May I preface this post with two small clarifications? First, I really do not regret having all boys. How could you regret the loves of your life? I do, however, wonder from time to time what it would be like to share some really great children’s literature with them from my own childhood, you know, the kind boys just don’t truly appreciate. This brings me to the second clarification – yes, there really are differences in girls and boys. As much as I detest the pink aisles of toy departments in box stores, as much as I dislike labelling “boys books,” we all must admit, there are just certain subject matters to which one gender or another naturally gravitate. This is particularly true as children grow past those early years. So, what follows is a wonderful (and personally dear) collection of books which I would still be reading aloud if I had girls. The list may not be surprising. They are mostly classics, widely read, but if you do have a girl in your life, snuggle up next to her and share a treasure, a shared language of literature. Or, try some of these out with the little man, too. At least as long as he will allow you.
Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Oh, sure, A was partially toilet-trained on chapters like “Grandpa and the Panther,” and “Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus,” but even a wild prairie tomboy does not generally hold the interests of boys in the same way that I was captivated by Laura’s trek across the grasslands of pioneering America. Reading about sugar snow, Pet and Patty, Nellie Oleson and Laura’s early romance with Almanzo after the long, long winter held me spell-bound and made me wish I had also traveled by covered wagon.
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich is where young girls might go after they have grown a bit older and read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. Beautifully written, they are told from the opposing perspective of the pioneer girls. Ojibwa is from the Omakaya tribe near Lake Superior around 1847. She is mysteriously discovered as an infant on a neighboring island, but grows up strong and full of curiosity. Her people go through difficult times, and though the culture is a new one for most of us, through Ojibwa’s eyes, it is full of humanity and love. This is a relatively new read for me. They were first published fifteen years or so ago, after I was well into adulthood. However, I can imagine treasuring Erdrich’s books as a youngster. Also in this series Chickadee, The Porcupine Year and The Game of Silence.
Anne of Green Gables/ Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery. I cannot emphasize the importance Montgomery’s writings had on me as an 11 and 12-year old (and far beyond!). I feel, like Anne-with-an-e, we are “kindred spirits.” I cry every time Matthew gives Anne the “puffed sleeves” at Christmas, and I laugh when Mr. Carpenter “goes out with the tide” warning Emily to “beware of italics. ” I have never been able to decide which series I enjoy more. Emily is certainly darker, but more grown-up. I will always be grateful to Lucy Maude not only for her characters, but also for introducing me to poets like Tennyson, Keats and Byron. I would still love to make a pilgrimage one day to Prince Edward Island.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Putting on plays in the parlor, eating apples in the attic, timidly playing the piano in the neighbor’s house, befriending the boy next door, reading war letters from father, growing up a March…..Who has not loved this family?
All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, Gertie, then later, little brother Charlie. Growing up Jewish at the turn-of-the-century in New York seemed neither strange nor unfamiliar. The books are full of sisterly love, patient parenting and Jewish holiday traditions. I loved Ella as the Purim jester! My favorites were always Sarah, who loved to read, and Henny who was always getting into so much trouble. All of a Kind Family Downtown, More All of a Kind Family, All of a Kind Family Uptown, and Ella of All of a Kind Family portray Mama’s and Papa’s girls (and baby brother) as they grow up before WWI.
Betsy-Tacy-Tibseries by Maud Hart Lovelace. Was there a happier place to live in than Deep Valley on Hill Street? Modeled after her own childhood experiences in the turn-of-the-century Minnesota, Lovelace helps us feel what it is like living in a community and growing up with best friends.
No surprises here in this list? What were your favorites growing up? Which childhood character seemed more flesh and blood than words on a page to you? May you and your own “half-pint” bury your noses in a book, may you love every leaf, every page as you turn them together.