Back in the day: My favorites as a boy

When I was interviewed for my job at the Decatur Public Library, the head of our children’s department wisely asked, “What were some of your favorite books as a kid?”   I was able to rattle off a several books and series that I had loved.  Since then I’ve thought about it further, and can add many more to that list.  My mom took me weekly to the library to check out my 10 books (the max on a kid’s card then), so I had plenty of favorites.

Here are some of the great stories I loved as a boy and can still recommend today — most of which we still have in our library system.

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron (lexile: 970; AR book level: 6.3; 195 pp)

“Wanted: A small space ship about eight feet long, built by a boy, or by two boys, between the ages of eight and eleven.”

So begins the mysterious newspaper ad that prompts best friends David & Chuck to build their spaceship, and deliver it to the equally mysterious Mr. Bass.  With a mix of solid science and a bit of magic, the three take off for the little planet of Basidium, not too far from Earth, to rescue her people from a plague.  A simple, fun, imaginative adventure — it made me want to build a spaceship myself and find a Mr Bass to empower it to explore the solar system.

The sequels are:

Half Magic, by Edward Eager (lexile: 830; AR book level: 5.0; 217 pp)

Imagine finding a magic coin that you discover, quite by accident, grants wishes — but only HALF of what you wish for.  And you’re never quite sure which half you’re going to get.  Figuring out how to use the magic can lead to some unexpected and strange adventures, as it does for siblings Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha in this wonderful story.  The characters are very likeable, and the ending happy for everyone.

I think I got this, my first (and favorite) Edward Eager book, in a “Book-of-the-Month” club my mom signed me up for.   I later discovered some other good ones in the library:

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (lexile: 1000; AR book level: 6.7; 248 pp)

“There once was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always.”

Poor Milo is bored with everything — his toys, school, books, even seeing new places– nothing holds any fascination for him.  He is nonetheless intrigued one day on returning home to find a large box in his room, with an envelope mysteriously labeled “For Milo, who has plenty of time.”  He opens the box, and finds inside the makings of a life-size tollbooth, complete with a map, road signs, and coins for paying the toll.  So with nothing better to do, he gets in his toy electric car, pays the toll, and drives on through.

Milo discovers himself in the Lands Beyond, where he learns that the Kingdom of Wisdom is in disarray, because two brother kings, Azaz the Unabridged of Dictionopolis and The Mathemagician of Digitopolis, are feuding.  The only hope for saving the kingdom is to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason, who have been banished to the Castle in the Air.  Milo agrees to undertake the quest.

Along the way, Milo encounters an Alice-in-Wonderland array of strange characters like his faithful companions Tock (a watchdog — with the body of a watch) and the Humbug (a human-sized beetle).  The book is full of clever wordplay and the imaginative portrayal of ordinary concepts, like the conductor Chroma, who leads an orchestra playing all the world’s colors, or the Mathemagician’s “subtraction stew,” which leaves the diner hungrier after each bowlful.

Milo, of course, succeeds in his quest, and learns in the process that the world is full of interesting, wonderful, and amazing things, if only you have eyes to see.


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