9 Books that defined my childhood

Today in class I caught one of my students reading a book under the table. I had to ask him twice to put the book away since we were learning about say versus tell (obviously way more interesting than a book about the history of guillotines). I hated having to tell him to put the book away, because it is, after all, educational and we were just studying for things that will be on a test (and I hate testing). Not to mention that I was once that kid and I hated having my books confiscated, but I could never put the books away when the teachers asked me to. The student today wasn’t the first I’ve had to do that with. He’s the third this year and to be honest, I alm   ost wished it happened more often. What a wonderful world we’d live in where my main problem as a teacher would be asking my students to put away their library books. If only.

It made me think back to the days I’d hide my books under the desk or cleverly (I thought) behind another book. This happened often, because as I said, I was one of those kids and I read a lot. But of all the books I read, a few stand out as important to my childhood. So I decided to compile a list of these books. There are many others I also enjoyed reading as a child, but these hold special meaning for one reason or another. I have read all of these books at least twice.

1. Purple, Green, and Yellow by Robert Munsch purple-green-yellow My mom got me this book when I was in elementary school. It’s by the same author who wrote Love You Forever, which she used to read to me when I was very little. The book tells a story of a girl who wants the newest and coolest markers. The markers that are bright and vibrant, the markers that smell, the markers that never wash off. Each time her mother agrees to buy them as long as the girl colors on paper. Well we all know how tempting that deal is, and the girl eventually gets bored with the paper and turns body into a personal canvass. Problem is that she ends up coloring herself invisible. I think my mom may have been trying to teach me a lesson.

2. Thief of Always  by Clive Barker

The first sentence reads: “The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.” What more do you need? This books is one of few, if not the only, children’s book by Clive Barker, who is more commonly known for his adult horror fiction. A boy who is bored with life runs away to a magical, perfect land that turns out not to be so perfect after all. I read this book in 5th grade and it’s a bit dark for a 5th grader, but the story stuck with me for many years, despite the fact that I could not remember the title. And when I tried to tell this story to other people, they had no idea what I was talking about. Then one day in college, ten years later, I was telling my friend the story before class and he stated quite simply, “Oh, that’s Clive Barker’s Thief of Always. I love that book.” I immediately went home and ordered it and reread it again. It was just as good ten years later. movie_5620_poster 3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I didn’t want to read this book at all, but my mom had read an article about it and wanted me to try it, so she used the 15 rule of our house. “You have to read 15 pages of a book you don’t want to read before you can say you won’t read it.” So I read 15 pages and by the next day I’d finished the second book and by graduate school I’d decided to base my thesis on the series. So obviously, it had an impact.

4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Like any normal child, I read this book thinking it was the first in the Narnia series and later went back to read The Magician’s Nephew and others in the series, but wasn’t as impressed. The Lionthe Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of those books that made me want to believe in magic. It made me want to believe that whenever I opened my closet, I could go on an adventure. What kid doesn’t want that? Which brings me to my next book.

5. Matilda by Raold Dahl

Matilda appealed to me because I felt I could, or at least wanted to, relate to her. I wasn’t neglected like she was; I had a great childhood. But I was quiet and introverted and read a lot and I wanted to be able to control things with my mind because I was so smart. Turns out that I only thought I was smart, but a small hope always remains within me that one day I’ll be able to have powers like Matilda, because obviously that’s more realistic that Harry Potter (although I’d be ok with a letter from Hogwarts as well).

6. East of the Sun & West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer

Apparently this story was adapted from a Norwegian folktale of the same name, but I am only really familiar with the Mercer Mayer book. My aunt, who is an art professor, bought this book for me when I was about 10. And yes the story was interesting, but not really anything spectacular or original. Was really captivated me with this book was the illustrations. I would spend hours and hours quickly reading the text and then devouring the drawings.  I don’t know why the images were so appealing, but I still remember them 15 years later.

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7. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Where to even begin. It’s an absolute classic. It made me realize that poetry could be cool and fun and that everything Shel Silverstein did was genius. I would gladly reread it again today. In fact, it’s sitting in my bookcase at home.

8. James and the Giant Peach by Raold Dahl When I was nine, my neighbor came to stay with us for a couple weeks because his mom was visiting family in Korea and his dad was stationed abroad somewhere. A few days after he came to stay with us, Hurricane Fran hit. That night, my neighbor, my little sister, and I were wrapped up in blankets on the floor of my parents bedroom and waiting for the storm to hit. We were incredibly scared and so my mom decided to read to us. She picked James and the Giant Peach up of the my bookshelf and just started reading. It was a welcome distraction because we needed something else to concentrate on and I was fully willing to concentrate on Jame’s problems rather than my own. Fran hit hard that night and we were without power for a while. But my mom continue to read the book to us and the story stuck.

9. Oh, Say Can You Say? by Dr. Seuss  

When I would go stay with my dad, he would often read me a story before bed, as dads tend to do. But I constantly requested this book. It was a book of ridiculous tongue twisters and I would make my dad read it again and again as fast as he could, because it was hilarious. Then he would make me read it and after a while, I just had them memorized. Now I use this book in my ESL classes because my students feel less intimidated to try something that’s meant to be nonsense, but it’s great for fluency practice. Not to mention that it’s still fun to read really fast.

Aslan the Aslan

My thesis focused on language and perspective in the Harry Potter series and essentially looked at how neologisms, or made up words, and the way they are used can influence the stories and the reader experience. (This is the Sparknotes version.) So, in short, I am a nerd for words and languages.

The other day I saw a mug with a lion on it and underneath it read, Aslan. I immediately assumed this was a Narnia reference, but as I saw the word again in various situations, I asked my roommate and found out that Aslan in Turkish actually means lion. No way! This may be a small, insignificant fact to most normal people, but I am simply in love with the idea. I’ve unlocked a clever trick to one of my favorite childhood series.

And now I wonder how exactly that can affect the reading of the series. For example, when I think Aslan, I immediately associate it with the very specific lion of Narnia. However, when Turkish kids think Aslanthat could simply be any old lion. And when they are reading the series, do they just read it as Lion? Does that not demote Aslan in some way? 

Just some food for thought.