Best books … chosen by Doug Wright

Doug Wright created the script for the Broadway adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, which is now in previews. Below, the Pulitzer–winning playwright names six of his favorite children’s books.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (HarperTrophy, $8). When errant Max is sent to his room without supper, his adventures begin. His walls melt away, his bedposts sprout branches, and he finds himself in a mysterious world where fantastical beasts give him a run for his money in the “naughty” department. I can’t imagine any childhood spent without this sumptuously illustrated book.

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Yearling, $6.50). A group of misfit children share an obsession with ancient Egypt and begin an elaborate game predicated on the lives of the pharaohs. The children make headdresses out of milk cartons and even devise their own hieroglyphics. But when a neighborhood murder occurs, they worry that they’ve unleashed ancient sinister powers.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Aladdin, $7). In this Newbery award winner, siblings Claudia and Jamie don’t just run away from home; they secretly ensconce themselves in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Entranced by a tiny angel statue, they then seek out the one person who knows the secret of its remarkable provenance: an elderly, mischievous dowager with secrets of her own.

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The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin, $19). A reclusive (and fictitious) artist named Harris Burdick disappears before he can complete a series of picture books. In this haunting volume, Chris Van Allsburg compiles the alluring fragments Burdick supposedly left behind: vivid, often supernatural drawings with only single lines of text, leaving readers to invent the missing tales themselves.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (Knopf, $9). When a high school freshman refuses to sell chocolate bars to benefit his prep school, he becomes the target of suspicion and abuse by his peers. This young adult novel has all the thematic heft of great literature; underneath its suburban exterior lurks a trenchant allegory about conformity and mob rule.

The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (out of print). Admittedly, this book is for adults. But in an age when Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, and the Brothers Grimm are routinely banned from school libraries, Bruno Bettelheim makes a heartfelt case for the indispensability of fairy tales in the developmental lives of children. In its own quiet way, this book defines with passion the role of art in all of our lives.

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