penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

Books that I have loved

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You have probably seen the Facebook question – which books have you read and which ones have stayed with you?  You may have even seen the follow up articles – about how children’s books and best sellers tend to make the top ten list. (Not to mention those that wondered why we should give Facebook such valuable information for free anyway?)

Of course books that we read as children and teenagers stay with us.  Most books written by authors who are interested in their young audience care about who they are writing to and take more care in their craft (not to say there isn’t a lot of dreck out there too – Daisy Meadows writing machine anyone?)  There’s a reason most universities have a children’s literature course – and it’s because truly classical kids’ lit is beautifully written and withstands the test of time.  Additionally, one could argue that children’s literature stays with us is because when we are young we are more susceptible to what messages we are hearing and the memories we build with them sticks in our mind years later.

I know the instructions given by Facebook said “Don’t think too much about this” but I have thought about it a little (I can’t help myself).  In my mind, the books that have made themselves a home in my memory are those that I also physically carried around through my life. I invested the time to put them into cardboard boxes over and over again.  I took the effort into schlep them up and down stairs into various apartments and houses throughout my life.  If it means something to me, I’ve probably kept it with me over the years and made room for it on a shelf somewhere.

Very vaguely based on that criteria – here are my top ten (With alternates. Because it is impossible to pick only 10. And I’m rewriting the rules already so why not cheat?):

1) The Bible. And I don’t mean the King James version. I mean a children’s bible. It has simple pictures (although I have to admit, Jesus is a Caucasian guy with reddish brown hair).  It contains both Old and New Testaments.  It doesn’t have every story – but enough that you could use it for a children’s sermon or in Sunday school if you needed to.  Most of the stories are told in a simple fashion and they don’t pull any punches.  As a kid, after reading this book, I thought I had really, truly, read The Bible. All of it. I was so disappointed when I saw a church Bible. My parents gave me my first copy and I can’t honestly remember not having it as a child.  My parents read to me frequently from it and the stories I remember most were about Noah and Jonah in the giant whale.  When I couldn’t find a copy to buy my own kids, I was a little distraught (I just wasn’t happy with the Golden or NIV version).  I later bought a copy at a garage sale where I – miraculously – found it.   In recent years, while cleaning out boxes, my parents found my version, which I have kept ever since.

2) On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My parents gave me this book for Christmas one year probably when I was around eight or ten. I still have the copy that I read so many times the cover wore off.  As a child what struck me was the adventure the family was having – living in a dug out and later in a house they couldn’t afford.  There were plagues of locusts and blizzards.  Laura was someone you could relate to because she was plucky and got into trouble while Mary was a goody two shoes and a pain in the behind.  Their lives were so difficult to relate to in terms of their experiences and yet, somehow the relationships seemed so familiar and so plainly told that you felt like you could understand.


Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. My aunt gave me my first copy of this book. It took me a while to get past chapter two the first couple of times I read it because I initially found it boring. But after a while and a few tries I really, really enjoyed it.  I recently read it with my kids in anticipation of a trip out to PEI.  In the end it is still about a little girl with a big imagination who exasperates her adopted family because she cannot SHUT UP ALREADY about everything that pops into her head. And she gets into a lot of trouble. Who can’t relate to that?

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. I did not read this book until I took a children’s literature course in university. It is one of the most beautiful and moving books about life and death ever written.  It asks the question – what if you could live forever, what would your choice be? I often think of this book when I talk to my own children about death.  Because it happens to us all – and this book has some of the best answers yet I have come across.

3) The Narnian Chronicles by C.S. Lewis. This is one you have to take as a series (although I found out later, that they were written in an order and manner in which I never imagined).  The first time I heard about these books was when a teacher read them to our class (which is unfortunate because he was a terrible teacher and eventually he felt we were not worthy of being read to. I would have preferred if someone else had introduced me to these books).  I have often wished I was Lucy discovering a world within a wardrobe.  When my grandmother later acquired a similar closet to add to her cottage decor, I was most disappointed to find it did not lead to another world but rather held all of her clothes.  While I am sure many people find the crucifixion of Aslan the most compelling, what tends to stay with me is the terrible final scene of the world Narnia at the end of the Last Battle.  Aslan stands before the door and judges all the animals, humans and other creatures as they come through it.  Then the world ends and ice forms on the door.  Peter closes and locks the door.   Reading it always brought gives me the shivers.

Alternative: The Prydian Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander.  I received a copy for Christmas one year – and I still have the entire boxed set (sans box).  It has epic mythic proportions like the Narnian Chronicles.  Life and death are important themes.  And the last book is still the one that haunts me.  Would you choose everlasting life or to slave away in the service of others?

4) A Wrinkle in Time. A Wind in the Door. A Swiftly Tilting Planet. By Madeleine L’Engle I took these books out of the library many times over the years.  I have a copy I have given my daughter – but I don’t remember the exact origin of them (might have been a garage sale).  The idea of a gawky nerdy girl and boy pulled to the very edges  of scientific thought resonated with me.  The idea of Charles trapped in the evils of conformity scared the heck out of me.  And when I’m having a hard time getting balance in my life, I think of the not-so Happy Medium.

5) Dragon Song by Anne McCaffrey: I think might have accidently brought this book home from school and never returned it. I still have it on my shelf.  It’s the story of a young girl who doesn’t fit in, runs away from homes and discovers tiny dragons.  Eventually she discovers her destiny. It’s set in a richly imagined world that includes its own dynasties and vocabulary that are an introduction to the adult books about the dragon riders of Pern.


Beauty or the Hero and Crown or the Blue Sword.  Actually, it’s a really hard to decide between these books by Robin McKinley and the dragon books.  Beauty is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story, in which Belle is really more of an intellectual adventurer. Written before the Disney film came out, I often wonder if they were thinking of this book when they wrote the script.  The Hero and the Crown and the Blue Sword are tied to the same world but at different moments in its history.

Playing Beattie Bow by Ruth Park. I borrowed this out of the library many, many times. It’s hard to find in print and so I bought a copy second hand.  It’s about a young woman who accidently travels back in time to Victorian Sydney Australia.  A bit of adventure, a bit of (teenage) romance, it’s beautifully written.

6) Watership Down by Richard Adams. I read the first chapter of this book in Grade Three as it was part of a “reader” I had. I read the entire book a few years later. My mom and Dad happened to have a copy on their bookshelf. I have had various copies ever since.  This book is remarkable for its creation of an entire society that includes its own language and mythology (“hrududu” anyone?).  It has its own Lotus eaters and authoritarian styled communities.

It should be read by mangers everywhere in order to better understand what it really means to be a leader.

It is about rabbits.

Enough said.

7)The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Gate way drug to The Lord of the Rings. And who can resist the Riddles chapter? I recently read this to my son and he was absolutely still and silent the whole time.  The films don’t hold a candle to the original – which was actually has quite a different narrative style and characterization of wizards, dwarves and hobbits.  Also, there is no barrel riding, troll-killing, zombie-like video game in the middle of it. Sorry to disappoint you.

8) Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Often hilarious, frequently ridiculous and yet pointedly jabbing sharp holes into the stuffed balloon that is western culture. It is a series of books designed to answer the question – what is the meaning of life the universe and everything? In the end, the answer – and the question – wind up being as good as any other that have been thought up by any other philosophy, culture or religion.


Anything written by Jasper Fford, including the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series as well as Shades of Grey (not to be confused with Fifty Shades of Grey – which is, of course, COMPLETELY different).  Mr. Fforde’s stories are set just slightly off kilter from reality.  Just enough for brilliant tongue in cheek parodies and puns (some of which take the entire book to get to). A friend of mine gave me a Nursery Crimes book for Christmas one year – my only regret was that I did not discover them sooner.

Anything written by Neil Gaiman.  Although I have to admit, his picture book about the Wolves in the Walls is the most darkly humorous poke at adults in a long time.

9) The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald. I bought an ancient copy discarded by a library at some point in the 70s.  My copy is falling apart at the seams but has already been taped up once. It has the original wood cut-looking illustrations in it.  It’s a very old fashioned fairy tale that conjures up traditional ideas of what it means to be good and courageous.  It’s surprisingly dark and written in an old-fashioned style, reminiscent of Oscar Wilde or J.M. Barrie.


Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling.  I’m sorry that this series didn’t exist when I was a child. I think I would have been swept up with the magic of this series as much as I would have been for the Princess and the Goblin, Narnian or Prydian Chronicles.  My daughter (who I am currently only letting read the first four books so she doesn’t have nightmares) has read them umpteen thousand times already.

10) Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley. This is not a children’s book of course – unlike many of the others. I read it in Grade 9 after another student recommended it to me – and I was probably too young to be reading it or fully understanding it. But just as one of the first books I read was the Bible, this was one of the first books I read that challenged my ideas about the Bible – to confront it and not take it or the church at face value.  In the book, Noah’s a nasty old man who bullies his family, and Lucifer is a cross dresser.  I don’t even want to talk about what happens to the unicorn.  The ending feels empty and hopeless. I can’t even say I really liked the book, but like all great fiction, it made me think and left a life-long imprint.


Written by pennyinacastle

November 23, 2014 at 3:01 am

Posted in books

Tagged with , , , ,

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