Childhood is filled with a few basic activities that alternate in importance based on sugar intake and parental leniency. Playing with toys is number one, when that gets boring we move to watching TV, as soon as the tube has taken its toll we play outside and when all else fails we read a book.
Reading is definitely on the bottom rung of kids preferred activities, but there are always a few select books we can look back fondly on and say, "Yeah, I did enjoyed reading that".
Most kids start out reading thick cardboard or fabric 5-pagers, followed by thinner paperback stories (like Clifford), then comic books and finally move their way into true literature. For some reason I decided to buck the trend.
As a child I read a lot of "no picture" books, while as an adult (and I use the term loosely) I mostly find myself enjoying graphic novels brought to me by my local comics dealer. So today I thought I'd look back on my days of mature literacy and recall those books that left their mark on me.
Early on Little Golden Books were often the most enticing group to me. They had a great plan to get you reading since the golden spine would draw you in (Oh, shiny!) and the colorful drawings would keep you turning pages. A tie-in to a familiar TV show was also a sure fire hit and so it was for my early library.
The Tag Team of "The Monster At the End of This Book" and "Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree" are the books that taught me how to read. I loved reading along as Grover spazzed-out over "The Monster" who was slated to appear at the end of this book and was always disappointed that it was only him, Silly Old Grover. No one is afraid of that pile of blue lint.
As far as Cookie Monster's tale, it was the Cookie Tree itself that entranced my young mind. The fact that the tree rained down cookies, but also had a face that could talk both terrified and delighted me. It did leave an impression, as to this day I always look for faces in the trees.
Read-Along books were technically cheating since someone else was reading or singing the words for you, but at least they got you to hold a book in front of you. Learning not to eat the book or rip it in two was a big step forward, so I say they have some merit. But sometimes the idea could go too far and one particular series cannot be forgotten. A little brainwashing program for the kiddies called "Standin' Tall".
This was a series of books and tapes with titles like "Honesty", "Cleanliness" and "Surrender Your Will & We'll Sing You A Song!". Actually I can't confirm that last one, I didn't have the WHOLE series. The best story was Captain Dependable, who gets exposed to "Procrastinite" which zaps his powers of dependability and he starts saying whiny kid's stuff like, "I'll do it later". Funny, funny crap.
Another quick mention should go to the story of "Lentil". Basically a kid who looks like Jay North from the Dennis the Menace TV show decides to buy a harmonica. Big deal, right? Kids are always starting hobbies they give up a week later.
Well Lentil is forced to put his new talent to use, since "Old Sneep", the grumpy hobo villain sabotages the town marching band by eating lemons in front of them. That's right, he eats a lemon like an apple and the wind section players pucker up and can't toot their horns! Luckily Lentil steps in to lead the band with his harmonica.
Enjoyable reads all of them, but neither of those 12-page golden boys or "Old Sneep" were worthy of a book report, so I had to start reading Chapter Books. The first paperback chapter book I remember choosing for myself from the library was the wacky wonder known as "Sideways Stories from Wayside School" by Louis Sachar. I equally enjoyed the sidesplitting sequel titled, "Wayside School is Falling Down".
These books told the story of a bunch of crazy students on the 30th floor of Wayside School (which was supposed to be one story and 30 classrooms, but was built the opposite way) who all had odd habits and stories to tell. Humor-wise it was kind of like a pre-cursor to the adventures of Pete & Pete, where the wackiness was just accepted, but it was very surreal.
For example, one kid is mistakenly called Mark Miller by his classmates, even though his real name is Benjamin Nushmutt. He's so ashamed of his name anyway that he never corrects anybody. In the second book he finally sets the record straight and nobody even cares that his name is so goofy. Additionally, the school supposedly doesn't have a 19th floor, but in a later story one student ends up there anyway and discovers that there actually is a student named Mark Miller, who his classmates mistakenly call Benjamin Nushmutt. With this kind of craziness, who wouldn't want to read these books.
I always had a spot in my heart for pure terror and loved to read all the available ghost stories in the school library. The "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" series was especially good as it was accompanied by very spooky artwork that heightened the tension.
One of the most memorable stories was about these teens that go to the graveyard to "Wake the Dead" and as they perform the ritual and stab a knife in the grave one of girls tries to run but feels someone or something holding her back and she dies of fright. It turns out she had stabbed the knife into her skirt. Ooooooooooooo.
The "Goosebumps" series came at the end of my serious reading days, although I enjoyed "The Haunted Mask" and "Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes" a lot. But luckily there were other great suspense/horror authors besides R.L. Stine.
Teen novelists like Christopher Pike and Diane Hoh were always good for a quick scare, involving stereotypical teenagers being stalked by some type of maniac. These books were the closest I ever got to horror movies, since I couldn't handle actually seeing Jason, Freddie or Michael in the flesh.
Two more spook-fests that I actually got away with doing book reports on were by the obviously disturbed Mary Downing Hahn entitled "Wait Until Helen Comes" and "The Doll In the Garden". These were especially creepy because they dealt with Little Dead Girls. So little, seemingly innocent, but in reality EEEEEEEVVVVVIIIILLLLL.
Ghosts are scary enough, with their "Boos" and their rattling of chains and whatnot. But you have to admit, the Spook-factor jumps exponentially when it's a little dead girl ghost trying to manipulate people from beyond the grave. "Like jeepers, Scoob!"
You see this was before The Ring movies came out, the only little dead girls I knew about were those twins from The Shining and they were only kind of scary. So I guess what I'm saying is read if you dare.
Wow, Im glad we're off of that topic, but unfortunately still on books featuring girls. This was actually a secret shame I should have mentioned in my previous article "That's Girls Stuff", but I have a good justification for this one.
For you see, as a boy (a very naive 9 year old boy) I was really in The Babysitters Club. You might think that's a typo, that I meant to write I was very "into" The Babysitters Club, but I was actually a card carrying member of the fan club and even had the VHS videos (Not the movie, the TV Show). But see I was fooled into reading them. It all started with this book, "Dawn on the Coast".
I saw a pretty girl in a bathing suit, what was I supposed to do, NOT pick up the book? I read the story, found a connection since Dawn was from California and so was I and soon I was buying the Super Specials and The Babysitters Club Mysteries.
And the VHS tapes you ask? The show had a really catchy theme song-GOSH! I'm always a sucker for a good theme song: "You can always count on me and I can count on you, good times, bad times, in between, my friends will see me through" Lyrically it was amazing! Man, I'm glad I got that off my chest.
"My Side of the Mountain" was a great way to restore my faltering masculinity. Burning out the inside of tree for shelter: MANLY! Training a falcon to obey your command: MANLY! This classic tale of a boy learning to survive in the wilderness really paved the way for my later adventures in trees (see my other article "Secret Clubs" for more). I didn't read the sequels, but I bet they were just as MANLY!
Eventually though, I started the move toward my true literary love: COMIC BOOKS. I found out that full-length novels, actual books were written with Spider-Man as the main character and realized I could have the best of both worlds. "The Venom Factor" was groundbreaking to me, because not only was the book a fancy hardcover-the author was a woman! Women writing about super heroes? Has the world gone topsy-turvy? Yes, my horizons were expanded that day.
As I said before, now I mostly buy collected stories and graphic novels like Ross/Kruger's alternate take on the future of the Marvel Universe: Earth X, Universe X and Paradise X, Spider-Man: REIGN or fun stuff like Mike Allred's Madman Gargantua!
I even get into the more adult stuff like BKV's Ex Machina or Concrete by Paul Chadwick, it's all good. If I do find myself reading a book with less spandex and more text, it's usually a biography. Right now, I'm reading "The Secret life of Houdini" and I'm always up to re-read my Andy Kaufman bios.
Anyway, that's a short history of my launch into literacy. Like Krusty always says, "GIVE A HOOT! Read A Book"
I'm going in for ear surgery next week, so you won't be seeing any articles from me for a little while. That's right, I'm finally getting those Spock-ear implants I've always wanted. Live long and prosper.