Today I welcome Charlotte from Charlotte's Library.
She has this fantastic post every Sunday where she rounds up all the MG fantasy reviews/highlights from around the blogosphere! Fantastic - check it out!!
Today she is here to talk about Middle Grade Fantasy Classics. Welcome Charlotte!
The first room in our dilapidated old house that was finished was our unborn son's bedroom, complete with built in bookshelves. I carefully placed there all the books on my mental list of fantasy "classics"--the books that I considered essential reading for a child of mine. It was part of a Plan.
My Son's Bookcase
Tolkein, in his classic essay "On Fairy -Stories," speaks of the Cauldron of Story, in which simmers a multitude of things old, potent, beautiful, comic, and terrible. Out of this soup can be drawn new stories. I want my boys to have in their minds as full a cauldron as I can give them, not only so that they can, if they wish, be creators of their own stories, but so that they can also take from the world of story an appreciation for the numinous--the flashes of joy or chills on the back of the neck that come from seeing something beyond the mundane world--and bring that back into "real" life.
In much the same way that learning a language is easier when you are young, I think that it is easier to fill your imagination when you are not yet a teenager, or (even worse) a grown-up. When you're a child meeting various stories for the first time, the impact of a new book is much greater than it is for an older and more cynical reader like myself--I have read of a hundred lamp-posts in snowy woods (or more accurately lamp-post equivalents), and so I can't help but be a bit blase. For the child, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe holds the first Lamp-post, and there's no world-weariness born of experience (such as one might have at 13) to keep it from being an awe-inspiring moment.
These images and emotions become evocative signifiers--touchstones for life, building blocks of the imagination, reminders of the past. It's not just me who thinks so; Neil Gaiman said in the introduction to M is for Magic (p. ix)--"Stories that you read when you're the right age never quite leave you... if they touch you, they will haunt the places in your mind that you rarely visit."
And so I feel a sense of urgency in making sure that my boys read the books that I consider the fantasy classics, while they are still in the "middle grade" age bracket of nine to twelve years old. I want so badly myself to be "the right age" for many books, knowing how much they would have thrilled me back in the day, that it is almost painful to think that that age is passing by for my children.
On a slightly more selfish level, I want my children to speak the same literary language as my husband and myself. I want them to recognize quotes and allusions to shared stories, to know the same myths and
metaphors as we do. The books that I consider the middle grade fantasy classics are simply the ones that were the basis of my own literacy, and of course every parent who is a reader themselves will have a somewhat different list.
But in any event, here's mine.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
Moominland Midwinter, and the other Moomin books, by Tove Jannson
The Dark is Rising and the other books in that series, by Susan Cooper
The works of E. Nesbit and Edward Eager,
Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series
C.S. Lewis' Narnia books
Mary Poppins, by P. L. Travers
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber
The Green Book, by Jill Paton Walsh
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle
To this list my husband brought A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner, and The Midnight Folk, by John Masefield (all fine books that I'm happy to count as classics, but which, because I didn't read them myself until I was older, weren't immediately books I put in my son's room!).
The process of making sure these books get read to the boys is going fairly well. On the plus side my youngest is now reading The Hobbit to himself for the third time and my oldest can quote Alice; on the
negative side The Dark is Rising was rejected, and Nesbit evoked only polite interest.
However, I am less worried than I was at the onset of this whole reading to children business. I'm more aware then I was that reading is in large part a social and situational thing, and my children are going to be finding classics within their communities. I'm thinking of Harry Potter, and the Warriors series, and Percy Jackson, and even The Hunger Games--YA in name, but de facto middle grade.
These are the stories that make up the shared vocabulary of the playground, and are the icons of its culture. Though none of these books evoked in me any awe or stunned shock of recognition, I can't say that they haven't done so for my children. They (typically) refused to answer directly when I asked them if this was the case, but there are still indications. Yesterday, for instance, my little one spent an hour in the woods alone, telling himself Story as he lived the life of a Warrior kitten, growing from from Maplekit to Maplepaw.
Those books, that do little for me, might well end up the classics he presses on his own children.
As my children grow older, I wonder what books I'll read to my grandchildren; in particular, which books from the past ten years of middle grade fantasy books galore, I will think of as "must read" classics. Of those that have recently won Newbery Awards, the only one I'm betting on is Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin. Many of my own favorites, like Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman, and Letters to Anyone and Everyone, by Toon Tellegan, don't seem to me to have enough general appeal to be classics.
But in any event, when my putative grandchildren come visit, all the books their fathers read and loved will still be here waiting for them. Unless their fathers sneak off with the books behind their
Please do share the middle grade fantasy books you consider classics! I can't help but notice that the books I've listed are all over forty years old, and so I have a question for those of you who were children in the eighties and nineties in particular--what books from those decades do you hold dear?
Thank you so much for this post! I never really enjoyed fantasy book until Harry Potter! Now I love them :)