Great Middle Grade Reads discussion

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GENERAL DISCUSSIONS > Books You Are Supposed To Love, But Don't

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message 1: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Voigt  Kaplan (jvoigtkaplan) | 10 comments I recently reread THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. It's a classic, but I never connected with it as a kid and I didn't connect now. I love children's literature, so it's always disheartening when I don't bond with a well loved book. I'm curious, has this ever happened to you? Which books and why? Here's my review of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH to give more background on my experience:

I really wished I liked this book when I was a kid. It was touted as a classic and adored by millions, so of course I wanted to join in and feel the love too. But when I tried to read THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH at age ten and couldn’t make it through, I was pretty discouraged. I mean, what’s up with people who didn’t like a great book? I started it, but since I struggled with language in elementary school, I couldn't get into the wordplay, which is a large part of the experience.

I recently revisited the book since. Now that I love all kinds of literature, I was excited to finally feel the magic everyone had promised. Sadly, there was still no magic, but at least I understood why I didn’t connect as a kid.

The whiny, spoiled main character is highly unlikable and there's little plot. The story sort of floats from once fantastical scene to the next, indulging in pages and pages of wordplay. I can see how some children would enjoy the silliness of the wordplay and I did appreciate the book’s imaginative world building, but it wasn’t enough.

At a minimum, readers expect absorbing, multilayered characters and well-paced plots from literature and now-a-days, we usually get it. So, I’d say to any kid who’s ever tried a book everyone says is great and had to put it down that it’s OK not to like a book, even a classic. There was a reason you didn’t connect and it wasn’t personal. I promise there’s another book waiting for you that you will truly love. Keep reading.


message 2: by Brenda (new)

Brenda (brlemon) | 27 comments For me....it was The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I have tried over and over again, even after watching the movies, to get into those books. But I just can't. My imagination is not strong enough to be able to visualize the scenery.....which is ironic because the author spends so much time describing it every other page.


message 3: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 1673 comments Mod
Jennifer, I have to say I kind of agree about the Phantom Tollbooth. We read it to our kids (quite a few years ago now), and I thought it was definitely of a different time, and working too hard on the education it was providing.

The books I haven't ever read and can't figure out why are the Black Stallion books. My friends and I were all horse crazy, and they all read those--but for some reason I didn't. I got some idea in my head that I wouldn't like them, but I loved the movie :) I have to read them someday and find out if I was just being crazy!


message 4: by Lea Ann (new)

Lea Ann (buntingla) Call of the Wild by Jack London. Never enjoyed that book. Also I just finished reading Shark Beneath the Reef to a summer school class - so very boring.


message 5: by Lori (new)

Lori (loriadversario) | 33 comments Tuck Everlasting I just find it so creepy. The Tucks kidnap Winnie but it's okay somehow? It's romantic for Jesse (a teenager for 80 plus years) to ask a 10 yr old to drink from the spring in a few years so she can be trapped in a teenage body and keep him company? It's okay to commit murder to protect the family secret? The writing was very pretty but I could not get past the ick factor.


message 6: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Voigt  Kaplan (jvoigtkaplan) | 10 comments Lori wrote: "Tuck Everlasting I just find it so creepy. The Tucks kidnap Winnie but it's okay somehow? It's romantic for Jesse (a teenager for 80 plus years) to ask a 10 yr old to drink from the sp..."

Ha! I read that one a few years ago. I did love the writing and the story kept moving, but you are so right about ICK.


message 7: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Voigt  Kaplan (jvoigtkaplan) | 10 comments Brenda wrote: "For me....it was The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I have tried over and over again, even after watching the movies, to get into those books. But I just can't. My imagination is not str..."

You are not alone -- I've definitely heard of plenty of folks who couldn't get into them.


message 8: by Jemima (new)

Jemima Pett | 1461 comments Mod
I don't like The Hobbit; well I didn't like it when I read it when I was much younger, after I'd fallen in love with LOTR, but I felt less 'against' it when I read it a year or so ago. It's told in a very stylistic way, though - of its period.

I loved White Fang when I read it as a teen. How times change! I was astonished and shocked by its brutality when I read it recently (I did a MG&YA Classics reading challenge a couple of years back so I suspect I read it at the same time as the Hobbit.) I would take it off any child's reading list now. Black Beauty, however, remains timeless. Shame about the film ;)


message 9: by Jim (new)

Jim Westcott (jimwestcott) | 25 comments Okay, I don't mind if I take a few shots here, but I tried to like Harry Potter and just couldn't. Wheww! I said it! It feels to get it off my chest:)


message 10: by M.G. (new)

M.G. King (mgking) | 728 comments Jemima wrote: "I don't like The Hobbit; well I didn't like it when I read it when I was much younger, after I'd fallen in love with LOTR, but I felt less 'against' it when I read it a year or so ago. ..."

I remember being traumatized by White Fang as a young girl! I still can't pick up dog books . . . .


message 11: by Jim (new)

Jim Westcott (jimwestcott) | 25 comments I totally understand about White Fang.


message 12: by Jai (new)

Jai Baidell I found The Hobbit absolutely terrifying as a child, and have never been able to re-read it. LOTR is less visceral, somehow.

I've found many books I read as a child (we're talking 1960s here), when I revisit them, are just not very good. Their social assumptions and the worlds the children live in just don't exist any more, and in retrospect look very dreary. I looked at a huge pile of books, trying to decide which would interest my post-2000 born nieces, and was left with a very small pile.


message 13: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Voigt  Kaplan (jvoigtkaplan) | 10 comments Jim wrote: "Okay, I don't mind if I take a few shots here, but I tried to like Harry Potter and just couldn't. Wheww! I said it! It feels to get it off my chest:)"

So glad that was liberating :)


message 14: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Voigt  Kaplan (jvoigtkaplan) | 10 comments Jai wrote: "I found The Hobbit absolutely terrifying as a child, and have never been able to re-read it. LOTR is less visceral, somehow.

I've found many books I read as a child (we're talking 1960s here), whe..."


Well said. I've recently read a few older ones, like Mrs. Frisby, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Julie of Wolves (is that even old?), Rabbit Hill, The Door in the Wall, and enjoyed those, but they had universal themes. I distinctively remember not identifying with a bunch of older books as a kid and it was probably due to outdated social assumptions. I think that's why I've been selective in my older book choices.

Now I'm curious if good adult literature ages better than children's on the whole, but maybe that should be a whole other thread.


message 15: by Jai (new)

Jai Baidell The biggest crime some of the 1960s children's books committed was to be boring. I don't think kids today would tolerate them for a moment.
Quite a lot of adult fiction is dull, too. Maybe that's an age thing :-) Less time left, so less time to waste on tedium.


message 16: by Jemima (new)

Jemima Pett | 1461 comments Mod
I expect some of every decade's books are boring to some people. I think I pretty much read pony books and adventures in the 1960s, I would have found anything that didn't involve ponies or adventure boring! Only a few books I had to read from school escaped that tag, too... until I found scifi.

It got me wondering, though, and I did a Listopia search to find Children's books of the 1960s. I didn't get exactly that in the search results, but you might like to explore some of these and decide whether they're boring or not...

I'll start a new thread - Listopia Books of the 1960s, or something like that.


message 17: by Jai (new)

Jai Baidell Thanks Jemima, I looked a bit more deeply and found most of the books I remember reading were actually much older, from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Most of what I read was from the library, probably makes sense. At the time, of course, I did enjoy them. It's more looking back that they don't always compare well to the best of today's stories. But I suspect I'm digging myself a bigger hole here. :-)


message 18: by Jim (new)

Jim Westcott (jimwestcott) | 25 comments Thanks for the comment Jai:) I was actually trying to be funny. But, I'm serious about not really liking the Harry Potter series. I like books that kind of suit my personality-quirky stuff. Anyway, one book that begged to be put down for me is The Island of the Blue Dolphins-just didn't feel it.


message 19: by Jai (new)

Jai Baidell I quite enjoyed the first Harry Potter but lost interest after that.

A classic I didn't like was Charlotte's Web, so depressing.

I suffered under a severe handicap. My parents were teachers of English literature and wanted me to enjoy serious children's books. I never did. Instead I read my way through series like the Bobbsey twins or Swallows and Amazons.

So many kids' books are heavy handed and moralistic. We don't like reading that as adults, so I've no idea why anyone thinks children would be any different.


message 20: by Jim (new)

Jim Westcott (jimwestcott) | 25 comments Good point, Jai:)


message 21: by Jemima (new)

Jemima Pett | 1461 comments Mod
Jai wrote: "Thanks Jemima, I looked a bit more deeply and found most of the books I remember reading were actually much older, from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Most of what I read was from the library, ..."

Yes, I snuck a look at the books of the 1950s and thought I read a lot of those - in fact the list for people born in the 1960s shows they were reading much older books.

I suspect those heavy handed and moralistic books were written to ensure children got indoctrinated heavy-handedly in moralistic stuff! I remember teachers 'not approving' of lots of things I read, and in particular being told not to mention Enid Blyton when I went for an interview at my new secondary school as she was 'not approved'. Well, me being me, I told the head teacher exactly why I liked Enid Blyton, even if she wasn't approved of... this is age 10 going on 11 of course (we start secondary school at 11).

I never got into Swallows and Amazons, although I can never work out why. I read Coot Club more recently and loved it, but then, that one's set locally :)


message 22: by Jim (new)

Jim Westcott (jimwestcott) | 25 comments Good for you! Telling your teacher why you liked Enid Blyton.


message 23: by Jim (new)

Jim Westcott (jimwestcott) | 25 comments Jai-Your thread reminds me of being a bit mortified during the animated adaptation of Watership Down. I think I was 7 or so when I saw that. But, I must say, the book is one of my favorite-didn't appreciate the book until middle school though.


message 24: by Jai (new)

Jai Baidell Jim wrote: "Jai-Your thread reminds me of being a bit mortified during the animated adaptation of Watership Down. I think I was 7 or so when I saw that. But, I must say, the book is one of my favorite-didn't a..."

Perhaps it's because we were really too young to be offered these books at the time.
A child's mind doesn't work quite the same way as an adult's does. I wrote a story for my niece (age 7), and she was extremely upset because a character in the book called a cat "stupid".
Bad things happening to defenceless beings must be even more scary when you yourself are small and defenceless, such as rabbits or hobbits.


message 25: by Jim (new)

Jim Westcott (jimwestcott) | 25 comments Well put!


message 26: by Brenda (new)

Brenda (brlemon) | 27 comments I am a school librarian and you wouldn't believe the number of parents who ask me why our library does not have Nancy Drew books or Boxcar children books or anything else they remember reading as a young child. The answer is those books, in their original editions, are not timeless. There is no way a student in today's world would be able to read an original Nancy Drew book and understand why she had to wait until she found a pay phone to call for help or many other things. The boxcar children books, in original editions, are morally heavy-handed and formulaic in nature.

There are kids who are still finding a series and reading every book like in the past that I like to refer to more as "brain candy" than actual literature. But the series has changed and continues to change from when I first started to what is "hot" right now.

Right now, at the middle school level, it's all about Diary of a Wimpy Kid books..... (there are many other popular series but these books are ones that seem to have the universal appeal to kids and they will read a new book in the series no matter what the actual plot or storyline is....it could be horrible and the kids would still clamor for it because it's a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book.)


message 27: by Jim (new)

Jim Westcott (jimwestcott) | 25 comments I like your term, ''brain candy."


message 28: by Jai (new)

Jai Baidell Instant communication in the modern era invalidates the entire plots of a huge number of adult thrillers, as well as dating the stories. Suspension of disbelief is being stretched quite a bit these days.


message 29: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 1673 comments Mod
Brenda, interesting about those books. We still carry both Nancy Drew and Boxcar children in our (public) library), and they get read a fair bit. I think that kids need to be given a bit of credit--if we could understand that Laura Ingalls didn't have a telephone at all, surely today's kids can understand that Nancy Drew is a period piece and not set in our time (though I do gather that kids today aren't big on historical fiction, more's the pity).

Some of that already-dated brain candy from my childhood has prejudices and assumptions I wouldn't necessarily want passed on (and that might include Nancy Drew, who was a radically independent girl when first dreamed up, but even by my childhood in the 70s felt a bit too dependent on Ned). But some of it is still just good fun.

Jim, if it's any consolation, my boys flat-out refused to read any Harry Potter. And they are supposed to be of the Harry Potter generation!

And what's with Watership Down being a kids book? I was there when it first came out, and I read it (I was 9 or 10 at the time), but so did all the adults. I don't think we thought of it as a children's book.


message 30: by Jemima (new)

Jemima Pett | 1461 comments Mod
I think all the best kids' books carry messages for adults that maybe we've forgotten as we've grown up.


message 31: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 1673 comments Mod
Jai wrote: "Instant communication in the modern era invalidates the entire plots of a huge number of adult thrillers, as well as dating the stories. Suspension of disbelief is being stretched quite a bit these..."

I don't see why that needs to invalidate books set before instant communication. You don't have to suspend disbelief--just know that the world hasn't always been as it is now. Yes, I guess that "dates" the books, but if the story is good, who cares? Maybe because I'm a child of the 60s and 70s, but I don't think twice about it when a book predates cell phones and the internet.


message 32: by Brenda (new)

Brenda (brlemon) | 27 comments Rebecca - are the Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew the new updated versions or the old ones? Both titles were reproduced and the storylines were updated to reflect some of the current changes.

And....are the children picking them out themselves or are they having parents or older generations guide them to the books?


message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

I recently read The Boxcar Children (older version) for the first time and really enjoyed it. I had to get it on my kindle though as they only had the modern ones available at the library.


message 34: by Jai (new)

Jai Baidell Rebecca wrote: "Jai wrote: "Instant communication in the modern era invalidates the entire plots of a huge number of adult thrillers, as well as dating the stories. Suspension of disbelief is being stretched quite..."
I don't think it invalidates the books, but the plots become less appealing to me. I don't want to read a whole chapter about trying to find a working phone, or a whole book about finding the one person who knows the answer to something that you could check on the internet in seconds. I guess the impact could vary according to genre though, it might be more important in a fast-paced thriller than a laid-back romance.
For children's books I expect it would matter more for older children.
And fyi I'm older than you, Rebecca :) There's no going back.


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