On Reading: Books My Kids Found For Me

By Kathy Crowley

Although it can be hard to remember mid-tantrum (or mid-eyeroll depending where you are in the parenting adventure), there are an awful lot of great things about having kids.  There’s the big deep heavy stuff (e.g. realizing what your own parents did for you, feeling more responsible for the state of the world because it’s being passed along to people you actually know), the driving biological piece (can you hear those selfish genes screaming between chest bumps, “YES. We are STILL in the game!”), and then… the little stuff.  Like peanut butter.  What ever came between us? Maybe it was that falling out in college over grams of sugar and saturated fat.  Or books.  Books I loved and love to read to my kids, books I somehow missed, and new books that I would never have even tried if I didn’t have children.

For example, A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck.  If you haven’t read it, don’t wait for your kids to turn you onto it.  Just get thee to a library (or your local  bookstore) now.  Set in the depression, A Long Way from Chicago tells the story of two children sent to spend the summer with their grandmother in rural Illinois.  Grandma Dowdel, as she is known, is one of the greatest literary creations I’ve ever come across – fierce, cantankerous, large in every sense of the word. At first she seems to be a scary force of nature, but as the book — and its sequel, A Year Down Yonder — move along, it becomes clear that she is also a force of compassion and justice.

And The Hunger Games!  Would I have ever read a book about a dark all-too-possible world of reality TV gone wild? Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games is a postmodern take on Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”.  Every year two contestants are selected from each district of a fictional nation state, placed in an artificial wilderness and left to fight until only one of them survives.  All this while the rest of the country watches on television. I picked it up only because my daughter and her friends loved it. Once I started reading, though, I couldn’t put it down.  Actually, I devoured it (no pun intended), and then tore through the next book, Catching Fire. I plan to be waiting in line with all the teenagers this August (when the final book, Mockingjay, comes out) to learn the fate of Katniss, the tough but sympathetic heroine.

Just last week the Mother-Son book club my 10-year old son and I belong to got together to discuss Kashmira Sheth’s Boys Without Names, the story of Gopal, an 11-year old Indian boy whose family is driven from their village to the chaos of Mombai by desperate financial circumstances.  Days after they arrive, Gopal is drugged and abducted, then imprisoned with other boys and forced to make beaded picture frames, hour after hour, night and day.  Gopal slowly wins the trust of the other boys and brings a sense of hope, all the while looking for his moment to escape. It was a great book to read with my son.  And to hear six 10 and 11-year old American boys discuss this glimpse into child labor through the eyes of another 11-year old boy half a world away: well, that’s priceless.

Here’s a book that was around when I was growing up, but I somehow missed: The Wheel on The School by Meindert DeJong, published in the mid-1950s.  I read it with my older children when they were seven and five.  A group of school kids in Holland bond while trying to lure the storks back to their village by creating the perfect nesting spot on top of their schoolhouse. Doesn’t sound like much of a plot, does it?  But the three of us became happily lost in this book. Or Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays, another great read that I somehow missed as a kid.  We listened to all the books in this series on long drives in our car a few years ago, and the miles flew by.

Then there are all the books I loved as a kid and have had the chance to reread – Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh! Harriet the Spy! The Phantom Tollbooth! The list goes on and on… But that’s a subject for another post on another day.

Have your kids (grandkids, nieces, nephews, younger siblings, students) gotten you to read books you wouldn’t have picked up otherwise?

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