Giving Your Kids a 1970s Summer? This Is What They Should Be Reading

With the surprising success of a little blog post I wrote about how I  spent my summers as a child in the 1970s, I figured I would ride the viral wave a bit longer, and simultaneously resurrect some of the best children’s and young adult fiction that was ever published. In my post, Top Ten Ways To Give Your Kids A 1970s Summer,  I proposed that this summer, we all let our kids “play outside, like all day long, and possibly read under a tree.”  No brainer, right? But the sentence following that is truly my favorite suggestion of the article. “I hear this lady Judy Blume writes some good stuff.” Oh Judy,  little do you know, but you are most assuredly the reason I became a librarian, and also the sole reason I made it out of puberty sane and alive. And then, in a great twist of irony,  after spending years devouring stories about the nutty antics of young boys, I ended up giving birth to my own  ‘Peter Hatcher,’ and subsequently  three ‘Fudges,’ for a grand total of four mischievous little boys. Super. Just Fudgin’ Super. Along with Blume, I should have included in the post all the other wonderful authors who penned some of the most memorable chapter books of that era.  Books and stories that I am certain, if you were one of the thousands who enjoyed the original article and the trip down memory lane it gave you, will remember with great fondness. It was these books, a selection of which I will share with you, that kept me reading under shade trees well into the 80s,  and ushered in an unprecedented popularity of young adult (YA) fiction that had not been seen before. 

In the last decade, YA fiction has evolved with the times, as it should. Themes reflect what our young adults are experiencing today; cyberspace issues, cultural diversity, adolescent sexual identity, and the changing face of what we now define as a ‘family.’  We have also enjoyed a resurgence in YA fantasy, science fiction, and the highly popular dystopian genre. I am not ashamed to declare here that I can one day appreciate Jonathan Franzen, and the next day fancy some good old fashioned teen vampire love, and then the next, revel in some bow and arrow wielding girls trying to kill each other in speculative fiction. (Just call it librarian occupational hazard, or book schizophrenia, but bibliophiles tend to swing a lot of ways.) When I am now asked what I read as a child, there is absolutely no hesitation, no “Oh, well, uh…. I can’t remember back that far.”  Rather,  I recall those books quickly, and very vividly. I may not be able to remember the title of a novel I read last month, but I can recall the entire plot of a book I read in 1979, and that is really saying something. It is saying they were really amazing books. Just amazing. So this summer, between hose drinking, fried bologna eating, and fort building afternoons, hit your local library, or maybe unpack that box of childhood books sitting in your attic. Then grab your kid, a spot under a shade tree, and share some 70s book love.  You never know. In 30 years, your kids may thank you. 

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger

Remember when just the sheer thought of having to unrobe in front of your peers for gym glass sent shivers down your very underdeveloped bust line? Yea, me too. Nothing seemed worse than having the groping eyes of your classmates on your 13 year old bod, even if it was for like, only three seconds. Oh how I admired Marcy’s gumption, but what I adored most about her is how in the end, she became interested in bibliotherapy. No wonder I loved this book. Go figure.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

I can happily read this over and over again, and dream about someday pulling a Claudia and running away to go live at the Met, or more appropriately for me,  the Library of Congress. This Newberry Award winner, first published in 1967 (and set in a time before Google, since the kids could have just Googled the mystery statue…duh!) is still a classic story of tween independence. Claudia and Jamie are the original free-range kids. And oddly enough, it made me  really want to live in Connecticut. Huh. 

Killing Mr. Griffin, I Know What You Did Last Summer, They Never Came Home 
all by Lois Duncan

I would like to personally thank Mrs. Duncan for keeping me up into the wee hours of the morning, curled into a ball, hiding under my sheets with a flashlight, and frantically flipping pages  to see whodunit. Also, for being my personal gateway author to the likes of  Patricia Cornwell and John LeCarre, and many other suspense and thriller writers that I now frequently devour. Late at night. Under the sheets. With the Kindle backlight on. Whew.  

Homecoming, Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt

Oh how I wanted to be as strong and courageous as Dicey, who when faced with abandonment and the task of taking care of her three younger siblings,  stands up to the challenge. Both books in this drama series rely heavily on the importance of families (especially non-traditional,) belonging and acceptance, and child/grandparent relationships.  Dicey’s trials still haunt me, but in a good way.

Then Again, Maybe I Wont, Deenie, Forever, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, Blubber, Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret  all by Judy Blume

All of the above need to be on every young girl’s required reading list. They just should. Toss out the vampires, and pick up these. Blume speaks the language of teen girl angst like nobody’s business. Her novels, coined contemporary fiction in the mid 1970s, are still, 30 plus years later, relevant. Very relevant actually, even without the included conventions of today. Imagine, stories with real person to person dialogue not exchanged via electronics? Yes. Please. 

I read Blume’s books over and over and over again. Sadly, as a mom to four boys, I will not be able to share Jill, Sally, Deenie, Sheila, and Margaret with my sons. But that’s ok, as my adventures with Fudge and Peter more than duly prepared me for what I am dealing with today. Dear Judy, I never  took the time to send a fan letter to you, to tell you how your words, your books, the pages, all of it, kept me entranced in my favorite place in the world, the library.  Today, it is still my favorite place.  Hey, maybe I  actually just sent you a fan letter. Who would have thought it would be called a blog post?

Baptism to the Blogosphere Thanks to My “Viral” 70s Childhood. DUNK!

I always knew viral was a bad word.  You see, I have 4 sons, so when  I see the ‘v’ word I panic. (No, not vagina. I am still confidently in denial they have no clue what that is, at least I hope they don’t. But if they do, boys STAY AWAY from it. FAR AWAY. Until you are like 50.)  The ‘v’ word I am talking about is virus. And when one kid gets a virus, I cringe. It is only a matter of time, a few short hours maybe, until it spreads to the next child, then the next, and then the next.  Then I get to enjoy a lovely afternoon shagging vomit chunks flying down from the air. I won’t catch it. Moms NEVER catch it. Lucky me!? Come on people, when was the last time Mom got to actually BE sick? Be sick, like stay horizontal, TV remote in hand, ALONE kind of sick. (BTW, I am taking virus donations today.  Feel free to come spit in my mouth so I can catch a ‘break.’)  Inevitably the husband will catch it too, but I will save my thoughts on dealing with a sick husband for another blog post.  It will require me to hit the thesaurus first to collect as many synonyms for pathetic as I can find. Anyway, viral is an adjective, ‘of or being related to a virus.’  I made sure to look this up, in a real, honest to goodness dictionary. Funny, I kinda know how to look up things when I have to. I did this to ensure that when my next encounter with the internet grammar nazis takes place, I can…..well, more on that later too. Anyway, and appropriately enough, the origin of the word virus is Latin, and means venom. Of course it does. VENOM. I am overjoyed to report that a few paragraphs I wrote one day have gone venom. And where there is venom, there are snakes, obviously.  Duh! If it was a snake, it would have bit me. And it sorta did.

In the last week, I have taken a ride on a roller coaster I never waited in line for.  Innocently enough, a little story I wrote about my 70s childhood chugged along slowly and happily, until it rolled steam strong into the bowels of the internet blogosphere. One day, my Facebook friends are getting a chuckle out of it, the next, I am reading an email from Huffington Post asking me if they can publish it. At first, I cannot mentally process the email. It includes instructions on how to enable my new HuffPo blogger account, how to upload my piece, how to upload posts in the future, add my bio, a headshot…..wait a sec, a bio and headshot? Bio? I have 4 sons. I wash a lot of clothes. I cook. The end. Headshot? I haven't had a professional picture taken of me since my wedding 17 years ago. Who the hell has a professional headshot lying around? I call a dear friend. “You can do this!” she says. So I do. I yank up my big girl panties, follow the directions, and a few hours later, there it is. My little story is on the Huffington Post.  And I need to make dinner.  For 5 minutes I soak in my one hit wonder.  And then it happened again, and again, when more sites republished it. Holy effing shit. Did. That. Just. Happen? 

I started reading comments to the posts. I should have known better. 98% were great, supportive, and included many “Yes! I had this childhood!” and “I am doing this with my kids this summer!” along with several who were “Peeing my pants!” And then the trolls came crawling out of their keyboards.  I have read enough internet articles, stories, forums, and blogs, to be acutely aware that idiots exist, yet I didn’t. Naivety won for a moment. Just a moment. Then I wised up.

And now I have some of my own feedback to all of you negative Nellies;

To the grammar nazi who emailed me about all the errors in my writing, my dear, I hear ya loud and clear. Bad writing pisses me off too. But here’s the thing; I wrote this in about 10 minutes. I do not have a copy editor or a proof reader. I never intended this to be seen by a million people. And quite honestly,  until someone starts paying me to write shit, I am gonna continue to just, well, wing it. I look forward to hearing from you again. And dear God, how do you find the time to go all English teacher evil on people? Please go take a nap. 

To the poison control hotline apprentices gravely concerned that hose drinking will in fact, most certainly KILL my children, and a few sips from the ‘ol green rubber tube is akin to ingesting lead paint chips for years, now hear this…Planet Earth Misses You. Please come back down to it. And for the record, yes, I have had to use poison control before, when my 3 year old swallowed a wooden golf tee. Their exact words, “No worries Mrs. Fenton. It will all come out. You’d be amazed at what the human digestive system can take. Kids are quite resilient.”  Pretty sure the 5 seconds of hose drinking they endured while I snapped their picture will not cause permanent damage of the stomach lining. Just a hunch.

To the organic food police (who I am sure were throwing up in their mouth a little when I said I was going to let my kids eat chicken out of a bucket) I am so very grateful  you informed me all about the dangers of nitrates, real sugar, fake sugar, generic sugar, couture sugar, refined grains, whole grains, half grains, all grains, inhumanely raised chickens, cheese powder, fake cheese, real cheese, aged cheese, processed snacks, styrofoam potatoes, GMOs, LMAOs, HMOs, and on and on and on.  Can you just STOP  for a sec and do me a little favor? Walk over to your pantry. Pull out your jar of tomato sauce and your jar of jam. Just gonna take a wild guess here and assume you didn’t can it yourself. Because bitch, in my pantry, I did. By myself. With like tomatoes and blackberries I went and foraged at a u-pick, cooked, ladled into jars, then processed in a water bath canner, like freakin’ Mrs. Ingalls. So please shut the hell up. But hey, if you are interested in learning more about home preserving, do give me a call. I am a real hoot in the kitchen and can make a killer peach butter. One more thing, I am pretty sure a few bad meals here and there this summer will not put my kids in the gastronomy wing of the local children’s hospital. 

Finally,  and my personal favorite, to the woman who called me a “lazy mother,” and “didn’t really like this article AT ALL”  please go get help. Real help. Start with being able to comprehend  tongue in cheek writing, then move on to grasping humor. This was not an instruction manual for summer parenting. Got that? Had I read a comment calling me a “lazy mother” 15 years ago, when I was bone tired, teary eyed, fresh into motherhood, baby attached to me 18 hours a day, and feeling zero confidence in every mom decision I made, this kind of comment would have hurt me to the core, truly crushing my spirit. But something great happens after 4 kids, and after age 40. It’s called knowing who the hell you are. I know who I am, and I know what type of mother I am. I am a great mom. Know how I know that? My KIDS read my article and laughed. They got it. Sadly, you didn’t. Oh, and by the way,  I did a little Google search on you. No, not your typical just quickly type your name in the search bar,  but the ‘I am also a badass librarian Kung Fu Google master’  type of search. Oh my dear, sweet, young, doe-eyed lady with ONE child, who enjoys taking selfies in the car wearing Barbie sunglasses, I know what your current mortgage rate is. And you really need to prune that bush in the backyard and water that plant by the door. And it’s time to donate that old denim jacket, just sayin’.  Hey, give me a call when you are 4 kids deep hunny. I have a feeling we will have a lot to talk about. 

Thankfully, for every nasty comment, there were 50 good ones. For every judgmental email, there were 25 supportive ones. I personally responded to each supportive email,  as I felt if people took the time to send me one, they deserve a kind reply.  And no, I have no idea where you can find Cheez Balls in the blue can, but I think Planter’s needs to get on that ASAP. Seems to be a real hankering for those suckers among people in their early 40s. 

I have since stopped reading comments, and have vowed to get a little more Teflon on my skin. I think I know who ‘my people’ are, and what they like to read. From what I can tell, they are tired moms who need a laugh, and perhaps a  little permission to chill the hell out. They need to know it’s ok to let go of the helicopter parenting throttle. Go ahead and put the kiddos on autopilot for a while. They will land just fine. I promise. 

As for me, I will keep writing when the mood hits. And I will try to keep my genuine voice, writing for those who ‘get it,’ and ignoring those who don’t.

Gotta run. The Kentucky Fried Chicken drive thru window wants my order.