Passing the Torch

freermotherandchild During a visit my twelve-year-old niece paid to my place last weekend, I took her to the guest room, where I keep my children’s and YA literature, and chose some books with her to borrow over the summer holidays. Many of my books there are classics, the majority are books I read when I was a kid myself. So after my niece had picked out a few titles on her own, I handed her several others which I think she might like. I especially recommended Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce, and my niece ended taking the whole Song of the Lioness quartet. Today I am informed she is by now on her second reading of the whole set.

I love recommending and borrowing favorite books to my nieces. I don’t always succeed in whetting their appetites for certain books: For example, they refuse to read Anne of Green Gables or Daddy-Long-Legs, claiming these are too old-fashioned for their tastes. On the other hand, they love Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries, and Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel and Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series are a huge success with my eldest niece, 14, who reads in English.

The latter has also made some foray into my romance novels by now, her present favorite author being Marian Devon. My sister, the girls’ mother, doesn’t read romance at all and actually frowns upon it a bit, but doesn’t try to curtail her daughters’ reading either as long as they read in a variety of genres. So with her, too, I try to point out the best authors and books that I’ve got, while letting her make her own choices.

All of this gives me a lot of satisfaction for a number of reasons.

a) I feel the huge amount of books I buy is justified the more when others read them, too.

b) There are some books I love so much that I think they would enrich anyone’s life. So handing them to my adored nieces is practically a duty.

c) I can give my nieces food for thought by confronting them with strong, admirable (sometimes also controversial) fictional characters. Alanna of Trebond is a good example here, as are some of Sarah Dessen’s and Meg Cabot’s heroines.

d) I can teach my nieces that romance, be it in fiction or in their own lives, is nothing to be ashamed of. (And before you wonder: I plan to teach this to my nephew, too, but he’s only seven and thus a bit too young right now.)

Do you hand your favorite books to the next generation, too? What authors and titles come to mind? And how well do you succeed in awakening their enthusiasm for certain books? Or do you think many books are really just for one generation?

– Rike Horstmann

9 thoughts on “Passing the Torch

  1. I’ve had practically no success at all: though Daddy Long Legs was a huge hit with my second daughter – as was the What Katy did series. But mostly the books I kept they wouldn’t look at, and even when I rebought them with up-to-date shiny covers, they wouldn’t read them. I think we’ve had more hits the other way round: a weeping teenager thrusting her copy of ‘Her Sister’s keeper’ at me “This is an evil book, you have to read it”, introduced me to Picoult.

    I think some books only speak to one generation, but in general, I think I fail more because they’re not like me – they read for different things. Daughter 2 liked Daddy Long Legs for the history, not the romance.
    (On the bright side, daughter 2′s best friend is a real reader, who borrows armloads of every sort of books: so I’ve the fun of talking books with her. Last seen, she was working through Neil Gaiman at a frightening pace.)

  2. I’ve had some success passing the torch along, but I have sons rather than daughters. I figured I was wasting my breath recommending Anne of Green Gables.
    Rike, have your nieces tried the books Mary Stewart wrote for children? They might be a little old for them now, but The Little Broomstick, Ludo and the Star Horse, and A Walk in Wolf Wood are great.
    The Hobbit went down well with my youngest, as did The Lord of the Rings. I choked slightly when I caught him with my copy of The Children of Hurin, but he seemed to not catch on to the issue of incest, but was swept away by the language, so I let it pass. He’s enjoyed most of Tolkien’s shorter stuff as well.
    They both got right into The Famous Five and Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion.
    I didn’t have any luck with Alan Garner. Just didn’t grab either of them, but I had fun re-reading them after so many years. For me they definitely stood the test of time, particularly Elidor – the ending there still reduced me to tears.

  3. The Iron Peacock?!! I LOVE that book! I thought I was the only person on the face of the earth who had read it. There’s a companion to it called Piper to the Clan, and a nonfiction book called Pioneer Iron Works which is about the real life colonial iron smelting operation that played such a big role in the books.

  4. LeeB., I haven’t dared recommend them! As I see it now, either they stumble across them while their browsing my shelves, and get interested, or they don’t.

    LinnieGayl, I keep recommending Mary Stewart, but right now both girls are so not into mysteries that I have given up for the moment. They are going to a holiday to the south of France in autumn, however, and that’s when I’ll get my sister a copy of Madam, Will You Talk to take along. The girls will read about anything once they have finished their own books ;-)

    Goosie, I have by now also read Bloodhound and enjoyed it even more than Terrier. I can’t wait for Mastiff!

  5. “Daddy Long Legs” old fashioned? That’s why it’s a classic. Because it’s stood the test of time. I guess they wouldn’t like the Betsy-Tacy-Tib books then. ;)

  6. When my niece was about 12, I gave her several early books by Mary Stewart that I had loved, and she loved them as well. I also hooked her on Jane Austen, with a birthday present of Pride and Prejudice. Not a romance, but on one visit to my home when she was about 14, I gave her the first book in the Amelia Peabody mystery series. She stayed up all night and finished it, and begged for more. By the time she left for home, she’d read about three, and had several more to take with her.

  7. I saved all my favorite childhood and YA books, neatly organized in my office. When my 10-year-old niece came to stay a couple of years ago, I showed her to that bookshelf and told her to read whatever she wanted. She picked “The Iron Peacock” by Mary Stetson Clarke and read it in one sitting. Then she read it again. And a third time. So I suggested she try something else. She devoured “Young and Fair” by Rosamund Du Jardin and “Eight Cousins” and “Rose in Bloom” by Louisa May Alcott. Then she had to go home, but I felt like we’d made a connection.

    Earlier this year, now 12, she came to visit again and barely said hello before she was up in the office pulling “The Iron Peacock” off the shelf. Two hours later she’d finished it and came to tell me that it lived up to her remembrances. I’ve been trying to decide if I should find her a copy of her own, or just let her have mine someday (though I’m too selfish to let it go right now!)

  8. AHHHHHHH! I just responded last night when I saw that you were reading Terrier by Tamora Pierce about how awesome Tamora Pierce is!!!! Woohoo!

    Okay. As far as passing on books, I guess I’m not of the age yet to be doing that (I’m only 23 and I’m one of the older of my generation). But I do see myself looking for books of my childhood at used books stores so that eventually I can pass them on. I own most of Tamora Pierce’s books. I’m trying to put together a Madeline L’Engle collection. I recently bought Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson.

    I really don’t think that books are just for one generation. It’s the same reason that we’re still reading books like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. They’re timeless classics. I hope to pass on my Tamora Pierce collection to my kids because I think you can never get enough strong female character stories.

  9. I’ve saved many books from my youth, some true classics and others just books I loved, with the theory that maybe my daughter would also enjoy them. However, I’m finding it very hard to get her to even try these books. Perhaps it’s because I’m the one suggesting that she read them – everyone knows that parents have no idea what’s cool or good. Too, she tends to read all of the paranormal/vampire books that are so trendy now and none of my “old” books fit that description. Still, I have hope that one day she’ll be inspired to give them a try. I hate the idea that she’s missing out!

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