Saturday, May 04, 2019

Children's Stories that Stick

Not long ago, I picked up a copy of William Sleator's Interstellar Pig at Half Price Books. I read it ages and ages ago -- it must have been fifth grade or so -- but parts of the story were really vivid in my memory -- some very memorable scenes, like the first practice game of Interstellar Pig, or The Piggy, or, most of all, the Carnivorous Lichen. I loved the book back then, and much of it holds up fairly well; some things that seemed subtle in fifth grade seemed really, really obvious, especially with the characterization and plotting. But many of the scenes were exactly as good as I remembered. So I started thinking about other books that I read when I was young that 'stuck with me', in the sense that I've always retained a vivid memory of parts of them.

William Sleator contributed at least two others to the list: The Boy Who Reversed Himself and Singularity. I remember much less about the actual stories, but I remember Omar from the first fairly well, and I remember Harry in the playhouse watching the clock outside.

Daniel Manus Pinkwater's Lizard Music is another one; the Chicken Man is hard to forget, as is the surrealism of the lizard island.

Louis Sachar's Wayside School stories are another source; he's more famous for Holes these days, but Sideways Stories from Wayside School, especially, is the work I knew him for. The missing thirteenth floor is memorable, as is the boy, whose name I forget, who went down into the basement and signed a contract that made him free (of course, now it's obvious, as it wasn't at the time, that he sold his soul to the devil).

Animal stories seem to be a good cache of such books -- I remember snippets of scenes from Albert Payson Tayhune's Lad books, which I read in second grade, and of course, a little later there was Fred Gipson's Old Yeller and Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's The Yearling, and, most powerful and vivid of all, Wilson Rawl's Where the Red Fern Grows, the greatest of all dog stories that have ever been and perhaps ever will be. The scene in Elizabeth Coatsworth's The Cat Who Went to Heaven when the painting shows the Buddha blessing the cat, has always stayed with me. The fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince is another.

The earliest of them all was Caroline Rush's Tales of Mr. Pengachoosa; I read it really quickly one day at a cousin's house, in first or second grade at most, but the story of the four seasons, with Mr. Pengachoosa offering to give Winter a ride on his bicycle and realizing that something is wrong as it gets harder and harder to peddle, is one of my most vivid literary memories.

Of course, there are some obvious ones -- Lewis's Narnia books and Tolkien's The Hobbit, which I read many, many times, and some of the works of L'Engle and Cooper. There's Ellen Raskin's Westing Game -- Judge Ford, in particular stands out in my memory, especially when she, smart as whip, realizes part of the answer and starts calling herself stupid (I have been there, Josey-Jo), but there are many vivid scenes.

There are others, although hazier; I remember Mary Poppins returning the tin-foil stars tot he sky, although almost nothing else from the Mary Poppins books, and so forth. But I'm sure lots of people have different ones. What are some of the stories you read as a child that have had snippets or scenes that stuck with you through the years?

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