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Someone I know refers to well-loved books and easy reads as “palate cleansers” between more challenging works. Along those lines, I’ve been enjoying some children’s literature in recent days.
My friend Kathie recommended The Midnight Fox (1970) by Betsy Byars after we read the recent memoir Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship, by Catherine Raven, in our book group. Like Raven in real life, Byars’s young protagonist Tom gets acquainted with a wild black fox on his relatives’ farm. (His fox friendship, I have to say, struck me as more realistic than Raven’s, whose account seemed a little implausible.) The book deals with some darkly serious themes about how we treat animals and nature, but it also has joy and humor. By the end, it reminded me of Charlotte’s Web, which is very high praise.
Now I’m reading local writer Tricia Springstubb’s new book Looking for True. Her two main characters deal with a lot of pain and upheaval in their lives but come together to help (another) canine, a sweet and scraggly dog they call True. It’s full of humor, quirky dialogue, and occasional heartbreak. This book is going to my great-niece for Christmas, but I’m sneaking in a read before relinquishing it to her, as I’ve done (also with Tricia’s books) a few times in the past. Last time, she was excited to see her book was signed by the author! As is this copy!
A children’s series also helped me get through the pandemic lockdown, the Swallows and Amazons stories by Arthur Ransome. My local libraries don’t own all twelve, so I stopped after, I think, the first four. Published in the 1930s, these books follow the adventures of some adventurous young Brits, who spend summers on the coast and sail, and pretend, and get into scrapes of various sorts. I had never heard of them until Robert Gottlieb, a renowned editor, praised them in his memoir Avid Reader.
I recommend all of the above for the young and not-so-young readers on your gift list. What favorite children’s books have you given (or would you give) to school-age kids?