The yearly McKay’s “book reduction”—as we call it in our household—takes place at the start of every spring. It’s always a torturous few days. I don’t know if you all are like me, but I would rather get rid of every pair of underwear in my closet before I let go of a book in my own personal library. Each book represents a moment of time well-spent or a planned moment in the future. How could I possibly know what I’m going to read months, even years, in advance without a massive library at my fingertips? Still, shelves were overflowing, and books had to go. There are some books that I’ve kept for years strictly for nostalgia. I will always own these books because they represent the essence of my childhood. Here are five books that will always have a home in my library. What books on still on your shelf from childhood?
"Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" by Alvin Schwartz
This is a series of three books containing “folk” stories that made a 10-year-old me stay up way too late, shivering, because I thought a giant was going to come steal my toes or the viper was going to lisp into my ear. These books were for children, but also really NOT for children. The majority of the trauma was because of the amazing illustrations by artist Stephen Gammell. These were unbelievably grotesque and surreal. It’s amazing that, having not picked up this book in years, I can still see the vivid illustrations in my head as clear as the first day. If you’re in your late 20s, you understand what I’m talking about with this series. I couldn’t possibly give it away.
"13 Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey" by Kathryn Tucker Windham
I was fortunate enough to meet storyteller/author Kathryn Windham at a Chattanooga storytelling festival just a year before she passed at the age of 93. She seemed genuinely overjoyed that I knew about her “Jeffrey” series of books. This series, which starts in Alabama, is about a ghost named Jeffery that is playful and mischievous. He moves furniture, misplaces items and makes noises at random times. These books were among the first I ever checked out of the library when I was a kid. I was big into ghost stories, and these were the mildest of mild. I quickly graduated to much scarier stuff, but Windham’s books were the initial hook into horror as a genre. I own the entire “Jeffrey” series, and my signed copy of “Tennessee” is among my most prized possessions.
"Where the Red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls
Stories of people and their dogs are always tearjerkers for me. That connection—between a man and his dog(s)—is one of the most honest relationships that exists on the earth, in my opinion. When I read this book in the third or fourth grade, it was the first time a story had been that deeply affecting to me. It has everything: longing, hope, struggle, reflection, action, bittersweet death. I was blown away by this book and recently decided to reread it. I was surprised at how many of the scenes were immediate in my mind: the “mountain lion” attack where the dogs get their names of Old Dan and Little Ann and the scene where the raccoon is so stubborn he won’t let go of the shiny tin can in the tree. The ending is emotionally devastating. Both dogs die: one from injury, the other from a broken heart. An amazing book.
"The BFG" by Roald Dahl
Having read some of Roald Dahl’s short fiction as an adult, it’s amazing to me to know that someone that completely whacked in the brain wrote some of my favorite children’s stories. Rereading stories like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "The Witches" as an adult are eye-opening. This is some dark stuff. I’m pretty sure all of the kids who aren’t Charlie are dead by the end of that book. Speaking of dead children (there’s a theme here), the plot of "The Witches" involves a group of, you guessed it, witches who want to kill all the children in England. The plan is to poison their candy and kill them off. My favorite Roald Dahl book is "The BFG." A poor little girl is whisked away by a giant late at night. But fortunately, he’s the “big, friendly giant” as opposed to the other giants in the land who eat children (again, dead children). The two have an amazing adventure. I love this book.
"Encyclopedia Brown" by Donald J. Sobol
I never thought I had what it took to be a detective, but some of these "Encyclopedia Brown" cases are just ridiculously easy to solve. Do you remember these books? They are actually from the 1960s but released during my childhood as a series of short mysteries. These were the hottest items at all the book fairs during elementary school. I think what I enjoyed most about the series was the fact that these kids were acting like adults. Brown’s father was the chief of police in Idaville. He gets into all sorts of problems that his boy detective has to come help solve. Now that I think of it, Encyclopedia Brown's character is not unlike the character of Shawn Spencer on the popular TV series "Psych." It’s no wonder I’m a fan of that show.