Top Ten “Gateway” Books/Authors in My Reading Journey

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week they will post a new Top Ten list  that one (or more) of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

All of us readers have those books that really started us on our way to becoming book lovers. It could be something we read as young children, or it could be a book we picked up in adulthood after years of a reading drought. Or, it could be an author or book that introduced us to a new favorite genre. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday puts a spotlight on those books and authors that we credit with our bookishness.

These are my Top Ten…ok, Top Fifteen… “Gateway” Books/Authors (in somewhat random order):

  1. My Bible Friends – Etta B. Degering
  2. Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories – Arthur S. Maxwell
  3. The Ugly Duckling – Hans Christian Andersen
  4. A Girl Called Tommie, A Nurse Called Tommie, A Wife Called Tommie – Thelma G. Norman
  5. Little House in the Big Woods (Little House #1) – Laura Ingalls Wilder
  6. My Sister Mike – Amelia Elizabeth Walden
  7. The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Elizabeth George Speare
  8. Now – Merikay McLeod
  9. A Little Princess, The Secret Garden -Frances Hodgeson Burnett
  10. Unblessed – Berneice Lunday
  11. Unleashed – Leon Orr
  12. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
  13. Johnny Tremain – Esther Forbes
  14. Nancy Drew Mysteries – Carolyn Keene
  15. Biographies of everyone from George Washington & Thomas Jefferson to Paul Revere, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, George Washington Carver…you name it, I read it.

Amazing that a list like this does not include The Chronicles of Narnia, anything by Dr. Seuss, no Maurice Sendak, barely anything in the traditional canon of children’s literature.  I am thankful that The Witch of Blackbird Pond made it into my hands, as it was one of my few reading experiences outside the narrow sphere of denominational sanctioning (as a young adolescent, anyway), and it lit a spark.


REVIEW: Because I Could Not Sop My Bike and Other Poems by Karen Shapiro

Hardcover, 32 pages
Published May 28th 2003 by Whispering Coyote (first published 2003)
ISBN: 1580890350 (ISBN13: 9781580890359)
original title: Because I Could Not Stop My Bike and Other Poems 
5 stars
Goodreads Synopsis:

A collection of light-hearted parodies written in the style of such well-known poets as Emily Dickinson, Robert Burns, Christina Rosetti, Joyce Kilmer, and William Shakespeare.

My Thoughts:
Oh my, how I love parody poetry! This is chock full of fun poems modeled after all manner of classic poets. I love that the poems are about silly subjects, and while staying within the parameters of the poems they model, they are written in a way that is utterly appealing to kids (or the childish part of adults). The artwork is beautiful as well. All in all, this is a must have book of poetry for me to share with my kiddo.

REVIEW: My Life as a Belching Baboon with Bad Breath by Bill Myers

Hardcover, 128 pages
Published October 31st 2005 by Thomas Nelson (first published 2005)
ISBN: 1400306345 (ISBN13: 9781400306343)
original title: My Life as a Belching Baboon with Bad Breath (The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle)

2.5 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:
Wally’s got a bad case of the “I WANTS!”  All his friends have way cooler stuff than he does, and he hates it. Even his prayers have turned into, “Dear God, gimmie, gimmie, gimmie, oh yeah, and gimmie some more” . . . Until Dad drags him along on some aid project to Africa . . . Until Wally gets majorly lost in the wilderness . . . Until he’s attacked by hiccupping hippos, rampaging rhinos, and a herd of baboons who have some pretty weird eating habits . . . Until he meets a boy his age who shows him what really counts in life and the key to real happiness.

My Thoughts:
I can definitely see how this book would appeal to (mostly) pre-adolescent boys. It’s full of body function humor, written in a way that little boys (and some girls) find extremely funny. As such, it really didn’t do a whole lot for me, but I would (and hopefully will) get a kick out of hearing giggles from somewhere in the house when my kiddo is able to read this one on his own. As titles go, this one ranks near the top in terms of creativity and general hilarity, and I would venture to guess that, to some extent, it will draw kids to this book who might not otherwise be inclined to read. I mean, belching and bad breath in one title…what’s better than that in the eyes of an 8 year old?? And the bonus is, of course, that there is reasonably good teaching point at the end about happiness.

I’m definitely keeping this one on the shelf for my little guy, who will likely find it hilarious, but I hope that I never have to read it again. 🙂 

REVIEW: Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

Audio CD, 5 disks (5 hours)

Published November 4th 2002 by BBC Audiobooks (first published June 1st 1999)
ISBN: 1855491893 (ISBN13: 9781855491892)
original title: Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #1)
literary awards: Printz Honor (2001)
2 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
There are six things very wrong with my life:

1. I have one of those under-the-skin spots that will never come to a head but lurk in a red way for the next two years.

2. It is on my nose

3. I have a three-year-old sister who may have peed somewhere in my room.

4. In fourteen days the summer hols will be over and then it will be back to Stalag 14 and Oberfuhrer Frau Simpson and her bunch of sadistic teachers.

5. I am very ugly and need to go into an ugly home.

6. I went to a party dressed as a stuffed olive.

In this wildly funny journal of a year in the life of Georgia Nicolson, British author Louise Rennison has perfectly captured the soaring joys and bottomless angst of being a teenager. In the spirit of Bridget Jones’s Diary, this fresh, irreverent, and simply hilarious book will leave you laughing out loud. As Georgia would say, it’s “Fabbity fab fab!”

My Thoughts:
I had almost finished a relatively detailed review of this book, and I lost it, so here’s the short version:

The book was funny enough…I laughed out loud in a few places.
The title is provocative and funny…definitely one of the more creative titles I’ve seen.
The audio narrator was brilliant!

Georgia is a shallow, self-absorbed, snobby, selfish, disrespectful, mean, rude, boy-crazy girl with (virtually) no redeeming qualities.

Georgia’s parents are (apparently) oblivious, and she gets away with murder. She is disrespectful in words & deeds, and a competent parent would take her down a peg or two…quickly.

Georgia seems to believe the world should revolve around her, and is somewhat astonished when it doesn’t.

Georgia is way too sex-crazed at 14 years old.

Georgia is a terrible literary example for adolescent girls, and the things she says & does are grossly inappropriate for kids of that age, male or female.

THE AUTHOR is an adult and should have better judgment about what is appropriate for early teen girls.

As a reader, I am loathe to support any type of literary censorship except that which I do for myself. However, as an involved parent, I will draw the line on books like this for my adolescent kids. When they’re older and better able to maturely evaluate material like this, they can read it, but not at age 14. These are not the values I want to instill in my children, nor do I want the good values the do have to be undermined by this type of literature (and I use that word VERY loosely).

I am glad I read it. Why? Because I want to make decisions about YA lit out of a position of knowledge rather rather than having knee-jerk reactions borne out of ignorance.

REVIEW: Dear Author: Letters of Hope by Joan Kaywell

Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 1st 2007 by Philomel
ISBN: 0399237054 (ISBN13: 9780399237058)
original title: Dear Author: Letters of Hope (Top Young Adult Authors Respond to Kids’ Toughest Issues)
2 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:
To millions of kids, the books they read are more than entertainment— they are mirrors to hold up to their own lives. And the creators of those books are more than just writers—they are mentors, confidants, friends, sometimes the only ones who understand. There is often an unspoken, unseen bond between an author and his or her readers.

Dear Author brings this bond to light for the whole world to see and to celebrate. Laurie Halse Anderson, Chris Crutcher, Jerry Spinelli, Christopher Paul Curtis, and many more of today’s bestselling YA authors respond to this intimate mix of heartbreaking and heartwarming letters, giving a glimpse into the hearts and souls of kids today, and the writers who have changed their lives. It’s nothing short of inspirational.

My Thoughts:
I got about 1/3 of the way through this book and decided to put it down. It was interesting enough for the part that I read, but I just got bored with it after a while. So my take is that it’s a great idea, but in a more limited scope, and perhaps picking reader letters that are real standouts. A lot of these letters just seemed like run of the mill teenage musings. The other thing that bogged me down was the occasional author preachiness, which was somewhat off-putting. Again, a great idea if done exceptionally well, and that is not how I would characterize this effort.

REVIEW: The Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend

Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 1st 1997 by Harper Perennial (first published 1986)

ISBN: 0380730448 (ISBN13: 9780380730445)
original title:
The Complete Adrian Mole Diaries: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole
3 stars (or maybe 2.5 stars) 
Goodreads Synopsis:

Adrian Mole faces the same agonies that life sets before most adolescents: trouble s with girls, school, parents, and an uncaring world. The difference, though, between young Master Mole and his peers is that this British lad keeps a diary—an earnest chronicle of longing and disaster that has charmed more than five million readers since its two-volume initial publication. From teenaged Adrian’s anguished adoration of a lovely, mercurial schoolmate to his view of his parents’ constantly creaking  relationship to his heartfelt but hilarious attempts at cathartic verse, here is an outrageous triumph of deadpan—and deadly accurate—satire. ABBA, Princess Di’s wedding, street punks, Monty Python, the Falklands campaign . . . all the cultural pageantry of a keenly observed era marches past the unique perspective of Sue Townsend’s brilliant comic creation: A . Mole, the unforgettable lad whose self-absorption only gets funnier as his life becomes more desperate.

 My Thoughts:
OK, I did enjoy this book. There were lots of hilarious things about it, but over all, I got tired of it. Mostly, I got tired of what a self-absorbed, selfish, ridiculously naive, snobby, hypochondriacal, pain in the ass that Adrian was. I mean, he was completely without any sense, although he fancied himself the most sensible of anyone…which in the context of his family, he probably was. The shtick got old after a while, perhaps because it seemed like between the ages of 13 3/4 and 16 he didn’t seem to really wise up at all. I thought I might read more of these, considering the comedic factor, but I think I’m finished.

REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Audio CD, 6 disks (6.5 hours)
Published January 28th 2006 by Recorded Books (first published February 1st 1999)

ISBN:1419387243 (ISBN13: 9781419387241)
original title:The Perks of Being a Wallflower
characters:Patrick, Charlie, Sam

4.5 stars overall / 3 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.

My Thoughts:
** spoiler alert ** Before starting to review this book, I read a lot of reviews on it to get a sense of what others were saying about it. This may be cheating, but in this case, I was having a lot of trouble coalescing a lot of impressions into any sort of articulate analysis, and reading other reviews has really helped me organize my thoughts.

I had a lot of personal reactions to this book because of the fact that so many of the references were cultural staples during the time I was a high school student. Contrary to what some reviewers stated – that the cultural references were out of date and/or unrealistic, I think they were pretty much spot on. I was in college during 1991-92, but as a high schooler I remember the cult of Rocky Horror (though I was not a part of it), and I remember the whispering, bullying, shunning, etc. that those on the fringes received in high school. At that time, the fringes included homosexuals, artsy types, druggies (and those who dabbled), super smarties, and of course all the other standard groups. There is no question that taunting, bullying and the like happened to the fringes kids. There is no question in my mind that Charlie would have experienced that type of treatment. I don’t know how high schools are now, but I expect things have not changed a whole lot with regard to kids who are weird, unfashionable, or different. It is certainly realistic to me that oddballs tend to draw to each other, especially if they have any kind of kindred feelings and kindness toward others like them as a result. Chbosky was hardly speaking of the mainstream high school kids here, so that the mismatched element to this group of friends seems right to me.

With specific regard to Patrick & Brad, and how they navigated their relationship, I think to some extent you have to have lived through the 80s and early 90s to understand some of their behaviors. Attitudes were a lot different toward homosexuality…it wasn’t as mainstream as it is today, especially in high school. There absolutely were known areas to go for the purpose of casual sex. It wasn’t at all easy to “come out.” Additionally, this was before there was a widespread understand of sexually transmitted disease, and the risky behaviors (meeting in the park after dark to hook up with an unknown person) that made one a high risk candidate.

I think Charlie’s voice rang absolutely true in the book. He was smart, weird, emotional and broken. He felt completely responsible for the death of his Aunt Helen because she died on his birthday while out to buy him a present. What teenager wouldn’t feel like that to some extent, especially a teen who had other emotional and psychological issues (as we learn at the end). I certainly did not expect that turn of events, but in the end, it explained a lot about Charlie and his fragility.

I also think that, again contrary to what some reviews suggest, it was completely realistic for Charlie’s parents to be somewhat naive to what was going on in his life. For a kid who had emotional & psychological problems – from which he appeared to have largely recovered – they were realistically and understandably glad that he had made some friends. He had a teacher at school who showed particular interest in him because he was so smart…as a parent, especially one who was unaware of the molestation, this would be a welcome experience. I remember going through high school and being pretty much autonomous when it came to my academic decisions…not surprising when you’re a responsible student, and Charlie was definitely that. Now I do think that they were ridiculously out of touch when it came to his social schedule, but there are a lot of kids out there who, at 15 or 16, have an inordinate amount of freedom (and free time). It seems understandable to me that this inattention to his activities is part & parcel of their characters, and also of their happiness at seeing him make some new friends…especially after his best friend committed suicide.

Finally, it is easy to see why this book created controversy. While I didn’t see it as encouraging deviant behavior necessarily, I can see how the fact that it was accepted and there weren’t really any negative consequences could make Charlie’s 9th grade experience seem exotic and desirable. He was essentially a good kid who went through a lot of crap, so this whole situation is an anomaly. But then again, back in my high school days when we were reading Catcher in the Rye (to which Perks of Being a Wallflower has been compared), Holden Caulfield’s experiences were an anomaly as well. I don’t know that I’d be comfortable as a parent with it being on a required reading list, but I’m not a believer in censoring lit, nor in being an uninvolved parent. I believe it should be available, and parents should know what their kids are reading so they can, when necessary, talk about it.

All in all, I loved this book. I loved the epistolary format. I loved that Charlie had an emotional outlet. I loved that his family pulled together when it counted. I loved that he had a teacher who was interested in him for his brains, and who was not a pervert. I loved that he had friends like Sam & Patrick…because there are kind kids out there, and there is always a net gain when people are kind to each other. And I loved most of all that he recovered. To me, that may be the most important part of this whole story…that you can recover, that suicide is not the answer, and that help is available when you need it.