Another Tuesday is upon us! This week, I’m busy reconnecting with my brother and his family, who came back to our hometown for a few days. This week’s Top 5 Tuesday (hosted by Shanah at Bionic Book Worm) is actually a top 10 list, but I decided to stick with just five.
“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
For generations, children around the world have come of age with Louisa May Alcott’s March girls: hardworking eldest sister Meg, headstrong, impulsive Jo, timid Beth, and precocious Amy. With their father away at war, and their loving mother Marmee working to support the family, the four sisters have to rely on one another for support as they endure the hardships of wartime and poverty. We witness the sisters growing up and figuring out what role each wants to play in the world, and, along the way, join them on countless unforgettable adventures.
Readers young and old will fall in love with this beloved classic, at once a lively portrait of nineteenth-century family life and a feminist novel about young women defying society’s expectations.
I’ve been a “Little Women” fan since the first time I read it as a fourth-grader. I read it again in December 2016 as part of a group read. This novel so interests me that I read a book all about it last fall. “Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of ‘Little Women’ and Why it Matters” by Amy Boyd Rioux gives a lot of insight into the writing and publication of the classic tale and its relevance throughout the years.
“Arrowood” by Laura McHugh
A haunting novel from the author of The Weight of Blood about a young woman’s return to her childhood home—and her encounter with the memories and family secrets it holds
Arrowood is the most ornate and grand of the historical houses that line the Mississippi River in southern Iowa. But the house has a mystery it has never revealed: It’s where Arden Arrowood’s younger twin sisters vanished on her watch twenty years ago—never to be seen again. After the twins’ disappearance, Arden’s parents divorced and the Arrowoods left the big house that had been in their family for generations. And Arden’s own life has fallen apart: She can’t finish her master’s thesis, and a misguided love affair has ended badly. She has held on to the hope that her sisters are still alive, and it seems she can’t move forward until she finds them. When her father dies and she inherits Arrowood, Arden returns to her childhood home determined to discover what really happened to her sisters that traumatic summer.
Arden’s return to the town of Keokuk—and the now infamous house that bears her name—is greeted with curiosity. But she is welcomed back by her old neighbor and first love, Ben Ferris, whose family, she slowly learns, knows more about the Arrowoods’ secrets and their small, closed community than she ever realized. With the help of a young amateur investigator, Arden tracks down the man who was the prime suspect in the kidnapping. But the house and the surrounding town hold their secrets close—and the truth, when Arden finds it, is more devastating than she ever could have imagined.
Arrowood is a powerful and resonant novel that examines the ways in which our lives are shaped by memory. As with her award-winning debut novel, The Weight of Blood, Laura McHugh has written a thrilling novel in which nothing is as it seems, and in which our longing for the past can take hold of the present in insidious and haunting ways.
My five-star review (from May 2016):
I picked up this book with high expectations and a strong bias because 1. I LOVED “The Weight of Blood;” 2. McHugh is related to a dear friend of mine and 3. It’s set in my hometown of Keokuk, Iowa.
McHugh has this incredible knack for demonstrating how memory can be so powerful and yet so unreliable. The plot is so multilayered and rich with detail, it’s almost overwhelming.
The story took a while to pick up, but once it did … wow. I wouldn’t mind rereading it so I can go back and absorb any interesting details I might have missed.
“Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein
Where the sidewalk ends, Shel Silverstein’s world begins. There you’ll meet a boy who turns into a TV set and a girl who eats a whale. The Unicorn and the Bloath live there, and so does Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout who will not take the garbage out. It is a place where you wash your shadow and plant diamond gardens, a place where shoes fly, sisters are auctioned off, and crocodiles go to the dentist.
Shel Silverstein’s masterful collection of poems and drawings is one of Parent & Child magazine’s 100 Greatest Books for Kids. School Library Journal said, “Silverstein has an excellent sense of rhythm and rhyme and a good ear for alliteration and assonance that make these poems a pleasure to read aloud.”
The poetry of Shel Silverstein, as read by my first-grade teacher, made a lasting impact. Lines from “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout” and “Hug o’ War” still randomly come to mind now and then! I love Silverstein’s quirky sense of humor. Did you know he wrote Johnny Cash’s hit “A Boy Named Sue”?!
“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
One of the most delightful and enduring classics of children’s literature, The Secret Garden by Victorian author Frances Hodgson Burnett has remained a firm favorite with children the world over ever since it made its first appearance. Initially published as a serial story in 1910 in The American Magazine, it was brought out in novel form in 1911.
The plot centers round Mary Lennox, a young English girl who returns to England from India, having suffered the immense trauma by losing both her parents in a cholera epidemic. However, her memories of her parents are not pleasant, as they were a selfish, neglectful and pleasure-seeking couple.
Mary is given to the care of her uncle Archibald Craven, whom she has never met. She travels to his home, Misselthwaite Manor located in the gloomy Yorkshire, a vast change from the sunny and warm climate she was used to. When she arrives, she is a rude, stubborn and given to stormy temper tantrums. However, her nature undergoes a gradual transformation when she learns of the tragedies that have befallen her strict and disciplinarian uncle whom she earlier feared and despised. Once when he’s away from home, Mary discovers a charming walled garden which is always kept locked. The mystery deepens when she hears sounds of sobbing from somewhere within her uncle’s vast mansion. The kindly servants ignore her queries or pretend they haven’t heard, spiking Mary’s curiosity.
The Secret Garden appeals to both young and old alike. It has wonderful elements of mystery, spirituality, charming characters and an authentic rendering of childhood emotions and experiences. Commonsense, truth and kindness, compassion and a belief in the essential goodness of human beings lie at the heart of this unforgettable story.
I’m not sure which came first for me — the movie (I almost wore out the VHS tape of the 1987 Hallmark Hall of Fame version) or the book. But I loved both! And yes, I did see the 1993 film — thanks, Grandma Spees, for taking me to the theater — but I kept comparing it to the one I was already familiar with.
“The Secret Garden” is truly a transformative tale. As new life is breathed into the long-abandoned garden, Mary blossoms into a healthier, happier young lady. I was captivated by the setting, and charmed by the characters. I think Deacon might have been my first book character crush.
“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s extraordinary diary, written in the Amsterdam attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years, has become a world classic and a timeless testament to the human spirit. Now, in a new edition enriched by many passages originally withheld by her father, we meet an Anne more real, more human, and more vital than ever. Here she is first and foremost a teenage girl—stubbornly honest, touchingly vulnerable, in love with life. She imparts her deeply secret world of soul-searching and hungering for affection, rebellious clashes with her mother, romance and newly discovered sexuality, and wry, candid observations of her companions. Facing hunger, fear of discovery and death, and the petty frustrations of such confined quarters, Anne writes with adult wisdom and views beyond her years. Her story is that of every teenager, lived out in conditions few teenagers have ever known.
I was first introduced to Anne’s diary during sixth-grade social studies, when we were assigned to read just a few portions of it. Not long after that, I obtained my own copy and was quickly hooked.
I love Anne’s poignant, brutally honest perspectives and am deeply moved by the struggles she faced.
Have you read any of these books? What are your all-time favorites?