Lessons from Harry Potter

This month marks twenty years since the publication of the first book in the Harry Potter series, which by some yardsticks is probably the most successful young adult series in literary history.

Cover image - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

All kudos and congratulations to J. K. Rowling for her success, and for her determination to persevere in the face of what must have seemed, at first, like overwhelming indifference from publishers.  That’s our first lesson.  If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying.  If your book is worthwhile, it may well find its readership sooner or later.  Today, when you can publish it yourself rather than have to fight with the ‘gatekeepers’ (a.k.a. publishers) for access to an audience, that’s both easier and more difficult than ever.  It’s easier, in that anyone can do it, but also more difficult, in that standing out amongst the flood of author-published books, so that potential readers can find one’s work, is more and more difficult.  One wonders whether Ms. Rowling would have taken that route, had she appeared on the scene a little later?

For all that literary agents are often demonized by their disappointed clients, Ms. Rowling seems to have been fortunate in hers.

It’s hard to imagine a world in which the books (and films, and video games, and personality quizzes) might not have been published. But, according to J.K. Rowling’s first agent Christopher Little, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was not an easy sell.

. . .

“When I received the submission from Joanne (as she was known at the time) Rowling, it just came in as an unsolicited submission (of the first three chapters) and was picked up by our then office manager who was looking through the slush pile,” he said. “She liked it and bought it to my attention. Once I read it, I had no reservations whatsoever and in fact felt very excited about it.

“It was clearly presented as a fully realized world […] I don’t think I recall reading anything so immersive since The Lord of the Rings many years earlier. We quickly wrote back to Jo asking to see the rest of the manuscript as soon as I had finished those initial chapters.”

. . .

“Over a period of nigh on a year, the book was turned down by more or less every major publishing house in the U.K. Various reasons were given including the story being too long, the fact that a story set in a children’s boarding school might feel too ‘exclusive’ to many readers, etc.”

There’s more at the link.

To me, one of the more amusing features of the Harry Potter series has been the life lessons people have drawn from it – lessons that I’m sure were not intended to be taken as such by Ms. Rowling.  For example, Niklas Goeke suggests that Professor Lupin’s anti-boggart spell is also a useful lesson in productivity when facing daunting tasks.  (His analogy reminds me of an old African proverb:  “How do you eat an elephant?  Mouthful by mouthful!”)

To celebrate the anniversary of the first Potter publication, Huffington Post is bringing out a series of articles all this month about Potter-related subjects.  Some are dire, but others are fun reads.  I think they’ll repay browsing from time to time as more are published.  (For example, you might be relieved to know that “True ‘Harry Potter’ Fans Will Never, Ever Drink Unicorn Frappuccinos“.)

For myself, raised as I was on a diet of many classic children’s and young adult book series, even though I read Potter as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I’m glad to see that the art of writing for that audience is alive and well, despite everything political correctness can do to homogenize it.

Among the series I remember from my youth with great pleasure are:

What series do you remember from your childhood and younger adulthood?  Which inspired and shaped and formed your reading preferences?  Let us know in Comments, so that, if so inclined, we can look them up and sample them for ourselves.  Even in later life, I still thoroughly enjoy a well-crafted book for younger readers, and I’m sure many of you do the same.


  1. I picked up the Philosophers stone around 2003 I guess, then the second one. I did enjoy them in the beginning and read the last one just for completeness sake. They were interesting and some enjoyable. I did like how the characters grew in all ways through the series. Mind you there were times I was ready to slap some sense into some of them.

    As to books I read growing up? Youth had to be the Chronicles of Narnia, Hardy Boys (originals, not the crap these days), Nancy Drew, and I think I started the Dragons of Pern series when I entered high school. By then I had as well read the entire Lord of the Rings with the Hobbit.

    By the time I had reached high school my reading tastes were very “adult” and mature. Reading works like “Ivanhoe”, “Men of Iron”, “Morte D’Arthur”, and so on. Needless to say I was a rather voracious reader in my youth and fairly well rounded.

    1. You consider Dragonriders YA? Harpers of Pern, maybe, given some of the sexual content of Dragonriders I wouldn’t consider it YA, at least not in the 70s when I read them (in 7-8th grade, yeah).

      1. “What was the Golden Age of Science Fiction?” “12.”

        My first read of the Pern novels was at roughly the same time/age as yours, and I don’t remember having any real reaction to the (extremely tame) sexual content. I think the only thing I actually noticed was Menolly getting her first bra.

        Then again, my local library had a quite diverse SF/Fantasy selection at the time, which resulted in me reading Tales Of Nevèrÿon when it came out. That might have skewed my definition of “YA-appropriate”…


        1. i think the only thing I actually noticed was Menolly getting her first bra

          That was in Dragonsinger, though, part of the Harper Hall series. I think Herb was talking about the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy (Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon).

          1. My point was that I made it through the first 5 books without any sexual content really being intrusive. (I don’t think The White Dragon was out in paperback yet, and even with all the ambient hormones in that one, it was pretty mild)


        2. See, I remember very much reacting to the sexual nature of F’nor and Breekke’s relationship in particular a line about him tenderly moving a strand of hair in a way that reflected they had recently made love.

          That one scene influenced how I tried to be with girls for a long time (rather wish it hadn’t).

  2. but peter
    that would require i go to huffpo

    one does not simply walk into huffpo.

  3. Many on your list, Peter, but also Enid Blyton, Edward Eager, and E. Nesbitt (what’s with all the E’s?). I remember reading Enid Blyton over and over, particularly the boarding school books. We lived in Northern Thailand in the ’70’s, and television wasn’t a thing for us, so books were my re-runs. I really wish my Enid Blyton’s hadn’t vanished. I’d love to re-read them. I think I foolishly gave them to a non-reading niece and want them back. I need to figure out which niece.

    1. Enid Blyton! Yes read some of her works as well. Which led me to remember another children’s author Edward Eager and his series which started with “Half magic

      1. That’s it! Half Magic. I couldn’t remember the title.
        Also, I don’t think this was a series, but Carbonel the King of Cats was another favorite. That may still be in the house somewhere.

        1. There were three Carbonel books: Carbonel, Kingdom of Carbonel and Carbonel and Calidor. I only read the first as a child, but tracked down all three as an adult, once I knew there were more. My child preferred #3 of them all, but all were comfort books.

          As an adult I notice continuity errors from one to the other, but they are still enjoyable.

          Anyone else remember Nicholas Stuart Gray’s stories? Fabylon, Grimbold’s Other World, etc.?

          1. I’m having a little deja vu over your name. Are you by any chance the Elaine Thompson who ran a Dorothy Dunnett listserve maybe 15 years ago? (Part of the deja vu is that I may have asked you this before. If so, apologies.)

  4. Yes it dates me, but I remember reading the Rick Brant Science Adventure series, Tom Swift, as well as the Tom Corbett Space Cadet series. I sampled the Hardy Boys, but that series never really interested me.
    It wasn’t until much, much later in life that I began to read fantasy.

    1. I’d forgotten about Tom Corbett – I loved those! I’m pretty sure Richard was the name of the navigator, but I can’t remember the engineer’s name at all. Something with an “S”?

      And now – how many decades later? – we finally have rockets that can land!

    2. Rick Brant! The entire series is available in reprint now, including The Magic Talisman from Lulu Press! I loved that series!

  5. For me, the stand-out series was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Loved-loved-loved them, to the point where I believe they were responsible for my interest in the American western frontier.

    But the very first series which I read from the library when I first got a library card: Walter Brooks’ “Freddy the Pig” series. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freddy_the_Pig
    This rather exasperated my mother, who once asked if I were going to check out any other books at all. I was only eight or nine, and easily amused.

  6. I read everything I could get my hands on. What especially stays in my mind more that 50 years later is the books my mother bought me. Classics like Little Women, The Black Arrow, What Katy Did and Nada the Lily. There were others I don’t remember of course. I used to take home 2 school library books a day when I was in Primary. I really am grateful to my parents who enabled my reading. Not a popular activity in a small village like mine.

  7. The Heinlein juveniles in elementary school (1960s). Not exactly a series, of course.

    Then Asimov and Poul Anderson in high school. Foundation, at least, really is a series, and the Polesotechnic League and Terran Empire stories are as well.

    1. I read all the science fiction in the junior high library. Heinlein, Clark, Norton, Asimov. The author Alan E. Nourse jumped into my head, but I can’t for the life of me remember any titles. I haven’t thought of him in years

        1. The Billy Whiskers series. They were my father’s when he was a kid. That billy goat led a hilarious life.

  8. I liked Harry Potter the first time I read it.
    It was called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

  9. Reading all of these is bringing other authors to the forebrain. Albert Payson Terhune’s books about dogs, and Thornton W. Burgess’s animal books when I was really little. I learned very young to remember author’s names over titles as a device for getting more of what I liked.

  10. Walter Farley’s Black Stallion and Island Stallion series. Jim Kjelgaard’s dog books, mostly stand alones, but Big Red had a quartet. I read all the early Nancy Drew books because my sister had them, but I wouldn’t have bought or borrowed them from the library myself.

    1. Oh, boy, how could I forget all the horse books? Walter Farley, the Pullein-Thompson sisters, the Silver Brumby books, on and on.

  11. In fantasy, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain still influence me. In SF, which I read more when I was young, there was Danny Dunn and Tom Swift, and for something in between, Choose Your Own Adventures.

    1. The Prydain were a big influence on me at 12-13 but when I tried to reread them as an adult a few years back I couldn’t get into them.

      1. They are harder to read as an adult, but I still relish the distinctly Welsh mythos he invoked, and the simplicity of the prose.

  12. First, Hardy Boys. Heinlein. SF Book Club. Astounding/Analog. Doc Savage. ERB’s Barsoom series.

  13. Laura Ingalls Wilder. James Herriot. Albert Payson Terhune. All the Happy Hollisters, Bobsey Twins, old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. Visited my grandparents and Grandmother had Perry Mason. Dad’s Hornblowers.

    I didn’t discover science fiction and fantasy until I was fourteen, had chicken pox, and Dad was so desperate to stop me whining he tried Anne McCaffrey.

    Is there anyone like Herriot and Terhune writing books today? My five-year-old has fallen in love with Herriot: she needed a book she hadn’t read (had read to her) before and we had the Children’s Treasury.

    In fact, the very first story I ever wrote was about a dog. Huh. I’d forgotten that. Must have been around seven or so, because Mom gave up on reading my handwriting when I was eight and taught me to touch type. Inspired by Terhune, I’m sure, from what I remember of it.

    1. “Laura Ingalls Wilder. James Herriot.”

      Ack, I forgot those in my list. Both very good – entertaining and informative.

  14. The Dark is Rising.
    Little House on the Prairie
    Margurite Henry’s horse books.
    The Children of Green Knowe
    Joan Aiken’s books
    The Little Princess
    Roald Dahl’s books

  15. I developed a fondness for “original” fairy tales when I was young—from Dodie Smith’s 101 Dalmatians* to Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. My favorite book when I was eight years old was Watership Down, even though I obviously didn’t get many of the political allusions until I was much older, of course. I discovered Jane Yolen at my school library (Dragon’s Blood and Heart’s Blood to begin with; I hadn’t realized there was a third one until much later.) All of the Oz books through Ruth Plumly Thompson**, and even a few of the wretched ones that followed. (Oz must be a fractal land, it’s the only explanation.) The Andrew Lang Fairy Books (though only about half of them.)

    I agree on the Little House books, and the Narnia books, and the Chronicles of Prydain. We had a lot of the early-series Nancy Drew (the latter stuff was horribly written).

    When I was a bit older, I got into Robin McKinley and the Terri Windling-edited fairy tale retellings. I also got introduced to the works of James Schmitz and Orson Scott Card, not to mention Heinlein (all at once, when I turned ten and my Nana gave me a $50 gift card to the bookstore. I had no idea what to get, so my mom picked out all the Heinlein juveniles that she didn’t own and gave me the copies of the ones she did.) I started reading Modesitt by randomly running across the first Recluce book at the bookstore.

    *The feel of the book is different from the movie in many ways, especially in how the sense of the English countryside is present.

    **Thompson is a much better writer than Baum, though oddly not as memorable. She also preferred to have boys as the protagonists.

    1. I loved “The Hundred and One Dalmatians.” Reading that book pretty much completely spoiled the Disney movie for me, because the book is just so much better.

    2. Perhaps it was the “more boys” that caused me to love the Thompson Oz books more as a child. Thinking back, though, I believe it was also that she had a far more developed world; the Baum volumes frequently just seemed to be “Story idea. I need an oddball place for it to happen in. Hmm.” Very little of the interactions between places and subcultures that a “real” world has.

      Although Baum is strangely more memorable. I still remember the fascination I had with the last book, Glinda of Oz – that glass city, that could be dropped to the bottom of a lake, ruled by a mad dictator type.

  16. I enjoyed Harry Potter more when it was Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series.

    (Granted, it is good that the success of HP allowed the Chrestomanci books to find their way back into print!)

  17. There was a series I read in elementary school that I really liked, but for the life of me I can not recall any of the titles or the author’s name. It all took place in Europe, might have been Sweden, and was about a group of young friends (male and female) and their adventures.
    That and the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies are what got me to start reading.

    1. Bill Bergson by Astrid Lindgren? They had some sort of LARP play involving the Wars of the Roses?

    2. The Michael and Cecilia mysteries by Anckarvsvaard? (sp by memory). They were definitely set in Sweden.

      1. I don’t know if those are it. i don’t think there was anything supernatural in the stories, and trying to find her works nowadays is almost impossible. Even google searches bring up nothing.

        1. Amazon’s got six copies of the first one: The Mysterious Schoolmaster. Someone’s review summarized it thusly: In a small coastal town in Sweden, school friends Cecilia and Michael band together to thwart a ring of spies who threaten their country’s security. Full of humor and interesting glimpses into mid twentieth century small town Swedish life, this is a compelling mystery which has stood the test of time.

          Does that help?

  18. Other than the Dan Frontier series, the only one was the James Blish Star Trek novelizations. Had practically left juvenile and YA books by then. Favorite childhood books were Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Fin, anything by Poe, and a ton of anthologies. Remember one of the latter only because of an outstanding story: the first chapter of The Hobbit. Unfortunately, the local libraries didn’t carry it, which was frustrating.

    My intro to literary SF was a volume in a set of stories deemed appropriate for children, loaned by family friends, Unfortunately, can only remember a couple. The mystery volume was my intro to Poe. It had The Gold Bug.

    Didn’t discover C.S. Lewis until rather late. It showed up in chapter book form in Sunday School literature, and by then I’d read enough SF/F to be astounded that a SF/F author could be pro-Christian. Later read, and thoroughly enjoyed The Screwtape Letters.

  19. The only YA series I ever really invested in was The Chronicles of Narnia. I did read some Henry Reed books and want to find them for my niecphews.

    There is a collection of YA books, although not a series, that I still reread, the Heinlein juveniles. Especially if you include Starship Troopers (which was meant to be one) they had a huge influence on me and still do today. J. Daniel Sawyer, at The Everyday Novelist, argues they stand out in YA because the heroes don’t overcome to win over the bad guys but instead overcome to win a whole new set of problems, adulthood. He argues this is why they are so re-readable as adults (with Have Spacesuit Will Travel) and I think he has a point.

    1. Oh, and a lot of Norton seemed to be marked YA in the 70s…the ____ Magic (Octagon Magic stands out) books.

    2. I had not heard that one about the RAH juveniles – but you are right, he (Sawyer) has a very good point. (One that I should have seen myself, IMHO, for as long as I have been reading them.)

      This is also why Starship Troopers doesn’t quite fit. Rico gets “adulted” almost immediately, and then he is indeed a young adult throughout the rest of the work.

      1. Yeah, I had the same “oh, duh” reaction when he explained it. I had noticed it subconsciously but never noticed it.

        I need to read the few I never did as a kid.

  20. What series do you remember from your childhood and younger adulthood?

    Off the top of my head (if you see it floating by, can you catch it for me, I keep losing track of it today):
    The Black Stallion books
    The Hardy Boys
    Anything by J.W. Lippincott.
    Encyclopedia Brown.
    R.A. Heinlein’s Juveniles
    Dragonriders of Pern (okay, maybe not YA, but I did first read it in HS)
    The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy
    Big Red

    I read Narnia in college

    1. Oh, I forgot Encyclopedia Brown…I loved those.

      Re the “I did first read it in HS”, is 15-18 now young adult? I thought that was the (new to me at least) category of new adult.

      1. I liked Encyclopedia Brown, but after a while, the similarities of his cases made me wonder if he wasn’t that smart but rather everyone else in Idaville was an idiot:

        “That same kid who has offered 37 get-rich quick schemes that all turned out to be attempts to scam us out of our money has yet another get-rich quick scheme! Quick, we have to go to the meeting, because we can’t miss out on this one.”

        1. I wrote three stories in that vein, all involving a kid with some mild physical and social issues, and did the covers for one. Unlike Encyclopedia, he’s good at tinkering, but has blind spots. In one he salvages a camping trip by rigging a solar cooker, worries about whether it will really work, and is the hero when it does. But then someone moans they won’t have a fire for marshmallows, and in a moment he builds one using a flashlight reflector. They ask if he knew how to do that all along, and he goes “sure,” It never occurs to him that the problem of building a fire is the same as the problem of cooking.

          The reason I haven’t pursued them is concerns of liability, such as in the fire scene. These things do work, which makes them great for experimenting, but with that there’s always some danger. Frankly I don’t know what to do with them.

          A pity, because the first two would be fun to build at home. “Honey, of course I have to build them. It’s for a book.”

  21. Although it’s already been mentioned, the Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper remains to this day one of my most beloved series of books from childhood (and I still reread it semi-yearly). The Prydain Chronicles as well. I also loved Lloyd Alexander’s other books, especially his Vesper Holly series, and the Westmark trilogy (though that is advisable for slightly older kids–say, twelve and up–as they are little death-heavy).

    Although they didn’t exist when I was a kid, I loved Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series (at least the first 3–I haven’t read Clariel, and I found his most recent one a mild disappointment). Again, probably more suitable to slightly older kids, but they’re wonderfully written. Also Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books–which again, didn’t come around until I was an adult, but I will definitely give them to my hypothetical future children.

    Other beloved books from childhood: the Harper Hall trilogy (although yes, I read the Dragonriders at about eight–there is sex, but it’s not explicit, so YMMV), the Black Stallion books. I always loved a good scary story, so House on Hackman’s Hill by Joan Lowry Nixon is still on my list (and I still reread it, though these days it takes maybe an hour, heh). David Eddings (though yeah, I was a well-advanced reader, so even though I read the Belgariad when I was in fourth grade, it’s probably not suitable for all fourth graders).

    And although I read it as an adult, I loved Harry Potter, and always will.

    1. Nix has a new one out? *Finds it in the local library.* I’d think quite a lot would be disappointing after the first three and the long wait.

      His Keys to the Kingdom is okay.

      1. It wasn’t bad, and it was a decent read, but compared to the original three it…lacked something. (And Clariel I never had a desire to read because I’ve never been a fan of “this is how fell to the dark side> plots.)

        Lirael of the Golden Hand, though, follows on after the events of Abhorsen. 🙂

    2. While The Dark Is Rising is a great series of books, I can’t help but be disappointed that the last one is basically a game of Capture the MacGuffin.

  22. This is going to date me for sure, but for me it was the Freddy the Pig series by Mr. Ed creator Walter R. Brooks. The talking animals, the dry humor, the underlying message that wonderful adventures could be had even in the mundane world of small town and farm — thus was my young psyche molded. When I got into trouble in Fourth Grade for smuggling books home from the library after my parents took my library privileges away as punishment for getting bad grades, it was a Freddy the Pig book that was the offending contraband. Later it was Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle series that tickled my literary fancy, for many of the same reasons as with Freddy, but also for the whimsy and downright eccentricity.

  23. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede.
    I still love those books.

  24. There was a series (possibly Gang of Four) about four English kids who had access to a castle with tunnels in the basement that led to adventures. I was very disappointed to learn that “torch” was just English for “flashlight”; I had been picturing them with, well, torches.

    I’ll second the Dr. Dolittle and the Burgess books. I hope “Thornton W” (thanks, Laura) will be enough to track them down. They were the first books I read and searching for “Burgess books” returns all the bird guides.

  25. I have read and enjoyed most of the books others have mentioned, and would like to mention a few authors that were not mentioned. My school library did not have science fiction, so I was “stuck” with historical fiction. In particular, Patricia Beatty, whose books are being released as ebooks, and Stephen Meader, whose publisher refuses to release them as ebooks. Also I discovered Ralph Moody as an adult, and I wish I had known about him earlier.

  26. The books I read as a boy? The Chronicles of Prydain, the Jungle Book and Just So Stories, Greek and Norse Mythology (mainly the D’Aulaires and ‘Tanglewood Tales’), Freddy the Pig, the Hardy Boys, the Ace Conans with the Frazetta covers, the Hobbit, the Narnia books.

    And some writers I only recognized years later as Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, Manly Wade Wellman, Fredric Brown, and early (Weird Tales) Robert Bloch.

  27. Also, some of the older Newbery winners are pretty good.
    Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith, The White Stag, Hendrik Willem van Loon’s The Story of Mankind, The Trumpeter of Krakow, and The Westing Game were some of the ones I actually read and haven’t seen already listed here, although I hear Caddie Woodlawn is a good read.

    1. My Book House series. Goes from pre-K to teens. You can find the books on eBay. The nursery tails are not the cleaned up pap you find today. I was shocked when I read the story where the kids cut the head off a magic horse and nailed it over the barn door. I inherited mine from my father and read them until they fell apart. Definitely not for the PC crowd but great stories.

  28. Let’s see, that I remember:

    The Hardy Boys.
    “The Wind in the Willows” Kenneth Grahame.
    The “Black Tiger” series (by Patrick O’Connor)
    the baseball books by John R. Tunis
    “20,000 leagues Under the Sea”, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” , Jules Verne
    “The Jungle Book”. Kipling
    novelizations of Operator 5 stories
    “A Little Princess”
    Tarzan series, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
    “Big Red” and “Irish Red” by Jim Kjelgaard
    “White Fang” and “the Call of the Wild”, by Jack London
    “Call it Courage”, by Armstrong Sperry.
    “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

    in High School, various works by Andre Norton and Alan E. Nourse,
    the Rhada series by Robert Cham Gilman
    most of the Heinlein juveniles
    “Foundation” series, Isaac Asimov.
    “The Hobbit”, and “The Lord of the Rings”

  29. I can tell I’m older than most of the people here, when I was young I started with the Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, Tom Swift and the kids westerns with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. I was reading Edgar Rice Burroughs by the time I was in fourth grade and I discovered the E. E. Smith Lensman series about the same time. Would the Tarzan books be considered too bloody for YA now?

  30. My first SF was my father’s Tom Swift (note — Tom Swift, not Tom Swift Jr.) books. Then my own Tom Swift Jr.. And Burroughs’ Tarzan, Mars, and Venus series.
    And quickly onto the Heinlein juveniles (particularly Star Beast and Citizen of the Galaxy) and Double Star.
    Asimov’s Foundation and Robot stories.
    Anderson’s Flandry stories, plus High Crusade and Three Hearts & Three Lions — and, later everything else he wrote..
    A ton of Andre Norton.
    Alan Nourse’s Star Surgeon and his Raiders From the Rings.
    Doc Smith’s Skylark and Lensmen series.
    DeCamps’ Lest Darkness Fall and (with Fletcher Pratt) Incompleat Enchanter.
    Fred Brown’s short stories, and his What Mad Universe and Martians Go Home.

  31. A bunch that have been mentioned already but I’ll throw out two more that had a big effect on me.

    Gordon Korman books, humor books that were actually funny and actually written for actual kids my age (when he started writing them he was pretty much at the same age as the readership and I think he kept that in mind for a good long time and avoided the overt and over the top lecturing of other YA writers of the time period. Lately he seems to have forgotten how much his younger self hated that kind of stuff and believes he has a social responsibility to lecture and mold. Le sigh).

    The Great Brain series by John D Fitzgerald. A set of books about a conniving chiseler who glories in the fact he’s smarter than most everyone he meets and the problems and glories inherent in that circumstance (never let a teacher know you’re smarter than they are, and never, ever, let them know that you know you’re smarter than them. Don’t ask me how I know this. Because I think it’s pretty obvious). Told as reminisces by his little brother and set in early 20th century Utah. The oddest thing about the stories is how similar they were to how I was raised in the seventies and eighties (someone pushes you, you push back twice as hard. A boy does something stupid and dangerous? Punish him but clap him on the back and tousle his hair with affection. You get in a fight and you fight to win but there’s still a code, that kind of thing).

    Old fashioned stuff that was out of step with what my school was pushing and I think I liked the dichotomy of being lectured and hectored about it while in the library in that very school was a set of books that reinforced my instincts.

    Recently reread some of both of their works and I was impressed with how well they held up, though I have to say the Great Brain books were somehow better than I remembered them being but that might be because of the real history of the time period that I understand much better now.


  32. How could I forget? “The House with a Clock in its Walls” and the other books by the same author. Illustrated by E. Gorey.

    1. You just reminded me of a book by a lady name of Orgel called Merry, Rose, and Christmas-Tree June (with illustrations by Edward Gorey.) Fun times.

  33. Back when I was a kid, science-fiction stories were among my favorite reading material (which, incidentally, makes me all the more baffled when I hear about there being no market for short stories these days. On the other hand, considering what dire trash passes for ‘science fiction stories’ in today’s magazines, I can’t blame the reading public for having been scared off the form.)

    My family had a whole shelf chock full of Polish, Soviet and American sci-fi, most of it great or at least good; especially worth mentioning were Stanislaw Lem — a lot of his work is really cerebral, but most of his short stories are quite accessible to an intelligent kid — and Philip K. Dick; his works, which mostly featured ordinary people going about their ordinary lives and facing mundane problems while surrounded by unfathomable technology, were something different and fascinating (although I feel most readers of this blog would disdain these kinds of stories.)

    I’d also like to give a shout out to Gustave Le Rouge, whose Mars duology was a riveting planetary romance-style adventure, all the way back from 1908. It was a beautifully innocent time; I’d indifferently read authors from 1790, 1890 and 1990 alike, caring little about ‘historical significance’ of their books and just reading them for the cool stories.

    When it comes to books other than sci-fi, I have a feeling that most of my childhood picks, due to consisting largely of Polish and Soviet authors, would be unrecognizable to the average MGC commentator. However, I’ll name some of the more famous favorites:

    Mary Norton’s Borrowers series. It was fascinating to read about the tiny people decorating the walls of their homes with stolen postage stamps, and thrilling to read about their close brushes with human villains
    Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle books — especially in the edition I had, which had excellent illustrations by a skilled Polish artist (as opposed to Lofting’s own illustrations which every other edition seems to have; I respect Lofting as an author, but frankly, I think he was a terrible artist.) Incidentally, I was dismayed to find that later editions of The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle had been censored through removing all the ‘racist’ passages and cutting every single illustration where Bumpo the brave black crewman appeared. Can’t have black people depicted as black, I guess.
    Tove Jansson and her idyllic Moomin series — by the way, unlike Dr Dolittle, this is an example where the author doubles as an excellent illustrator.
    Rene Goscinny’s Le petit Nicolas series about a French schoolboy is also worthy of being mentioned
    One other excellent book I read in that period was La Grande Encyclopedie Des Lutins, a lavishly illustrated, gorgeously written book about the fey of folklore. It was a birthday gift from my grandma… though she hadn’t realized that the book had one or two instances of frontal nudity or blood. Still, I adored it and still love it today.
    And while we’re on the subject of French books, I’ll also mention Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. This one was also memorable due to fantastic illustrations, here by Daniel Mróz (who also illustrated the books by Stanisław Lem.)

  34. A lot of my reads have already been mentioned, so I’ll just put down a few of the ones I can remember – yay flu addled brain!

    Anything Diane Duane but especially the Young Wizards series. (I did not start reading HP until book 4 was out, and only until some friends persuaded me to.)
    Star Wars – the novels that came out in the 90s, by Timothy Zahn. I still giggle over The Courtship of Princess Leia. The original Jedi Academy books were also engrossing.

    Dragonlance: The War of the Lance trilogy and Twins trilogy; the various Tales anthologies and then the Preludes series of books.

    Around the same time I read the original Drizzt trilogy and the Icewind Dale trilogy. While I would hand my son War of the Lance at 10 I would not give him the Drizzt books yet. Dragonlance had sex but did the written version of panning away after the kisses get intense.

    Star Trek novels were always a thing with me but they can be hit and miss. Preview before anything else.

    Mercedes Lackey, but I think I started reading her when I was a bit older, 15?

    The other stuff was pretty adult; I’d read what my parents read, but I wouldn’t give those to my kids until they were late teens at least. (John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Robert K. Tanenbaum, Michael Crichton, Lorenzo Carcaterra, AJ Quinnell, just to name the ones we’d read.)

    side note: don’t read Carcaterra if you don’t want to have traumatic nightmares. I didn’t, but Apaches came close (dead babies.) I credit those books though for helping me become aware enough to develop street smarts far beyond those of my peers.

    1. I didn’t read Mercedes Lackey until I was an adult—about ten years ago, I think. I have a fairly comprehensive collection of the Valdemar and Elemental Mages books now. 🙂

  35. Earliest series I remember reading are the Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, Narnia, and A Wrinkle in Time.

    Later on came Sherlock Holmes, Heinlein, Cooper, and McCaffrey. Does Bulfinch’s Mythology count?

    Later still, in High School, came Poul Anderson, Ben Bova, and Andre Norton.

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