Recently, the editors at Education World asked some of our favorite authors of books for children and young adults to share with us their most memorable reading moments. Read what Beverly Cleary, Jennifer Holm, Susan Katz, Lois Lowry, and Jean Craighead George have to say about their own favorite books and about how those books influenced their lives.
For more best book picks, read last week's Education World article The Author's Picks: Must-Read Books For Elementary Students, in which Jane Yolen, Kenn Nesbitt, Jon Scieszka, and Linda Sue Park share their best book picks for younger students.
When preteen Beverly Cleary visited the public library and discovered Downright Dencey, the 1928 Newbery Honor Book by Carolyn Dale Snedeker, she liked the book immediately. "It was about a rebellious Quaker girl," Cleary told Education World, "and I enjoyed it because I was rather rebellious myself at that age!"
Who could have imagined that that rebellious preteen reader would become one of America's best-loved children's writers, with two Newbery Honor Books -- Ramona and Her Father (1978) and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1982) -- and a Newbery Medal Book -- Dear Mr. Henshaw -- of her own? Or that she would still highly recommend Snedeker's tale to today's children?
Young adult readers today might learn some essential life skills by reading the historical fiction of Jennifer Holm. Holm, however, the author of the 2000 Newbery Honor Book Our Only May Amelia, as well as Boston Jane, An Adventure, and Boston Jane, Wilderness Days, recommends that young readers also read The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander.
"My librarian gave me the first title in Alexander's Prydain Chronicles series," recalled Holm, who discovered The Black Cauldron while in middle school. "I loved it, and looked for all the others in the series," she told Education World.
"I read the books at that wonderful time in life when kids are being tortured by other kids, and school becomes a living nightmare. I remember thinking that if Taran and Eilonwy and their raggedy band of companions could survive everything from being chased by Hunstmen to wrestling with an evil cauldron, then getting through lunchtime in the cafeteria should be a cinch for me."
Holm believes The Black Cauldron is especially entertaining because it is a great adventure story, in which the hero learns how truly complicated the world is, and discovers that everything is not simply black or white or good or evil. "The book keeps you thinking -- for years in my case -- long after youve put it down," she said.
Susan Katz, author of, among other books, Snowdrops for Cousin Ruth and Mrs. Brown on Exhibit and Other Museum Poems, first encountered The Moon and I soon after its publication in 1991; she just happened to notice the book on a library shelf. After picking up The Moon and I and reading a few passages at random, however, Katz was unable to put it down. Shortly after that, she purchased a copy for herself!
"The book's great appeal lies in the enchanting combination of insightful information about the life of Betsy Byars as an author blended into a laugh-aloud funny tale of her highly ambivalent relationship with a blacksnake she names Moon," Katz told Education World. "Byars intertwines the two strands of her tale from page one, when she first notices the snake on a beam above her while she's writing. (She doesn't like anybody watching her write -- especially snakes!) The delighted reader, led along through Byars' comic-woeful tale of misadventures with the snake, absorbs a great deal of fascinating information about the writing process -- almost without noticing."
Author Lois Lowry's top pick for young adult readers is The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Although the book originally was published for adults, Lowry's mother's intuition led her to read it to Lowry when she was just eight or nine years of age.
"It was the first book in my experience that portrayed a real child with real problems, and real feelings of anger, grief, and joy...so unlike the limp and superficial children's' books I had been reading until then," Lowry recalled. "Of course, that was a long time ago -- in 1945 -- and in those days there was not the wide selection of good children's books there is today."
Lowry, who received the 1990 Newbery Medal for Number the Stars and another in 1994 for The Giver, admits that some of today's kids won't enjoy The Yearling. "It is long, slow-moving, and of another era," Lowry explained. "But it's beautifully written; its characters are real; and its portrayal of a boy coming-of-age is painful and moving."
Jean Craighead George is another product of mother's intuition. That's how the author became familiar with Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a book that became very important to her as a child.
"My mother read the novel to my brothers and me in the evening while we gathered around her chair," Craighead George told Education World. "As I listened with my eyes closed, in my mind I created the raft, the Mississippi River, and Huckleberry and his friends. It was easy. Mark Twain was an on-scene writer."
"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is unforgettable," Craighead George stated, "because Mark Twain knew what he was writing about -- the Mississippi and its people and ecology. Having learned that lesson, when I began my writing career, I wrote about what I knew. Or, if the environment was strange to me, I traveled there to live for a while. I learned about the plants and animals and climate, and interacted with the people. When I returned home to write, I would then close my eyes, return to the locale, open my eyes, and write."
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