Friday, April 29, 2011

15 Favorite Children's Books

Organized by author's last name.

1. Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander

What it’s about: Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper, aspires to adventure and heroism. He gets what he wishes for, and more.

Books in series: The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, The High King

Why it’s essential: I didn’t actually read this series until middle school, and when I did I thought, Why haven’t I read this yet? These books are a classic “coming-of-age” story. Plenty of action, but plenty of emotional growth as well. Idealistic and heartwarming.

2. Tales from Dimwood Forest, by Avi

What it’s about: Mice. Mice being heroes, mice going on adventures, mice struggling with personal/moral quandaries, mice playing out relatable themes and stories. I’m doing a bad job of explaining this.

Books in series: Ragweed, Poppy, Poppy and Rye, Ereth’s Birthday, Poppy’s Return, Poppy and Ereth

Why it’s essential: talking animals in a realistic setting, bravery, adventures. But mostly because I loved this series to death in third grade.

3. Dark is Rising Sequence, by Susan Cooper

What it’s about: Good v. evil. An eleven-year-old English boy named Will Stanton discovers that he is part of an ancient struggle between the Light and the Dark. And, in case you couldn’t guess from the title, the Dark is rising.

Books in series: Over Sea, Under Stone; Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; Silver on the Tree (if you’re starting the series at 10+, skip OSUS)

Why it’s essential: Imagination, magic, bravery, and tough choices. I can’t say I loved all the characters (the Drews bored me), but Bran is one of the more effectual “loner” characters I’ve read. Complex and beautifully written, with plenty of shoutouts to mythology and Arthurian legend.

4. Magic Shop series, by Bruce Coville

What it’s about: Each book is a separate story (though there are occasional cameos) in which a child stumbles across Elives’ Magic Shop and finds a magical object. Hilarity, character development, and poignancy ensue.

Books in series: The Monster’s Ring; Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher; Jennifer Murdley’s Toad; The Skull of Truth; Juliet Dove, Queen of Love (start with any, though I recommend JTDH)

Why it’s essential: I can’t explain how much I love Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. That was, I think, one of the few books I actually got teary-eyed over in third grade. These books are absolutely amazing: deep without smacking the morals over your head, rich in humor and character, and overall filled with a glorious sense of wonder that had the eight-year-old me reeling with inspiration.

5. Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
What it’s about: Milo is always bored. One afternoon, he receives a magical tollbooth that leads him to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Wordplay, puns, and a host of quirky characters accompany him on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

Why it’s essential: this book is so whimsical and witty. A real gem. Sure, a kid may not get every piece of wordplay in this, but the adventure is the sort you can sink your teeth into. The ending is brilliant.

6. King Matt the First, by Janusz Korczak

What it’s about: After his father’s death, young Matt becomes king. In a world guided by pragmatic reality, can his childlike and idealistic method of ruling succeed?

Books in series: King Matt the First, King Matt on a Deserted Island (the second book hasn’t been translated to English yet. Sadface.)

Why it’s essential: I love this book. Sosososo very much. Matt’s adventures are colorful and well-crafted and the writing is full of a quaintly awesome charm. The best part of the book, though, is the characters. Klu Klu, the African princess, is a BAMF. And Matt himself – you can’t not cheer for this kid.

7. A Book Dragon, by Donn Kushner

What it’s about: A dragon called Nonesuch, last in his line, shrinks and has many adventures through several centuries.

Why it’s essential: here is another book that I lovelovelove. One word to describe it would be magical. Another, melancholy. Yet a third, hopeful. There is a hint of sadness, of nostalgia, to this book, a longing for times past where there must have been more magic, but behind the sadness there is joy. Who knows what other remnants from a time more enchanting are tucked away in the corners of today?

8. Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

What it’s about: Jesse becomes friends with Leslie, a girl as fast as she is imaginative, and together they create their own magical land of “Terabithia” as they deal with problems in real life.

Why it’s essential: the movie was terrible. The book was not. When I read it as an eight-year-old, I was daydreaming about creating my own wooded empire for days. The ending might smack you right in the gut, but it’s worth it.

9. Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

What it’s about: Eccentric rich guy Sam Westing has been found dead at his manor. A seemingly random assortment of people must go through a series of clues to find the truth of his inheritance.

Why it’s essential: Plot twists like you will not believe. Unlike a lot of children’s mystery (Nancy Drew, I’m looking at you) it’s smart, not just clever. The truth will surprise you the first time you read it (nine-year-old me was absolutely floored) but it makes sense in so many ways.

10. Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling

What it’s about: yeah, like there’s anyone who hasn’t heard of Harry Potter. An eleven-year-old boy finds out that he is a wizard and, upon entering Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, enters a world of magic and danger.

Books in series: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone in the original UK version), HP and the Chamber of Secrets, HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban, HP and the Goblet of Fire, HP and the Order of the Phoenix, HP and the Half-Blood Prince, HP and the Deathly Hallows

Why it’s essential: I got it when I turned 7. Best birthday present ever. Amazing, memorable characters; insanely well-planned-out plot; action/adventure coexisting with lighter school fare…if any series deserved its wild popularity, this is it. The world is so complex and rich that I actually thought I’d get my owl from Hogwarts. Sadly, I went to a regular middle school. Oh, and since I love this series so much: it has serious longevity. I’ve been a fan for over half my life. Also, since I was born in the summer like Harry and there are seven books to correspond with the seven grades after elementary school in most American school systems (3 years of middle school + 4 years of high school), I reread the book corresponding to my grade level every year (i.e. book 4 freshman year) and, since the protagonists are the same age as me, it gains a new level of relevance.

11. Wayside School series, by Louis Sachar

What it’s about: Shenanigans go on at the eccentric Wayside School.

Books in series: Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Wayside School is Falling Down, Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School, More Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School

Why it’s essential: This series is really offbeat and funny. There are a lot of characters of whom it might be difficult to keep track, but these stories amused me greatly in elementary school.

12. Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden

What it’s about: A Connecticut cricket called Chester ends up in Times Square. He is taken in by Mario Bellini, a boy whose family runs a newsstand, and the streetwise Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat. Chester’s musical talent brings prosperity and fame, but will that really make him happy?

Books in series: the only other ones I’ve read are Tucker’s Countryside and Harry Kitten & Tucker Mouse

Why it’s essential: I have a confession: I did not actually read this book. My first grade teachers read it to the class and we really enjoyed it. Because I love cats, Harry was my favorite, but bombastic Tucker, mild Chester, and the assorted human characters were all highly empathetic. The story has a bit more depth to it than the sentient-animals-meets-fish-out-of-water (sorry – cricket-out-of-countryside would work better) premise would suggest. A thoroughly charming and heartwarming story.

13. Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket

What it’s about: After their parents die in a fire, the Baudelaire siblings – Violet, Klaus, and Sunny – are shuffled around to various relatives, pursued always by the menacing Count Olaf.

Books in series: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, The Carnivorous Carnival, The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril, The End

Why it’s essential: As the titles probably warn, this is not a happy series. But there is a certain catharsis in reading them, and the Baudelaires’ resourcefulness is likely to appeal to any kid who has an adventurous streak (and what kid doesn’t?). Also, Snicket’s voice is different, which in this situation means interesting and fun to read.

14. Shadow of a Bull, by Maia Wojciechowska

What it’s about: Manolo’s father was a great bullfighter, and it seems everyone wants Manolo to take his place. Everyone, that is, except Manolo.

Why it’s essential: The above was just a half-truth. What this book is really about is following your dreams and doing right by yourself, rather than following the path someone else has laid out for you. It has plenty of surface action (bullfighting, come on), but I bet any kid will pick up on and appreciate the deeper meaning along with the oles. Apart from all that, the writing is fantastic.

15. Enchanted Forest series, by Patricia C. Wrede

What it’s about: Princess Cimorene is stifled by her sheltered life and dreading her upcoming marriage to a really, really stupid prince. Her solution? Run away to become a dragon’s princess. Magic, draconian political intrigue, and general awesomeness ensue.

Books in series: Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, Talking to Dragons

Why it’s essential: On a list of my all-time favorite series, this would be right up there either in first or second place. Cimorene was my role model all through elementary school and even now when I go back to reread I am not disappointed. No other series quite ignites my spark for intricate and specific magical systems. No other series portrays dragons quite as I prefer them (on a spectrum of human and not) – or, conversely, it could be said that this series established what I feel is the ideal “dragon type.” I love the humor, I love Wrede’s writing (I’ve gone on to love a lot of her other books), I love how…all right, let’s say I love everything about this series and call it a day, shall we?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

This Week's Reblogs

I realized that I've accumulated a lot of reblog-worthy material this (all right, last) week, so rather than making tons of little posts they're all in one spot:

29 Ways to Stay Creative

flakycake keeps reblogging the awesomest lists.

Original post.

the creative badass manifesto (a work in progress)

Want to be more badass?

I needed to find this article.  And, if you ever experience a moment of self-doubt or crippling inhibition, so did you.  So here it is.

the creative badass manifesto (a work in progress)

From Tribal Writer.

The Future's Not Bright

A post about YA dystopia novels. Of interest to me, given Project Utopia's subject matter.

RUN It’s an opinion

Tracy J. Butler, the talented creater of Lackadaisy, reblogged a post about how film isn't at the apex of the media pyramid. Well worth a read.

Original post.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


A plant without its roots is a dead plant.

"Language is the soul of a nation."

A girl who cannot speak the language of her roots is soulless and dead.

Heritage matters.

It’s an old shame.

Smiling as the bubbles of the mother tongue
Burst over my head, understanding
Out of five parts, three
Mute as the pearls waiting on my tongue
Melt into clean iron lines.

“You look like your mother.”
“You have your father’s hands.”

Resembling millions of other girls
Walking the streets of Shandong, of Anhui,
But how many of them, I wonder,
Are second daughters,
Breathing in numbers
Breathing out silence.

Fond of study like my mother.
Fond of noodles like my father.

What of the more exotic fare
Pushed away with thin-lipped refusal?
Questions and words float through the dust
Like plastic marbles stamped with the words:

“Made in China.”

I shrink under the old eyes passed down for centuries,
Reach out to 4,000 years of history
Folded up into a red paper flower that
Will unfurl with a word that
I, with my leaden Western tongue,
Cannot speak.

Yes, it is an old shame.


Poem written for English class in autumn 2010.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

King Arthur, by Roger Lancelyn Green

Puffin Classics King Arthur And His Knights Of The Round TablePuffin Classics King Arthur And His Knights Of The Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As always, I find it difficult to write a review of a "classic." I mean, it's King Arthur - what is there to say? The stories were pretty interesting. I seem to remember the story of Gawain and his wife with different names from what little I read of Canterbury Tales. I thought the downfall of Logres would be told in more detail. And is the "fairest woman in the world" Guinevere, Enid, or Isolt?

I really want to reread Philip Reeve's book Here Lies Arthur.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 15, 2011


Here it is.

As I say in my intro post over yonder, I don't plan to have it be a clone of this blog.  The tumblr will be more spontaneous, while this blog will be more in-depth.  But that's just what I plan - let's see how it goes.

Gathering Scraps, Claire Massey: Magical

Gathering Scraps, Claire Massey: Magical: "A taster of The Ice Book, a miniature theatre experience created by Davy and Kristin McGuire"


I recently started following the extremely interesting blog Gathering Scraps and, while going through some older posts, came across a simply enchanting video. The original video is below for ease, but seriously, go check out Gathering Scraps. It's awesome.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

STAR Testing, a Sonnet

If I may ask – know you the stress that comes
From studying for tests? Stare you at book
And paper lined ‘til no sense lies in sums?
Forgotten it? Then you I bid – see, look
The test of STAR it’s called and so it looms
Above our heads. These scores, these standards t’which
We strive – our expectations close like tombs.
Are fallen scholars we into a ditch?
We strand ourselves in studi’us forts to peer
Into the notes that once we took and – oh!
Are yet half mem’ry, smudg’d when once ‘twere clear;
These varied facts into our heads we stow.
Mark this: by Scantron and results in mail –
Mark! I these standardized tests shall not fail.


I wrote this last year for a school assignment. As this post publishes, I will be starting my first STAR test of the year. Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Iliad, by Homer

IlliadIlliad by Homer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finally buckled down and finished this book. Not much to say, given that it's been around for thousands of years. It has the same issues as the Odyssey (so much repetition, epithet gluttony, lapses of logic [seriously, gods?]) but it was more interesting. My favorite character has got to be Patroclus because of this speech he gave after spearing a guy on a chariot, who then fell off: "Bless my heart, how active he is, and how well he dives. If we had been at sea this fellow would have dived from the ship's side and brought up as many oysters as the whole crew could stomach, even in rough water, for he has dived beautifully off his chariot on to the ground. It seems, then, that there are divers also among the Trojans."

View all my reviews


I think every time I write a Goodreads review I'll put it up here. This is just a test.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Really Awesome Artist Advice

Flakycake recently put something up on her tumblr that I figured was worth sharing. It's "How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me)."

Original post here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

This is too Much Fun

The site Behind the Name has long been my go-to site whenever I need to find a name for a character (or, with the revision of ProjU, a rename). Last week I spent some time poking around on there and discovered the name ratings. So naturally I looked up some names and discovered:

My name is good, feminine, classic, mature, formal, upperclass, natural, wholesome, refined, strange, serious, and nerdy. These results are extremely pleasing.

Olaf is only number 5 on the "strongest" names. What, Vikings aren't strong enough for you?

One of my friends has a name only a couple of percentage points away from being on that selfsame "strong" names list. That suits.

My cat's name is good, feminine, classic, youthful, formal, upperclass, natural, wholesome, delicate, refined, simple, and serious. I'm really not so sure about the "upperclass" one.

Go knock yourself out.

(By the way, I actually wrote this post last Thursday. Right now I'm all the way across the country and probably can't get to a computer. Hooray for scheduling!)