Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Of Mildew, Childhood, and Great Stories

Browsing the shelves of Fully Booked today reminded me of my childhood. I was in the childrens section, leafing through pages and pages of colorfully illustrated books. I was pleased to find many classics. With all the cool stuff coming out, its easy to forget that some of the greatest stuff are the ones that stand the test of time.

I consider myself fortunate that a lot of the stuff I read as a child were from my mom's collection. As a kid, she was very particular about wrapping her books in clear cellophane and storing them in areas that were conducive to maintaining their pristine condition. She gave me some valuable tips, actually. Unfortunately, I was never very good at taking them to heart. I once lost about 50 books stored in a low cabinet due to rainwater that flooded my room during a storm. It was disheartening to see my books covered in mildew; their pages damp and stuck together; the covers a blurred riot of color, the actual images indistinguishable. I remember my mom coming in and shaking her head, saddened because some of these books were the very ones she passed on to me.

I'm not so finicky when it comes to my books. I believe they are meant to be enjoyed wholeheartedly: read  whether you have a greasy burger on the other hand, or a huge glass of brightly colored juice nearby that could potentially ruin the fragile material that is paper. On land, air, or sea--it really makes no difference to me, so long as I can read.

I am digressing from the point of this blog entry though. Sorry. As I was saying before my rambling interrupted, I was really happy to discover many classics on Fully Booked's shelves today. Though many of them show signs of the times illustration-wise, the stories remain intact and just as amazing as when I first read them.

Here is a real blast from the past: Joel Chandler Harris's The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus.

These stories date all the way back to the 1800s, and revolve around a curious character names Brer Rabbit and his animal friends (and enemies). Everybody was named Brer: Brer Fox, Brer Wolf, Brer B'ar (Bear), Brer Rattlesnake--you get the picture. I remember really loving these stories as a kid. I guess it was the simplicity of these stories: just going about their course of their daily lives as country folk, and the fact that all the characters were animals (think Wind in the Willows, Charlotte's Web, etc.) that had me hooked. It was also a look back at a time so far removed from my own (even my parents and grandparents) that made it so interesting.

Another cool book I rediscovered today is The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (author of The Moffats, another of my favorites). 

I first read this story in a book called 70 Favourite Stories for Young Readers. I think it has long gone out of print.

I really love this story, which pretty much deals with the whole "wanting to belong" bit that
almost every kid goes through. The protagonist's name is Wanda Petronsky, a kid who lives on the wrong side of the tracks, and who would come to school everyday dressed in the same worn out blue dress. To cut to the chase she becomes the butt of the popular girls' jokes. Eventually, she leaves town, leaving behind an indelible impression of her remarkable talent as a painter. More importantly, the bullies realize (some more than others) how awfully they treated her. 

The book, all in all, is a really clever way of imparting to the young that wise and very true adage: "Don't judge a book by its cover."  

I've always had a predilection for horror and fantasy fiction. As a kid I remember reading these pocket-sized books that made classics easier for children to digest. I owe my love for classics to those books and to my aunt who gave them to me (She was adamant that I read the good stuff). One of these books was a compilation of horror stories of Edgar Allan Poe. "Hop-Frog," in particular, was a story that really scared me. I spotted a cool version of this book on the shelves today. I really like the illustrations, which inject some humor, softening the impact of these macabre stories. The book is called Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness. It is illustrated by a fellow named Gris Grimly.

The book contains four of Poe's tales: "The Black Cat," "The Masque of the Red Deat," "Hop-Frog," and "The Fall of the House of Usher." This book brought me back to my first experience reading horror. I have to say that a couple of shivers ran up my spine, along with some irrepressible hoots of laughter because of the funny illustrations (weird comibination, huh?).

*According to Amazon these three books are suitable for children ages 9-12 though some supervision and guidance from parents is always a big plus when it comes to horror titles.  


  1. My favorite childhood books are Ladybird Classics. I'm happy that Fully Booked still carries those titles because I've bought some of them to give to my godson.

    I feel bad for you that you lost some books because of rainwater! I'm always paranoid that something like that will happen to my books but I'm not as OC as your mom when it comes to protecting them. Usually, I just wrap my books in plastic and put it inside a bookshelf. I try not to get stressed about taking care of books because the content is much more important than the condition, right? :)

  2. Wow, before my interest turned to fantasy and YA, I always read those kind of childhood books.

  3. i love edgar allan poe! i would scare myself silly reading the stories when i was a kid. i remember loving judy blume and enid blyton when i was young. there was only 1 copy of "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" in our grade school library and i would hide it so no one could read it but me. baaaad heehee.

  4. Some of the items you mentioned are really interesting, or the way you've describe them in the blog perked my curiosity. But when I tried looking up for the items ( Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness as an example)using the Fully Booked website: It would say no results found. I've tried different combinations and filters. Do you have any advice?

  5. @Kauru: Hi! Thanks for your kind words! That's because the Fully Booked online shop's inventory does not encompass the whole establishment's inventory. However, Fully Booked can make particular titles available to you should you wish to order online. Just email lucy@fullybookedonline, call 858 7000, or comment here. I will ask them to to add your requested item to the online inventory now just in case. Hope this helps!