I woke up this morning and checked my phone to a slew of tweets from Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, and Levar Burton informing me that in the UK, it’s World Book Day, wherein British children go to school dressed as their favorite literary characters. It was simultaneously amazing and infuriating. WHY CAN’T WE HAVE THAT IN THE US??? Maybe if we did, Donald Trump wouldn’t have a frighteningly good shot at the presidency, just sayin’. I was already a little late waking up, but I slapped on a pretty dress and coat and floral headband just so I could say I went to school as Sara Crewe.
So yeah, besides stirring intense jealousy towards our friends across the pond (my lovely British friend at Her Campus tells me World Book Day involved not only bookish costumes, but free books in schools *sob*), it got me thinking about my own childhood in books. In the spirit of the current obsession with nostalgia that’s given us Mad Max: Fury Road but also resurrected flared jeans and spawned Fuller House, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite books and series from my elementary school years.
Obviously, this is a very incomplete list! My Children’s Lit class made me realize how fractured my childhood reading experiences were. I was a voracious reader, devouring Greek mythology, fairy tales, and Roald Dahl at various times. For some reason, though, I skipped over many of the most popular books, like The Baby-Sitters Club and A Wrinkle in Time. Part of it was being a first-generation Chinese-American: my dad always made sure I read a lot, and read me classic stories, but I wasn’t always introduced to the “canonical” reads like Anne of Green Gables. Another part was that at a young age I had a distinct preference for the snarky, postmodern takes on genre fiction. It’s also striking to realize how little diversity there really was–the only really memorable Asian character I can think of is Miss Scarlet, depicted in the illustrations of Clue book 5 onwards as Asian (a little oddly–it seems to evoke the 1930s “Dragon Lady” trope of the exotic Oriental seductress). And with that, the trip down memory lane starts with…
Sure, I loved Nancy Drew, but I adored these goddamn ’90s board game tie-ins. I loved the black humor, zany antics, and over-the-top, sociopathic characters. It’s a little weird to realize how much these books shaped my sense of humor during my formative years, actually. Also, whatever her race is (and I picture her to this day as Asian, because 13/18 books had the newer illustrations), shamelessly flirtations, vain, and sarcastic Miss Scarlet was the best character. Salty Mrs. White was second.
Another non-classic, non-mega-bestselling children’s series that had a huge influence on me. I was really into Greek mythology (I find it depressing now), and here begins my interest in deconstructionist “fractured fairy tale” retellings.
Children of the Red King
I only finished this series last summer (I stopped after book 6, but then decided I ought to formally go all the way with a series I’d loved so much). Looking back, it’s weird to realize how haphazard the plotting, characterization, and world-building are with these books. I really loved them once, though. By far the most imagination is in the unusual powers of the endowed children. Picture-traveling, psychic readings through clothes, conjuring up spirit ancestors, blowing up electric lights…
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Here’s a series that needs no introduction. Who’s excited for the Netflix adaptation?!? I always had a bit of a Goth streak, and the mordant wit and sharp intelligence of these books are delicious. I also learned many vocab words from these books!
A Little Princess
Probably my favorite standalone novel as a child, and the first “classic” that I read in its original form and truly loved. I adored the storytelling aspect–girls’ fiction has a lot of writing heroines (probably outnumbered only by horse-riding heroines), but imagination and magic was invariably associated with Sara Crewe for me.
The Sisters Grimm
Probably the best of the non-Rowling and Snicket series I read during my obsession with modern fantasy. Besides being very clever and funny, I remember identifying passionately with Sabrina Grimm. Part of the reason I always liked Sara Crewe is that I also had a temper, but anger really came to the forefront with Sabrina, just around the time I was starting puberty and hormonal angst.
And then there’s the really obvious one. Revisiting these series for Children’s Lit renewed my appreciation for these books–though they have their flaws, in many ways they’re still the gold standard for me as far as plotting, world-building, and sustaining an epic story across many books, far more than other children’s series. Also, Hermione. Best damn character, hands down. In fifth grade, my teacher told me my library books were overdue–Camino Grove Elementary, A History. I’m ending on that note because I bloody can.
So those were some of my most beloved childhood reads. What were yours? Have you celebrated World Books Day? If so, I hate you. You’re awesome. But I hate you.