20 December 2015


Catching Up with the Children

As you may have noticed, I love books that fall into the Middle Grade and Young Adult categories--either because I'm wonderfully young at heart or just incapable of growing up. (Take your pick!) Most of the books on my (very) long TBR shelf are MG and YA titles, and most of those are old. That is, they are books that came out before I was too young to read, achieved enough classic status to stick around when I got literate, and still had to wait a few more years to get read after I bought them because I felt bad about not having read them earlier. (Sometimes I want to kick myself.) While childhood is the logical "right time" to fall in love with books that were written for children, there is no reason why an adult couldn't have a similar magical experience. (Right?) It was with this optimistic thought that I plunged into the following three novels . . .

3 Children's Books
It Was Fun to Read as an Adult

Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith

This may not have been a book from my childhood, but it was a book from my dearest friend's childhood. So when she casually mentioned that she had been looking for this old favourite ("Chocolate Fever, okay, Enbrethiliel? Not The Chocolate Touch.") since that time we were in high school and her family's home burned down, I knew that I had to do something. And that something was to find a used copy still in good condition, gently read it so that my friend and I would have one more book in common, and finally surprise her with it over some chocolatey drinks.

Well, that friend is an unusually busy person and it took about six months after my successful find before we were face to face again . . . by which time I had completely forgotten my plan. It wasn't until she looked over my 2015 TBR Challenge post a few months ago and remarked on it that I even remembered I had it.

But now I'm finally done! And I can see why my friend was so charmed by the simple story of a boy whose chocolate-rich diet turns him into a unhappy medical sensation. If it had been one of my childhood books and my own copy got lost in a fire, I'd be searching for it years later as well. I've also given the book to her at last, though we have yet to get together over chocolate. (Maybe in another six months . . .) When we do, I'd like to tell her about my theory that all modern MG and YA are familiar faerie tales or folk tales in disguise--and that when I unmasked Chocolate Fever, what I found was . . . no surprise . . . The Gingerbread Man!

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray

This pick came from Amy on Twitter and it was about time I read it! In fact, I probably should have read it over a decade ago, which was when I fell in love with its "cousin" book A Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli. Both are coming-of-age stories with boy protagonists who do quite a bit of traveling over Medieval England, both were published in the 1940s, both were written by a non-Catholic woman author, and both won the Newbery Award. They do seem to suggest each other, don't they? But now I'm wondering if my experience was typical and there are actually more young readers who have read only one of the two than those who have read both.

Now that I've finally read Adam of the Road, I find that I like it better. There was something off to me about Adam's experience at the Shrine of St. Swithin (which got to be Locus Focus #126), but I've come to expect that in medieval-set children's stories from our time. There is exactly one YA author who could have convinced me he was a time traveler and who absolutely shocked me when I learned he wasn't Catholic. I still have two of his books on another sort of book list.

Another list I can't really add an entry to yet, however, is the Unmasked Faerie Tales list. So much for my theory, but I can't figure out what folk tale is hiding within Adam of the Road. I do see the novel as a type of Odyssey--with "Boy" rather than "Man" as its cornerstone first word. And sure enough, I've just pulled my copy off the shelves to check and the first word, if we count the title of the first chapter is . . . Adam.

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

This time, in a fun twist, it was I who chose this book for Brandon. And that is how The Bad Beginning and its twelve companions got to share Fortnightly Book status on his blog. I don't remember if he told the story behind his already having read the entire series, but all you need to know about why I hadn't started it yet was that I like waiting until every book in a series is out before beginning it. But given how long ago the last book came out, I can hardly still hide behind that excuse.

But it turns out to be a good thing that I waited, for two reasons. First, I don't quite like Lemony Snicket's style, and I doubt that his series would have been a favourite even if I had started it when both it and I were younger. It's a little too mock Gothic for me. The second reason is more positive: underwhelming on its own, The Bad Beginning turned out to be an excellent follow-up to another "unfortunate orphan" story I read recently, which was also, incidentally, another Fortnightly Book for Brandon: Charlotte Bronte's Villette.

As for my theory, well it appears to fail here as well. I'd compare the whole series to Hansel and Gretel because there are siblings who are trapped in a villain's home . . . and because I think the witch's plan to eat Hansel is kin to the nasty Uncle Olaf's many plans to steal their fortune by any means necessary. But unless the Baudelaire orphans are able to break up his house at the end (either literally or symbolically) and make something new with the pieces (Please don't spoil it even if I got it right!), my hypothesis is touch and go.

* * * * *

As of this timestamp, I've read one more TBR book, am wrapping up another, and am about to start a third picked for me by the liturgical year. Since I don't want to reveal what those are yet but need a helpful commenter to choose a new book, I'll add this extra challenge for whoever wants to assign my next read. When you pick something out from my 2015 TBR Challenge pile, don't choose anything too obviously Catholic! ;-P Thanks!

Also, I've already finished the following: Carry on, Jeeves, Father Elijah, Jitterbug Perfume, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sense and Sensibility, The Time Traveler's Wife, Where the Red Fern Grows, and the Baby-sitters Club books up to #18.

Image Sources: a) Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith, b) Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray, c) The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket


Sullivan McPig said...

Deadland's Harvest is of course a great read imo (zombies!!!), but A Great and Terrible Beauty would be a good choice as well.

Enbrethiliel said...


I should be more embarrassed that I haven't read Deadland's Harvest yet, because I won it from a contest on your blog, Sully! But after your tweets about the books that you have won and haven't read yet, I have a feeling that you'll be quite understanding about it. ;-)

But because Deadland's Harvest is a sequel and my book budget won't let me pick up the first book just yet, my next read is going to be A Great and Terrible Beauty. Thanks for participating, Sully! =)

MrsDarwin said...

I'll read The Three Musketeers and Purgatory along with you when you start those.

Enbrethiliel said...


I've actually just finished Purgatory, which a friend on Facebook picked for me. I'm working on a post about it now. If you have or are able to get Anthony Esolen's translation, I highly recommend it!

So I guess it will be The Three Musketeers, when I get around to it. =) If someone on Twitter or Facebook picks it, I'll make sure you know. =)