Hello, Old Friends

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 28, 2016

If you’ve ever had the experience of spying a book not seen since childhood, you’ll recognize the jolt of pleasure and memory that act like adrenaline through the system. This jolt is particularly strong for books not seen since those early, impressionable days; long-dormant neurons and dendrites spark with sudden connection, and a book you hadn’t even known you missed greets you like an old friend.
The first book that affected me like this was Purple House Press’s re-issue of Arnold Lobel’s wonderful Miss Suzy, which I blogged about years ago (with loads of other favorite rescued treasures) here. What I said then was: “I hadn’t thought about Miss Suzy in about 35 years, but when I spotted Arnold Lobel’s drawing of a small gray squirrel with two toy soldiers, my heart actually stopped beating for a second. As a little child, I had been FASCINATED by Miss Suzy’s plight with a band of mean red squirrels who chase her from her home. (She gets help from the toy soldiers.) I can’t tell you exactly why I loved that book so much, but it certainly had something to do with Lobel’s signature soft, rounded, friendly illustrations, and the slightly scary adventure with the mean squirrels written by Miriam Young.”
The visceral reaction doesn’t work quite the same way with books you recall and then track down; that is still a grand pleasure, but the jolt happens only when taken by surprise. I felt it again this week when I caught sight of New York Review of Books new release of Rumer Godden’s Mouse House on our shelves at the store. I remembered that wide-eyed mouse child peeking into the little doll’s house made especially for mice, and her surprised disappointment at discovering the fake, un-alive felted mice that inhabit it. Godden, who also wrote the mesmerizing The Doll’s House and the Christmas favorite, The Story of Holly and Ivy, was one of those authors who truly understand the hearts of children.
(Click through for more 2016 rescued treasures…)

I also felt the jolt with the the new paperback edition of Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers, also published by New York Review of Books. Happily, this edition features a better Garth Williams cover than the hardcover version, which was sweet but lacked the suggestion of action. The Miss Bianca books about a graceful, intrepid mouse were some of my childhood favorites. I’m almost afraid to read this book again (the first in a series) in case its 1959 origins reveal stereotypes my child self was unaware of. Yet the plot – the Prisoners’ Aid Society appeals to Miss Bianca to rescue an imprisoned Norwegian poet – remains promising, and I remember loving Miss Bianca in her aviator goggles braving the icy skies with her friend Nils. I also remember the writing being funny and crisp and perfectly tuned to childhood.
Some of you may have that happy jolt of recognition when you see this cover:

I never read The Marzipan Pig as a child. Allergic to almond extract, marzipan was my nightmare food, and I remember avoiding this book. So silly! I think my love for all things Russell Hoban can overcome my marzipan aversion. Can’t wait to read this one.
Since we are talking about books back in print, I’m also intrigued to see Jay Williams’s The Practical Princess, a feminist tale that predated by more than a decade one of my other favorite princess-hero picture books, Robert Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess (1969 and 1980, respectively). In The Practical Princess, the heroine learns of threat from a dragon and proceeds “to defeat the bothersome dragon, outwit her conniving suitor, and rescue a prince sleeping under a spell while locked away at the top of a tall, magical tower with no stairs.” (Quote is from the Purple House Press website.) Not too shabby! The art for that book won awards; it hearkens back so much to the late 60s/early 70s, doesn’t it?! It’s hard to say how contemporary chlidren will respond to that style of illustration; definitely worth exploring.
Readers, have you ever had that incredible, wonderful lurch of recognition when encountering a favorite, forgotten childhood book? Which books caused the jolt?
And what 2016 back-in-print rescued treasures are you most looking forward to revisiting?

7 thoughts on “Hello, Old Friends

  1. C.

    I’m looking for a book I read when I was about 10 or 11. That would have been about 1970 or 1971. The main character’s name was Amanda. She was unusual girl who moved to a town and made friends with and changed the lives of a brother and sister. It had a little bit of magical realism in it. I don’t think it was called that back then though. I can’t remember the title; the only thing I remember is that it had a red cover. I’ve asked librarians etc without any luck.
    I’m also looking for another book from the late 70s or early 80s. I can’t remember the title but the main character was the ghost of a little boy who had died and who watched over his family as they came to terms with his passing and moving on with their lives. The family was African American.

  2. Shelly

    I would be thrilled if I ever saw a book I loved reading in the mid-60’s. It was a picture book with a shy African-American girl who couldn’t think of anything to bring to show and tell, and then she ends up bringing her dad. Anyone know the title?

  3. Ruth G.

    Could the red book be “The Headless Cupid”, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder? That’s a terrific book. Cover is actually sort of purply-red.


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