- Advertisement -
by Max Scheinin
As children and adolescents, we become fiercely attached to everything about our favorite books, the ones we read and the ones that are read to us.
The characters we identify with and the characters who simply delight us.
The suspense that doesn’t wear off even as we memorize the surrounding stories. The settings we long for and transform into homes we visit in our imaginations.
The Princess Bride, Rob Reiner’s 1987 movie about a kid sick in bed being told a swashbuckling story by his grandfather, has been popular for so long because it captures the emotional connections to stories that children experience. It tells a tale out of children’s literature, but it also shows us the telling of the story. It reminds us of how powerfully we were once affected by our favorite stories.
Children’s books are always about leaving home. Maurice Sendak, who died in May, wrote and illustrated picture books whose titles – Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There – suggest stories of leaving home and venturing into the world.
These are books about kids who discover that they can, at a moment’s notice, leave behind the lives they know. Max, the hero of Wild Things, sails away to a kingdom of monsters as soon as staying put in his bedroom becomes too little fun. Ida, in Outside Over There, must only climb out her window in order to follow the goblins who have kidnapped her baby sister into their forest realm.
Those goblins – short, squat things with no faces to be seen under their cowls – are as threatening as the Wild Things are lovable and loving. The Wild Things reflect the unruly energy of children, the desire to jump and dance, and Max is their natural leader.
The goblins, on the other hand, are true dangers, slinking into sight when Ida’s back is turned. Maurice Sendak gave to all his readers these very different ideas of what it means to go out and discover the world: In real life, there are communities made up of those who tell us, “We’ll eat you up, we love you so,” and there are isolated wanderings through menacing lands.
Here are four wonderful books for slightly older readers, about venturing into the world (listed alphabetically by author).These are classics, so publication dates are for new editions.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (Harper Voyager, 1999) – Bradbury is another author we lost this year. This novel from 1962 is about two almost-14-year-old boys, neighbors and best friends, who share a birthday and all the experiences they’ve had growing up together in small-town Illinois. In October, a traveling carnival arrives in Green Town, bringing supernatural threats with it. But Bradbury is really telling a story about the fundamental differences between Will and Jim, about one young boy who believes in the goodness of the world and another who can’t help but sense its darkness.
Matilda by Roald Dahl (Puffin, 2007) – Dahl’s humor is never gentle; it’s a weapon aimed at targets that threaten his child protagonists. Dahl’s children’s books are about the deserving and the undeserving, the kind and the greedy, and he always shows gusto in mocking those characters he doesn’t love. Matilda is a brilliant and sweet young girl whose family is shallow, vain and self-involved. She doesn’t leave home to discover the cruel world; the home she’s born into is that world, and the book is about how she leaves it for another, better home.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Simon and Brown, 2012) – Like Something Wicked, this is a story about people – or, in this case, animals – who are different from one another, who have their built-in ways of being and about the friendships between them.
Unlike Matilda, this is a very gentle book, a story that accepts every one of its characters as he is – even the feckless, impulsive, self-enamored Toad. Mole and Badger are homebodies, Rat an outdoorsman, and Toad a grandiose adventurer. Whether any one of them is out in the world by choice, or only because he’s been dragged along, they all stick by one another’s sides.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007) – The feeling at the center of this book – suggested by the title, with its image of dusty, half-forgotten papers – is the childhood desire to have a secret.
Claudia Kincaid runs away from home to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum with her little brother, Jamie. If Dahl had written this book, the two of them would have been escaping a grotesque family life.
If Bradbury or Sendak had written it, the brother and sister might discover the existence of darkness once out on their own. Konigsburg, though, hints that the reason they’ve left is that daily life is just too ordinary for the sensibilities of imaginative kids yearning for something more.
Max Scheinin is a freelance writer from Santa Cruz.
Get Ready, Set, Surf|
Making use of the Internet’s educational websites
Rockin' Beyond Guitar Hero|
Can music video games lead to a love of real instruments?
Surviving College Admissions|
A handy guide to keep your student on track
More Than ABC’s - EB|
Unique programs that make these schools great
Go Treasure Hunting In The Rain|
Safety Comes First When Foraging for Fungi
Helping Kids Learn to Love and Respect Their Furry, Feathery, Scaly Friends
Where the Wild Things Are|
There are lots of great spots in the Bay Area for kids to get up close and personal with animals.