Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Monday, March 14, 2011

5 quiet books that blew me away

posted by Susan Chapek

How do you define a quiet novel?

Editor Nick Eliopulos once remarked that "a lot of the award-winners are quiet tales that you can't do justice in a one-line pitch." That pretty much says it . . . in one line, actually.

Shannon Hitchcock recently blogged about a quiet books presentation by author Audrey Vernick and her Editor Erin Murphy:


The topic was newer quiet books, and the blog lists some practical ways to make your own quiet book louder. It even mentions one of my favorites, Linda Urban's A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT.

But I have to admit that when I was a middle-grade reader myself, the quiet books that blew me away were already really, really old. (Most of them were hand-me-downs from aged relatives.)

It's easy to list my top titles. They're the ones I read to shreds. Here they are, in the order I probably first met them:

1. JACK AND JILL by Louisa May Alcott

Yes, I read LITTLE WOMEN and all the other Alcotts. But this is the book I wanted to live in. Three amazing girls. There was some of me in each of them! I still cherish my copy, the World Books Rainbow Classic edition, with its unforgettable and graceful illustrations by Nettie Weber.

2. DANDELION COTTAGE by Carroll Watson Rankin

I didn't feel like any of these girls was me. But I wanted to join them in their so-real play house.


Maybe only borderline quiet, because it's a rags-to-riches story—almost a fairy tale. But it was the part before the riches arrive that blew me away. The quiet bravery. Polly's measles. How the Peppers make a fabulous Christmas without spending a dime. Polly helping her mother earn a tiny living by sewing piecework at home (Polly's job is picking out the basting stitches—and saving the thread to use over again). . . .

4. REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM by Kate Douglas Wiggin

Rebecca first grabbed me because she had six siblings, like me. Then her trials and triumphs took hold. Thinking back, I suppose this novel was a sort of denser version of the Green Gables series, in a single volume. But Rebecca touched me more deeply than Anne Shirley because she was so . . . wordy.

Finally, not a children's book, but pilfered from Gram's bookshelf to read in secret, on the floor near the 7-watt night-light:

5. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith

Today it would be a cross-over, or even a YA, I think. But I was ten, so it was my first grown-up romance. I still re-read it every year or two (usually when I'm down with a cold) because it's so familiar. And so perfectly built. (J. K. Rowling loves it, too.)

So—which quiet books blew you away when you were young? Were they new (to the world) when you were? Or already classics?

p.s. This post was inspired by an article in a new blog (by tween blogger "Scout") that blows me away:


1 comment:

  1. I've always loved quiet books too. I was (and am) a huge fan of Elizabeth Enright's books about the Melendy kids - The Saturdays, The Four Story Mistake (my favorite), Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two. These were re-released a while back, which made me very happy - and best of all, they have the same line drawing illustrations inside that I loved as a kid. It's a shame that more quiet books don't make it on to publishers' lists; I know there are plenty of kids who still enjoy them.