Retro Reads

Fond memories of books I read in more retro times
October 22, 2009
One Friday evening, as I was enjoying yet another round of ABC's famed Friday night line-up, T.G.I.F., my mom got home from the library with a big bag of freshly checked-out books. This was no uncommon occurrence in our home. We used to go to the central branch of the Irving Public Library weekly and load up on picture books.

We would get plenty of children's stories or kiddie-type information books on cars, jets, animals or whatever.

This time, however, was different. I was now in the 2nd grade and my mom thought that it was time for me to try a chapter book. As I remember it, she had selected a small assortment so that I could choose one that would interest me. One of the books my mom had checked out was Lynne Reid Banks' the Indian in the Cupboard.

A glance at the dark brown paperback with the stoic looking plastic Indian bored me. I wasn't at all interested in Cowboys* and Indians, and the figurine was weak sauce compared to the action figures of the day. I initially cast it back into the pile, but my mom reminded me that you can't judge a book by its cover and told me that it was about a boy who's toys came to life. In these days, before there was such a movie as Toy Story, this was a very fresh idea. I was always imagining my action figures coming to life, so I decided to read the Indian in the Cupboard.

This book changed my childhood. That is no overstatement. I was an overnight avid reader. I loved the story. It really sucked me in. It was about a British boy named Omri who received a plastic Indian and an old cupboard to keep figures in for his birthday. When he puts the Indian in the cupboard and turns the key, the Indian magically comes to life and adventures ensue.

After reading the Indian in the Cupboard I didn't stop reading. I could often be found with a book in my hand. I got my own library card and I wore it out. After reading the Indian in the Cupboard series, I read James and Deborah Howe's Bunnicula.

Bunnicula was a funny story about a household's pets. The family brings home a mysterious rabbit they found on a trip to see Dracula at a movie theater. Of course, strange things begin to happen and the cat, Chester and the dog, Harold discover that Bunnicula is a vampire (sucks the juice out of carrots and such, not out of people) who has powers similar to Dracula's. There were other books in this series that I enjoyed reading with funny titles such as the Celery Stalks at Midnight and Howliday Inn

When I was in the 3rd grade, my favorite teacher ever, Mrs. Quaas, assigned a book about a boy and the abused dog who comes to him for help. Shiloh was written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. It was a sometimes sad story that made me think. The protagonist was a kid named Marty. He has to hide Shiloh from his parents, who want him to return the dog, and protect him from Judd, the dog's legal owner. Judd was a real nasty character. One thing about this book is that the characters were all very well developed. They all seemed like real people to me.

My best friend, Jeremy, was spoiled. He got a big allowance and was able to spend it however he wanted. This made hanging out at his house a lot of fun. Jeremy was a good friend to trade stuff with. Usually, he would accept my trade proposals, and I got some pretty cool stuff from the sucker. One thing I could never get him to trade me for was an awesome book he had.

Heck, I couldn't even get him to let me borrow it. Bart Simpson's Guide to Life was incredible. Every page of this glorious, hardcover handbook was full color with clever diagrams, graphs or charts, hilarious illustrations and tons of good, if not tongue-in-cheek, advice. But through his sarcasm, Bart Simpson told life like it really was.

My parents always brought souvenirs to my siblings and me when they returned from a trip. I use the term souvenirs very loosely because they knew we wouldn't be satisfied by some silly little snow globe that said "CHICAGO" or anything like that. They would always just go somewhere that they could find things we would actually want. One time they brought me home the first Goosebumps book I ever read, Attack of the Mutant.

Goosebumps may have been an epic waste of time, but I sure had fun reading those formulaic stories. Invariably, the plot circulated around kids to whom incredibly weird stuff happened and who were usually so dumb that they left their parents and all other adults completely out of it. All of the books had great artwork on the front.

My favorite Goosebumps books were How I Got My Shrunken Head and The Haunted Mask II.

I always read the funnies in the Sunday paper at my grandparents' house. Though most of the strips were lame to me even then, Calvin and Hobbes was always a standout comic. One of the few that deserved to be called funnies. My mom had a friend that had the very fortunate habit of giving us big bags of her kids' hand-me-down clothes, toys, books, etc. One of theses bags contained the Calvin and Hobbes collection Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons.

I was instantly a fan and I read every comic strip in that book several times. I had always liked the Sunday strips and it was great to see the daily strips where Calvin was involved in story lines. Bill Watterson's artwork was awesome and perfectly suited Calvin's world.

During a weekend of fun with the aforementioned best friend Jeremy, I went to a Barnes & Noble bookstore for the first time in my life. With whatever money I had, I bought The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes treasury. After that, I continued to buy one Calvin book at a time whenever I made some money.

This next one is a book that I only initially read last winter, but would have loved as a kid.

Orson Scott Card's award winning Ender's Game is the story of a genius little boy who has actually been bred in hopes of saving the world from the threat of invasion from an alien species known as Buggers. The plot is intricate and intense and the themes Ender deals with are timeless. The story is very personal and the writing is incredibly simple and easy to understand. Seriously, kids, teens and adults can enjoy this story because of the simplicity of Card's writing style.

I still enjoy the opportunity to read a good book and I'm glad that my mom picked out the Indian in the Cupboard. Just goes to show, you really can't judge a book, or the effect it will have, by its cover.

*That is, unless it was the Dallas Cowboys you were talking about
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