Updated: Jun 11, 2018
Certain books take me back to specific times in my life. In particular, a good children’s book can move kids in ways that they don’t yet have the ability to explain. The Japanese are amazing when it comes to editing classic works for children: I’ve read children’s versions of “Les Misérables,” “Stella Dallas,” “A Dog of Flanders,” “Little Women,” “The Old Curiosity Shop,” plays by Shakespeare, short stories by O Henry and Oscar Wilde, biographies of Helen Keller, Beethoven, Marie Antoinette, and more, all by the age of ten. These children's versions opened up the world of classic literature for me at an early age.
Here are a couple of memorable ones:
ねえさんといもうと (“Big Sister and Little Sister”) by Charlotte Zolotow:
A small girl runs away from her domineering older sister, only to discover how much she is needed and loved.
Children's Books of the Year 1966 (CSA)
There’s a certain wonderful introspection and quiet to this book, though there is much drama - frustration, cruelty, pity, love, self-discovery, strength - all taking place in the heart of the little sister. Obviously I must have been attracted to the story, as I am a younger sister. And what beautiful pictures.
“The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen” with illustrations by Vilhelm Pedersen: get this book at Amazon
Once again, I read these stories first in Japanese. It was a very, very old hardcover edition (which I could not find anywhere online), with the binding breaking apart. It was the start of my life-long love for old, musty books. I think that the oldness of the book, as well as the beautiful illustrations by Pedersen, enhanced the sense of mystery to these stories.
“The Wild Swans,” “The Snow-Queen,” even such simple stories as, “What the Moon Saw” are so wonderful and strange. They capture all of the ugliness, strength, beauty and purity of the human spirit.
“Das Gemeindekind” by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach:
Or, as I knew it, “Arashino nakano Aniimouto” 嵐の中の兄妹 (“The Brother-Sister of the Storm”).
A novel by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, published in 1887. It is set in her Moravian homeland about 1860. A drunken rogue, Martin Holub, who tyrannizes his family, murders the parish priest. He is hanged, and his wife, who does not exculpate herself, is sentenced to ten years' hard labour. Milada, the daughter, is brought up by the lady in the great house, and is encouraged to undertake penance, which eventually undermines her health. Meanwhile Pavel, the thirteen-year-old son, falls on the parish (Gemeindekind) and is turned over to the most notorious family in the village, since no other will take a murderer's son. With bad examples constantly before him, Pavel goes to the bad, but a meeting with his sister brings the beginning of a change. With the help of the schoolmaster, and against the contempt and hostility of the village, he pulls round and becomes resolute, dependable, and honest.
Garland, Mary: “Gemeindekind, Das” in: The Oxford Companion to German Literature. By Henry (Burnand Garland) and Mary Garland. Third Edition by Mary Garland. (Oxford; New York; Athen, 1997), p. 272, col. 2.
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards (Andrews)
the version I read: 偉大なワンドゥードルさいごの一ぴき
Julie Andrews is the author of several truly wonderful children’s books. Another favorite of mine was “Mandy.” This book made caused me to believe for a long time that there really IS a world that we can enter into through our imagination - which is basically what happens when we are immersed in a very good book. Oddly, I’ve never read it in English.
Plot summary from Wikipedia:
Three siblings, Ben, Tom, and Lindy Potter, meet Professor Savant while visiting the zoo one rainy day. On Halloween, Lindy was the only brave one to knock on the spookiest house on the block. After a second meeting, they begin spending time at the Professor's house, where he introduces them to games of concentration and observation. He reveals that there is a magic land called Whangdoodleland that can only be reached through the imagination, and that he is training them to accompany him there.
Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe with illustrations by Harry Clarke
I first fell in love with Poe in sixth grade, when a good friend and fellow bookworm introduced me to “The Black Cat.” The language was a bit beyond me then, but the diseased atmosphere, as well as the absolutely sickening illustrations by Harry Clarke attracted me immensely. (!)
But, really, what eleven-year-old kid would not be delighted by such sentences: “Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome -- of detestable putridity (from “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” - read here),” accompanied by this vomit-inducing illustration?:
I’m allowed to read this stuff and not get into trouble? Yah! It certainly made me run to the nearest dictionary and check the definition of “putridity.” This was how I expanded my vocabulary.
But don’t judge me yet; I also loved Poe’s poems (though most of them are also about death - but with anapests and iambs!). I first read his most famous, “The Raven,” but quickly became engrossed in the yearning sadness of “Annabel Lee.” In the process of searching for a website with the poem (click here), I found a MUSICAL version (here). Wow.
Short Stories by Oscar Wilde, Leo Tolstoy, et al.
I don’t remember the publisher of this collection of short stories (it’s not the edition that’s shown here), but I do remember that they mainly included those by Oscar Wilde (“The Happy Prince,” “The Selfish Giant,” “Birthday of the Infanta,” “The Young King”) and concluded with a story by Leo Tolstoy, “The Prisoner in the Caucasus” (read the latter by clicking here). A wonderful collection of masterpieces.