By Emma Wunsch
So…your 3rd grader is on his 3rd reading of the Harry Potter oeuvre, the kindergartener is obsessed with the never-ending Rainbow Magic series and The Magic Tree House audiobooks play on repeat in your car. Your family is in a reading rut! Luckily, there are Upper Valley librarians available to recommend many wonderful “forgotten” Newberry awarded and honored books and help the whole family discover more reading opportunities.
Many librarians agree that we are living in the “Golden Age” of the series for juvenile and young adult books. On one hand, as Norwich Children’s Librarian and Norwich Bookstore children’s seller Beth Reynolds says, a series is great because “once a child starts reading a series, they feel like they have a clear path of reading in front of them. They are more than happy to read whatever that author writes….” On the other hand, purchasing every Rick Riordan book can leave little room for non-bestselling authors.
And while people never forget C.S. Lewis books, Howe Children’s Librarian, Denise Reitsma, and Dunbar Free Library Director, Dawn Huston, recommend the less-remembered Lloyd Alexander who, starting in the 1950’s, wrote dozens of young adult fantasy novels, the most famous of which is The Chronicles of Prydain. Huston thinks the Prydain books are a great choice for C.S. Lewis fans and kids in the 4th or 5th grade. For her Narnia fans in Norwich, Beth Reynolds recommends Pat O’Shea’s 1999 The Hounds of Morrigan, which she says is like “all of the Narnia books rolled up into one.”
In addition to Lloyd Alexander, both Reitsma and Huston recommend Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising fantasy series, which is rooted in Celtic and Nordic mythology. They also like the series of books by Diana Wynne Jones, a British author who wrote much-awarded fantasy books for children and young adults. In 1986, Jones published Howl’s Moving Castle, the first of three books in the Howl collection. In 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle was a popular animated film by Hayao Miyazaki.
When she first began at Dunbar Free library, says Dawn Huston, “there was a shelf and a half of Brian Jacques and his 1987 Red Wall series,” but now the Jacques books have significantly dwindled and Huston fears readers are missing out. Huston also worries about writers such as Bruce Coville, Mildred Taylor and Ursula K. LeGuin. She recommends Taylor’s 1977 Newberry Medal winner Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and LeGuin’s 1968 Earthsea series. Those readers interested in sibling unity, abandonment and strong female protagonists might enjoy Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman Cycle starting with Newberry medal winner Homecoming. Huston would love for readers to “discover” writers like Jean Craighead and E.L. Konigsburg too.
Beth Reynolds says some of her favorite reads are the ones she “bought as discards from my library for a dime when I was little.” These include the 1893 bestseller, Beautiful Joe, by Marshall Saunders which tells the autobiography of Joe through the dog’s point of view and Eunice Young Smith’s Jennifer books, which chronicle a young girl growing up on a farm in the early 1900s. Beth says, “families who adore the Little House books could easily fall in love with the Jennifer books.” Since they’re out of print and can be pricey, she recommends tracking them at a local library.
Other recommendations include Maud Hart Lovelace’s 1940’s Betsy and Tacy series for Ivy and Bean readers and the All of a Kind Family and Melendy Quartet series for fans of The Penderwicks. When looking for a “new old friend,” Beth Reynolds suggests readers look for red spine books, which are the New York Review of Books reprinted out-of-print children’s books.
Howe Library’s Children’s Librarian Denise Reitsma says that while there are many wonderful “forgotten” young adult and juvenile books, on the whole, the art in picture books has vastly improved over the years — although classics like Make Way for Ducklings and Goodnight Moon will never be forgotten. Beth Reynolds says that one of her patrons “considers herself the caretaker” for two Norwich Library picture books: Stina, published in 1989, a story about a little girl who spends the summers with her grandfather by the ocean, and Lorna Bailan’s A Garden for Groundhog, about a groundhog on the O’Leary farm.
Dawn Huston adds that audio is also important for readers’ book journeys. Because listening is generally easier than reading or being read to, so even younger audiences can appreciate things like Jacqueline West’s Elsewhere series and Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series. Huston says that originally many authors read their own audiobooks, which didn’t necessarily make for great listening. One example is Madeline L’Engle’s recording of A Wrinkle in Time. A 2012 re-recording narrated by Hope Davis, has made listening to the classic book a much-improved listening experience.
With a little time and a chat with a local children’s librarian, you can find new literary worlds for your children and possibly reconnect with a beloved book that you yourself read so very long ago.