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Martha Wells

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Was reminiscing with a friend the other day about the Scholastic Book Club, and how much we liked Book Order day and Book Arrival day. One of my favorites types was always the ghost story/kid moves to scary old house/farm/castle whatever story. We realized that a lot of those books were probably derivative of The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, but we didn't care, we liked them all.


Link from Judith Tarr: Maureen Johnson Sell the Girls
When I was in college, I remember hearing the story of Dorothy Parker typing out the words, “Please god, let me write like a man.” Even if I didn’t know my own reading bias, I understood at once, instinctively. It was the way to legitimacy. Men wrote of Big Things that Mattered. Sure, some of them were endlessly introspective. Yes, the big things that mattered were often penises. Also, sex. Also sex with penises. Also, girls, and how difficult and incomprehensible and unattainable we are for some sex with penises. It was like the penis was literally the magical eleventh finger that allowed you to write, and if I could just GROW ONE SOMEHOW, or imagine it into being, I would gain the abilities I so desired.

This article is about the recent idea that there is somehow a shortage of YA books for boys, that while girls will read books about boys, boys will not read books about girls.

As a kid, going through the various public libraries, I remember the scarcity of children's action/adventure stories with girl main characters. It's not that I didn't like the action/adventure books with boy main characters -- I enjoyed them a lot -- but it got tiring when all the girls were always the mommy figure or the passive load or worse, the antagonist who is there to try to prevent the characters from going on the adventure. I think one of the reasons I got drawn down the aisle of the library into SF and fantasy section so early (and read a lot of books that were a little too old for me -- I read Dune in middle school, for example) was because it was easier to find adventures with women as main characters or as secondary characters who were an important part of the story. Andre Norton wrote tons of them, and most of them would now probably be re-classified as YA.

Anybody have recs for favorite old-school children's books? The ones you liked best when you were the target audience?

ETA: If anyone needs recs for recent MG and YA books, check out cynleitichsmith's LJ. It is a treasure trove.

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Witch of Blackbird Pond and Johnny Tremaine

I'll think on the old-school recs thing.

Yes, Scholastic Books ordering! And arrival... the ghost story/kid moves to scary old house/farm/castle whatever story I stayed up nights reading about a metric ton of those kinds of books.

I liked a lot of the books by Ruth Chew, which usually revolved around two siblings, a girl and a boy (different each time)having magic based adventures, mostly involving a witch (different each time)- I remember one involved magic buttons, another a magic garden, and one with a ladder that could teleport you, and one with a magic three that served as a gateway to another (medieval) world. They were very similar, but really enjoyable. I've looked recently, but can't find them anymore.

Those sound a bit like the Magic series by Edward Eager, where there was always a group of children, plus magic artifact. Those were really good, too.

The opposite end of the spectrum from those was a series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor that started with, I think, The Witch's Eye, that I remember as very dark, very scary in a more modern horror way. I have copies, but haven't read them again.

Sorry, just re-read and I meant a magic tree, not three! The sad thing is that almost all of Ruth Chew's books are out of print now, and it doesn't look like they'll be printed again.

Happily, my library has them all.

Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth: I was a weird kid who loved reading about magic, and I identified with the Witch (I'm so shocked.) I loved this book to pieces, though I can remember stopping before it got to the "Oh, I made it all up" ending (because I knew even then that was BS.)

Harriet the Spy: God, how I identified with Harriet in the latter part of the book.

A Wrinkle in Time: Again with the identification, but also it was one of the scariest books I'd ever read, all because of one scene: the little boy being 're-educated', and screaming each time the ball was bounced. I had nightmares about it for years.

Sherlock Holmes: Yeah, all of those stories. I was about 10 when I discovered them, and I fell HARD. My own daughter said, "I know you're supposed to identify with Watson..." but I didn't. I identified with Holmes. When I was cast in the part of detective for my 6th grade play, I actually made my own deerstalker hat and carried a pipe, because in my head I got to be Holmes. (squee!)

I also liked Half-Magic (though there was some awful sexism in those books that I didn't remember), Black and Blue Magic, any of the "Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigator mysteries, and I devoured the Ripley's Believe It Or Not! books.

But you know, my son (aged 9) loves the Percy Jackson books just as much as he loves the Theodosia books - one has a male protagonist, and one has a female protagonist. The key is that there's thrilling adventure and magic to be had in both. Boys will too read about girls, as long as you let them.

I loved the Three Investigator books.

Boys will too read about girls, as long as you let them.

That's always been my impression, that the story and how good/exciting/interesting is the most important element.

I did, too. I wasn't ever as excited by the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mysteries, I think because the Three Investigator books had mysteries that the reader was supposed to work out, instead of just passively watching the other characters figure it out.

I never got into Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys either, not sure why. The Three Investigators seemed newer, more current, as far as I can remember, and the secret hideout in the junkyard, and the fact that they were actively running a detective agency without adult help, really appealed to me. And maybe the fact that the leader was different in that he was more like a normal kid, a little overweight, geeky-smart, etc.

Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth

I adored that one too. It got me to read MacBeth. I, too, was the weird kid who loved the occult, which got me hazed like crazy by the pack of ornery pirahnas that was the other kids.

Yeah, I grew up in Middle Tennessee. You can imagine how well my interests went over with my peers.

Oh, how I lived for those Scholastic orders. We were pretty poor, but Mom always let me get at least one book. ::happy sigh::

My youngest just had her first Scholastic order. She jumped up and down, huge grin on her face, shouting, "My BOOKS ARE HERE!!!! YAYYYYY!!!!" Made me so happy. :)

Dies Drear sounds good, do we have a copy?

From my days in the Scholastic Book club, I recall my favorites being:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
Trapped in Space by Jack Williamson
the Encyclopedia Brown series
The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald
The Mystery of the Old House (search for colonial treasure)
the Partridge Family novelizations (I had a lonely childhood, and the idea of traveling the country performing with a large family appealed to me, so there)
The Mystery of Cabin Island. My favorite Hardy Boy novel. I re-read it every Christmas (Frank, Joe and friends stay in a cabin by a frozen lake over Christmas and, duh, solve a mystery)
The Wierdstone of Brisengamon and Moon of Gomrath
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. Still like reading it at Christmas. NEVER watch that horrible movie loosely based on it!

I actually liked the Partridge Family books too, though I think I only managed to find a few of them.

I had an old paperback copy of Dies Drear (probably Scholastic), but I haven't seen it in decades, so it probably got given away by my parents.

I have wonderfully fond memories of the Scholastic Book Club. Oh man, back when I had time to devour dozens of books in a few months and they were so cheap!

Two books stand out for me: Alvin's Secret Code by Clifford Hicks, and Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat.

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series - very much books of their time, with some doubtful takes on other (non-British) cultures, but with both boys and girls in active roles.

Noel Streatfield's books about children in the arts and sports - not so much adventures but with great can-do and team/family spirit. Ballet Shoes and White Boots (Skating Shoes in the U.S.) are the most famous.

Haakon of Rogen's Saga and A Slave's Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard are serious and seriously fascinating historical novels about the Norse.

Sally Watson's historical adventure/romances, aimed mainly at girls, set in England, Scotland, and Colonial America: Mistress Malapert, Lark, The Hornet's Nest, Linnet, Witch of the Glens, and others. Once almost impossible to find, even used, they were recently re-issued by Image Cascade.

Joan Aiken's Regency comedy-adventures: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, Nightbirds on Nantucket, and others.

Elizabeth Goudge's gentle yet spooky fantasy-family adventure, Linnets and Valerians.

Peter Dickinson's "Weathermonger" trilogy.

Mystery author Shirley Rosseau Murphy's family adventure stories, set along along the California coast: White Ghost Summer and The Sand Ponies.

Rosemary Sutcliff's historical novels of Roman Britain and later: Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, Dawn Wind, Knight's Fee, and others.

Jeez, you just gave me a nostalgia kick in the teeth. Totally forgot about the Book Club thing. Loved browsing/filling out the form almost as much as getting the books. I think I need to thank my pops next time I talk to him for always finding funds for a couple of books, even when times were tight (as they usually were, with five kids and a limited income).

I actually don't remember much about grade school, but I remember those forms very vividly. And picking the books out based on the short descriptions more than author name or anything else.

Scholastic Book delivery days were the best! I can still feel the texture of the pulp paper from the order sheets. I remember there was a promotion one time in which, if you bought X number of books, you could get a free unicorn poster. It was purple! So fantastic. I ordered that number (I would've anyway - that's pretty much where my allowance went), but when the books came, there was a note saying they'd run out of unicorn posters, so they'd substituted another one: a smiling, sultry-eyed Erik Estrada. Um, yeah.

The novel I bought through that program that I reread the most -- and still own, in fact -- is the dystopian science fiction book The Missing Person's League by Frank Bonham. The original publication year was 1976, but since that was before I was in school at all, I'm guessing that I bought my copy a few years later, more like 1980 or thereabouts. Great YA fare.

Oh, I still have my Arrow Book of U.S. Presidents, too! It ends with Carter. LOL!

Edited at 2010-09-23 03:41 pm (UTC)

PS. I think I first discovered Madeleine L'Engle through one of the Scholastic Book Fairs (you know, the one that came to your school in person). Ditto with the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators books, although I bought a fair number of those through the order forms after I got hooked.

What a great nostalgia trip!

Harriet the Spy
Linnets and Valerians
The Little White Horse
A Wrinkle in Time
The Great and Terrible Quest

You're the second person who mentioned Linnets and Valerians, and it's making me want to read it.

i haven't read the other comments, but i have a child who is important in my life but not geographically local to me, who really needs some strong female role models somewhere in her life, and she's sure not getting that from her mom. so i've been sending her books that i think might help her frame a non-doormat kind of female experience in her mind. Recently, that has included "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" (i *adored* Elizabeth George Speare when i was 9, and read everything she'd written), "Island of the Blue Dolphins" (i was also totally in love with Scott O'Dell's work as a kid), Judy Blume's "Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret", all of the "Wrinkle in Time" books, "Long Night's Dance" by Betsy James. also the Ramona Quimbly books by Beverly Cleary.

My dad worked for Doubleday, and then Franklin Spier, so book delivery day wasn't quite as big a deal for me. We always had books -- free books! -- around.

My favorite authors as a child:

Lloyd Alexander
Edward Eager
C.S. Lewis
Joan Aiken
Tove Jansson
Madeline L'Engle
John Christopher

ETA: All the usual suspects, looks like. :-)

Edited at 2010-09-23 09:28 pm (UTC)

Lloyd Alexander -- read everything I could find, loved him, named my stuffed animals after Taran and Eilonwy.

Diana Wynne Jones -- almost the only thing my library had was Howl's Moving Castle, but God, I adored that book.

C.S. Lewis -- was the direct cause of me walking around the house talking like a British boarding school refugee until my parents threw things at me. I think "Horse and His Boy" was my favorite, but it's been so long, they all blur.

Tolkien -- I gather this is not considered YA, but I read the lot when I was seven, and I adored it. Admittedly, one of my favorite characters was Bill the pony.

Heinlein's juveniles. Particularly Podkayne of Mars, though even at eight or so there were bits that bothered me about that book. (Being a spaceship captain IS BETTER than being a captain's wife, Pod! Are you STUPID?) The only downside was that it led to me stumbling across some of Heinlein's, um, non-juveniles, rather younger than I probably should have.

Anne McCaffery's Pern books, especially the Harper series.

LeGuin -- The Earthsea trilogy, obviously, and some of her adult stuff too, though mostly I found that confusing. I literally read Tombs of Atuan until it fell apart. I had to buy my mother another copy, as an adult, to apologize.

I read all kinds of other stuff, mind you, most of it not for kids and quite a bit of that rather puzzling (Zelazny's Amber series, for example, becomes very confusing when read by someone too young to fully grasp the concept of a sex drive.) But those were the kids' books.

And one notable failure. I got hold of Pullman's Golden Compass when I was in the target age group -- about fourteen or fifteen, I think -- and I read it to the end, and I threw it against the wall. I remember stomping around literally speechless with fury. I honestly can't remember now what upset me so badly, except the distinct sense that the author had betrayed the story. That he thought he was all clever and he'd betrayed those characters just to make some silly adult point and prove he was smart and I was never ever ever reading anything by him again as long as I lived. And I have not. I really should go back, I suppose, and figure out what the hell upset me so much in what's supposed to be a very good kid's book.

Favorite kid's book was Harriet the Spy. This has led to a lifetime addiction to marbled composition notebooks. ;)

I'm an oddity; my reading for fun has often been weighted towards women, even as a kid. It took me a long time to understand why people said publishing was still weighted towards men.

What I liked then: Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, Robin McKinley, Lloyd Alexander, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jean George, Andre Norton, Cynthia Voigt, Judy Blume. I tried Earthsea, and remembered liking them, but this compulsive rereader didn't reread them until I was in my teens. Also Watership Down, and the Hobbit, though I've never yet read any other Richard Adams, and I didn't really enjoy the rest of Tolkien (I finished Lord of the Rings at 13 or so, but didn't like it the same way; I read the Hobbit at 8.) Also, at least one of the all-alike multiple book series about tweener girls in some school in the US, until I figured out the all alikeness. I also liked any book I could find where a fox was the main protagonist. (I'd suffer books about other animals, but foxes were IT.)

I came to Susan Cooper slightly late, but still as a kid, and with a distinct feeling of "where were you all this time?!"

By thirteen, though, I was spreading into the adult SF/F section, and with Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey, everything kind of changed.

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