I couldn’t possibly limit myself to ten favorite items at the OPL. There are too many items I love in our collection. So, my list consists of ten items that have had a lasting effect on me throughout my life.
1. So Much by Trish Cooke: Relatives arriving in succession give in to their desire to squeeze and kiss and play with the baby. I have used this book for countless storytimes and laptimes. But, the reason I love it so much is that I gave a copy to my youngest daughter for her first birthday and I have fond memories of reading it to her over and over and over.
2. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor: It’s the turn of the century in New York’s Lower East Side and a sense of adventure and excitement abounds for five young sisters — Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie. Follow along as they search for hidden buttons while dusting Mama’s front parlor, or explore the basement warehouse of Papa’s peddler’s shop on rainy days. The five girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises. But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all! I originally found this book in the Warwick Public library when I was about 10 years old. Over the years, I read it many, many times because I was fascinated by the sisters’ relationship (I had none and wanted some badly) and also by their Jewish customs. When I discovered hidden Jewish heritage in my family tree, my interest made sense.
3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: Ten-year-old Mary comes to live in a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors and discovers an invalid cousin and the mysteries of a locked garden. From Mary Lennox, I learned the value of a positive attitude in the face of adversity, the wonder of mystery and the power of love.
4. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley: Harry, bored with her sheltered life in the remote orange-growing colony of Daria, discovers magic in herself when she is kidnapped by a Hillfolk king with mysterious powers. The Blue Sword taught me that girls can be powerful and strong in their own right. A foreign land, horses, swords and the girl saves the day. What’s not to love.
5. Millions: After their mother dies, two brothers find a huge amount of money which they must spend quickly before England switches to the new European currency, but they disagree on what to do with it. I first watched this movie with my children and they couldn’t figure out why I was so emotional at the end. While it appears to be a movie about money and what you’d do with a windfall, it’s really a very sweet story about love and loss.
6. Babette’s Feast: Martine and Philipp, the daughters of a forceful priest of a Lutheran sect, have been reared to deny all earthly pleasures and they live their lives performing good works. When Babette, the French refugee to whom they have given shelter, asks to repay them by preparing a sumptuous feast, they are forced to reconcile their father’s teachings with the elaborate meal lovingly prepared by Babette. A beautifully told, lovingly filmed movie about a French émigré and the gift she gives to the two stern, repressed sisters who take her in. I’ve learned much about generosity and joy of life from this film.
7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: In early nineteenth-century England, an orphaned young woman accepts employment as a governess and soon finds herself in love with her employer who has a terrible secret. When I was in ninth grade, I was convinced Jane Eyre was the worst novel because it was dreadful, dark and confusing. However, when I read it again at 23, I fell in love with Jane and Mr. Rochester and Thornfield Hall. Of all the romance novels I have ever read, Jane Eyre is my favorite.
8. Persuasion by Jane Austen: The romance between Captain Wentworth and Anne, the daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, seems doomed because of the young man’s family connections and lack of wealth. The last and most passionate of Jane Austen’s novels, it is also my favorite. Anne Elliot is a wonderful character who finally gets the love she deserves. And the fervent letter written by Captain Wentworth to Anne at the end of the novel is one of the most beautifully romantic declarations in all of literature.
9. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin: While on a mission to the planet Gethen, earthling Genly Ai is sent by leaders of the nation of Orgoreyn to a concentration camp from which the exiled prime minister of the nation of Karhide tries to rescue him. One of my favorite science fiction novels that delves into the friendship of two very different people and reminds me how we can be changed when we see people for who they are, not to the role we assign them.
10. Guests of the Sheik by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea: Elizabeth Warnock Fernea spent the first two years of her marriage in the 1950s a small village in Southern Iraq, and her book is a personal narrative about life behind a veil in a community. She arrived speaking only a few words of Arabic and feeling dubious about her husband’s expectation that she adapt completely to the segregated society When she left two years later she was an accepted and loved member of the village. The story of her life among the Iraqis is eye-opening and written with intellectual honesty. This book is the best justification for general education classes and the way they can help us expand our minds. I read this in a freshman anthropology class and it expanded my awareness of other peoples and cultures. Although it’s nonfiction, it reads like a novel.
Desiree by Annemarie Selinko: Eugenie Desiree Clary records two love affairs in her diary, one with Napoleon, who jilted her for Josephine, and a second with General Bernadotte, who married her. I wandered out of the children’s room when I was about nine and found this book in the general fiction section. It tells the tempestuous life of Desiree Clary and her various loves. I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand half of what I read but this book made history come alive for me and I credit it with instilling in me a lifelong love of historical fiction.