I looked one last time at the two-story brick building where I had spent all my grade school years, then fell into line with my sixth-grade classmates behind Mrs. Banyard. She led us on that last day of school, as we walked two by two to the campus of the nearby university. Mrs. Banyard was a no-nonsense woman who had several matching shoes and purse sets. Her bearing gave us all a sense of having been selected to be in her class.
The whole school walked up to the spacious auditorium behind us that day. We strung out for blocks, like the day when we had walked over to get our polio shots. We whispered and speculated about the movie we were going to go see: Sounder. Growing up in a suburban Idaho “city,” the movie stretched us beyond our cultural experience. We sat in the large paneled room, silent and engrossed while we watched the story about a young boy living with his sharecropper family in Depression-era Louisiana. The movie impacted us and we talked about it for weeks during the summer.
Although I had a library of classic children literature at home, supplied by my Granddad and Grandma Miller, school introduced me to a new generation of classics: Charlotte’s Web, Where the Red Fern Grows, and finally Sounder.
I am calling these the Middle Classics (Children’s Literature as a genre is a rather modern concept dating to just the 19th century). I’ve narrowed my list for Middle Classics to the years 1960-1990. These are the books many of you read as children; books you would love to pass on to your children. For some of you, they go back to your parents.
Mostly I’ve tried to stick with chapter books, though a few picture books are in the list. I still remember my granddad reading the Dr. Seuss books to us by the dozens. We’d corner him in his home office, and climb on his knees while tightly clenching One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. It was our first experience with the magic words could create.
However for the most part, I think a list of picture books should be compiled as a separate category.