The Girl with Silver Eyes

198719

From Goodreads, modern cover

Recently, I treated myself to a bit of a belated book spree on Amazon. I’d been hoarding a gift card balance from Christmas and my birthday. I like to keep a balance for ebook purchases but I’d also been waiting for a move to be done before picking some books off the long to-buy list (not as long as the to-read list so that’s a good thing for my wallet).

A while back, I’d added a book from childhood to the list. I have a small collection of my childhood books. The ones I’ll re-read periodically or the ones I’m going to force down my nieces’ and nephews’ throats when they come to visit someday. However, there were a few glaring omissions. One of my latest acquisitions was a big one and I know why I didn’t own it. It’s actually one I found through school.

Most of the reading I did early on for school wasn’t my cup of tea. I was often bored because the books were too easy or I didn’t care for the characters. This all started to change in 5th grade. Mr. Clark wasn’t the sort of teacher I’d encountered before and I adored his class. We dissected owl pellets, cows’ eyes and a sheep’s brain that year. Went to the swamp for our class trip. Fostered baby snapping turtles and very happily called Mr. Clark’s Florida King Snake Blackie as we wore him around our necks. Science was big in his classroom and it was the first time it was a real focus of my schooling that I remember. With Mr. Clark also came some very cool science fiction books. When I recently posted about picking up a copy of The Girl with Silver Eyes, a classmate from that year said that was the teacher that led to her love of science fiction and fantasy and I would have to agree. This book and the White Mountain trilogy were like gateway drugs and I happily fed the newfound addiction with Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop books and Dinotopia that year too. Overall, 5th grade was a great reading year. Except for Where The Red Fern Grows but I have blocked that one out completely…not. I am still traumatized. Animals in peril. Enough said.

1179776

From Goodreads, cover I remember from 5th grade (love the attitude Katie has going here!)

So, what is The Girl with Silver Eyes? For starters, it’s not a trilogy. Ten bucks says if it was written today, it would be. It’s also not preoccupied with world building; it’s completely character driven in a normal suburban setting. It’s the story of Katie, a very quiet, very shy not quite 10 year old who has silver eyes. And can move things with her mind. And talk to animals. In short, Katie is awesome and a bit of a spirit animal to my 5th grade self. As the book begins, Katie has just moved into an apartment with her mother after her grandmother passed away. Katie’s powers start to cause problems and brings the interest of a new neighbor on her head, a new neighbor who is not what he seems be at first glance. Also, Katie’s figured out why she has silver eyes and that maybe, just maybe, there might be other kids like her out there. But how to find them?

So, to start with, this book holds up really well even though to some extent, this book could not exist today. A lot of the tension and pages of this book owe itself to the fact Katie couldn’t simply Google the other kids’ names once she finds them. Also, a lot of it runs on the idea of the telephone in a way we just don’t worry about anymore. Katie has to stay in her apartment to wait for phone calls. Think about that. Still, the idea behind the story is still solid and I sort of love that the book has a bit of an ambiguous ending. Like I said above, today the book would probably be a trilogy and have some odd love triangle develop along with lots more details about the shadowy Psychic Institute introduced in the end but here, we’re left with this idea that Katie is going to be OK…we think. A kid can make up their own ending and I think we don’t do enough of that in kids’ science fiction and fantasy today (and I cannot believe I am writing that as I am one of those people that loves every little plot line wrapped up in the end usually).

So, in short, I still love this book and hope it’s still being shared in some way with kids today. If nothing else, I kept trying to think through how the story might change in a 2017 setting and realizing I’d still really like to be Katie, silver eyes and all.

First Book Loves

My uncle pointed me at this Question of the Month and it’s right up my alley so I’ll jump in with some thoughts. I came at it via the post on Tossing It Out where there were even more questions added! I do love answering questions about reading. Mainly because it’s an excuse to go remind myself of books that somehow I’d slightly forgotten.

This is also a perfect time to discuss because I’d actually already started drafting a post somewhat along the same lines. After a visit home last month, I brought back with me all the books I still had at my parents’ house. It was mostly my childhood books; picture books, early chapter books etc. However, I’ve been re-reading them all to see if I really did want to keep them all. So, I’ve already been thinking about first loves when it came to reading. So far, only one has broke my heart (Sideways Stories from Wayside School did not hold up for me which is quite tragic and then I realized my favorite vignette is in the second book in the series and I immediately felt better).

So, to get to the question of the month: “What was the first book (or book series) you fell in love with?”

 

808821

Image from Goodreads

Full disclosure, I have no idea what the first book was. I vaguely recall my grandmother had a book about camels that I had her read to me on repeat but I have no idea what its title was or where it ended up or even if I really loved it or it was just the only book at her house. What I best remember are some of the first book series my mom would read to me and my sister: The Berenstain Bears and Amelia Bedelia. We had a ton of the Berenstain Bear books (mainly I just wanted to live in their treehouse) and I thought the Amelia Bedelia books were hilarious. Amelia seemed like a less put together Mary Poppins to me. Sadly, none of those books were in the books I still had at home. The one book that is still with me, with one of the nicest author-signed notes ever, is Sarah’s Unicorn. Bruce Coville came to my elementary school in kindergarten and I had somehow forgotten about it! My copy of Sarah’s Unicorn is well-loved (i.e. basically falling apart) and I had forgotten how much I adore it. Looking back now, it sent me down the fantasy story avenue very young and suddenly a lot of my reading makes a lot more sense now.

Those were the first ones; they weren’t necessarily the most influential though. If I would to pick the book series that comes to mind fastest, it’s the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery. I read through those at a blistering pace during 5th and into 6th grade and they have stayed with me all my life. I could never pick a single book; that is just not going to happen. Even trying to keep my Favorite shelf on Goodreads at a reasonable number is challenging. I resort to picking “representative” books from series or authors there in the hopes to keep it manageable.

Tossing It Out also threw in some more questions with his post: Do you remember Little Golden Books? What was the first book that you ever received where someone inscribed a message to you? There were many books series like the ones I mentioned: Was there a set that you owned as a child? I do remember Little Golden Books but not as fondly as some other bloggers did. We had them, but I don’t think I thought of them as a “series” in the way some people do. My first book with an inscribed message is Sarah’s Unicorn but the one I think of most fondly is a copy of Beauty and the Beast (Disney Edition) from my Aunt Michele and Uncle Joe for my birthday in 1992.

In terms of owning series when I was a kid, I know I had a lot of American Girl books but I don’t think I owned a completed series for any of the girls. I really think the first series I read through in its entirety, bought, and still own today are the Anne Books. After that, it might not be until Harry Potter that I felt the need to own all of a series. That may explain my anger when everything is a series these days; for a long time, I apparently wasn’t very drawn to them! Nowadays, they plague my to-read list since people don’t seem to just write one-offs anymore – everything must be a series! Which reminds me, quick update, I am down to 5 books in my to-read pile!!!! So, I’ll be returning to my reading goal of the year to finish all the unfinished series on my to-read list now that I have room on my nightstand again. I am excited to get back to them for sure!

What would the world be like with no children’s books?

Among the blogosphere, the debate over children’s books versus young adult book versus adult books seems to have gotten very intense this year. It could just be me of course but it does seem to have erupted into a big “thing” and everyone has needed to weigh in on it. Personally, I don’t get what all the fuss is about. I enjoy reading – whether the book was meant for six year olds or ninety-nine years old, it makes no difference to me. In fact, some of the best reads of my life were meant for audiences much younger than me. Why adults seem so hung up on the latest young adult reading craze is beyond me. At least everyone is reading right?

Personally, some of my favorite books to this day are considered children classics though I didn’t appreciate them until I was much older. Reading Le Petit Prince in 11th grade French class changed everything – never mind I’d read it as a child and not understood what all the fuss was about. Perhaps it is only as a stressed out teen worried about getting into college that the baobab analogy makes sense. Anne Shirley guided me through 6th grade and now, her books take on new meaning as I trudge through my mid-20s with no Gilbert in sight but still plenty of laughs to be had. Doesn’t Anne seem like someone you’d like to be able to go visit with a bottle of wine after a hard day? She would remind me, as she once so comfortingly noted to Marilla, that tomorrow is a fresh day, there are no mistakes in it yet.

So thankfully, I’ve never walked away from what the rest of the world regulated to kids sections of book stores which is why I got to enjoy Harry Potter before my friends found him and directed them eagerly to The Hunger Games once a friend had already steered me in its direction. Sure, parents hem and haw over the appropriateness of these books for kids but even among the violence, these books are discussing fundamental problems all kids face – the search for who you are, who you are going to be and what you will stand for. I’m in my mid-20s and still figuring that out which is why I think these books, designed for kids, have such universal appeal. We never really stop wondering what we’ll be when we grow up and reading stories of brave, smart kids on the same path are comforting.

Especially since adult fiction just seem so depressing in comparison. It’s always a novel about death or depression or divorce. No one ever seems happy in contemporary fiction. There are ambiguous endings and the hero doesn’t always triumph in the end. I have enough of that in reality people; that is not what I like to find when I open up a book to escape for a few hours.

Take for instance the book I just finished, The Mysterious Benedict Society. Four smart (smarter than I will ever be), brave, resourceful kids go into danger to save the world and they win! Against all odds and reality, these four brilliant children do what no adult could do. They solve puzzles, connect the dots and act more bravely than I am (pretty) sure I would be able to in my (what the world thinks) vastly superior knowledge. It is slightly implausible? Sure, but why on earth would I want to read it if it was possible?

I Was Always One for a Good Cry

A friend recently sent me this blog posting at Blue Rose Girls where they were discussing sob inducers they read when they were kids. The one book they discuss that I remember sobbing over was Where the Red Fern Grows. In fact, Mr. Clark, my fifth grade teacher, let the girls go and read the last chapters out in the hallway to avoid the teasing from the boys. We sat surrounding a box of tissues and worked our way through the heartbreaking ending. My favorite memory of that day? Coming back into the classroom and seeing the guys trying to hide their red eyes and runny noses. Apparently it was a book we all could have cried over together.

Honestly, Where the Red Fern was a fairly typical book for me to cry over though. Put an animal in peril and I will be sobbing about three words in. I am the girl who freaked out over killer whales eating seals (my poor father…explaining the circle of life to a distraught three year old who didn’t get that Shamu had to eat too). The streak has continued. Mom cried me through the end of Shiloh, one of the few books I can remember Mom reading to both my sister and me. My younger sister wasn’t one to sit and listen to stories.

We had a reading program in elementary school called PARP, Parents as Reading Partners, where we had to read so many hours and so many books with our parents to get our rewards. Dad had a rule that he got to choose one of the books I would read. He chose some doozies over the years (I came late to the wonders of science fiction. Have Space Suit, Will Travel was excruciating to try to read in 5th grade). But none quite got to me like Call of the Wild. I think I’ve blocked most of it out if I’m being honest but I remember the first chapter. There is a dogfight. That was it; Dad found me with tears streaming down my face fifteen minutes into the book. I don’t remember him recommended another animal book after that. Apparently he’d finally learned his lesson. (Until about 12 years later when he thought watching Eight Below was a good idea. I think I cried the last 40 minutes of that film. I had a husky growing up; I think this makes these stories even worse for me to try to read.)

Me giving Luk, my husky a bath. Heavens, look at those bangs. This is circa the mid nineties…

But I have to admit I am hard pressed to think of a book that has made me cry that doesn’t involve animals. I am apparently heartless when it comes to human characters in my books. I’ve been thinking about this since I read the aforementioned blog post. I think maybe there were tears when Matthew died in Anne of Green Gables in sixth grade. I was more interested in that series that I devoured that year than Bridge to Terabitha that I was supposed to be reading for class. I know I didn’t cry in that book; I just found that girl annoying. In fact, she was the first character I was sort of actively gunning for. A new phenomenon for me. It wasn’t until I encountered Dora Copperfield many years later that I rooted for a character to mercifully exit the narrative (and heavens did I laugh when I found out Jasper Fforde shared my view of the situation).

OK, I shed some tears in the Harry Potter series, notably the fifth and seventh books where Rowling just decides to blindside you several times. I also shed tears in The Hunger Games but made it through its two sequels without nary a tear in sight. Maybe I just don’t usually read tearjerkers? They aren’t usually my style. I will be the first to admit I enjoy “chick-lit” as much as the next hopeless romantic and there aren’t usually tears to be found in what is essentially a romantic comedy film in book form.

Or maybe I just don’t have the same sympathies when it comes to humans that I do to animals. Actually, I’m pretty sure I don’t. I wonder what that says about me? I will always send money to the ASPCA or the World Wildlife Fund over anyone else. I would rather volunteer at an animal shelter than a homeless one. Maybe I feel safer with animals? Or maybe I am more on a footing I can handle? I am not always the best people person, I’ve worked hard over the years to get over a shyness than makes me want to hunker down with a movie rather than go out to a bar (let me tell you, that was especially not fun to handle in college). But I’ve always been good with animals. Dogs, cats, rodents, and the odd exotic one I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with. I volunteered during a demonstration at The Raptor Project a couple summers ago to feed a bald eagle. It may have been the highlight of my summer that year. Right before they let me have an awesome picture taken with an Eagle Owl. That completed my life.

Well, for whatever reason, the books that make me cry usually have an animal that I want to reach in and save from the clutches of the author. So whatever that may say about me, I leave to the reader’s discretion.

Photo: Scott Thomas, check out his blog! That is a scanned slide that had been stored in our basement for years. I did the best I could with color correction. The archivist in me cringed…