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.