Michelle Isenhoff

A Canon of Literature

Canon, not cannon!

A note from Michelle: Because I’m currently on holiday in the Smokey Mountains, the planning of which took up mucho blog time, and because all the rest of my free time lately has been spent turning The Candle Star into an audio book, I do not have a Friday Freebie for you this week. This post, however, has been in my draft folder for a while. If you subscribe to my blog, you may have already seen it in your inbox because I’m the queen of clicking “publish” instead of “schedule” and then hastily pulling it. Since you lot had so much time to think over your answers, I’ll expect some enlightening comments when I get home.  🙂
I’ve been doing a little research into the biblical canon this spring. By definition, a canon is collection of authoritative or influential books. It’s easy to see this application to religion, but a canon can be applied to other topics, too. Say, children’s literature. (You know I was going there, didn’t you?)
So I began thinking what children’s books had the most influence on my growing up. Which ones did I visit again and again? Which ones instilled in me a love of story and the written word? Which most prompted me to pursue a career in teaching? Which most encouraged me as a writer of children’s literature? There have been many, but here are a few of the most important books that I could truly call my own personal canon:

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley – Mom brought this one home for me in fourth grade.  I went on to read nearly every book in the series.  This big, beautiful horse and Mr. Farley’s imagination first glued my nose to a page.

A Dog Called Kitty, by Bill Wallace – I won this one that same year and bawled when I read it.  Still do.  But it captivated the dog-lover in me.  This was the first book in which I identified solidly with a character.

Nancy Drew, by Caroline Keene (Hardy Boys, too, by Franklin W. Dixon) – I read every one I could get my hands on.  Great literature?  Nah.  But they entertained me in the middle grade years and cemented my love of reading.

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London (also London’s White Fang)– I visited the Klondike many times in junior and senior high.  It was the dog that first captured me, but I was drawn again and again by the survival themes and the rugged wilderness.  I wasn’t surprised to find out in high school that it was considered a classic.

All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot – This was my favorite book during high school.  I still enjoy the series, though this one is the best of the four.  I learned a great deal about the skill of writing short stories from this book.  (I also picked up a bit of British lingo, like “on holiday” and “you lot.”)

Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit – I didn’t actually read this until college, but it played a role in my choosing teaching as a career.  I realized I hadn’t outgrown these books and I wanted to share them with kids.  I’ve also used this as a text, studying it when I wrote my first manuscript (The Color of Freedom).  I love its depth and quaint setting.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by AVI – Again, it was read in college, enjoyed immensely, and helpful in guiding me toward elementary education.  I began to pinpoint the middle grades as my favorite, in literature and an educational setting, which is still the case.  I’ve also used this one as a manual to study character development.

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien – I first read these after college.  I was immediately hooked and read them every year for many years.  I still read them when I’m in need of inspiration.

Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling – I was teaching when these first came out, and I had to fight the fourth graders to get a library copy of each new release.  I was just starting to use my own talent for writing.  Rowling taught me a great deal about what makes a book a page-turner.  (She also added those wonderful terms “barking” and “git” to my British vernacular.)

I could list a lot more, but I think this will suffice.  Now you tell me, what books would comprise your personal canon?

A Canon of Literature

2 thoughts on “A Canon of Literature

  1. Great list. I was also definitely influenced by many of these growing up. I remember reading Herriot in middle school, back when I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian (so obviously it didn’t have much effect on me as a writer.. well, maybe they did to the extent that I read them and all writers are influenced by what we have read).
    I also was a big fan of the Hardy Boys. Funny thing, though. At some point I moved on from mysteries. I don’t really read them anymore. I think the characters and situations they got into were pretty interesting to me, as well as the mysteries they were trying to solve.
    And that’s pretty funny that you were fighting the kids for new Harry Potter books.
    I think we’ve talked before about how almost anything by Beverly Clearly played an important role in my younger day’s reading. She’s always the first one to come to mind when I think about my early books.
    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

  2. I do remember discussing Mrs. Cleary with you. Wonderful author who should also be on this list. I went through a veterinarian stage, too, but knew I’d get far too attached to all my patients and would spend half my life crying. I still enjoy rereading Mr. Herriot’s books, though. I rarely read mysteries anymore either, but I do catch an occasional episode of Scooby Doo with my kids. 🙂

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