Friday, December 18, 2015

Bright, Shiny Childhood Reads

Okay. Y'all knew I was an odd Word-Whore, right? Up to now our favorite children's books have been safe for all audiences. Then you get to me and that comes to a crashing halt. *Squints*. Yeah, I don't see any surprise in your faces.

Maybe it's because I was sneaking out of bed when I was 5 to watch the late night scifi/horror show with Dad (The Omega Man, The Fly, The Incredible Shrinking Man - you know - all those happy, feel good movies guaranteed to sear weeks of nightmares into an impressionable 5 year-old brain) but my favorite books as a kid weren't . . . well . . . entirely cheery.

I adore(d) H.M. Hoover. The Children of Morrow was the first of her books that I read. Nuclear war has shattered life on earth. A tiny pocket of survivors cling to life in a village that worships an old nuclear bomb still in its underground silo. Two children witness (and *might* have caused) the death of one of the elders, sending them running for their lives from the only family they've ever known. This book is tough to find. It was first published in 1973. I picked it up about that time while I still measured my age in single digits. I still own this book. Somewhere. I moved to a boat, but I kept this book. It's that good. Funny thing, though. None of my nieces or nephews were at all interested in this one or in This Time of Darkness by the same author. Can't understand why.

Andre Norton also wrote a ton of kid's books. Although I started reading her adult books first (while still a kid), the kid's books are more than worth it. Lavender-Green Magic is a prime example. It was one of the first books (but not the last of hers) with protagonists who are people of color. I wish that weren't remarkable, but when I read the book in the late 70s, it mostly certainly was. Sadly still is today. This one isn't quite as grim as the first book. . .but it has its moments. The kids in the book get word that their father is MIA in Vietnam. Their mother, trying to cope, sends them to stay with their grandparents. The lavender-green reference is for an overgrown garden labyrinth that ends up being the kids' doorway to magic, time travel and trouble (but not necessarily to finding their father.)

Also firmly slotted in the Books Nobody I Know Wants to Read: Anything by John Christopher. Another author I adored. The Tripod series is still one of my favorites. Because, you know, every fourth grader should be reading stories about aliens invading and enslaving humans. . . or turning them into static museum exhibits.

Oh sure there are more. Some creepier than others. Some less so. (See Andre Norton, The Prince Commands - dated as it was written in the late 30s or early 40s - but this is The Three Musketeers meets The Werewolf - all fun, no creepy.) Susan Cooper wrote a series I still love that starts with The Dark is Rising - a riff on Arthurian legend. The list is long and the hour is late so I'll stop.

Does this semi-grim childhood reading list explain everything?

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