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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ten Best Moment in Children's Literature


1.)    Matthew meeting Anne Shirley at the train station. I didn’t have the pleasure of reading this one until adulthood, when it was required for a mother/daughter book club I’d joined. Never have I been more impressed by an author’s ability to convey such a realistic change in perception in so short a time. I saw Matthew fall in love with Anne, and had a premonition of how she’d enrich his life. Pure magic.

2.)    The death of Severus Snape. I loved not only how this one gave a tidy explanation for the animosity the Potions professor showed toward Harry but also how it effortlessly patched things up. There was definite forgiveness in Lily Potter’s deep green eyes. Which is why we love her son so much. The only down side was that this scene made it hard to hate Snape with our previous fervor. There goes one of the guilty pleasures of the series.
 
 
 
 

3.)    The moment the phrase “Some Pig” appeared in Charlotte’s Web. White’s depiction of how he thought the down-home folk would react to such an occurrence struck me as downright realistic, brimming over with respect. This is saying something, since it was the perfect opportunity to poke fun at a whole class of people who might, under different circumstances, be construed as simple. Let’s face it, Charlotte was a snob, and she was sort of slumming in her relationship with Wilbur. But the author never falls into the web of condescension. What starts out as the cautiously optimistic compliment burgeons into words like “Radiant” and “Terrific” as Charlotte and Wilbur discover mutual appreciation. Theirs is one of the purest and most memorable partnerships in literary history—but if you look back at its evolution, they are careful never to overpromise. Let's not mince words here. This is some story.

4.)    The moment Colin Craven rises from his wheelchair in “The Secret Garden”. Whoo yah! The power of love, the innocence of childhood, mind over matter culminating in one small step for man. Colin might as well have been walking on the moon.






5.)    Nat’s announcement that he has purchased his first fishing skiff in The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. This is when it becomes clear that he and Kit will end up together. A very important moment in a book that formed my view of romance, for it marked the first time I’d been subjected to the strong-willedgirlmeetsboyshehatesatfirstandthengrowstolove formula. It is a formula that has been used again and again over the years, but never better than by Speare. In fact, I read this one to my daughter recently and didn’t remember there being so much historical shit in there. That’s how entranced I was by soul mates Nat and Kit. Gotta hand it to the author. She covered her bases, including history for those of us who weren’t duddle-headed romantics back in grade school.

6.)    The moment Lucille Applewhite declares Jake Semple a “radiant light being” in Surviving the Applewhites. Hands down the best of, like, a million great moments in this book. See for yourself:

      Jake picked up his bag, but she didn’t move. She just stood looking at him, her hands on her hips, her head to one side. Jake intensified his scowl. The combination of this particular expression and this T-shirt, even without the spiked leather collar, had totally unnerved the principal at Traybridge Middle School.

             Lucille sighed a long, appreciative sigh. “A radiant light being, that’s what you are. A     radiant light being!”

     Jake very nearly dropped his duffel bag. Radiant light being!

     “And don’t ever let anyone tell you different.”

    End of excerpt. Now right there is a passage that will give non-traditional students and misunderstood kids all over the world hope that they will someday find the one person who appreciates them despite their quirks. Middle grade done right.

7.)    The heroine’s death in Shel Silverstein’s Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony. Bet kids (not to mention, parents) never saw that one coming. Ponies for everyone!

8.)    The kids ambushing the author in The Children’s Hour and throwing him, chair and all, over the balcony. Something tells me this wasn’t really in the poem, but hats off to the illustrator of the version in my childhood library. He made Grave Alice, Laughing Allegra and golden-haired Edith into a trio of manipulative little monsters never before seen on any bookshelf that I was aware of. Now that I have kids of my own, I figure he was drawing from experience. Back then, however, I thought it a feminist depiction—and it gave me a little thrill to see those girls getting the best of their dad or uncle or whomever. I probably exited stage left to burn my training bra.

9.)    Princess Sabra getting lashed to the tree (although I remember it being the mast of the ship) in St. George and the Dragon. Proof that the fascination with bondage (evident in the viral acceptance of 50 Shades of Grey) begins at an early age.

10.)   The last sentence of The House at Pooh Corner. Beautiful as a sunset, it seeped        
               into my soul and stayed for good. Bear of little brain, my foot. More like a furry   
                Emily Dickinson.

     So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

       Yeah, I still have my dog-eared, tear-splashed copy of that one. It would almost be a downer if it weren’t so damned poignant. Anyway, I’m a better person for reading it for the first time as a child and every ten years or so thereafter. At the very least, it makes a good case for allowing kids to keep their stuffed animals in their rooms.

All of this shows how much harder it is to write for kids than for their bigger, dumber counterparts. Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility. We are forming psyches, people! Pen accordingly.

 

 

1 comment:

  1. This is a thoughtful post. I read some of these books as a child, The Secret Garden and Charlotte's Web were two of my favorites, but some I never found as a child. With kids of my own, I'd like for them to experience these books.

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