Monday, December 30, 2013

Top Ten: Children's Series!

A reader’s got to come from somewhere. Not that I’ve touched all these books recently, but they were my life in elementary school. The funny thing is I’m still obsessed with the ideas of mythology, independent children, and spark that they introduced me to. Go figure.

So, with that in mind, I present my top ten favorite childhood series:

10. Pony Pals by Jeanne Betancourt

Premise: When a girl named Lulu moves to a new town, she falls in love with a horse named Snow White and befriends the girls Pam and Anna. Many adventures on horseback follow.

Rating Then: 5/10

Rating Now: 4/10

Like many little girls, I had a thing for horses, and reading about three girls who rode horses all the time delighted me. Of course, after enduring a few horse riding lessons with my Girl Scout troop, my love for horses, and the books, eventually died.

9. A-Z Mysteries by Ron Roy

Premise: Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose manage to work themselves into every mystery they can find (conveniently matching with a letter of the alphabet) and help find clues to discover the truth behind suspicious events in Green Lawn, Connecticut.

Rating Then: 7/10

Rating Now: 7/10

I liked them then because I liked mysteries and independent kids, just as I liked the Boxcar Children, except I appreciated this series a little more because it wasn’t originally published in the 1920s. Looking back, I currently appreciate the topics it covered, things like mummies and vampires that fascinate(d) me, as well as the practical experiences the kids had. They made floaties out of their jeans and were logical and investigative, despite their youth. That was pretty cool.

8. Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley

Premise: Elsie Dinsmore, a lonely young girl for the most part abandoned by her father, navigates through the pre-Civil War South with faith and hope in her Savior, ultimately surviving the war and growing to become a Godly daughter, friend, wife, and mother.

Rating Then: 9/10

Rating Now: 6/10

This was a good series for me, as it helped me dive into the Civil War and also provided a story about faith which inspired my sixth grade self. I was fascinated with the events of Elsie’s life, and received an extra helping of background knowledge and interest by the time I made it to my American History class. Unlike most books intended for teens, the series actually follows Elsie into adulthood (there were something like 27 books in the original series) as she becomes a wife and mother, a concept which intrigued me.

7. The Bailey School Kids by Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey

Premise: Eddie, Melody, Liza, and Howie discover many adults who seem like familiar mythical figures in their everyday lives. But are they men or monsters? The world may never know.

Rating Then: 8/10

Rating Now: 5/10

Already introducing me to a future love of mythology and lore, the series excited me because the stories were shrouded in mystery, never truly revealing whether the figure they found was a mythical being or not, but always resolving the story satisfactorily. I enjoyed them, but I grew out of them relatively quickly.

6. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Premise: Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden, four orphaned children, solve mysteries with the sanction and help of their doting grandfather after having attempted to survive on their own in the woods in an abandoned boxcar.

Rating Then: 7/10

Rating Now: 6/10

I enjoyed the series quite a bit when I was younger, especially because I loved mysteries and even more because I loved the idea of children living out in the woods in a boxcar. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny seemed to be the perfect team, and having a grandfather rich enough and willing to keep a big old boxcar in his backyard for his grandchildren’s delight seemed about as cool as cool could get. I especially felt attached to Jessie and Violet, imagining myself in their roles. Later my interest in mysteries fell, but I still have fond memories of reading the books from kindergarten until second grade.

5. Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park

Premise: The rambunctious antics of a kindergarten student are recorded as Ms. Junie B. Jones (also known as Pinkie Gladys Gutzman) tears through life with sass and sparkle. And scissors.

Rating Then: 7/10

Rating Now: 8/10

I don’t remember why I liked reading these when I was little. Probably because they were hilarious and
made me smile. Why do I like them now? Because they’re hilarious and make me smile. That’s why. Junie B. is who she is, wild and loud and funny, and I think I always wanted to be like her, in a way. She was gullible and liked eating lemon pies, hated Meany Jim, and always had something to say about everything. And she’s completely right. When adults roll their eyes up to the sky, there’s nothing up there. And Pinkie Gladys Gutzman is totally the coolest name ever. Because pink is a great color, and Gladys Gutzman is the cookie woman at school, and who wouldn’t want to be named after that woman, I ask you?

(On a side note regarding
Junie’s name, I never did realize until just now that her real name is Juniper.)

4. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Premise: Orphans Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire face a series of unfortunate events as the evil Count Olaf seeks their fortune. Also something about the VFD, but if I told you… Never mind.

Rating Then: 7/10

Rating Now: 10/10

I liked these because they helped me get into a higher level of reading, but by the time the tenth one rolled around, I’d lost my interest in them. I didn’t think their events were unfortunate after all, and the movie had crushed me. A few months back I picked one up again and fell and love. Against all odds, the series always manages to cheer me up, and although I know Mr. Snicket would be aghast, a word which here means startled and appalled, reading The Wide Window with a plate of cookies in my room on a Saturday night is one of the most happy memories I can recall.

3. Myth-o-Mania by Kate McMullen

Premise: Zeus is an idiot. All those myths you’ve read are completely wrong, and whatever you’ve heard, it’s just the king of the gods trying to beef up his reputation. Hades, King of the Underworld, is here to set things straight, and whatever you do, do NOT believe that myth-o-maniac Zeus.

Rating Then: 10/10

Rating Now: 7/10

I think this is probably what I would consider my last “childhood favorite,” as I consequently became a teenager and even though that’s still a child, I stopped reading kid’s books and moved further into teen fiction. This is the series that introduced me to Greek Mythology (for a long time I refused to believe that the Greek Myths in the other “official” stories were credible), and enveloped me until… a long time. I loved Hades’ narration and his heroic intentions, as well as the myths’ protagonists. Oftentimes, there were many clever men and women (Hades, of course, at the head of the line) behind the hero’s successes, and what Zeus would promote as evil Hades would clarify as misunderstood. I am indebted to the series and still enamored with the characters, but by now I have a greater interest in books that take me longer than half an hour to read.

2. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Premise: Harry Potter, an abused eleven year old finds himself a wizard, born and bred, and enters an education so that he may ultimately face and destroy the darkest power the world has seen with his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.

Rating Then: 1,000,000/10

Rating Now: 8/10

After continued resilience against the series, I finally caved in third grade and dived into the books. It turned out I loved them, and from the middle of third grade until sixth grade, when The Deathly Hallows came out, they were my utter obsession and delight. I fell out with them after they finished up, but I recently reread them and found them just as enjoyable. To date I’ve read The Sorcerer’s Stone 17 times. (In contrast I’m pretty sure I’ve only read Deathly Hallows three.) I’ve never found them particularly inspirational, but Harry’s world is deep and can easily kidnap its readers for a long, long time. It’s good storytelling. And it’s a good read.

1. The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne

Premise: Siblings Jack and Annie experience events from books they find in a tree house by wishing to go there, and work to become Master Librarians and rescue information from history’s grasp. 

Rating Then: 10/10

Rating Now: 7/10

I loved these. I plowed through them my first elementary school years, finding them to be fascinating and fun, full of adventure and giving me an early appreciation for mythical and historical events. I don’t remember when I stopped, but I do know that this is probably the first series that made me love reading.

I have the sudden urge to go on a reading spree. brb.

What about you? What were your favorite books in elementary school?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

To the One I Judged by Its Cover (A Letter)

Dear Ranger’s Apprentice,

I can remember when I first heard of you, when my best friend tried to tell me how fantastic you were, with your dappled humor and enchanting story. She grinned as she gave your first two books to me, expectant that I would love them just as much as she did. I accepted them politely, vaguely curious about what stories your pages might hide. I put them in my bag and took them home. I put them down in my room. And I completely forgot about you. 

For months.

I am so sorry. Being busy is one thing, but ignoring you for months and months is another. Your cover bored me, so I left you to rot. What kind of barbarous creature does that? By the time I found you again, I could hardly remember anything about you. Just a couple of books. I didn’t care. Might as well get them over with and return them with my apologies for the delay. No point in trying to draw out a relationship that wouldn’t last. 

I opened up The Ruins of Gorlan, waiting to be bored, and fell into you. In a short while I was just as enthralled by Will Treaty’s story as my best friend, falling in love with Halt, Horace, Duncan, Evanlyn, and Alyss. And you never disappointed me. You rock for that. I couldn’t get through the books fast enough, and I found myself happy to discuss Will’s world with my best friend, and encouraged my sister to read them as well.

You were wonderful. You did everything just right. And you were completely unforgettable.

How could a reader deserve such a captivating series when she abandoned and condemned you for your cover? 

I’m sorry. For all that, and more. I’ve doubted you before, and when The Royal Ranger came out, said best friend, sister, and I all panicked loudly at the lunch table. Granted, it was fun, but we should have known you were going to be brilliant even if Horace died. 

It’s impossible to tell you how grateful I am for your constant companionship and heartwarming stories. You’ve given me good times with my friends and better times sitting up when it’s already tomorrow and the only thing keeping me up is you. You’re filled with laughter. I have pages of quotes in a notebook filled with your humor and wisdom I hope will stick with me forever.

Most of all, thank you for not killing Horace. I would have died. And, as a Lannister once said: I like living. 

And now you’re mine. You can’t imagine how happily I accepted your books for Christmas, finding you completely, totally, one-hundred percent my own. Once again you are my companion, and the adventures will never cease.


All My Love,


P.S. Since I wrote you this, I kind of feel like you owe me an apology for keeping me up until 12:30 last night.

Do you have any apologies to make to books you judged by their covers?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Page One

Photo Credit: Filipe Varela

It starts with a sound. 

The gun fires, the breath is taken, the worlds rip at the seams while doors slam in suburban houses. The baby cries. Thunder rattles the window panes. A scream. Bubble gum pops. Somebody snores, bare feet hit the pavement, the switch flicks, the stars sing, and the woman weeps for her children. Violins. Applause deafens its listeners. Bacon frying matches sandpaper smoothing wood. Hell breaks loose.


Then a whisper.

Call them what you will. Yarns, legends, tales, novels, garbage. They’re still the fabric of my world. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved stories—getting to breathe in another reality for an hour, or a day, or a week as the characters and the plot permeate every fiber of my being. And then the credits roll up the screen. The cover is turned shut. The grave is filled and the sun set. Yet it never ends there. 

That’s what I’ve always found, anyway. Stories. You live them, you love them, you hate them, it’s complicated. But that’s the point! The story is not just the story. The story is the reader’s passion for the story. It’s the sweat and blood and tears that end up ingrained on the heart that make it worth remembering. And then it’s what the reader does with those lessons that make it important. 

So I’m here to write. 

That’s mostly it. I need the writing practice, and it couldn’t hurt to develop a discipline to write something every two weeks. I’m immersed in stories, and I like to write them, so it makes sense that I study them. More than that the reader always has a responsibility to the story. If the readers don’t take care of the stories then no one ever will. This is my opportunity.

For the foreseeable future, that’s the game plan. Write about stories, wherever I find them. I’ve got a bookshelf, a movie shelf, a public library, and some local Redboxes to sort through; the stock is not in danger of falling. Off the top of my head I can think of some of my favorite stories starring Captain America, Robin Hood, Otto Malpense, Jesus Christ, and Bob Parr. (Yeah, there’s a hero trend.) If I stopped and contemplated the matter I know I could delve into my records and find some more.


Here it is. The sanctuary and the battlefield. Life and death. Ink and paper. Sounds really exciting when it's just me typing up an opinion every other week.

It starts with a sound. 

Remember that.