best Memories
“Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book. People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment. The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to manage.”
– Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess
Anita Silvey writes in her introduction, “I believe three stories exist for every book: the one the book tells, the one behind the book, and the story of what happens when a child or family reads the book.” The last story is the one I’m going to tell and before I start talking about the books on Silvey’s list, I’m going to talk about a few books on my own list.
My mother was a preschool teacher. Does that explain a lot or what? I have very fond memories of curling up together with my two sisters, or when my older sister got too old, just my little sister and listening to my mom read to us. We read before bedtime, we read during the afternoon, we read all summer long.
My big sister and I shared a room. I could be found in our closet many a night, reading by the closet light, so as not to keep her awake. As a child, I was prone to nightmares, a naturally terrified child, finding solace in my books. When the closet got too messy, I would climb into the bathtub with a blanket and read until I heard my dad getting ready for work at 5:00am. Sometimes, I would have fallen asleep with the book on my face, other times I would have read straight through the night. I’d hop up and jump in my bed before he could come in and give me a kiss goodbye. The books gave me solace from my intense fears. They kept my mind busy so the terrors of my imagination child’s mind would be held at bay, because of that, I read EVERYTHING. I read whatever I could find, even the newspaper. I have fond memories of a ten-year-old Sara reading the newspaper out loud to my Nonna, my grandmother from Italy who didn’t really speak English, while she made me toast or eggs, or stirred a pot of spaghetti sauce. She didn’t know what I was reading, I didn’t know what she was saying most of the time, but those moments made her feel like my best friend.
My mother read most of the classics to us. I remember listening to her read Heidi and The Little House on the Prairie while sitting on my heart themed bedspread. My favorite series was absolutely the Beverly Cleary Ramona books. Ramona always struck a chord with me. She really wanted to do good things; they just came out a little sloppy- I could (can?) identify.
My favorite picture books were The Berenstain Bears, The Big Orange Splot, and Wacky Wednesday, along with Where the Wild Things Are and anything by Dr. Seuss. We used to chant, “Something is not right, something is not right” from Madeleine whenever there was trouble. I highly recommend The Big Orange Splot to any child who feels different and like they can’t fit in.
I remember my father, who grew up in Italy, returning from a trip to his hometown with a copy of Pinocchio in Italian. I remember sitting up late and listening to the music of the words in a language that was so familiar to me, yet so foreign.
I was an extremely shy child, often my mother’s shadow and have struggled with social anxiety to this day. When I was 7 years old, I had to get my tonsils out. This was just before laparoscopic surgery and I had to stay overnight at the hospital. My mom brought The Secret Garden with her and read it to me. I loved it! I wanted more! I had a difficult recovery from my tonsillectomy because of a reaction to the anesthesia that made me throw up and kept me from healing. Sitting in bed that summer, I read A Little Princess for the first time. This is my all-time favorite book. A book about a little girl who shared my name and my love for reading. It was a book about a girl going to a new school, which consequently I was going to be doing in the fall. It was a book about a little girl who lived in an imaginary world, much like the one I had created since I was too afraid to spend too much time in the real one.
I had a difficult time fitting in in my new school. The group of third graders that made up my class had been together since Kindergarten and was not terribly receptive to new comers. I struggled alone on the playground and carried my copy of A Little Princess with me, feeling much like Princess Sara when she was alone and had only her rat friend, Melchisedec. Like I said, I had a great imagination, but I felt like I could identify with Sara, and that made the transition easier for me.
I couldn’t wait until summer when we were challenged to read more books than my mother, an avid reader. In our house, we had to read the book before we were allowed to watch the movie. I would sit by the pool and read all day long. Some of my best memories were gearing up for the annual vacation to the beach in North Carolina. I would pack a bunch of books. I would spend hours in the sun reading Nancy Drew, The Prince and the Pauper and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. When I ran out of books at the beach, my mom would take us to a local used bookstore where you could swap your books with ones you hadn’t read. When I ran out of those, I’d try and read whatever books my parents brought. I’m pretty sure we all regretted when I picked up my dad’s copy of Jurassic Park. Needless to say, I only got a few chapters in and didn’t sleep for several days.
I remember in Fifth grade I was obsessed with Native Americans because I read Thunder Rolling in the Mountains by Scott O’Dell. I desperately wanted to be kidnapped by Indians. I was so enthralled and heart broken by the story of the early days of our country. I used Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for a Fifth grade book report, much to the chagrin of my teacher who had to read the almost-500 page book for the first time to grade my report. To my knowledge, my parents never censored what we read. However, I think my mom was sneaky; she always made me think I was making my own decisions, even though she was clearly guiding my choices. I never felt restricted, though, and could talk to her about whatever I was reading and come to my own conclusions. Allowing us freedom to explore life through literature is one of the best gifts my parents ever gave me. They helped me to become compassionate, understand other’s circumstances, and be brave through the characters I read about.
I will never forget how these books shaped my future. Keeping my mind open to imagination, striving to treat people with goodness and grace, working hard, finding value in suffering, were all lessons reinforced by reading about Sara in A Little Princess. Sara, Ramona, Laura, Mr. Plumbean, Max, Nancy Drew, Anne, and all the other characters from my childhood helped me decide what I wanted to be like and what I didn’t. The most important lesson, one that I did and will continue to struggle with was there too, the value and freedom of truly being yourself. As I am about to embark on the journey of reading through 100 great books, many great childhood memories, I hope I can take these lessons with me and learn them over again.