I don't think I can write about my "one" favorite children's books. To me, the books of my childhood were the things that saved me from my own weird brain. I grew into my brain when I was about 38, I think, but until that time, I was always looking, checking, seeking. I was nervous, anxious, and smart, which is a truly bad combination. As a child, I needed other people's stories to help me make sense of the world, even if the story was fantastical. And the ones I read the most often were. Not ordinary stories of ordinary people, but ordinary people in extraordinary places. It also helped if the main character was somehow odd, different, not liked or understood by all because in that way, the character would be like me.
So I have a list of those outsider books that gave me respite from whatever it was that ailed me.
The first is The Country Bunny by Dubose Heyward, art by Marjorie Flack. If you don't know this story, you should go to this 1939 tale about a "poor" female country bunny who becomes a big time Easter Bunny (sorry, spoiler). All her life she aimed to be work from the Grand Poo-ba Easter Bunny, despite the facts that she was a girl and didn't come from a refined family. No, little miss wore a kerchief around her neck and a sack-like dress. But she decided to try out and despite the snubs from the rich bunnies, she makes it. She makes it despite having a passel of kids--but boy those kids can take care of themselves, and what a neat and tidy home they have. She makes it despite injury and fatigue. And she accomplishes the highest honor, the big white Grand Poo-ba bunny granting her the title.
I read her ascent to Easter Bunny greatness over and over again. I loved her ability to be a mom and to have the desire to do something big. I loved that she beat out those shitty little white bunnies. I loved it that she came home and her kids had taken care of the house. So neat! So tidy! So satisfying! Back to page one I would go to read it again.
Another book I loved was My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. The main character doesn't seem to have too many problems at home (aside from his missing father), but we aren't in his home much, and he's out talking to cats and bringing them home to a mom who wasn't thrilled to see an animal by her furnace. There is corporal punishment in this story (1948, after all, spanking still a thing parents did. Trust me, they were doing it in 1968 as well), and the word whipping. At that point, Elmer and I were like "that," and when he ran away, I got it. He and the cat go to an island in a true hero adventure to save the cutest little dragon of all time. Elmer was ingenious, inventive, and knew when to rely on others. Of course he saves the dragon and two additional books ensued. I read them all. I wanted to run away and save a dragon. I wanted a dragon as a friend. A cat and a dragon. And an adventure.
Roald Dahl gets a lot of press, and he's a twisted fellow. It is hard to believe that we still allow children to read his books in this PC age. But I loved his stories, especially James and the Giant Peach. James, another outsider, lives with his evil aunts and is unloved and mostly uncared for. The fact that he is then loved by a bunch of bugs makes the story better. Together, they journey in the giant peach and manage to squash the aunts while doing so. Yay! I would think. There is justice in the world. And the best part is the story ends happily, James happy and loved and cared for and popular, the world in balance.
Outsiders on journeys. Outsiders achieving things. Boys mostly, but I grew up in a more boy-centered world. I read these books over and over, still reading my mother's copy of The Country Bunny until well past the age I should do so. Later, I would find more stories with girls, young women, achieving things, but I felt well accompanied by James and Elmer. And when I had children, I bought these books for them, and all these stories are in my house, with me right now, words I still go to now and again.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org