My Save-in-a-Fire Book List

I don’t know why I’d choose this title and set myself up for a nearly impossible task, but I’m going to help myself out by limiting this to books I actually own. (You’d be surprised at how many favorites of mine I don’t own, because that’s what the library is for, but these all made the cut so they’re special by default). 

-A Little Princess by Frances Hogdson Burnett. I own more than one copy, but the hardback one that has my name, age, and address written in it in sparkly green gel pen is obviously the most treasured. (I was very big on writing my name, age, and address inside books. I'm not sure why.) I think I can quote entire passages of this book and it remains a favorite, even though I secretly still prefer (heresy!) the movie ending. Also, I used the passage when Sara first comes to Miss Minchin's to teach my unit on adjectives every year. It's so perfectly written! 

There's just something about holding a book in your hands that you held 20 years ago. To quote Kathleen Kelly, "When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does." It's an irreplaceable feeling.

-My Beverly Cleary box set. So, for many years now, when asked who my favorite author is, I say Beverly Cleary. No caveats about “well, for children’s books, anyway” or whatever. She’s just my favorite. I read and reread the Ramona and Henry Huggins books countless times and one of my most blissful reading memories is finding a 3-book set of her “young adult” novels that my mom got me from Costco when I was thirteen. They were teen romances but the sweetest, most charming stories you can imagine, not the absolute drivel of most YA now. That book was lost at some point which still makes me sad but I do own all three of those on my Kindle. But I’d give a lot for that big heavy set. (Also, I get that it’s kind of contradictory to mention a book I actually lost in a post about books I’d never lose. But I love Beverly Cleary that much.  

-In fact, I love her so much that she gets another mention for a different book. When I was teaching middle and high school English and just rediscovering my love of reading for pleasure (and also beginning to read more widely than I had before, love of Lori Wick notwithstanding), I was with my class at the library and randomly came across a book that became an instant favorite. I wasn’t even aware it existed, but I found her first memoir A Girl from Yamhill. It described, in her delightful way, her childhood in Oregon and the many stories that later inspired her characters, especially Ramona. I think one reason I was drawn to her books is that I was actually reading them as a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest, and I loved all the references to the rain and the mountains that I knew so well. Anyway, her second memoir, My Own Two Feet, picks up as she’s finishing high school (she spent her senior year in California, which inspired another of her books) and goes on to tell about her college days, her early years as a librarian, and the way she met her husband as well her fraught relationship with her mother. SO GOOD. Also, this woman is 104 years old and I will weep real and bitter tears when she is gone. I seriously considered writing my master’s thesis on her work (I didn’t, but only because I chose a different track and didn’t do a thesis #coward) and I’d love write a full biography about her someday. 

I didn’t intend for this post to turn into a love letter to Beverly Cleary and her books but I’m fine with it. She is a treasure and my love for her knows no bounds. 

-My Bush family collection. I have 6-7 of these biographies and autobiographies now and am always on the lookout when I’m in Goodwill or a used bookstore. When I visited the George H.W. Bush Library in the summer of 2018 after Mrs. Bush died (but before her husband did) I sat and watched footage of her funeral again and sobbed like a baby. (People were staring; it was fine.) I just love them. 

-The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. I had heard of this because Janssen, my reading Jedi, mentioned it as a favorite of hers. But when I finally read it, it was magical. Also, I read a lot of books, so the fact that I remember this particular reading experience so vividly means it really was amazing. We were helping my aunt and uncle move and I found this with my cousin's stuff. I grabbed it, read the first few pages, then promptly threw myself across the bed and didn't move for the next two hours (also, I kinda stopped helping unpack. Sorry, guys). I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. It is my go-to recommendation for pretty much everyone and, as Janssen has said, it's the book I wish I'd written. 

You know that clip at the beginning of the original Miracle on 34th Street that shows the studio trying to find a way to market the movie because it has everything: romance, humor, drama? This book is the Miracle on 34th Street of books in that way. It's absolutely hilarious but also touches on really deep and even dark stories while being just so full of heart and warmth. Ah. I gush. Anyway, you need to read it and if you don't like it please don't tell me because it will actually alter my opinion of you. Love ya, mean it.

-My Harry Potter box set and illustrated versions. So, here's my Harry Potter origin story: I grew up, like so many of us, hearing that these were bad and would make us love the devil (which, you know, seems logical what with the witchcraft and all) but finally I was like, "I'm 25 years old. No one can make me a witch without my knowledge or consent. Let's see what all the fuss is about." I checked these out from the library but this was actually what prompted me to figure out how to borrow Kindle books because it was easier to read them on my phone than to carry them around (and arouse suspicion). I flew through them all in the fall of 2014 and Jonathan bought me the entire set for Christmas that year. 

They're just delightful and last time I checked I'm still not able to do magic, dark or otherwise, which is honestly a bummer because "Accio Chick-fil-A" is basically the only spell I'd really need. The illustrated versions that have been coming out for the last few years are absolutely beautiful and I love displaying them! (And since I am always doing too much when it comes to my pop culture fixations, I'll tell you I'm a Ravenclaw, obviously.)

(P.S. A word on Harry Potter: If you don't let your kids read them, that's totally your choice and I support you, but if you're scared to let your kids read them but haven't read them yourself I'll go ahead and give my endorsement as your friendly neighborhood middle grade fiction connoisseur and say they'll be okay. HOWEVER (I love caveats) I will also say that I read them as an adult and if I'd read them as a kid they probably would have scared me quite a bit because I was a very fearful child (not like now! el oh el) and the last few books especially are fairly dark. But personally I think they teach a number of wonderful lessons and can be enjoyed my your family. The end.) 

-My Puffin in Bloom collection and clothbound Jane Austen and Anne of Green Gables collections. Okay, confession time: I have not actually read the entire Anne series. WHAT? I know. Revoke my library card. I had read the first one as a kid and somehow not the others. Last year I was determined to read the series and was delighted to find that there was an audio version narrated by none other than Megan Follows, THE on-screen Anne who is just perfection. I was a little disappointed that they were abridged, but I figured the immersive experience of having them read to me by the person I think of as Anne anyway would be worth it. Well, turns out that she only narrated the first 3 books and that is where my journey ended. I will read the rest, I know I will. I just need to get Megan Follows on board with recording the rest of the audio versions. 

Anyway, back to these picks. I love them all but they're included here for purely aesthetic reasons: they're beautiful and part of my living room decor. Shallow, I know. But I love decorating with books. 

-Our Little Golden Books. Collecting these has been a process and I still add to our stack frequently! MANY of these are from Goodwill and used bookstores because I always look for them (and that distinctive spine makes it so easy!) but I do spring for one now and then from Amazon or Barnes and Noble because they're only $5 brand new anyway. We have over 50 and have no plans to stop getting more. They're actually divided into Disney and non-Disney because I like having some in a basket in the living and others in the playroom and that seemed like the best way to divide them. Seeing these makes me so happy and Alice loves to get a stack of them for me to read at quiet time. 

-Our BabyLit books. I first heard of these when I was pregnant with Alice and bought quite a few before she was born and we've added steadily to our collection ever since and they're just the best. They are beautiful, durable, and look so pretty all lined up together (I had them displayed in the living room for a long time). Alice's current favorites are the holiday alphabet primers and we just got a new one (T is for Thankful). I have so many memories of reading these to her as a little baby and now that she can actually interact with them it's even better. I know I'll love having them for Amy Jane too. 

-My James Herriot books. We had James Herriot's Treasury for Children growing up but it wasn't until the last year and a half that I read his other books (All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, etc.). I listened to these, narrated by Christopher Timothy who played James Herriot in the BBC series based on the books, and they remain my favorite audiobooks ever. But there's just something about owning the physical copies, if only as a tribute to my love of the stories, so when I found the entire series at Goodwill last year I nearly wept happy tears. They are proudly displayed on my shelf and make me happy every time I see them.

Okay, I just went and looked at the bookshelves in my living room and I could actually add indefinitely to this so I'll just stop myself here. I didn't even include any nonfiction besides my Bush biographies, even though there are many nonfiction books I own and love, and I left off even more novels, but much like the difficulty in choosing a favorite child, it is nearly impossible to choose a favorite book. (Actually, choosing a favorite child is easier since I have two children and only one of them has consistently been waking up before 6 AM and it's not the baby.) These are all books I really love and would be heartbroken to be without (hence my beating of the system by choosing mostly sets).

 I don't have many hobbies--let's be honest, I don't really have any hobbies besides reading and managing my five library accounts (don't worry about it)--so just writing about and acknowledging the very real pleasure that these books bring to me is in itself a joyful experience. If something brings you joy right now (as long as it's legal and ethical, you heathen) then lean into it, my friend. These are troubled times and sometimes you just need to lovingly organize your excessive collection of children's literature. You'll be in  good (if slightly crazy) company with me. 

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