A new favorite children’s book

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
3 words: charming, old-fashioned, feel-good
UNIVERSE!!!!! Why didn’t you give me this book when I was a child?
I seriously would’ve loved it.
I mean, I’m seriously loving it as an adult, though: some of the magic that would’ve been there as a kid… let’s face it: it diminishes with age.
Still, this is one of those lovely books about childhood, that does all the usual things. Only it does it better than most books.

The language alone got me. Like this: 

“He had a cowboy hat on the back of his head, and four pistols stuck into his belt, and a plastic ray gun in his hand. ‘I heard there’s a guy here who likes to play Space,’ he announced.
Foster rose from his chair. ‘I’m who he is,’ he told the boy.”  (p. 20)

See? Charming.

Here’s what goes on, plot-wise:
First, the parents are dispelled with, because parents are a buzzkill in children’s books. So Portia, who’s spending the summer with her aunt and uncle, and her cousin Julian are allowed to wander off for All Day Long, with very little explanation of their whereabouts.
(Granted, the book was published in the 1950s, and It Was a Different Time Back Then. But still.)
And there’s the typical boy-and-girl close childhood friendship that often happens in books, but not so often in real life. (Am I wrong about that?) Though here it’s a friendship between cousins, so I found it more plausible.
And Portia and Julian, while roving in the woods, encounter a tumbledown series of houses that have been almost abandoned. Except that an older lady and her brother inhabit two of the houses.
At first, I wasn’t sure if they were real people or ghosts. (I’m not gonna tell, either.)
Anyway, they’re delightful, and they invite the children to take over one of the other houses as a clubhouse.
And dang, that was totally my childhood dream! They have a secret hideaway, people! And they decorate it!
Oh, it’s a lovely book.
And I’m still mystified over how it eluded me for so many years.
Here’s how it finally presented itself to me:
First, I was listening to the What Should I Read Next? podcast, episode 21, in which Anne suggests books to her 8-year-old daughter. And Gone-Away Lake was one of the books. (I put it on my TBR right that minute.)
Then I was looking for a children’s book for our book club, since often we read children’s books in the summer. And I looked at one of Gretchen Rubin’s posts about the children’s literature groups she belongs to. And guess what book was on her list of favorites?
And now it’s one of my favorites, too.
So, my fellow adults… What children’s book did you discover only in your dotage?

In which Book Bingo lures me into the garden…

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
3 words: gentle, hopeful, old-fashioned
If you’re a gardener, this book is likely to send you into a bliss attack.
For us non-gardeners, sometimes Burnett lays it on a little thick.
The raptures induced by gardening seem a bit overblown to me, but then I took a step back and thought, “If they were talking about the effects of reading, rather than gardening, I’d be totally on board.”
So I cut the woman some slack.
I’m classics-avoidant, so the “Children’s Classic” Book Bingo square had me rather holding my nose.
But I’m glad I finally read this book; it seemed like a book I should’ve liked as a child (I wouldn’t’ve liked it as a child), but I dodged it quite artfully for all these decades.
It’s a bit of a treacly tale, but also somewhat heartwarming.
But geez Louise, I despise heartwarming. It’s amazing I survived this book. I think the occasional surliness on the part of Mary and her sickly cousin Colin helped cut the sweetness just enough to keep the concoction palatable.
And while I’m not the sort who would ever be redeemed by digging in the dirt and coaxing plants out of the earth, I get it that for some people, this is really the thing.
So… two spoiled rotten children become kindly, decent humans, and it’s largely due to the garden and the sweet nature of a young boy who charms the animals.
The thing that got me in the end is that this is the story of people making their lives better. I’m a sucker for that storyline every time.
A simple tale, but given that it falls into the dreaded Children’s Classic category, remarkably pleasant.

1st book I read during my 1st read-a-thon

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
While reading this book, I was reminded of the way I felt when reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin for the first time. Let me tell you—from me, praise just don’t get much higher than that.
For the first time in a while, I’ve found a book I can see myself re-reading many times—I’d’ve felt this way for certain if I’d read this book as a child (which would require time travel of my own, since this book was published in 2009).
Miranda is a 12-year-old girl living in New York City with her mom, an under-employed paralegal who is preparing to appear on The $20,000 Pyramid (this book is set in the late 1970s).
Miranda finds herself involved in a weird plot in which she receives small notes containing mysterious messages. As the story progresses, she figures out that the messages are written by someone who has seen the future. (Time travel!) The book itself, told in Miranda’s voice, is written as a response to the person who leaves her the messages.
There’s all kinds of good stuff here: friendships that are in transition (oh, the pain of it when one is 12!), a parent who is a real person with her own interests and issues, references to the wonderful A Wrinkle in Time, and a cast of charming characters who would be interesting to know even if they weren’t embroiled in a thrilling time travel plot.
By the end of the book, I felt like I was just about to explode with joy.
This is a very good book. I rest my case.

Sequel: Better than the Original

Anastasia Again by Lois Lowry

Anastasia returns in this second book in the series, following her introduction in Anastasia Krupnik. I adore the first book, but I absolutely love, love, love the second.

Anastasia is dismayed when her parents decide to move from the city (Boston) to the suburbs. She decides to make the situation impossible for them and requests a house with a tower—and her parents find a house that fits the bill. Her parents are terrific, and they are as amusing as Anastasia herself; and her brother, young Sam Krupnik, is charming as all get-out.

When I met the author, she mentioned that someone had tried to ban the book, because Anastasia threatens to throw herself out a window on page 1. Needless to say, I was appalled at the book banning attempt—and, I have to admit, somewhat mystified. Since the window in question is ground-floor, the situation is downright funny because Anastasia, her parents, and the reader know she’s exaggerating for effect. Good grief. This was one of the moments that most endeared the book to me as a child and now as an adult.

This One Stands the Test of Time

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game is, hands down, the book I’ve re-read the most often. Since age 10, I’m guessing I’ve re-read this book about once every 2 years. And it’s still magical. Plus, with every reading, I pick up on a new clue the author dropped very cleverly into the story. It’s a puzzle mystery of the finest sort. Here’s the set-up: A wonderfully diverse and quirky group of people receive invitations to move into a beautiful new high-rise building along the shores of Lake Michigan. While they appear to have little in common with one another, the 16 new residents all soon are summoned to the Westing mansion, where they learn they are all potential heirs to the Westing fortune… if they can solve the puzzle Sam Westing has devised for them. They are divided into unlikely-matched teams of two, and they tackle the clues they have been given. Young Turtle is perhaps the main character, and she’s the kind of person a reader can grow up with; she was a good friend when I was 10, and I still like her today. Why can’t all books be this good?

How Could I Resist a Book with This Title?

The Ghost, the White House, and Me by Judith St. George

KayKay is an 11-year-old whose mother has recently been inaugurated as President. As the family adjusts to their move to the White House, KayKay and her younger sister Annie begin to hear stories of the White House ghosts. Annie describes a mysterious Lincoln-esque figure who helped the movers, and KayKay becomes entranced by the idea of sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom in order to see a ghost. When her mother finally allows the girls to stay overnight in this famous room, the experience is not what they expected. (Instead, it’s much more interesting.) A fine children’s book for the mid-elementary grades, which admirably refuses to sugarcoat the experience of having a Presidential parent.

The Lost Is Found

The Eyes of the Amaryllis by Natalie Babbitt

The lost book of my childhood. When I was about 11 years old, I checked it out from the library, loved the book, returned it, and went to the shelf to find it again later – to no avail. I could remember the area of the shelves (near the beginning of the alphabet) where I’d found the book initially, and I made the pilgrimage back over and over again, searching for the “amaryllis” book. I should have asked a librarian! Years and years later, when online catalogs appeared in libraries, I did a title keyword search on “amaryllis” and found my long-lost book. Hooray for technology! The nifty thing is that this little tale – of searching for something that is lost – is also a theme of the book itself. And, wonderfully, when I re-read the book as an adult, the book was as wondrous as I had remembered. Young Jenny visits her widowed grandmother, who lives by the sea. Years ago, her husband, a sea captain, went down with his ship, and now Gran walks along the shore and waits for a sign from her beloved. And as she does so, a mysterious stranger watches her… Love, loss, and longing. Haunting.