Top Ten (and a bonus) Books from My Childhood

Having trouble finishing a post in time for this morning — mostly it’s that there are too many things I want to say about a few books and I’m having trouble narrowing it down. So, here’s a re-run of something I liked having written.
I was bemoaning how long my current read was the other day and how it was going to leave me without a post for today, and my ever-so-clever daughter suggested, “Why don’t you list the Top 10 Books from your childhood?” That sounded pretty fun, so I figured that I might as well. It turned out to have been better than I thought, so kudos to her.

Ranking them really would be impossible, but then 11 came to mind really without any effort, and I couldn’t axe one of them, so there’s a bonus entry to the list. All of these I read more than I can count — if they’re part of a series, these were the ones that I came back to most often. The links are to Goodreads pages because I can’t find good official pages for all the books/authors (a true sign of my age, I guess).

Enough of that, on with the trip down Amnesia Lane:

The Castle of LlyrThe Castle of Llyr

by Lloyd Alexander
The Chronicles of Prydain taught me most of what I needed to know about Fantasy (augmenting The Chronicles of Narnia‘s lessons). Fflewddur Fflam here is at his best, I think it’s here that I fell in love with Eilonwy, Taran’s more of a real hero than before, and you get plenty of Gurgi (who I just have to mention because thinking of him makes me smile). There’s peril, the characters grow more than they have before, a hint of romance . . . it’s not the most important book in the series, but I think it’s pivotal.

Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity PaintDanny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint

by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams
I didn’t know until today that this was the first in the series, I always figured it was mid-series. It’s the only one of the series that I owned — thankfully, the library had a few more — so it’s the one I read most. It was also my favorite — I just loved the stuff at the edge of our solar system and Prof. Bullfinch and Doctor Grimes making musical instruments from their hair — stupid as all get out, but it worked for me.

The Mystery of the Dead Man's RiddleThe Mystery of the Dead Man’s Riddle

by William Arden
While Encyclopedia Brown (see below) got me reading mysteries, it was The Three Investigators — Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw (btw, the only thing there I had to look up was Pete’s last name — not bad for a series I haven’t touched since the late 80’s) got me hooked on reading detective series. The Dead Man’s Riddle was one of my favorites — and I think the first or second I read — something about the Cockney slang kept bringing me back to it. I read what I do today because of this series, really.

SuperfudgeSuperfudge

by Judy Blume
I remember Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing being funnier, but this was a better story — the Fletchers leaving NYC, Peter maturing, Fudge being a real pain, not just a cute nuisance. Blume taught me a lot about how to read non-genre stuff, probably paving the way for Hornby, Tropper, Weiner, etc.

The Last of the Really Great WhangdoodlesThe Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles

by Julie Edwards
What a great world, what a great magic system . . . I’m not sure I can express what this book meant to me as a kid, and the copious warm-fuzzies the memory brings up. I remember that it was in the pages of this book about a magic kingdom that I first learned about DNA and RNA (and what those letters meant) — thanks, elementary school science classes. The creatures’ names in this are great (and, as an adult, I can “hear” Andrews saying them in my mind for an added layer of fun). There’s a great deal of whimsy here, a sense of play that permeates this — even when it gets silly. The kingdom’s motto, “peace, love and a sense of fun” really sums up the spirit of the book.

Me and My Little BrainMe and My Little Brain

by John D. Fitzgerald, Mercer Mayer (illus.)
Sure, the series was supposedly about Tom, but J. D.’s the real hero of the books. He has a conscience, a better moral compass than his brother — and is probably just as smart. This is the book that lets him shine as he ought to have all along. All the books had their strong points, and were fun, but this ruled them all.

The Phantom TollboothThe Phantom Tollbooth

by Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (illus.)
Such wordplay! What a great, twisted way to teach how important words and ideas are. Seriously, just a wonderful book. The humor is so off-kilter, any appreciation I have for puns came from this book (and it set the standard that a pun must achieve for me not to groan). If you haven’t seen the documentary about it, The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations, get on it. (I contributed to the Kickstarter for it, I should add).

The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader

by C. S. Lewis
I remember the bookstore where I bought this, the date and month that I bought it, and reading a good chunk of it before I got home. I read this one more than the rest of the series (Prince Caspian a close second). I just love this one — you get Reep at his bravest and funniest, some really odd creatures, an epic story, and Eustace’s redemption (back when I did crazy things like this, I almost got a tattoo of Eustace as Dragon). Who could ask for more?

Alan Mendelsohn the Boy from MarsAlan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars

by Daniel M. Pinkwater
Pinkwater has funnier and stranger books (both before and after this one), but there was heart, there was depth — there was length! — to this story about a kid who didn’t really fit in until he made a friend who didn’t want to fit in. This is another one where I can peg the place and time I bought it. Science Fiction-y in a real world (didn’t know you could do that!), comic book geeks as heroes, and real non-sanitized-for-kids emotions. There’s no way this wouldn’t be a favorite. More than the rest on this list, I’m thinking of finding my old copy and taking it out for another spin (because I just read the next one a couple of years ago).

The Westing GameThe Westing Game

by Ellen Raskin
If I had to pick one off this list (and I don’t), this would probably be my favorite. I re-read it two years ago, and it was one of my favorite experiences that year with a book. The characters are great, the story was so clever, the writing so crisp. There’s nothing wrong with this book at all.

I saw a hardcover reprinting of this on Monday, and had to fight to resist buying a new copy. Kind of regretting that now. [Note: I went back a couple of days later and bought the hardcopy. It looks very nice on my shelf]

Encyclopedia Brown Boy DetectiveEncyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective

by Donald J. Sobol
Summer after second grade, we were on a forever-long road trip and I was bored, so I demanded my parents buy me something to read. I must’ve been a real snot about it, because at the next town, they did. I got two books, this one and Sugar Creek Gang Screams in the Night (not the best in the series, but it was good enough to read several times). It blew me away — I loved the puzzles, the characters, the idea. I wanted to be a P. I. This was my first mystery book, and it clearly set the stage for most of what I’ve read since (about a third of what I read).
Were you a fan of any of these as a kid? What were some of your faves? Have you read them lately?

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4 thoughts on “Top Ten (and a bonus) Books from My Childhood

  1. I got my first 3 Investigators book on my 9th birthday. It was awesome and I started eating them up from the library. Of course, I hadn’t quite grasped the whole idea of “a series”, so I read hit and miss. Thankfully, that worked out ok.

    I am planning on re-reading the Phantom Tollbooth this year sometime. I read it young and have wicked good memories of it, so I’m hoping it stands the test of time.

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  2. No “Goosebumps” books? That’s about the only thing I read as a wee lad. Was too much of a video game nerd. Then as I got older it was all about sports – “Sports Illustrated” being my Bible.

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    • Goosebumps started being published when I was in college — and way too snobbish to sully myself with kids’s books. I did read some of Stine’s earlier books several times. Wow…hadn’t thought about him in ages.

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