LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
We go now from the digital library to an older literary tradition: the summer reading list for kids. If you have school age children they may well be working their way through such a list right now. And we wanted to take a few minutes to put together our own list of classics for young adults. To do that we called Lesley Blume. She's the author of several books for young readers, most recently "Tennyson." Lesley joined us from our bureau in New York.
Ms. LESLEY BLUME (Author): Good morning. Thank you for having me.
WERTHEIMER: You know, I notice when I look at your list, that there isn't any book published after 1983. And you include one book that was written in 1924. I guess that means that these must have been books that you read when you were kid.
Ms. BLUME: I did. And one of the beauties of this list is that parents will love to rediscover these titles. The book that you're referring to, my 1924 book on this list is "The Boxcar Children," which actually was a many-book series by Gertrude Chandler Warner.
It's the story of four orphaned siblings who run away from their orphanage and create a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar in the forest. And I think that the idea of just basically setting up shop and running your own show is always enticing. No rules, no baths, no schoolwork, not being told what to do. The environment is enticing because it's unusual and also because it's totally free and the children actually themselves become adults.
WERTHEIMER: Now, you've put a book on this list by Roald Dahl, who is of course very well known for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach" and other children's classics. But you've picked one that I haven't heard of - "The Witches," which you say is scary.
Ms. BLUME: I really, really love "The Witches," and you know, a lot of children's literature is traditionally very scary and very frightening and there's a - in a tantalizing way. What happens in this book is a seven-year-old boy, orphaned, of course, because all children's books' characters always have to be orphaned, goes to live with his grandmother and it turns out that his grandmother is an expert on witches, and the two of them come across a well-connected organization of witches, which is launching a nefarious plot to destroy children, all the children in the country…
WERTHEIMER: (Singing) Da-da-da-da…
Ms. BLUME: (Singing) Da-da…
(Speaking) And it turns out that the witches look like ordinary people.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BLUME: Which is quite amazing. And the reader is told, quote: Real witches dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women.
WERTHEIMER: Oh my goodness.
Ms. BLUME: They live in ordinary houses and work in ordinary jobs. That is why they're so hard to catch. And without spoiling the ending, I will say that it has not exactly a fairy-tale ending in that everything ends happily, and you know, life is not about neat, perfect endings. This book does not have one. Kids know the difference. They don't like condescending authors. They like it when people give it to them straight and Roald Dahl has definitely given them that in this book, albeit in a very whimsical package.
WERTHEIMER: You also picked "The Devil's Storybook" by Natalie Babbitt, and that was the book on the list that you thought we might hear a little bit from, a reading.
Ms. BLUME: Natalie Babbitt, most people probably know her for her classic "Tuck Everlasting," which is a beautiful book.
Ms. BLUME: And "The Devil's Storybook" I don't think was ever hugely popular, I think because it was a little contentious, the idea of writing a collection of short stories about a devil who is sort of a naughty rogue. He's really funny, and hell is not what you would expect. He's not what you would expect. And I just wanted to read you a very short little paragraph from the very first story in the book, called "Wishes."
And it starts: One day, when things were dull in hell, the devil fished around in his bag of disguises, dressed himself as a fairy godmother, and came up into the world to find someone to bother. He wandered down the first country road he came to and before long he met a crabby farmwife stumping along with a load of switches on her back.
And that's the end of the paragraph, and it just really just - I love the idea of things being dull in hell, and I liked the idea that the devil has nothing better to do but go around and bother people and pester them, dress up as fairy godmothers, that he has a ready array of costumes. I mean the language of a lot of these classic children's books is absolutely wonderful, and we have to make sure that the books that we love go into the hands of our own children.
WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much.
Ms. BLUME: Thank you.
WERTHEIMER: Lesley Blume is the author of several books for young readers. Her most recent book is called "Tennyson." It's a Southern Gothic mystery novel.
(Soundbite of music)
WERTHEIMER: And if you want to look at Lesley Blume's complete list of books for kids, plus find summer reading recommendations for adults, look at the new npr.org.