Roger Sutton of the Horn Book recently pointed out a Guardian essay about authors whose most well-known books aren't necessarily their best books. The Guardian focused on books written for the adult audience, but Sutton expanded the exercise and looked at children’s books. While I can't comment on some of his examples—I've always refused to read Paula Fox's One-Eyed Cat because of that whole CAT GETTING ITS EYE SHOT OUT thing, and my sister was the Laura Ingalls Wilder girl in our household—some of his other picks got me thinking.
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on the romantic historical mystery Haunting Violet.
Lois Lowry, for instance: Sutton likes Autumn Street over The Giver. Which is fair. But it's the first few Anastasia Krupnik books that do it for me. They're the ones that I always return to, they’re always more layered than I remember, and they offer new discoveries with each reread. Roger also prefers Hilary McKay's Conroy sisters to her Casson family, but that's a choice I can't make: I adore them both equally, recommend them both wholeheartedly and would love to belong to either family. (I do wish, though, that the Exiles trilogy was more well-known.)
His examples, of course, are just a jumping-off point.
It would be nearly impossible to not be at least vaguely familiar with Anne Shirley, L.M. Montgomery's dreamy, imaginative, romantic and temperamental red-headed resident of Prince Edward Island’s Green Gables. I love Anne, I'll always love Anne* and my Anne of Green Gables DVDs are in serious danger of being worn out. I love reading about her—and watching Megan Follows play her—but I doubt that Anne is someone with whom I could be friends. (She’s just so good, especially when she gets older.)
No, it's Montgomery's Emily of New Moon** that I truly adore. Anne wants to write, but Emily needs to write. Emily is less kind-hearted, more of a dreamer, yet also more practical, less inclined to forgive, more proud, more catty, more angry and more passionate. And she’d approve of the number of italicized words I worked into the last two paragraphs.
I love everything I've ever read by Joan Aiken. The books in her Wolves Chronicles get lots of attention—as they should, because they’re fantastic Dickensian adventures, alt-history from before alt-history was popular—but I love her Armitage family stories so much more. They’re quirky, subtle, sly, funny and sometimes truly scary. They’re original, surprising, lovely and just... special—which can be said, actually, about all of her short fiction.
I could go on! Despite my annual rereads of Harriet the Spy, I love The Long Secret more, and even adult authors come to mind: I prefer Elizabeth Peters’ Jacqueline Kirby mysteries to her Amelia Peabody mysteries; P.D. James’ Cordelia Gray to Adam Dalgliesh; Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle to Slaughterhouse-Five***; and P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith to Jeeves and Wooster.
What about you? Who’s on your list?
*And, of course, Gilbert Blythe. Despite my preference for Emily Byrd Starr over Anne Shirley, I’ll never love any of the guys in Em’s life the way I’ll always love my Gil.
**To regular readers: I finally read the third book in the Emily trilogy, and it was like being stabbed over and over and over again up until the last two pages. In a good way.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably engaged in yet-another pitched battle with her new cat.