I was reminded recently of The Swiss Family Robinson (free), a book which I never read, but whose treehouse at Disneyland I loved–all those pulleys and bridges and funny little rooms. It got me to thinking about summer reading and what I would recommend to young makers who’d like to take a break from making, curl up under a tree or teepee to read about characters like them.
What books made us into the makers we are today?
Appropriately enough, I discovered a copy of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers on a dusty bottom shelf of a Goodwill when I was about 8, and I was instantly enchanted by its cover illustration: a collection of odds and ends surrounding this family of clever little repurposers. Hiding under the floor and between the studs of the walls, The Clocks whisk away all kinds of lost and forgotten detritus of our “big people” homes and transform them into handy gadgets. Their story was adapted into a beautiful film a few years ago, The Secret World of Arrietty, co-written by animation giant Hayao Miyazaki.
The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell transported me from my concrete-grid mid-childhood life in Orange County across a long leap in history and a short hop to the Channel Islands off the coast of California, where a girl named Karana lived alone for many years. There she rebuilt a solitary life, all the while sustaining her family’s traditions of spear-making and canoe-sculpting. I remember vividly how she tightly and painstakingly wove a skirt out of plant fibers at night, by the light cast by burning tiny fish she dried by hanging them from the ceiling of her cave, a home she protected with a wall she built of whale bones.
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner made me love trash as a medium. I thank my second-grade teacher Bea Okerman in Fitchburg, Mass., for reading it out loud to us. After that I read it again to myself at least a dozen times. I can’t forget that great scene where the kids are hunting for treasures in the landfill near their boxcar home (which reminds me now of all the art collectives organized as shipping container camps.) Also, those kids came up with some clever innovations: the little refrigerator they set up between stones in the cold stream, writing with charred sticks, hanging a cup from a stick to make a ladle, and just generally making do with what they had.
Adventures in Cartooning, a new favorite from my own kids’ bookshelves, is a very quick romp through a knight and dragon tale, best for younger readers transitioning from picture books to longer works. It slips in a little bit of lighthearted instruction about the visual language of the comic book genre to help aspiring graphic novelists launch into their writing careers.
For another transitional graphic novel, check out A Wrinkle in Time beautifully illustrated by Hope Larson to adapt Madeline L’Engle’s sci-fi classic.
Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown, while not a maker, led me on his adventures on many a summer day. With simple mysteries to solve, these stories are a good pick for most budding makers who like a good puzzle!
In E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, young Louis is a cygnet without a voice, but he uses a tool–a trumpet–to communicate with the world and to move both humans and pretty swans alike as his career as a great musician grows. I recommend two other classics from the White bookshelf: Stuart Little‘s canoeing and sailing scenes, and Charlotte’s Web as a classic example of how one spider’s art can change the world!
Roald Dahl makes my list with at least two of his ever-popular canon: Fantastic Mr. Fox and James and the Giant Peach. Clever inventiveness abounds in Dahl’s writing, but also plenty of wicked good comedy. And every maker needs a good sense of humor!
Laura Cochrane and I asked around the Maker Media offices for other books our colleagues would recommend to young makers. Here are a few more to add to your list:
- Jean Craighead George, My Side of the Mountain
“I learned a lot about wilderness survival and resourcefulness from this book – but be careful, you may want to get a pet falcon and live in a tree after reading it.” — Michael Castor
- Ted Hughes, The Iron Giant
- Captain Frederick Marryat, Masterman Ready and The Children of the New Forest
“Very didactic Victorian children’s lit with great how-to descriptions on self-sufficiency.” — Arwen O. Griffith
- Gary Paulsen, Hatchet
“An engaging book about a boy stranded in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. In learning to survive, both his failures and successes are chronicled. There’s even a rampaging moose!” — Michael Colombo
- Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons
“The Swallows and Amazons books are the 20th century version [of Captain Marryat’s books] — kids camping out on a British lake island and doing everything themselves.” — Arwen O. Griffith
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
“We’ve just had the first big movie, and will get the second this fall. It’s a great time to get kids excited about the story, and invested in reading this classic story.” — Ken Denmead
- Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
- Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Boy
“A DIY book if there ever was one. All about the joys and challenges of self-reliance.” — Stett Holbrook
Lastly, my friend to the left in the picture up top suggests I add the following books and series to our list:
- The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch
- Cuthbert Soup‘s A Whole Nother Story, A Nother Whole Nother Story, and No Other Story
- Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events
- Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society
Please add your suggestions for additions to our list in the comments below.