It was pretty clear to me half way through last Tuesday’s #kidlitchat that many people found it hard to limit the number to five. I had already thrown down ten titles and felt I could do thirty or forty more, easily. But after a list of my cherished five, followed by a round of classic (and not at all kidlit) titles, I wanted to throw out something a little more challenging in terms of what might be overlooked.
I went with graphic novels. And if I had to pick five of those for another, different desert island…
Watchmen. The comic book that blew my mind and helped me get away from superheroes.
Zot! by Scott McCloud. Yes, the author of Understanding Comics wrote a comic book that smooshed superhero elements, a parallel universe, and manga style all together, with teen characters at the center. Good stuff, few people seem to know it, which is a crime.
Bone, complete. There are a number of epic-length, multi-volume stories that could learn a lot about pacing and storytelling from Jeff Smith’s masterpiece.
Sandman. This is a cheat because there’s no one single volume of all the Sandman tales, but it’s my island so there. This, coupled with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight and Watchmen pretty much changed the way I, and many other people, viewed comics.
The Airtight Garage by Moebius. Or Le Garage Hermétique de Jerry Cornelius if you want to get all French and technical about it. French comic master Moebius (Jean Giraud) was the reason I started reading Heavy Metal magazine as a teen, and his science fiction visions and stories clearly influenced writers and filmmakers. He was Star Wars before Star Wars. He was Little Nemo for adults who liked aliens. Moebius wrote dozens of stories over the years and while it’s hard to single one out, this collection is the most complete for me.
It was while I was tossing out these titles that chat co-moderator Greg Pincus suggested I needed my own archipelago. Indeed! And why not? A small spit of connected islands, each with it’s own specialty lending library! TIme was running out on the chat, so I could probably get one more island’s worth of titles in.
Seeing a lot of the same shared titles come up I decided for the last round to come up with titles deliberately selected because they would be unlikely to be on anyone else’s list. But still kidlit.
Moon Have You Met My Mother? the collected poems of Karla Kuskin. This epic collection runs the gamut from serious to funny and is, in some ways, a nice counterpart to Shel Silverstien. Personally I give those two equal weight as kids poets and yet I rarely see anyone mention or feature Kuskin when talking about poetry for kids. Am I missing something?
Owls in the Family by the late Farley Mowat. Got a reluctant reader boy? Got a kid that likes rescuing animals? Got a hankering for the crazy interaction of humans and owls with very distinct personalities? Why have you not read this book yet?
Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater. Actually, I think Pinkwater deserves his own island, but push-to-shove it came down to this or The Hoboken Chicken Emergency and Lizard Music won this time. It’s the most sincere of the two, in a Pinkwaterian sort of way.
The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll. Everyone else will have Alice’s Adventures, why not a nautical tale?
Homer Price by Robert McCloskey. A quintessential mid-century boy’s boy, this collection of tales that weaved together to a final climax reads like William Saroyan for the middle grade set.
As time was winding down on the chat I realized there was one book that simply had to be added: Pippi Longstockings. It’s only been in the last 10 years or so since I started writing for kids that I’ve come to marvel at this brilliant, subversive, unusually structured masterpiece.
One person commented that they hadn’t heard of most of the titles I mentioned in the chat. Another insisted I was sitting in front of my library just writing things down. To the first, what a shame that more people don’t know these titles. I recognize that not everyone can have read everything, but I didn’t find these titles by chance; I actively sought out good, unusual, original stories both as a kid and as an adult. And I feel sometimes that adults devote their time reading and reviewing new titles when it should be fifty-fifty, old and new.
After the chat was over I looked back and felt I had made some omissions, that the collected titles represented an interesting cross-section of agreement with little dissent. Or diversity.
Next: Desert Island Omissions, Glaring and Otherwise.