Sometimes the mark of a great book is how much it makes you care about other books—or works of art, theater and music. Take Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay For Now. Hundreds of kids will probably finish the book and start searching for the “Bertha Mason shriek” in a copy of Jane Eyre. Schmidt also put in quite a plug for Audubon. I’ve always had a vague interest in his art, but until now had never taken the time to pore over individual paintings. When Doug cared, I cared, because Schmidt makes you care about Doug.
Here are some more books that act as ambassadors, or default advertisement, for the arts:
The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder: when I was little, I had a deep envy of Pa Ingalls’ fiddle-playing skills (I still do). I too wanted to wake up to his silly songs and march off to bed as he played rollicking tunes (I conveniently ignored the fact that the marching was necessary to prevent them from freezing to death in the days before modern heating).
Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt: there’s a lovely passage where Dicey watches her sister play Bach on the piano and thinks the notes on the page are too simple to create such music. It works on multiple levels, because fans of Bach know exactly what she’s talking about, and those who’ve never heard Bach might start to get curious.
Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes: I suppose you could read this as a cautionary tale about the abuses of home videos. Jimmy makes filming look so easy, and in doing so completely takes advantage of Martha’s very real grief.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brain Selznick: does the unenviable task of popularizing early films.
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt: Shakespeare’s plays practically form the backbone of this book. I know if I’d read this in eighth grade, it would have sent me straight into the Shakespeare stacks.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: has a wonderful connection with A Wrinkle in Time. For anyone who read Stead’s book before A Wrinkle in Time—did you find it confusing?
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff: had me itching for my colored pencils for the first time in years.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: the best publicity the Metropolitan Museum of Art could hope for.