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Editor’s Pick
MAY 30, 2010 11:47AM

Unusual Summer Reading Choices Open Call

Rate: 19 Flag

   Jack PumpkinheadThe Land of Oz


While there are series going on into infinity, including more fantasy series than Gandalf can shake a stick at, let's look at some more interesting choices.  Warning to readers:  you may have to enter a public library to have access to these books.  Further warning:  public libraries are free because they are taxpayer-supported, which means you are paying for them whether you use them or not.  Further further warning:  if you think that your measly tax dollars buy everything the library needs, you are sadly mistaken and you should send a donation today.

 I could have called this the Nostalgic Summer Reading List.  Most of these books were written in the 1940s to 1960s.  They were around when I was a kid and I loved them then.  I have re-read them as an adult and find that they are just as wonderful as I thought, and deeper than I knew.

  1.  Half-Magic by Edward Eager.  Four children who are being brought up by their working mom, find a coin on the sidewalk.  Strange things start happening to them.  The book includes a take off on days of chivalry that will have you in stitches.  There are four other books "related" to this one.

  Gone Away LakeJoe & Beth Krush cover


 2.  Gone Away Lake.  Elizabeth Enright has a way of describing old houses and old times in a way that would make antique store owners of all of us.  This book has a charming setting and characters.  There is a sequel, Return to Gone Away Lake.  If you like Enright, The Melendy family series (The Four Story Mistake, etc) is also charming.  

3.  House of Dies Drear.  I read this Newbery Award-winning mystery as a child and never even "twigged" that the family in it was black. Set in the 1960s, it describes a house on the Underground Railway with a mysterious past.  Virginia Hamilton eventually wrote a sequel to the book.

4.  All-of-a-Kind Family.  Sidney Taylor set this "Family Novel" in New York in the 1910s, this Jewish family with five daughters celebrates life and the Jewish traditions that bind them closer together in a New World.  There are several sequels.

5.  The Oz Books by L. Frank Baum.  Dorothy kept going back to Oz, and other American girls kept landing in or near it for nearly a dozen sequels.  You can grow to love Glinda, the Scarecrow, the Tin-Man, and a few others.  The original series has breath-taking illustrations in Art Nouveau style by J. O'Neill (thanks for the correction).  The books are available in Dover paperbacks that use the original illustrations.

6.  The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  This Newbery Award winner by Elizabeth George Speare holds up as a story of a strange time in early America.  There is a newer award-winning novel, The Sacrifice, by Kathleen Benner Duble, that is also set in the Salem Witch Trial period.  I have fond memories of  Sophia Scrooby Preserved, by Martha Bacon (now sadly out of print), a charming historical novel about a young girl who was enslaved in the late 1700s who lives to triumph.

sophia scrooby preserved Sadly Out of Print!

7.  The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton.  Jane Langton, now one of our venerable national treasures, writes pure American fantasy.  These books are as solidly set in Concord, Massachusetts as they are in the hearts of her faithful readers.  Books that can be read by adults as well as kids--with messages of love, trust, honesty, tolerance, conservation, and respect for our fellow living beings.  Funny and true.  There are several sequels that Langton has written over the course of nearly 50 years, including The Fledgling, which won the Newbery Medal.

Green KnoweOne of the original moody cover designs

8.  The Greene Knowe series by L. M. Boston.  For some mysterious reasons, you can find A Stranger at Green Knowe in print more often than the other titles.  This is a loose series--I would recommend reading it in publication order.  Green Knowe is a real house in England that Boston bought and found inspirational enough to write five fantasy novels set in and around the house.  If you have any interest in English history or like old houses or fantasy, this series is not to be missed.

9.  The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken is one of the few books on this list that rightly won the Newbery Medal.  Aiken, one of a family of writers, went on to write sequel after sequel to this book, each of them moving closer to fantasy and all including an alternative history for the Guy Fawkes period of British and world history.  As an adult I have come to embrace the characters of Peter and Dido, who become amazingly resourceful adults and adventurers.  I can recommend that American children read Wolves, Black Hearts in Battersea, and Nightbirds off Nantucket. The later sequels seem to me to require more knowledge of history and English customs to be accessible to children--but they are fun to read if you are at all Anglophile.


The Scariest Children's Book Cover from the 60s--At least it scared me!

  House of Dies Drear


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Thanks for a marvelous list! I will be looking for these to read soon.

A correction about Oz book illustrations:
Reilly was publisher for many years.
The first book "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was illustrated in art nouveau style by W.W. Denslow.
The best illustrations, in my opinion, and as shown in the image you have here, were done by John R. Neill.
What a great list, nolalibrarian. I haven't read most of these, but I loved the sequels to The Wizard of Oz.
I have The Witch of Blackwood Pond here and have read it many times as the movie The Village copied it some how..:)
Rated with hugs and love to read
Marvellous choices. I would add "Charlie, Champion of the World" by Roald Dahl in that list. I read it so many times, I cannot remember. I love the love between the father and the son and the lessons it teaches in such entertaining ways. ~R~
I loved The Witch of Blackberry Pond and most of the Newberry winners of that era -- Mrs. Frisbee, Incident at Hawk's Hill, From the Mixed Up Files of Mr and Mrs Basil E. Frankenweiler, Strawberry Girl (all Lois Lenski -- Mama Hattie's Girl), The Hundred Dresses, Island of the Blue many memories, of so many afternoons huddled in my bed, reading and reading and reading.
What a fascinating list! My favorite Jane Langton titles - "Her Majesty Grace Jones" and "The Boyhood of Grace Jones." (I think Bell & I were separated at birth - we read the same books!)
I haven't thought about the Witch of Blackbird Pond in a very long time. Many of these titles I don't know but will look for them--my kids are, happily, avid readers. We do have several of the OZ books--first editions picked up at a used bookstore owned by friends.
Thanks for dropping by. I just like to spread the word about some tremendous books out there--which sometimes are not that easy to find.
Nothing like a list that has stood the test of time.
Wow, so many that I'm not familiar with. Fantastic! Thank you very much for such a unique and well-researched list. I'll just print this baby out.
Great list, you can always trust a librarian!!!rrrrrr
I'm amazed that the only one I know is the Oz series. And I grew up in the 50s, with a book always in my hand. You're a great resource!
HAven't read a one.......YET!!! Thanks for the list.
First off, congrats on the EP!! WOOOOO!!! Second, here some love, in the form of a rate!! WOOOOOHOOOOOOO!! :D

Great piece and great selection of reads!!! ~runs off to his local library~
Hey, more of my reader-type friends. Yeah, these are books I'm happy about. After nearly four years in the Children's Room, I have seen or held thousands of juvenile books, and some of them the older books were just as trashy as the new ones--maybe with better style, but the same lack of deeper content. Some youth literature is really wrongly segregated--because it's wonderful writing. Jane Langton's Hall family series is a series of philosophical discussions in the form of children's novels--how about that? Tink! I love you.
Ok, so maybe I *didn't* actually read much as a kid. Whoa. This one's a total wishlist-spree, I'm looking forward to the Greene Knowe ones the Enright in particular.
what a great list!and kudos for suggesting books that are slightly off the beaten path.
Adding The Greene Knowe to my Goodreads list. Thanks for the recommendation!
You will be so proud of me...I have all of the books except The Oz Books. I can testify, it is a superb list.
Great list! I love _The House of Dies Drear_ and was fortunate enough to meet Virginia Hamilton several years ago (she is now deceased). I had read the book to my fifth graders that year, and they were thrilled with her autograph and personal inscription to them. What a wonderful lady.
Great list. Do you know if all the books are still in print?
Fay--You win the Reader's Award!

Fingerlakes--Most of these books are in print at the moment. But there are several that are out of print. The excellent Jane Langton Hall Family series goes in and out of print in paperback editions. Sophia Scrooby Preserved by Martha Bacon has been out of print for a long time, even though it was able to make it into one of excellent paperback editions of the 1960s: Dell Yearling. I promise it is worth looking for and getting via interlibrary loan or in a used edition. Taylor s All-of-a-Kind Family series is another you may need a library card to access. Once again, your public library is your friend!
Great list! Thanks. SO many good books, SO little time!!