Top Ten Childhood Favorites: Inspired by Broke and Bookish and Emmie Mears. This really could also be retitled “female literary characters who inspired me”. 😛 Since this is a quote-laden post, I’m not going to format the really big ones.
I’m including books that impacted me when I was a teenager, simply because I think there’s a bit of kid in teenagers. Of course, the world strips it away once you’re in college, but the more I look back, the more I see a bit of what Madeleine L’Engle refers to as “archaic understanding” left in teenagers.
[Archaic understanding] is a willingness to know things in their deepest, most mythic sense. We’re all born with archaic understanding, and I’d guess that the loss of it goes directly along with the loss of ourselves as creators.
Without further adieu, I give you my top ten favorite and most impactful books from my childhood.
1) A Wrinkle in Time-Madeleine L’Engle
I don’t want to quote Wrinkle, because many have already heard excerpts from it. Madeleine talks about love in A Circle of Quiet, which translates well into her fiction pieces. She says:
“I do mind, desperately, that the word ‘Christian’ means for so many people smugness, and piosity, and holier-than-thouness. Who, today, can recognize a Christian because of ‘how those Christians love one another’? No wonder our youth is confused and in pain; they long for God, for the transcendent, and are offered, far too often, either piosity or sociology, neither of which meets their needs, and they are introduce to churches which have become buildings that are a safe place to go to escape the awful demands of God.”
She displays an authenticity in her writing that, at 8 years old, I could sense but could not identify. Her beliefs translate seamlessly into fiction, so that when you read them, you see a Light that you cannot help but be attracted to. Her children’s books can be read and loved by an adult as much as her adult books can be read and loved by a child.
2) The Moon By Night-Madeleine L’Engle
It was challenging to pick between this one and A Ring of Endless Light. The scope of Moon pertains more to growing up, whereas Light deals with death and acceptance, an idea that was more abstract to me when I was younger. Her protagonists Vicky and Zachary deal with tough questions, Vicky approaching things with naiveté and Zachary with cynicism.
They go to see an Anne Frank play together, and Vicky struggles with the idea of God allowing evil to happen. Later, she and her Uncle Douglas discuss anger toward God and man’s responsibility.
But remember when you’re yelling at God, what you’re doing is saying, ‘Do it MY way God, not YOUR way, MY way’…But if you go off the assumption—and I do—that man has the freedom of choice, then you have to assume responsibility for your own actions. You can’t go on passing the buck to God.
The conversation between the ebbs and flows naturally, with Vicky persistently pushing for answers and Douglas patiently talking.
The minute anybody starts telling you what God thinks, or exactly why He does such and such, beware. People should never try to make God in man’s image, and that’s what they’re constantly doing.
Those are heavy thoughts for YA fiction, but Madeleine trusts her readers with them. And often, her young readers will respond positively. Even if they don’t understand the entirety of what she’s trying to communicate, the beauty and truth of her work isn’t lost. I still learn from her books each time I go back to them.
3) Trixie Belden and the Mystery Off Glen Road-Julie Campbell
Trixie was a plucky heroine, always getting into “scrapes”, but she always had a support system to fall back on. Unlike Nancy Drew, she was flawed, spontaneous, and haphazard. Her idea of solving a case rarely worked out the way she intended.
Trixie was important, because she represented an idea. She was a female character, sometimes a tomboy and occasionally feminine, who no one took seriously. If something fishy was going on or if someone needed assistance, you could be sure that Trixie would save the day. Against all odds, she’d do what she thought was right, and because it was a novel, she succeeded every time. 🙂
4) Jane Eyre-Charlotte Bronte
In no way is Jane a pretentious heroine. She has no affectations of virtue or stateliness, yet somehow, she gained a respect for herself that Blanche Ingram could never have obtained. In the face of temptation, Jane is unyielding. In spite of promises of comfort, Jane rejects a safety and security. There is nothing demanding or assuming about her character, but her demeanor is anything but gentle and mild.
“Feeling . . . clamoured wildly. ‘Oh, comply!’ it said. ‘. . . soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?’ Still indomitable was the reply: ‘I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation. . . . They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.'”
5) Emily Climbs
I loved Emily, because she was a quirky, thoughtful heroine. Her story was darker than Anne’s, and she had a more somber outlook. Not only is Emily not taken seriously as an artist, but she is also considered to be flaky, though her feelings have no lack of depth. The darker tone lends more poignancy to her story.
Night is beautiful when you are happy–comforting when you are in grief–terrible when you are lonely and unhappy.
It’s dreadful what little things lead people to misunderstand each other.
6) Ramona the Pest-Beverly Cleary
Beverly Cleary remembered what it was like to be a kid, and her characters, Ramona especially, demonstrated that. She said things with brilliant simplicity and communicated complex feelings in terms a third grader could understand.
Words were so puzzling. ‘Present’ should mean a present just as ‘attack’ should mean to stick tacks in people.
7) Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants-Ann Brashares
Who hasn’t always wanted a group of friends that sticks closer than family? I’ve always loved how Ann Brashares described these girls, all different, who come together in times of need, not just times of convenience, and support each other though birth, death, divorce, and heartbreak.
Carmen hated the ‘life is too short’ rationalization. She thought it was one of the lamer excuses in the history of excuse-making. Whenever you did something because ‘life is too short not to’, you could be sure life would be just long enough to punish you for it.
8) Betsy in Spite of Herself-Maud Hart Lovelace
While I love all of the Betsy~Tacy and Tib books, I am always delighted by the trying on of another persona that Betsy attempts. For awhile, she even changes her name to “Betsye”. She decides at the end of the novel, that she’d rather be herself. In the front, Shakespeare’s lesson is quoted:
This above all; to thine own self be true/And it must follow, as the night the day/Thou canst not then be false to any man.
It does irk me that he chose Polonius to say that. If only he could have chosen a better character…
9) Antigone-Jean Anouilh
I love Sophocles’ version, but I first read Jean Anouilh’s modern interpretation of Antigone. The themes of civil disobedience and Divine law make both versions timeless. When I read it, I was 12, but the modern language made it a little easier for me. I might never have appreciated Antigone the way I do had I not read Anouilh’s version first.
“I spit on your happiness! I spit on your idea of life–that life that must go on, come what may. You are all like dogs that lick everything they smell. You with your promise of a humdrum happiness–provided a person doesn’t ask much of life. I want everything of life, I do; and I want it now! I want it total, complete: otherwise I reject it! I will not be moderate. I will not be satisfied with the bit of cake you offer me if I promise to be a good little girl. I want to be sure of everything this very day; sure that everything will be as beautiful as when I was a little girl. If not, I want to die!”
10) The Truth About Forever-Sarah Dessen
Sarah’s heroines are always us, or at least people who could be us. Macy is ordinary and struggling with growing up, death, and acceptance. Then others come into her life, shaking her out of her funk.
Maybe that’s what you got when you stood over your grief, facing it finally. A sense of its depths, its area, the distance across, and the way over or around it, whichever you chose in the end.