Mondays were always my favorite days in elementary school — a stark contrast to how I feel about these days now.
Every Monday, my teacher would release us from the confines of our stuffy classroom, and for 30 glorious minutes, we had the freedom to roam about the school library and choose any book we wanted to read for the week, be it horror (“Goosebumps”), mystery (“Nancy Drew”) or adventure (“The Magic Tree House.”)
Whether you enjoyed the smell of aging paper as much as I did or felt uncomfortable by the silence in the library save for the sound of turning pages, we all had to read the same kinds of children’s books growing up, both classic and contemporary.
When it came to every child’s favorite kind of book –– the picture book –– no one did it better than Dr. Seuss. Not only did the man’s incredible use of rhyme in famous books like “Green Eggs and Ham” and “The Cat in the Hat” help us improve on our vocabulary, but also the messages behind the light and funny storytelling were wise and ones that we’d carry on with us even through high school –– lest we forget many high school valedictorians’ usage of quotes from “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” And the zany illustrations were enough to hold our interest, too.
Shel Silverstein was another children’s author who illustrated his own books. Silverstein’s quirky poetry and drawings were compiled into books like “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” also carrying allegorical value like Seuss’ works.
His most popular picture book by far was “The Giving Tree,” a story about the relationship between a young boy and a tree that some have criticized for being “too sad” for children, as the story ends in the death of the tree and aging of the child. Nevertheless, Silverstein’s books of poems were loved by children and adults alike and were the ones our teachers would read to us during nap time in first grade.
A classic 1930s series that I grew up reading as I began valuing words more than pictures was “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Though it was always classified under fiction in the library, the series was more of an autobiography; a collection of memories from Wilder’s early childhood in the 19th century Midwest.
There was this third-grader obsession with pioneer life that, now that I think about it, I can’t exactly pinpoint why, but if you also read the series then you can’t deny you wanted to live in a log cabin like Laura and have a rag doll made for you by Ma. The Ingalls in the books lived such simple lives and had to make do with the little they had, but reading something like that with such a youthful, imaginative mind seemed like a great experience.
Another classic author whose characters are perhaps some of the most well-known by children is Beverly Cleary. Cleary wrote over 30 books for young adults and children alike, all of them about normal kids and teenagers growing up just like us, although many of them did it in poodle skirts and old school varsity jackets.
Some of Cleary’s most memorable characters from their respective series include Henry Huggins, Beezus and Romona Quimby and Jane Purdy. Cleary’s novels were so popular among children because she wrote as if she completely understood children and the issues they faced that most adults would simply dismiss. And jukeboxes and sock hops were pretty cool to read about.
My favorite author in elementary school was Roald Dahl. I love his books because they were not only about other kids, but they were also about kids placed in the most bizarre situations.
Charlie explored a magical chocolate factory in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Matilda gained supernatural powers in “Matilda” and James crossed paths with anthropomorphic insects in “James and the Giant Peach.” Dahl was also known for placing fat children in almost every one of his novels.
But we kids liked to read more contemporary literature, too, and a popular author among my sixthgrade classmates was Louis Sachar, who penned the “Sideways Stories From Wayside School” series.
The trilogy centers around an elementary school built 30 stories high and focuses on the funny and always ironic stories of its students (and for some reason there’s no 19th floor … supposedly.) Sachar also wrote “Holes,” a novel about an unlucky teenager sent off to a detention camp, which won the 1999 U.S. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was made into a Disney movie starring Shia LaBeouf.
The most relevant series of children’s books today, however, is J.K. Rowling’s fantastical “Harry Potter” series. In case you’ve been in a coma for the past 16 years and need a quick plot summary, the seven books chronicle the adventures of boy-wizard Harry Potter and his friends at the fictional (we wish it wasn’t) Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and his quest to defeat “He Who Must Not Be Named,” the dark wizard Voldemort. As of June 2011, “Harry Potter” was named the best-selling book series in history and has gained popularity among children and adults alike, even gaining an eight-movie franchise and its own theme park at Universal Studios.
Whether you were born a bookworm or have always hated reading, I find it amusing that many of us have read the same books as kids and that most of us had those similar library days like my Mondays. And what’s so beautiful about literature is that it never gets old: kids of today’s generation are still checking out worn copies of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Matilda” from their libraries. It’s one of those continious cycles that puts my mind at ease and gives me some hope that our future isn’t going to go completely down the drain.