Saturday, May 10, 2003

This was originally written for a magazine but got rejected because it didn't fit the tone they were looking for.
Not Just Harry Potter... or Hardy Boys... or Nancy Drew

By Charles Tan

It's easy to immediately mention Harry Potter when we talk about books for children (and adults). Such is its popularity that when we talk about books we want kids to read, it's the title usually mentioned, along with household names like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, or Sweet Valley High. But if there's anything reading has taught us, it's that the world is vast, and there are other books out there. And what better time than the summer to start investing in a book or two? Whether you're tired of the usual reading list or looking to expand your horizon, there are a number of titles that are not only entertaining and easy to read but stories that adults can share in as well.The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It's a thin book but don't let that deceive you. Even disregard the fact that a lot of people like it. Read it (and it's been translated into several languages, including Filipino, so you shouldn't have an excuse) and enjoy it yourself. It has lots of pretty pictures. The main character is a traveler. He left his planet and traveled around the universe. Along the way, he discovered a lot of things. It is these discoveries that make the story enjoyable and heart-warming. What is it to be human? What is it to love?

Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Coraline is a little girl who just moved in to a new house. Her parents are far from perfect, but she loves them nonetheless. Which is why when they are abducted, it is up to Coraline to rescue them. But Coraline is just a child, and how can a child stand up to the horrors that confront her? Award-winning author Neil Gaiman (known for his comics The Sandman) shows us the courage and wisdom children possess, and how we adults sometimes forget that.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Once in a while, one might want to rip a book to shreds. Maybe because it suffers from bad writing, maybe it's required of us by our teacher to read, maybe it's a Math textbook… But what if we lived in a world where books didn't exist? Or maybe I should say stopped existing? In Fahrenheit 451, according to the law, books should be burned. For our protagonist, Guy Montag, it is his job to do so. And then one day, he discovers the joy of reading.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. A friend in her early thirties once approached me and told me that The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was a book she enjoyed reading. Now, she let's her children read it. She describes it as the “Harry Potter of her time”. It's a book full of Christian influences and a story where you know who the heroes and villains are. And I'm sure it's a book even your parish priest would approve of.

His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman. This series is not as easy to read as the previous books but your kids have to grow up some time. And for that fact, there's no other book that I recommend than this. Whereas The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe had clear-cut villains, this trilogy blurs the lines as characters each have their mixture of virtues and vices, and the circumstances they face aren't always a matter of black or white. And while this is categorized as a children's books, it has enough complexities to rival a novel aimed at adults.

The Earthsea Cycle (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, The Other Wind) by Ursula K.le Guin. Magic, dragons, dungeons… it might seem like it's your standard fantasy tale but Earthsea is far from that. Ursula le Guin tells the tale of characters like Ged, a wizard, and Arha, a female child. They face various trials, most of which arising from personal demons rather than external threats (although those exist as well). And while a lot of children's books deal with children, Earthsea strays from that as characters grow and develop into men and women. But even then, the encounters they face are just as dangerous as when they were younger.

The Belgariad (Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician's Gambit, Castle of Wizardry, Enchanter's End Game) by David Eddings. Don't let the number of books intimidate you. They're easy to read and highly enjoyable. If you want to introduce people, be it children or adults, into the fantasy genre, this is perhaps the best series to start with. Garion is no ordinary child. He is in fact the future ruler of a nation. But the forces of evil want to kill him before that can happen. Fortunately, Garion is without his protectors. He has many friends and his relatives are powerful sorcerers. It's your typical fantasy quest with a not-so-typical approach.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. Much like Fahrenheit 451, The Giver is our modern world with a certain twist. This time, not everyone feels, not everyone thinks. Imagine a world where only a few people can see, and appreciate, things we take for granted such as color. And while it is also a blessing for those whose few chosen people, it is often a burden as well. Read the life of Jonas, one such person. See his birth, watch his life, and share his dream of giving back something to the human race.

By no means are these books the end-all and be-all of children's literature. In fact, for each book mentioned here, there are probably several other books that are just as good, if not better. One shouldn't be constrained as to which books to buy or not buy. We should also remember that while it's good for kids to read, reading is not limited to them. Let's not take for granted this privilege we have and start reading.