Way-Back Wednesdays

Or, uhh…Throwback Thursdays?

Yeah.

Totally not my fault. Have you ever tried to put together the LEGO Super Heroes Batmobile and the Two-Face Chase set? Well, now I have. All 531 pieces of it. And there went my Wednesday.

So, while my son is learning the finer points of bank heists (apparently, exterior walls of banks just pull right off. Seems very lifelike. And, no worries, the security guard only has a walkie-talkie, so it’s not like he’s going to stop you. Batman, on the other hand…) I can get to this week’s review.

Anyway, today is another entry in my weekly installment of Way-Back Wednesdays (or Throwback Thursdays, if a certain someone’s Wednesday was consumed with tiny plastic bricks), in which I am making my way through a box I was recently given, filled with books from my childhood bedroom. I’ve been utilizing the scientific selection process known as closing my eyes and grabbing a book.

This week, I will delve into what was my greatest childhood passion, and something I miss greatly. As a kid, I was horse crazy (and I don’t mean, “Ooh, I want a pony,” crazy, I mean hardcore fanatic—like a Twilight fan in the photo line at ComicCon. Cray-zay.). I took riding lessons from age ten until I left for college, and had a beautiful American Quarter Horse whose name was Cyclone. Sadly, I haven’t ridden in years, but it is something I hope to get back to.

My favorite book series as a kid was The Black Stallion. I had every book, and have read each a minimum of six times, I would guess. My grasp found The Black Stallion and Satan (oooh, sounds ominous!) for this week’s pick. It is the fifth book in Walter Farley’s classic series—the fourth in this storyline. And yes, I should probably read and review these in order, but I’m not so sure anyone is interested in reading a book by book review of the enitre series. And this is random. But there are a lot of these books in that box (yet quite a few of them are missing. Weird), so brace yourselves.

The Black Stallion series follows the life of Alexander (Alec) Ramsey, who as a boy in the 1940s survives a shipwreck and finds himself on a deserted island with a wild stallion he names the Black.

Not to be confused with Wyld Stallyns

Boy and horse are rescued, and Alec brings the Black home with him to live happily ever after, until a Sheikh Abu Ishak shows up to claim rightful ownership of the horse. The Black Stallion and Satan picks up after Alec has raised the Black’s first foal, Satan, who Ishak gives Alec as a sort of consolation for taking the Black back to Arabia.

Alec receives a letter from Ishak’s daughter, stating he had died after being thrown from the Black, and Alec had been bequeathed the animal. Alec and the Black are reunited, and just in time for the International Cup, a race featuring the top champion horses from around the world.

Owner, jockey, and college student, Alec is one busy dude, and must decide if he plans to race the Black again. Probably not a good idea, since the Black’s first and only race was a bit of a disaster. But the temptation is great, and Alec must wrestle with the idea, while maintaining his racing career and ownership duties, not to mention the looming school year.

This week’s read was nostalgia-city for me, and I must admit to totally loving it. The book was written in 1949 but still resonates with the horse-crazed today. At least, me. And that’s what matters, right?

RIGHT?

Ahem. Anyway, aside from a DDT reference (yeah, you may want to keep that stuff away from horses. And people. And anything that breathes, for that matter), these books are pretty timely. Yet they would never fly with today’s publishers, I’d bet. A middle grade(ish) series about a college student? Try selling that one. I mean, in book one he’s quite a bit younger, but the bulk of the series he’s college aged or older. Yet it totally works.

If you were ever a fan, go read these again. If you weren’t, they’re definitely worth a read. Get them for your kids, so they can be horse crazy, too. You’ll thank me. Horses rule.

Way-Back Wednesdays

Today I bring you the second installment of Way-Back Wednesdays, my new blog series in which I review the contents of a box of books I was recently given, with a new book re-read and reviewed each week. This box is oddly random, a strange assortment from my childhood bedroom with little semblance of logic or order. Books from a series, with various titles in said series absent, chapter books from elementary school along with Shakespeare and Ray Bradbury—odd indeed, but should make for some fun over the coming weeks (months, even).

In selecting titles for review, I’ve utilized the very scientific practice of closing my eyes, reaching in the box, and grabbing a book.

And now to this week’s selection:

Little Witch, by Anna Elizabeth Bennett.

This is a chapter book I recall reading quite a few times around age eight. The copyright is 1953, and it definitely reads that way—plenty of cigar smoking, calling females “sis,” and vaguely sexist, fear-inducing authority figures. This is a bit of an odd read, but still kind of fun.  And there’s plenty of nostalgia, as I do remember how much I liked it as a kid.

It is the story of a young girl, Minikin, who has the great misfortune of being the daughter of an ill-tempered witch. Madam Snickasee, aforementioned witch, goes out each night, gallivanting about on her broomstick and working her black magic, while poor Minikin (Minx, for short) is stuck at home making Black Spell Brew and trying to find a way to conjure up a fairy.

Story of my life.

Many of the neighborhood children have gone missing, having fallen victim to the sorcery of Madam Snickasee. Any child who dared cross her was turned into a flowerpot and stuck in her windowsill. And the flowers have faces, people. FACES.

See?

Fortunately for the children, Minx has taken it upon herself to tend to the botanical kids, making sure they get plenty of water and sunshine.

Madam Snickasee sleeps through the days (what is she doing at night?), not stirring from dawn to dusk. Yet, oddly, she is not a vampire. Not even a sparkly one.

Unsupervised, Minx decides it is best to enroll herself in school (because what kid wouldn’t, right?) and meets a new friend, who takes in the poor, unkempt, underfed child.

After several run-ins with various threatening adults—the head of the PTA, a private investigator, the school principal—things get a bit treacherous for poor Minx. That private investigator is getting mighty suspicious about those missing kids, and as it turns out, she could be jailed for practicing witchcraft! No mention of burning at the stake, so at least she’s got that going for her.

Fear not, dear reader. You will be relieved to know it all works out in the end. Madam Snickasee is turned into an anteater (no, really) while answering charges of witchcraft in a courtroom, and Minx finds out she is actually the daughter of a fairy. Win, win.

Oh, sorry. Should have posted spoiler warnings.

I hope you can forgive me.

Way-Back Wednesdays!

Welcome to my first installment of Way-Back Wednesdays! Which, conveniently, can also be called Flashback Fridays! Perfect for a lazy blogger such as myself.

What, exactly, is Way-Back Wednesdays?

I’m so glad you asked.

Way-Back Wednesdays (not to be confused with Peabody’s WABAC Machine), is a new series in which I will be re-reading and reviewing books from my own collection. And it’s a very specific collection, at that. I will be limiting myself to the contents of a random box of books I was recently given from my childhood bedroom:

And there are some doozies in there. So prepare yourselves. There has been no cherry-picking on my part, no hiding the occasionally…umm…eclectic literary choices of my younger self. The USOC has monitored all box searching activity to assure the purity of the sport.

Just to show I’m being honest, here’s a book for the ages:

Today, however, I will begin with an absolute favorite of mine. In my house we have not one, but three copies of Norton Juster’s classic, The Phantom Tollbooth. In this box is a well-worn, and apparently STOLEN copy, belonging to my best friend. Sorry, Marsha. I will send it back, I promise!

My apologies for this ridiculously short review, but really, I can sum it up in one word: brilliant.

Our story begins with a boy named Milo, who is exceedingly bored with, well, everything. And that’s really all we know about him, but it works. Within the first few pages, Milo finds several boxes in his home, the contents of which are “ONE GENUINE TURNPIKE TOLLBOOTH” and an electric car. Milo decides to set aside his boredom and assemble the tollbooth and car, and in no time, he sets off on an adventure into a land of puns and wordplay.

Stuck in the Doldrums, he meets Tock the watchdog and they travel to Dictionopolis, where they are sent off to rescue the princesses, Rhyme and Reason. This is an adventure filled with clever puns and an ever fascinating play on words. Juster’s sharp wit leaps from every page, and Jules Feiffer’s fantastic illustrations only add to the overall appeal. It is such a brilliant combination, resulting in a perfect tale for the ages.

The overarching theme of finding magic in ordinary things is timeless, and this book, now more than fifty years old, is as appealing as ever.

I think one of the true tests of children’s literature is its ability to not only appeal to adults, but transport us back to childhood, sweeping us up with the same magic we felt as kids. This book does exactly that, and it’s one of the many reasons this will always be a favorite of mine.

If you’ve reached adulthood without having read this classic, you must go forth and consume it immediately. If it’s been years since you’ve had the pleasure of drinking in Juster’s words, go find that stolen copy you’re hiding in a box somewhere and read it!*

*And then return it, 25-30 years late.