Because of Allen Brewster

The first real book I have a clear memory of read was a children’s chapter book called The Strange Thing that Happened to Allen Brewster. It was about a kid who turned into a plant.

Better than it sounds. Trust me.

I’d like to think that this book is part of the reason I turned out the way I have both as a writer and as a reader. For one thing it was deep. I distinctly remember the scene where Allen’s grandfather is talking to him and he holds up an apple and he asks Allen what it is. Allen naturally responds that it’s an apple. At which point, Allen’s grandfather turns the apple and shows him that it’s really only half an apple. “What you see is not the same as what is,” the grandfather tells Allen. Deep stuff for a six-year-old.

It was also, unusually dark for a children’s book. Allen ends up turning almost completely into a plant. He stands out in the sun for hours on end and the roots in his feet start to grow down into the earth. In the end, Allen himself is saved, but his mean teacher who also takes the formula is implied to be stuck turning into a plant for good. The final page of the book is a picture of a tree with the terrified face of a woman forever trapped in the prison of her own body.

And I loved it.

I think somewhere in the back of my mind I’ve always been measuring my fiction against the standard of The Strange Thing that Happened to Allen Brewster for my entire life. Or maybe not.

But I do believe that stories can change kid’s lives. Maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about parenthood after my wife’s miscarriage last year, and a big part of that is trying to figure out what kinds of stories I want my kids to consume. There’s a part of me that wants to expose them to movies like The Secret of Nimh and Jan Svankmajer’s Alice fairly early on. And of course I want them to read The Strange Thing that Happened to Allen Brewster.

What about you guys? What book made the biggest impression on you as a child, and would you want your kids to read it too? Drop a line or two in the comments section and let me know what you think.

9 responses to “Because of Allen Brewster

  1. An illustrated elementary level dictionary. My parents got me a copy. I perused it daily. Probably why I went from first grade reading level to sixth grade reading level in four months. I liked Landmark books about history, poems by ee cummings. I learned the magic of reading when the teacher read half an hour each day after lunch. She read us Robinson Crusoe and Great Expectations and we had to memorize the poem “Trees”

    • It’s incredibly important for authority figures to encourage children to read, and to SHOW them how great reading can be. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. The book that impacted me the most as a child was called The Littlest Angel. In fact, I still have the book four decades later. The thing I was most fascinated by, actually, were the pictures. They were watercolor type drawings of a very cute little boy who chased his halo around and sang with the choir and sat on Jesus’s lap. I’ve read the story as an adult, and it’s pretty dumb. Mom would read us the book, but what I remember most was staring for hours at the pictures and even making up my own little stories about them because I didn’t remember the exact words of the book. Otherwise I was pretty typical in my love for Dr. Seuss. Oh, but there was one other book. I don’t remember the name of it, but I liked it because it was a gift from my father upon his return from a visit to France. The book was in French, so of course I have no idea what it said. lol Nonetheless, the book was exotic and special because it was from a foreign country, which was pretty cool to me back then.

    • The visuals in Allen Brewster were a big part of why I loved that book as a child. It wasn’t quite a picture book, but there were illustrations every few pages and they really drew me in at the time. Even today I love books with illustrations. I have a illustrated copy of The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett that I absolutely adore. In my opinion adult books would be better off for the occasional illustration to break up the monotony of text.

  3. “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle. Magic, aliens, faulty parents and a teenage heroine who didn’t know she was one. I still have my copy from my fourth grade Weekly Reader Club.

  4. I loved the “A Wrinkle in Time” series as well. Having said that, as a child I read and re-read the Little House series, as a teen it was The Clan of the Cave Bear or anything Judy Blume and as an adult Harry Potter. Hmm – what I love is NOT being able to pick. I love that I read so many different things that by responding to this post I’m sitting here having the nicest visit down my childhood library aisle. Thank you Albert – I appreciate the happy moment :).

  5. Sweet Valley Twins and The Babysitter’s Club. I was just learning English at the time. I was about 10 and don’t know a lot of English words. I owe my love of reading in those series.

  6. My favorite book of all time is one I read as an adult in the 80s. “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende…I read it 5 times in three months.
    The story with its amazing descriptions and underlying messages inspired me. I read that Michael Ende initially wrote it as a childrens story, but it became so popular with adults that it has been reissued many times and in several languages. I thought to myself “what a legacy to leave behind!”

  7. Fairy tales. Fairy tales all the way. The good old, dark, gritty, funny ones by Grimm & Anderson & Pyle. The Wonder Clock is still my favorite book. Fairy tales shaped the way I see stories–the stories around me, and those that I create. GK Chesterton wrote an essay called, “Ethics of Elfland” that entirely encapsulates why I like fairy tales so much.
    But not the Disney version fairy tales. I’m afraid we have a ban on those in our house. Girls waiting for their own true love before their life begins is not something I want my daughters to believe.
    Great great great post, Al!

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