It’s a snow day! School is cancelled, and I’m having a cozy day catching up on my reading – magazine articles from my “to read” stack, e-mails, and even a real book. My husband is reading a book called The First World War in 100 Objects. And we were just talking about how many of these “history through objects” books there are: The Beatles in 100 Objects, A History of the World in 100 Objects, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects, and lots of others for the list-oriented reader.
Naturally, I began thinking about important objects in children’s books. I don’t have time to list 100, but if I was limited to 10 significant and influential items in children’s books, I would choose:
Max’s Wolf Suit (Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)
Max’s suit is his bridge between Home and the Wild Things. If there was no suit, there would be no sailing off “through night and day and in out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.”
Harry’s Wand (Harry Potter by J.K Rowling)
“The wand chooses the wizard. That much has always been clear to those of us who have studied wandlore.” Garrick Ollivander
The Sleigh Bell (The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg)
The symbol of childhood. “At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them.”
The Wardrobe (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis)
Another of those famous passageways….the door to “Deep Magic.” Like the wolf suit or the bell, the wardrobe is a manifestation of a character’s transformation. “This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!’ thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet.”
The Snowball (The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats)
It’s so awesome that Peter thinks he can save his snowball! The time when you truly believe that snow is safe in your pocket is brief and precious.
Yellow Hat (Curious George by H.A. Rey)
He always arrives just in the nick of time! You can always breathe a bit easier when George’s friend arrives. He gives young fans a sense of security and order. George may sail into the air with a bunch of balloons, but you know “the man” will save the day!
The Purple Crayon (Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson)
The crayon as key – it unlocks Harold’s imagination – and more than 50 years later, the book continues to inspire children and books for children. Look at Journey by Aaron Becker! Part of the magic of Harold’s adventure is that he is alone. No adults to point the way or tell him what to draw next.
The Ferris Wheel (Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White)
The Ferris Wheel in Charlotte’s Web makes me sad. It’s a sign that Fern is leaving one world behind and entering the “adult world” – just as Dr. Dorian predicted she would. This is the bell from The Polar Express! Fern heard the animals talking to one another, but now she chooses Henry Fussy over Wilbur and Charlotte.
The wheel also represents cycles – it keeps spinning. Charlotte dies. The seasons change. Fern grows up.
The Golden Ticket (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl)
“I want a good sensible loving child, one to whom I an tell all my most precious candy-making secrets – while I am still alive.”
The Sled (The Giver by Lois Lowry)
“Jonas felt himself losing consciousness and with his whole being willed himself to stay atop the sled, clutching Gabriel, keeping him safe.”
There are definitely 90 more objects to list, but many of them would share characteristics with the 10 here. Transformative talismans. Keys to unlock imaginations. Signs of freedom or safety. Wings and tickets and gardens and rivers.