Article and photo by Authentic Florida guest contributor, Joyce Sparrow
I am beginning at the beginning with my recommendations of classic Florida books. Florida’s children’s literature includes the same themes of escape and exploration found in Florida’s adult fiction. With popular reading today, many adults find themselves choosing what the publishing industry calls crossover titles, meaning that the books were originally written for children or teenagers, but have made their way into the adult reading audience. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are just one example. In other words, it is okay for adults to read kids books just for the pure entertainment and enjoyment factors.
The first Florida book I read as a child before I ever set foot in Florida is The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink. Originally published in 1959, The Pink Motel is the story of the Mellen family who comes to Florida from Minnesota over Christmas break to sell the motel they have unexpectedly inherited from great-grant uncle Hiram. Mr. and Mrs. Mellen and their children Kirby and Betsy discover the Pink Motel is really a collection of six beach cottages rented each winter to “the most unusual guests” including Miss Ferry, an artist from Greenwich Village, the Great Marvello, a magician, Miss DeGree, a trainer of champion dogs, and Mr. Carver a travelling handyman.
Another favorite is Freddy Goes to Florida by Walter R. Brooks published in 1927. Freddy the pig and his barnyard friends decide to leave Mr. Bean’s farm and chilly northern weather for beaches of sunny Florida. Freddy, Hank the old Horse, Jinx the barn cat, Mrs. Wiggins the cow, white ducks Alice and Emma, along with a few spiders and mice, all begin their walk to Florida. The unusual parade attracts some attention. Even the president of the United States takes notice. The illustrations of the animals lying on the beach and talking with the swamp alligators make the book even more delightful.
The Lion’s Paw by Robb White, copyright 1946, is the story of 15-year-old Ben, 12-year-old Penny, and 9-year-old Nick, who sail from Florida’s east coast to Captiva in search of the Lion’s Paw, an unusual scallop shell. Ben’s mother died when he was born and his father is missing and declared dead by the navy. Penny and Nick have escaped from the orphanage. The three meet when Penny and Nick seek refuge on the 30-foot sailing yacht owned by Ben’s father. Ben’s guardian has a buyer for the yacht. The kids engineer a plan to elude the adults. Gators, hurricanes, and meddlesome fishermen all create challenges along their journey through the St. Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee Canal and river, to Fort Myers and the Gulf of Mexico.
Finally, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo is a Florida book published in 2000. Ten-year-old India Opal Buloni moves to Naomi, Florida with her father, “the preacher”. Opal and her father live in the Friendly Corners Trailer Park. The preacher is busy establishing himself at the Open Arms Baptist Church and India Opal has a lot of time to get to know her new community. With all the freedom of a child growing up in a small Florida town, India Opal and Winn-Dixie, the stray dog she adopts, begin to befriend other residents. India Opal builds relationships with Miss Franny, the town librarian, and Miss Dump, the elderly woman who all the other kids in town this is a witch.
These recommended titles are available at public libraries and independent book stores. And, I encourage you to support both when selecting your reading choices.
Joyce Sparrow writes “Florida Reads” the book review column for the Florida Library Association’s publication, Florida Libraries. She also publishes book reviews in Library Journal. Contact Joyce at ReadFlorida@gmail.com
In accordance with FTC guidelines regarding endorsements and testimonials, the books reviewed on the Authentic Florida site are provided for free by the guest contributor. Authentic Florida does not receive money for the reviews.