A lot of people who have seen my movie collection sometimes make fun of me because it’s comprised mostly of movies that involve singing and/or princesses. I’m cool with that. I tend to hold onto the things that make me the happiest, or feel the most lighthearted, because I’m the type of person who is prone to fits of moodiness.
I guess that’s why every so often I return to some of the books that I loved as a child, because they evoke memories of a time when things were simpler, and my outlook on the world was just a tiny bit rosier.
That’s one thing that all of these books have in common: they all feature characters, who, against all odds, still manage to retain some kind of hope that the world is good.
To tiny people like the characters in The Borrowers, for example, almost everyone and everything in the big, wide world poss some sort of threat. You’ll have to read the book yourself (if you haven’t already) to see how they survive against the odds, but the real charm in this book for me as kid was the way in which this small group of people (pun intended!) managed to carve our comfortable lives for themselves and find happiness despite such large challenges. (That pun was also intended.) If you’re my age you may also remember the series, The Littles, about a similar family, although for some reason they had tails.
In stark contrast, Mary, the main character in the novel The Secret Garden, seems to be determined to be miserable in her new home in her uncle’s lonely English manor- but who could blame her? Simultaneously neglected and spoiled from an early age, then orphaned and spirited half a world away from her homeland, Mary’s story starts out pretty bleak. It’s her ability to find beauty even when there seems to be none that transforms this book into a happy and hopeful one. I remember my mother reading it to me as a child. She still gets choked up when she re-reads it.
It would be remiss to talk about hopeful characters without including the infamous Anne Shirley of the Anne of Green Gables fame, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was obsessed with the story of this plucky orphan when I was younger. I inhaled the rest of the Anne books (and pretty much the entirety of L.M. Montgomery’s work), but this one still remains my favorite.
You wouldn’t normally characterize Cinderella as an intelligent, spirited young woman but in Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine manages to do just that, framing Cinderella (or Ella, in this case) not as a good-natured, submissive servant to a cruel stepmother, but as the unfortunate victim of a curse that renders her unable to disobey a direct command. Ella’s journey to find her own free will is a terrific metaphor for a coming-of-age story about a young woman finding her own voice. Meeting a handsome prince and finding love along the way are just happy coincidences. (For those of you who have seen the movie, I promise you that the book is totally different.)
But for me, the strongest and most hopeful character featured in any of these books has to be Mrs. Frisby, from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. There’s no tale of survival that’s quite like that of a mouse living in a farmer’s field, and in a world where rats and humans alike terrorize mice, and predators lurk around every corner, Mrs. Frisby’s love for her children shines like a beacon of light through the darkness. (If you’ve read the book, or seen the movie as a kind growing up in the 90s, you’ll know what I mean.)
So what if I’m old enough to be having my own kids instead of reading the books that I enjoyed as a child (and still do?) Being an adult can get pretty tiring, and reading about adults also tired of being adults doesn’t always provide that much of an escape. Instead, I can pick up a book and pretend I’m a mouse, or at least small enough to fit underneath someone’s floorboards. I could be an orphan in a new place, or a servant in my own household, held captive under a spell.
When you’re a kid- and a reader- you can be anything. And that’s kind of the joy, isn’t it?
What were some of your favorite books as a kid? I had a terrible time trying to narrow this post down to a few, but I’d still love your input as well. Comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know if there’s any I should add to a future kid lit list. Who knows? Maybe we even loved some of the same things.
I do love reading and sharing my favorite books with you. (For more reading inspiration click here or here.) These lists are totally my own creation and I was not paid or perked to share my opinions with you by any author or publishing company. Full disclosure: I do receive a small commission from Amazon when you choose to buy from my site. It keeps this blog running and food in my dog’s bowl, but rest assured I would never suggest you buy something I wouldn’t buy for myself. Enjoy!