Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Favorite Children's Books (The Alex Version)

At the beginning of this month of children's books, Cassy told you about her favorite children's books... now it's my turn!

Spoilers... I LOVE this week's review book. But you can read more about that tomorrow. The whole Wayside School series by Louis Sachar (all three books, plus the Sideways Arithmetic books) is pretty much the best thing that ever happened to my bookshelf as a kid. I could spend an afternoon reading all five books straight through, and do it again the next day, and the next, and so on. I loved these books so much, I want a potato tattoo on my ankle.

This is a pick for nostalgia, not literary value. Lois Ehlert's Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf has a very distinct collage illustration style that I just couldn't get enough of as a kid. I still can't; I found this book in the library I work in (our college has an early childhood education program) and I stood in the stacks and flipped through the pages just to look at the pretty pictures again. Some of the pages have cut-outs so you can see parts of the next and last page through the current one.

Speaking of Lois Ehlert, she also illustrated Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, which is a ridiculously silly alphabet book with annoyingly catchy rhymes. It's the kind of thing a kid would repeat over and over ad infinitum, and the kind of thing that gets stuck in your head as an adult. But it's cute.

Another choice with not-so-great literary value: The Baby-Sitters Club and the accompanying Little Sister series by Ann M. Martin. At one point in my childhood, I owned every single book in publication in each of these series. Then they kept getting published, and I stopped reading/collecting them. The Little Sister books have almost identical second chapters in every single book, explaining the - admittedly complex - family situation of Karen, the main character. (Her parents are divorced and have shared custody, and as someone who had a similar situation around that age, I think she does a pretty good job of describing it from the kid's point of view.) The idea is that you could pick up any book in the series and not be totally lost as to why she has two pairs of glasses or different pets at different houses, etc. The worst part of the Little Sister books is that I always felt like an old person was making the jokes, not a kid my age. ("Karen Two-Two?" What the hell kind of nickname is that? It's not even a pun.) The BSC books were a little more tolerable, and even though they were about teenagers, they were perfectly good reads for me at the same age I was reading the Little Sister books.

Bonnie-Alise Leggat came to my elementary school as part of some program about young people who wrote and illustrated their own kids' books. I can't even remember if there were other authors there, but I got her book, Punt, Pass & Point! and loved it. It's about a girl who has to go to ballet class - despite being totally non-girly - and discovers that the quarterback has to go, too, to practice control and posture and whatnot.

I have a weird obsession with composition notebooks. I love them more than any normal person should. And I blame Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss for that. The book (and the rest of its series) is meant to look like a composition notebook, with notes in the margins, drawings of things taped/glued in, etc. It's really clever, and it was really fun to read, and it prompted me and my friends to have our own notebooks that we shared, with notes and drawings and such.

Let's just face it: I didn't read great literature as a kid. The American Girl series is all about nostalgia for me. I read them (and had the dolls) when there were just Felicity, Molly, Samantha, Addy, and Kirsten. (I got the Josefina books and doll, but by that point, I wasn't really into it.) I'm pretty sure Felicity was the first one I read, because I live near Williamsburg, and her story fit into what I was learning in school. I got the plays - yes, there were short plays - for Molly and Samantha and convinced my friends to act them out with me in fourth grade. (I'd like to publicly apologize to those friends now, especially Adam, who got stuck with the boy's parts. I will never forget throwing underwear at him, playing Ricky, in front of our entire class as Molly. Good times.)


It's just not an Alex's favorites list without mentioning Neil Gaiman. Unlike Cassy, I don't really like Coraline. I mean, it's good... and I'm very glad it's out there for kids, because it's doing good things. But I don't love it. Gaiman paired up with Dave McKean (what an amazing duo) to do The Wolves in the Walls and The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish (both of which deliver stories that are true to their titles). And I adore The Graveyard Book, partly because it treats kids like people instead of like idiots, and partly because it's just a great story, no matter who you are. I also really love Instructions, but I was introduced to it as a short story, so I sometimes forget it's also a full children's book. I would love to put Crazy Hair and Blueberry Girl and Chu's Day and Odd and the Frost Giants on here, but I haven't read them. (I'm spacing them out so I don't read them all really fast and then have no Gaiman left to read until Sandman Zero comes out.) And I absolutely LOVE Mirrormask (it was my introduction to Neil Gaiman) but I don't consider it "for kids," weirdly enough. It's a "for everyone" book/movie. These are also the only books on my list that I didn't read as a kid. Don't get me wrong; there are tons of amazing books for kids that have been published since I grew up, but to list them all would require an entire blog of its own.

That's it! I'll stop there. What are your favorite children's books?


  1. I totally forgot about Amelia's Notebook. I remember enjoying that book a lot, but I didn't know there were more than one. I love pretty much everything you've mentioned here. One of my favorite books was Shalom, Geneva Peace by Phyllis Shallant. I can't remember the author. I read in in 7th grade, and the character was in 8th, so I totally identified with her.

    1. I totally started a notebook after reading Amelia's Notebook.

      Also, I knew there was more than one, but I think most of them came out after we had aged out of those books.