At Booklist we use the phrases “Adult Books” and “Books for Youth” to sort titles for old people from those for young ones. (That’s a tad over-simplified, but you get the idea.) It’s also how we define editors. (Kind of like the Sharks v. Jets but with less snapping.) When I first started at Booklist those terms carried strong associations, but with time and repetition the designations melted away, and “Books for Youth” was simply a way to refer to the editors down the hall or to the books in my office.
Recently, Books for Youth Editorial Assistant Maggie Raegan confessed that despite her enormous wit and intelligence (my words), she didn’t learn to read until she was in third grade (her words). That’s Maggie’s story to tell, but her anecdote reminded me of the books my dad and I read together when I was a kid.
Many of the books we read all those years ago
remain more vivid than books I read last year.
The selection process was democratic, requiring buy-in from both father and daughter, and we would read together most nights after dinner while mom was cleaning up. (Thanks, Mom!) I’m told that at one point I made it known I was no longer interested in reading with my dad because, “It’s booor-riing! He doesn’t do any voices, Mom!!” Apparently that message was relayed to the appropriate parental unit, who really brought his reading aloud A-game to our next session. As such, many of the books we read all those years ago remain more vivid than books I read last year. Behold!
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis
Let’s all just admit we were shocked to learn that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was NOT, in fact, the first book in the series. Mind-blowing. I think this was the first long-haul reading I experienced, and my imagination took off like a kitten through a field of catnip. All parts of my brain were active, all neurons were firing as I painted the landscapes, fleshed out characters, and created far-away exploits. It was truly magical.
For more life-changing journeys, suspenseful plots, and inventive storytelling, check out Ian Chipman’s Read-alikes: New Narnias—Middle-Grade Graphic Fantasies.
Nancy Drew books, by Carolyn Keene
If Narnia tickled the creative in me, then Nancy Drew activated my analytic side. My dad asked questions as we went along, really engaging my reading comprehension, and I felt like I was Nancy’s right-hand woman Sherlocking with the best of them. (It probably also helped that the numerous writers were working with what one might call a formula.)
Looking for more young girl detectives? Read Ilene Cooper’s Core Collection: Nancy Drew Redux.
Hardy Boys books, by Franklin W. Dixon
Being the adventurous readers we were, we said why stop at Nancy? Why not read about the exploits of a male kiddo detective? Why not TWO KIDDO DETECTIVES?! We celebrated a good portion of the Hardy Boys catalog while developing a theory that the two series were written by the same author. It not yet being the age of the internet, we were left to our own speculation. (Just call us super-sleuths.)
Why the Whales Came, by Michael Morpurgo
We also read a lot of single titles, the stand-out being Morpurgo’s book about two kids and a mysterious character on the island of Bryher. It features curses (black magic, not f-bombs), danger, and narwhals. I highly recommend this title, especially if you want to experience a seven-year-old bawl her eyes out.
Maggie’s story is great for a lot of reasons, but I appreciate it most because it reminds me that “Books for Youth” isn’t just the words in a job title or a catch-all for the books in my office. It’s the portal to entire universes waiting to spark a love of reading.