Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Babe To Teens, Past
A Youth Column
By Jan Fields

This is Jan Fields last column.

Of Twinkies and Tortes

     When I was fifteen, I had my first taste of a Russian torte. For a kid whose idea of a nice snack was a Twinkie, the bite of chocolate and mousse was life changing. I can still half taste it in my memory. It was a taste of greatness and it lingered.

   I have read thousands of books in my life. Some of the books I read as a child were like Twinkies – sweet and light and quite a pleasant distraction from the day. They were also astoundingly forgettable. Oh, I can tell you, without question, that I have read – for instance – many of the Nancy Drew mysteries and the Trixie Belden mysteries and the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigator mysteries – but I can’t really tell you anything about any one book. I liked them. I am sure they played a part in shaping who I am (since I read so many of them) but they didn’t linger.

   But some books do linger in my memory with the same richness and depth of that Russian torte. You see, I also read The Velveteen Rabbit – an astoundingly sentimental story that made me feel completely undone. To this day, I can picture the tattered skin horse that believed in the power of love to make you real. And I can see the bunny – changed from threadbare velveteen to plushy fur and muscle and bone. The book lingered.

  It wasn’t the only book that lingered. The real Pooh – the one brought into my life by A.A. Milne – it lingered. The silly word games, the touching friendships – I found them magical. Just as I found Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. I clearly remember pressing my hand to the mirror in my bedroom and dreaming of a world beyond.

  As I got older, I still found children’s books that lingered and changed me. Sarah, Plain and Tall touched me as it must touch all plain women with a story that was part poetry, part stark truth, made beautiful in its refusal to be anything but true. The Bridge to Terabithia was a revelation – beautiful, incredible people can die. The book prepared me for the real world and it lingers, married now in my heart with stories of loss in my own life.

   Today, there are more children’s books published in more way than ever before. Many of them are Twinkies. Your children will read them and enjoy them and be completely ready to leave them behind. My six-year-old daughter’s favorite snack books are The A-to-Z Mysteries by Ron Roy. They aren’t great art – but they are her first mystery chapter books. They are filled with adventure. And they make her ponder clues and work out the puzzle. She has chewed her way through twenty-four of the books and will be done with the series soon. And she’ll probably always think fondly of them – as I do with dear Nancy Drew – but she’s not likely to remember the taste of specific scenes and ideas and images.

  I believe there is nothing wrong with giving children books that are fluffy and light. But I also want to give them those that linger. But how do you find them? Certainly you can’t tell by looking at the books featured in chain bookstores – how many of us really believe that the latest Blue’s Clues book is going to be life changing? Or even the latest Junie B. Jones? Or how about the book penned by a celebrity during an off week from work? They may be snacking good – but will they linger?

   Yet, I have read some books that linger – some are practically brand new, others a bit older, but all are wonderful books. Books that breathe and live in magical ways. And I’ve read them for all age groups – so let me take you on a tiny tour of the rich, delicious books I’ve consumed:

On A Wintry Morning by Dori Chaconas/illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson. This book isn’t new but I think every baby in the world should get to hear it. The words flow and wrap around you like a hug. It’s a story that says Daddies are vitally important too. I read it for the first time five years ago and my husband read it to our daughter dozens of times. It became the textbook for their relationship – and it lingers.


A City Christmas Tree by Rebecca Bond. This book is new but I believe it will be around for a long, long time. Unlike so many country Christmas books, this book shows that magic happens in cities too because Christmas magic isn’t about place – it’s about people. Words that sing and illustrations that dance – truly torte.


Getting to Know Ruben Plotnick by Roz Rosenbluth/Illustrated by Maurie J. Manning. So many books for young children are about how to deal with the meanness and cruelty of your cool peers and that does happen, no doubt. But this book says that true coolness is like true friendship – it comes from the heart.

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park. If ever an author knew how to write books that linger, Linda Sue Park is such an author. For me, Project Mulberry is so special because it’s such a writer’s book. We don’t just get the story – we get the character, chatty and pushy and totally real for the author. For readers who wonder how writers create characters who seem so real, Project Mulberry answers that it’s because the characters are real for the writer first. Long after the last chuckle from the book, the peek into the process will linger.


Bound by Donna Jo Napoli. I grew up hating Cinderella for the lessons about goodness and beauty. It seemed shallow. It seemed a lie. But then I read Bound, a retelling of the traditional Chinese version of Cinderella, suddenly the story wasn’t about beauty but about honor, family, greed – and perhaps self-preservation. The retelling was beautiful and exotic and seemed true in a way that lingers and changes the reader.


   So, please, don’t give up on today’s books when you shop for one that will endure. Writers are still penning classics. It’s not all Twinkies– sure, you may have to search a bit, peek behind the stacks of licensed character books – but it’s a search that will reward you and your child for a lifetime.

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