Great Books Withstand the Test of Time
by Catherine Townsend
As a children’s librarian for many years, it is natural that I read more children’s fiction than adult. I especially enjoy and read middle grade fiction, written for 4th-6th graders, and often find it better written than some of the adult literature written today. The language in children’s literature is rich and concise, and the authors keep the stories moving along, while letting the readers see wonderful word pictures in their heads. Reflecting on this, here are a few of my favorites, my “go-to books” — some old and some new.
The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace were published between 1940 and 1955. The 10 books were written semi-autobiographically about several girls growing up in Minnesota in the early 1900s. They begin when the girls are 5 and end when they are in college and getting married before the First World War. Betsy Tacy books were my favorites growing up and I recently reread all of them to see if they hold up with age. I can happily say that they do! Betsy and Tacy are spunky girls with ideas for their futures as writers or architects. Their adventures may seem quaint, but they allow an independence that many children do not have today. The recent Penderwicks books by Jeanne Birdsall are fine, modern books of this genre.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with a new edition coming out. It tells the story of the Logan family, a black family farming in the South during the Depression. Cassie, the 9 year old daughter, is the narrator of this story about their struggles with racism and poverty, but also love and family. This book underscores how hard life was for black families during this time and the inequality of schools and other institutions. The memories of the Logan children walking to school and being splattered by mud from the bus for white children, and the old tattered books that they are issued have stayed with me a long time. This is an important book that justifiably won the 1977 Newbery Award.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan was a Newbery Honor book in 2016. This book starts with a folk-like story of a boy, three mysterious sisters and a harmonica. Then tells the story of three different children in three different times and places, all involving this harmonica. The author beautifully ties up the stories with a brilliant epilogue and finally the end of the folk tale. The writing of this book is exquisite and shows what a masterful storyteller Pam Munoz Ryan is. It can be a hard book to describe, but it is one of the best pieces of writing I have ever experienced.
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz is unlike any children’s book I know. It is funny and dark and bloody and totally awesome! Gidwitz has taken the original Grimm fairy tales and worked them into the story of Hansel and Gretel. But make no mistake, this is not the telling of those stories that we have all seen in movies. These are the real stories, as told by the Brothers Grimm, that are sometimes gruesome. A narrator pops up frequently in the book asking “if there are any little kids in the room, and maybe they should leave now,” or saying “that wasn’t so bad now” and lightening the parts that are scarier. Kids will squeal and love this book! Gidwitz has just published a new book, The Inquisitor’s Tale, about medieval France, that is getting a lot of attention.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen remains the classic for survival literature. Brian is on his way to meet his father in the Canadian wilderness when the pilot of the single engine plane has a heart attack and dies, leaving Brian as the sole survivor in the middle of the forest. Brian is left with his hatchet and his determination and courage to survive in this alien wilderness. This book will have the reader thinking about how he would act if he were Brian.
These are just a few of the children’s books that have shaped my life and stayed with me. Ask your own librarian what are the books that they love. There are so many out there!
Events at the New Canaan Library
New Canaan Library offers a variety of activities for children and the whole family! There’s something almost every day! Here are some highlights in October:
Tuesday, October 4, 6:30 p.m. — Music of the Sea and Shore with Mystic Seaport. Sing along with one of Mystic Seaport’s renowned musician educators. Participants become crew members as they join in a chorus, picture the events in a ballad, or use a chantey as a tool to help accomplish hard work like raising a sail.
Sunday, October 9, 1:30-3 p.m. — Every second Sunday of the month is our Junior Builder Challenge, using Lego® bricks! For children ages 5 and up.
Saturday, October 15, 1 p.m. — Norwalk Symphony: (Not) Just for Kids. String players from the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra will perform to demonstrate the ways sound can be created, and how an instrument’s size determines the voice or range of notes it can play. This hour program ends with a “petting zoo” giving children a chance to make their own music!
Saturday, October 22, 1-4 p.m. — One Saturday per month we host our Open Art Studio. Come in and create!
Saturday October 29, 2 p.m. — Live Pumpkin Carving. The expert pumpkin carvers from Maniac mesmerize crowds of all ages as they create works of art from your favorite Halloween gourd! While carving a beautiful display piece, carvers engage the audience, answering questions and offering tips and tricks for the crowds.
The New Canaan Library is located at 151 Main Street. For more information, call 203-594-5011 or visit newcanaanlibrary.org for a complete list of programs, storytimes and events.
Catherine Townsend is a Children’s Librarian at New Canaan Library.