Nostalgic Review: Old favorites

I’m starting a new segment on Juv/YA books published I’ve read before (at least ten years back) and am now looking at from a fresh perspective.  Some will be drawn from my own childhood reading list, while others will be new to me.  Some may be popular titles like Goosebumps or The Babysitters’ Club, while others will be more obscure, like Spook (see below).

In the meantime, these are some of my favorite nostalgic Juv/YA titles.

An American Girl: Samantha series.

After her parents’ death, Samantha lives with her strict but loving grandmother.  While Grandmary has conventional views on what it means to be a proper young lady, Samantha’s Aunt Cornelia has more “new-fangled” ideas.  Samantha must figure out her own beliefs as she sees the way other children live, children who aren’t as fortunate as she is.

When I saw my fourth-grade friends reading the American Girl books, I wanted to be cool, too.  So I picked up one of the Samantha books and by the end of the year had read the entire American Girl collection (at that time, the girls were Felicity, Kirsten, Addy, Samantha, and Molly).

Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, by Eric A. Kimmel.  Illus. Janet Stevens.

Anansi the spider finds a magical rock in the forest, and uses it to trick his neighbors and steal their food.  But Little Bush Deer isn’t so easily fooled.

Anansi is a trickster from Caribbean and West African folklore.  Kimmel retells one of these stories, and Janet Stevens adds fun illustrations of animal characters who walk and talk like humans.

I also recommend First Palm Trees: An Anancy Spiderman Story, by James Berry.  Illus. Greg Couch.  In this story, Anancy is a human, but Couch creates a double-vision effect whenever Anancy flails his arms, so he looks like a spider.

Buttermilk-Bear, by Stephen Cosgrove.  Illus. Robin James.

A small family of rabbits moves to a new home in the land of Autumn-Fall.  The next morning, little Buttermilk Bunny hears her parents complaining that there are bears in the neighborhood, and they’ll surely wreck everything.  Buttermilk wants to see for herself if this is true.  When she meets a cub named Jingle, she finds out the bears have their own fears about the neighborhood rabbits.

Cosgrove’s stories are like modern Aesop’s fables.  Each has a clear message – some deal with light issues, like being patient, or appreciating younger siblings, while others deal with more heavy issues, like drugs or, in the case of Buttermilk-Bear, prejudice.  Each subject is presented in a form appropriate for children.

Looking back on it, though, Jingle’s expression on the Buttermilk-Bear cover is somewhat . . . odd.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett. Illus. Ron Barrett.

One night, Kate and Henry’s grandfather tells them the story of his hometown, Chewandswallow.  In Chewandswallow, the sky rains down pancakes and hamburgers, orange juice and soda.  Everything is perfect until the weather suddenly gets nasty.

This book made me hungry the first time I read it in third or fourth grade.  Especially the part about the mashed potato snow.  The illustrations may look a bit dated now, but they’re still very funny.  And I love the pages that transition from black-and-white to color, and back again.

The Changeling, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Martha is a bit of a loner until she meets Ivy, the new girl who believes she’s a changeling – a fairy or nymph exchanged for a human baby.  But Ivy’s family has a bad reputation (some of them have been in jail) so people assume Ivy’s a trouble-maker, too.  Even Martha’s parents aren’t sure if she’s a safe friend for their daughter.

This story might remind you of Janet Taylor Lisle’s Afternoon of the Elves.  It’s a similar idea – the main character befriends a girl who is mistrusted because of her background, a girl who believes in magic.  Books like these make me wish I’d known an Ivy or a Sara-Kate in grade school.

Fish Face, by Patricia Reilly Giff.  Illus. Blanche Sims.

At first Emily is glad to have a new classmate, especially one with such an interesting name.  But Dawn Tiffanie Bosco doesn’t seem to care about being friends.  Even worse – she’s a thief.  If only Emily could prove it.

This is one of those books I used to check out multiple times from the public library.  Oddly enough, though, I never read any of the other Polk Street School books.  I may have to add those to my Nostalgic Reviews list!


Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.

One day, Mrs. Fibonacci tells her students that everything in life can be thought of as a math problem.  From then on, one girl (the unnamed narrator) sees math EVERYWHERE.  It’s in her closet.  It’s in her breakfast.  It’s even in her dreams.  Can she break the math curse before she goes crazy?

This is an ingenious book that says, We know, kids.  Math is scary.  So scary, it’s hilarious!  And the illustrations are like something out of a Tim Burton movie.

The Moorchild, by Eloise McGraw.

Moql can’t fit in with the Folk because she’s half-human, so they banish her to the human world.  But the humans are even more prejudiced against someone who’s only half.

This story introduced me to the changeling legend, and McGraw uses it well to show the dangers of misguided fear.  She even dedicates the book “To all children who have ever felt different.”


Sarah’s Unicorn, by Bruce and Katherine Coville.

Sarah’s Aunt Mag used to be a good witch, but a spell went wrong and turned her heart to stone.  One night, sent to gather toads from the forest, Sarah meets the unicorn Oakhorn.  She tries to keep visiting him secretly, but one day Mag finds out…

Of course I went through a unicorn phase in grade school, and Coville’s books were some of my favorites.  The text of Sarah’s Unicorn is very conversational – great for reading aloud – and the black-and-white illustrations perfectly capture each character’s personality.  The illustrations also give the story an added tone of enchantment.  I’ll never be too old for this one.

Seal Child, by Sylvia Peck.  Illus. Robert Andrew Parker

One winter night on Ambrose Island, Molly Bryson finds a dead seal on the beach, and beside her is a lone pup.  A few days later, she meets Meara, a new girl living with the Brysons’  friend, Ruby.  Meara is shy, and a little strange, but she and Molly quickly become best friends.  Sometimes, though, Molly feels like Meara is holding back.  And why is she afraid of the ocean?

This story introduced me to the selkie legend (Peck modifies it a bit) and I’ve been hooked ever since.  Just like Alice in Kevin Henke’s Junonia, Molly is a very relatable protagonist.  She wants to feel more mature, but still has her insecure moments – moments when she wants to keep her best friend all to herself.  The one thing that didn’t work for me was how quickly and easily Molly believed Meara’s secret.  It didn’t seem realistic, even for a fantasy.

Even so, this was another book I borrowed multiple times from the library.  Then I discovered Amazon.

Spook, by Jane Little.  Illus. Suzanne Kesteloo Larsen.

One Halloween, a little dog named Spook escapes from his master, a mean witch.  He is found by a boy named Jamie, and thinks he’s found a loving family.  But when the witch comes looking for her pet, can Jamie outsmart her and save his new friend?

This book was in my third or fourth-grade classroom library, and I haven’t been able to find a copy until recently, so my memories of it are vague.  I remember picking it up because the main character’s name was Jamie, the same as one of my friends, and – at the time – I thought Jamie’s solution was very clever.  Once it arrives (if Inter-Library Loan doesn’t come through, I’ll Amazon it), I’ll give Spook a re-read and a future Nostalgic Review.


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