Looking at kids' lit

I've been thinking a lot about kids' books lately.

Two classes I've covered recently (Amy McClain's Shiloh freshmen and Carmen Morgan's fifth-graders at Tuscola's East Prairie School) turned their reading material into something more tangible.

The Shiloh freshman read "The Chocolate War," by Robert Cormier and turned it into a full-fledged project that looked at how bullying happens in their school. Some educated younger kids about bullying and what it means.

And then those Tuscola fifth-graders transformed the hanging ending of "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry," by Mildred D. Taylor, into a mock trial of a classmate.

Without reading the sequel, a jury from another fifth-grade class heard the evidence from those involved and ruled an accused killer was innocent.

Both classes learned some pretty powerful lessons, I think. A couple Shiloh students said researching bullying made her - and school officials - realize it happens, even in their close-knit district.

And the Tuscola kids not only got to spend part of an afternoon in the Douglas County Courthouse, but they argued their case in front of a real judge. It seems some pretty powerful learning that started with some pretty powerful books.

These two classrooms got me thinking about books I learned from - and loved - as a student. Here are my top five:

1."Little House in the Big Woods" by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and all the other books in Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie" series. These books were a family favorite, and I think they really taught me how to immerse myself in fiction. I re-read the first book, about the Big Woods," recently, and found myself completely transformed. The wolves' howls made me shiver and Wilder's description of Pa's fiddle playing as she drifted off to sleep practically made me sigh in contentment.

2."Tuck Everlasting" by Natalie Babbit. I think I read this book for the first time in fourth grade. It was the first time I really thought about what would happen if people lived forever.

3.Roald Dahl's "Matilda." I probably read it five or six times between third and fifth grades. I loved the fact that Dahl gave a young character so much power - and she got the best of all those adults who picked on her so long.

4. I'm not embarrassed to admit I re-read a couple Ramona Quimby books (by Beverly Cleary) not long ago. I appreciated not only Cleary's clear, descriptive writing, but the troubles Ramona finds herself in. She never means to be a pest - but can't seem to help herself. Surely I'm not the only one who can still relate. As a child, I appreciated the entertaining situations and the fact that so many books featured the same character.

5.And while "The Great Gatsby" doesn't exactly fit with the rest of the children's literature on my list, I still love it. I think there's something to be said for the way the characters' gilded lives seem to implode. Fitzgerald's vivid descriptions, of course, make this book an escape from reality.

What were your favorite books as a child or a young adult? Which ones could you read over and over? Did any strike you differently as an adult?

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