Summer Pages

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, wishing she was on vacation . . . 

Greetings, Wicked People. I hope everyone is enjoying this first full week of summer. There were so many snow days in Connecticut this past winter that the kids in my town don’t get out until today. And that brings me back to memories of my own childhood. It probably won’t be a surprise to any of you that one of my favorite summer vacation activities was–wait for it–reading.

Recently I’ve been reading (usually via audiobooks) a number of popular books that are often called domestic thrillers. You know the ones, that are selling a squillion copies, like Gone Girl. Unreliable narrator (generally a woman, often with a prescription medication and/or alcohol problem) who may or may not have actually seen or done what she thinks she did. Lots of surprises, twists and turns–but not small ones. Big ones. In general I’m enjoying these books, but I have to say that my professional goggles frequently make the secrets that get revealed fairly obvious.

Sometimes I long for the days when I read just for the joy of reading, without feeling the compulsion to guess or analyze or predict what’s coming next. And that makes me think of the books I loved when I was in elementary school, the books I read over and over. Here’s a sample:

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. So, whether from nostalgia, or because I haven’t seen the movie yet but intend to, I recently reread this book. Despite having read it at least 5 times as a kid, I have to say I didn’t remember a word of it! So it turned out to be a brand-new experience for me. Verdict: This is a highly spiritual, allegorical work, with some rather stilted language, and now, viewed through those professional goggles I mentioned above, I didn’t quite connect with it the way I did all those years ago. There are several more related books (I’m not sure they’re exactly sequels), and I don’t recall if I read those. I think not, and I probably won’t now. I’ll just try to remember my former love for the book and leave it at that. I still may see the movie, because, ya know, Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Chris Pine.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I adored it then, and adore it now. I remember being fascinated by those round hobbit doors, second breakfasts (a brilliant concept that really ought to catch on), and hairy-footed short people going on a quest with some dwarves. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy a couple of times, and I’ve seen the movies, which were unnecessarily extended, but The Hobbit is still the book that does it for me. Time for a reread on this one.

Strange But True, by David Duncan. I must have checked this one out of the library 800 times. In fact, a group of my friends and I just pretty much took turns checking it out in perpetuity, so no one else got to read it. I recall serious discussions about the stories in this book. Credible sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. Feral children raised by wolves. And one that still sticks with me today: the farmer who walked across his field one morning and simply vanished, while his wife was watching. Hey, it could happen. I think I need to find this book (and I seem to recall there was a second volume with another set of terrifying tales).

Chariots of the Gods, by Erich von Daniken. . What can I say? I believed in aliens.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond,by Elizabeth George Speare. I saved my all-time favorite for last. To say I adored this book is not doing my feelings justice. Set in colonial Connecticut against the backdrop of the Connecticut witch trials, this is the story of Kit Tyler, born and raised in Barbados, who comes to live with her horrible Puritan relatives in Wethersfield. She befriends a Quaker woman who is accused of witchcraft–then Kit gets accused of it herself! In the end, she sails off for the tropics with the very dreamy Nat Eaton. I still get all swoony when I think about him. Seriously, if you guys haven’t read this one, do. It’ll only take a few hours. And as a side note, I never thought while I was reading this book back then that I would end up living only twenty miles from the actual Wethersfield. And now, since I did a little research for this blog post, I have just discovered that a house from the story is now a museum! I’ll be visiting that soon.

What were your favorites? Have you reread them lately? Has your opinion about them changed? I’d love to know.

42 Thoughts

  1. The whole Wrinkle in Time series packs some fairly decent theology (I know, not everyone’s favorite discipline). Another decent female theologian is Dorothy Sayers with her Peter Whimsy series.

    1. Yes–although what theology it was confused me, LOL! are Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which angels? Are they the Fates (one of them was knitting, I believe)? Or simply interdimensional beings? There was definitely Christian symbolism and language, and yet it seemed like something else too. Maybe I should read some literary criticism on it to get another perspective. I have been meaning to read Dorothy Sayers, but never have. Time to move her up on the TBR.

  2. I didn’t read Wrinkle or the Hobbit until I was in my twenties, Jane, and have not re-read them. I know what you mean about professional googles, though. I loved the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series and read them several times, and then again with my sons. (Current award-naming controversy notwithstanding…) And I also read the Oz books, of which there are at least a half dozen – and my older son read them, too. Talk about an elaborate fantasy world!

    1. Oh, Laura Ingalls Wilder! (and yes to current controversy)! Somehow I forgot to include her on this list, and yet I read the entire Little House series at least three times. Since I’ve grown up and moved away, Manly’s childhood home from Farmer Boy has been turned into a museum, not far from my hometown. Another place to put on my to-be-visited list.

  3. The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene DuBois. an award winner in the ’40’s.

      1. I did not read Little Women or Anne until I was a little older, junior high or high school, I think. Have you seen the latest PBS adaptation of Little Women? I thought it was pretty good, and handled the Jo-Laurie-Professor situation better than previous versions. My personal opinion is that it was a flaw in the book that made us all fall in love with Laurie, and then LMA didn’t let her marry him and gave us the professor as kind of a poor substitute. I know we shouldn’t diss a classic, but the book has always bothered me, LOL! And then there’s the new adaption of Anne (Anne With an E) on Netflix. I know that people who loved the wonderful, lighthearted Megan Followes version from a few decades ago don’t love this new, darker Anne, but I kind of do. And the new season drops on July 6!

  4. The Heidi books, Louisa May Alcott, and a book called Shakespeare for Children (which gave me a lifelong love of his work) and my very favorite which I read over and over (and have talked about ad nauseam) are the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. I read A Wrinkle in Time last fall for the first time and liked it.

  5. I read the Ring Trilogy every summer for at least ten years, after a friend gave me the first volume for my 16th birthday. And I was having a conversation about A Wrinkle in Time over dinner with relatives just last night (I think I read it, but I don’t remember. It must be in the house somewhere, because everything else is, if only I could find it.) Little Women of course (I still have the copy I read in 4th grade, and that one I can find!) My fourth grade class read the whole Little House series, and I was appointed to write the author a fan letter. (It was only years later that I found out she had passed away a few years earlier, but her publicity department was still sending out polite thank you notes and photos of the author.)

    I’m afraid to reread the favorites, or watch movie adaptations, so I can preserve my vivid memories of the first exposure. (I did however tour the Alcott house in Concord.)

  6. All of Nancy Drew. All of Judy Bolton. Girl of the Limberlost. The Secret Garden.. Seventeenth Summer. And when I was really little–all of the Teenie Weenies.

    1. I’m trying to remember when I discovered Nancy Drew. It was probably around 6th or 7th grade, and then I went straight through the whole series. I’ve never read Girl of the Limberlost but it’s on my TBR pile. Fun fact: the company I work for at my day job is based in the town right next to Gene Stratton-Porter’s summer cottage and the Limberlost swamp in Indiana. Next time I go out there for business, I am going to try to squeeze in a tour.

  7. I re-read the Little House books a lot as a kid. Also Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

    As I grew older, I would reread The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings straight through.

    Lately, every summer I read the Harry Potter series straight through. I’m on book five right now. Still marvel at the plotting and I still pick up things (for example, it was only this summer that I saw the mention in book two of Harry saying “Voldemort left a piece of himself in me?” and realized it was the piece of soul we learn about in book 7, not just transference of powers).

    1. Confession: I’ve never read the entire HP series. I know I should, because it made such a huge impact on literature, but it’s such a commitment, LOL! I will get to it eventually. I have seen the movies, though.

  8. Childhood favorites. What a great topic this bleak week. I share a lot of yours, and others that came along later when I was a children’s librarian. I have a lot in my house and sometimes turn to them when I have insomnia. Like a glass of warm milk. I had fun trakcing some down through online used books sources. First up, LIttle Women,now and forever. I was very young when I read it for the first time and kept reading it throughout my childhood, plus all of Alcott I could get my hands on. Betsy-Tacy books were 2nd, still beloved, and not a coincidence that my two favorites starred characters who became writers. I did love the Wilder books, and still do, while fully supporting they are not immune to some rethinking. The Hobbit! Due to an aunt who was a children’s librarian, I read it as a child, the right time. Narnia series – my local library didn’t have all of them (not yet as famous as they were to become) and I didn’t catch up until I was in college. I loved fantasy, which generally was not as popular then than it became later, and was harder to find. I missed the Oz books though- no idea why. Anyone remember Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy series? Reread recently – they were still delightful. Edward Eager, E Nesbit especially The Enchanted Castle and wonderful then-new book, The Sherwood Ring. The Streatfield “Shoes” books. And maybe I should now go do some work on my own writing. Thanks for the lovely distraction. 🙂

    1. PS Sherwood Ring was not by Nesbit but US author Elizabeth Marie Pope. She only wrote one other children’s book, years later and very different but equally terrific, Perilous Gard. Historical, not a fantasy, but almost. (I hope that intrigues someone here)

  9. Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Bronze Bow were both outstanding books. I wish I had time to reread them.

    In second grade, I was obsessed with Little Pilgrim’s Progress, reading it over and over again. Haven’t read it in years, although I think my copy is down in the garage.

    So many great books read when I was a child.

  10. Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys. I never could interest my kids in them, despite their being ardent readers. My husband read Wind in the Willows aloud to the kids at night at our cottage. They have lovely memories of it.

    Edgar Eager’s Half Magic, Black Beauty, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers.

    1. Oh, Black Beauty; I remember once when I was very sick with bronchitis and recovering from an asthma attack at the same time, and I read Black Beauty to pass the time. That might have been the last time I read it.

  11. I also loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond and think that it is a great book for any age. I also loved The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright about brothers and sisters in NYC who each Saturday give one of the siblings their pooled allowances so he/she can have an adventure ~

  12. I loved The Boxcar Children as a kid. I’ve never reread it as an adult.

  13. I re-read Little Women many times in elementary school. When I was even younger, the Boxcar children captivated me. I was a big fan of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. I have a handwritten letter from her when she wrote me back, answering a question I wrote to her in 1977. Of course, I devoured Nancy Drew books. I know what you mean about having writer’s goggles. I’m either jealous of the author I’m reading or exasperated that I can figure it out so easily. I did recently enjoy The Girl Before (in that genre you mentioned). There’s an onslaught of books with “Girl” in the title. When can we be women?

  14. I still have my Teenie Weenie book and reread it occasionally. And I still have all of the early Nancy Drew books which I reread a few years ago. I have two books which I’ve never seen anywhere else: Flower Children and Bird Children that have very young children’s faces in place of the bird faces or children dressed as flowers. There is an appropriate verse to go with each. Somewhere along the line in my life I lost Flower Children. I finally found it on Amazon in used books. I no longer feel I lost a part of my childhood.

  15. I didn’t discover WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND until I was teaching and ran across it in the jr. high library — wonderful book! I also came to Nancy Drew very late, so now I will read some when friends mention their favorites. Besides the standards mentioned, I loved THE BORROWERS, and THE TRIP TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET, and others randomly selected from the library shelves. Library is my happy place. <3

  16. loved the Nancy Drew books, Trixie Belden, Bobbsey Twins, Judy Bolton, Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer books growing up. Have to admit I have never read the Little House , Anne of Green Gables, Lord of the Rings, Games of Throne, Wrinkle in Time or Narnia books.

  17. I taught Wrinkle in Time and A Witch on Blackbird Pond to my 4-5th grade gifted students.I taught them American History and we read Witch on Blackbird Pond during the Colonial Era studies and Little House during the Pioneer studies.
    I figured they should be exposed to the books as part of their cultural literacy and the boys would never have read them otherwise.

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