Of course, I read a lot of Judy Blume and E.B. White and Roald Dahl when I was little, but for the latest Weekly Geeks challenge to write about our childhood favorites, I decided to dig out some of the more obscure, weird, hard-to-find titles that I loved as a child. Remember any of these?
Overlooked and Forgotten Childhood Gems
1. The Owlstone Crown by X.J. Kennedy
Still one of my favorite books, even after all these years.
Timothy and Verity Tibb are orphans who live on a farm with the evil Grimbles, who force them to farm parsnips in the dead of winter, and spend countless hours sticking labels onto bottles of a quack home remedy made of... parsnips. Life is bleak. Until one night they are visited by Lewis O. Ladybug, an insect private investigator, who tells the kids that their grandparents are alive, if not well, and living in a parallel universe. The kids sneak over to Other Earth, determined to rescue their grandparents, and the world from an evil dictator named Raoul Owlstone.
This book has great characters, an amazingly inventive plot, and references to stuff like Hamlet and Ross MacDonald that I didn't catch until I was much older.
2. The Island Keeper by Henry Mazer
Rich, overweight, spoiled, and generally useless, Cleo runs away from home to escape her overbearing family and memories of her dead sister. Cheesy set-up, typical 80s kid lit trauma-drama, but it gets better.
There's supposed to be a cabin there. But when she arrives, she finds it's burned down. She stocks up on food from a camping store, but her supply is quickly ransacked by animals. Her canoe is destroyed, winter is coming, and suddenly, what started as a somewhat bratty adolescent rebellion becomes very high stakes.
3. The Sara Summer by Mary Dowling Hahn
A book about Emily, a boring, well-behaved preteen girl who makes a "bad" friend. Emily is drawn to Sara's charisma, fearlessness, disregard for authority, but she also feels a little uncomfortable around her; however, she's also too spineless to stand up to Sara when she goes too far. What I liked most about this book is that it doesn't come to any easy conclusions about these kinds of friendships -- Emily isn't simply dragged down by Sara's influence, she also learns some valuable things from her.
4. Invisible Lissa by Natalie Honeycutt
Kind of like Blubber, only told from the point of view of the girl who is ostracized by her classmates when they form an exclusive club called FUNCHY (which stands for "fun lunches"). In a scene that I remember vividly, the narrator wants to stay home from school so badly that she sucks down the remains of a medicine lollipop left over from when she had strep throat. Invisible Lissa perfectly captures the arbitrary cruelty of elementary and middle school cliques, and really deserves to come back into print.
5. Autumn Street by Lois Lowry
As I once wrote in a post about this relatively obscure Lois Lowry book, "I don't want to live in a world where future generations can't read Autumn Street and be emotionally scarred by it."
6. With Magical Horses to Ride by Winifred Morris
Sadly, I remember very little about this book despite the fact that I checked it out at least twice a year from my local library between 1985 and 1987. Basically, it's about a girl who hangs out in a cemetery with a boy she thinks is an elf. Also, there is a bunch of stuff about tarot cards, and my parents would have totally taken this book away from me if they'd known what wicked sorcery it contained.
7. The Hawkeye and Amy series by M. Masters
Kind of the poor man's Encyclopedia Brown, the Hawkeye and Amy books followed a similar format. The twist, however, was that the answers to each case were printed backwards and you had to hold the book up to a mirror to read them.