With so many excellent new additions to the world of middle grade literature, it's sometimes hard to take a step back and look around my own shelves at the books that have been there for ages and ages. It's quite unfair, really--these neglected titles were the books that made me fall in love with middle grade fiction in the first place, back when I was actually the age of their target audience.
Last year I came across quote from C. S. Lewis: “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
I had to stop and think. When was the last time I had re-read a book for my own pleasure, and not to read it to or with my children? It had been a long time. And as much as I adore sharing books with my kids, a little something had been lost in my own reading life. So I started reading a lot more old books--classics and old favorites. Today's pick for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the latest: a very old favorite, from my beloved (and small) favorite category in the middle grade genre: big family stories.
Originally published in 1945, Hilda Van Stockum based The Mitchells: Five for Victory off her family's own experiences during the Second World War. In the book, Mr. Mitchell leaves to serve in the military, and the five Mitchell children left at home jump in to do their part by starting a "Five for Victory" club at home--helping their mother, primarily, but also collecting scrap metal, helping their neighbors, and tending a victory garden. The usual big family chaos and heart ensues, and I found myself smiling even more at all the antics as a mother of a large family than I did as a kid in one.
Having read a lot more modern books lately, however, meant I had a shock or two remembering how parents in the 40's were fine with giving their children a lot of freedom (oh, how convenient for authors wanting their characters to have adventures). I was also surprised to see how Hilda Van Stockum didn't shy away from showing that Mrs. Mitchell was often very stressed and worn out. No perpetually cheery and affectionate Mrs. Cleaver here. Mrs. Mitchell's husband is, after all, risking his life in an actual war, which is a pretty fair cause for lots of stress--so I was kind of relieved to see that her toddler's whining frustrates her, or that she's exasperated when the baby eats the fake cherries off her hat. She's not perfect, by any measure, but she's very loving and very real.
And the Mitchell children really are just delightful. They're a true to life, trouble-making, affectionate, crazy, quarreling, forgiving big family. They take care of each other, and it's beautiful to see.
Have you re-read any old favorites lately? How did your perception of the books change if you'd read them originally as a child and then as an adult?
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle!