It’s not easy for an adult to remember what it’s like to be a child, to experience all of the wonders of the world afresh, to make new discoveries, whether they be exciting or terrifying, for the first time. That’s what I love about Ellen Klages’s story collection, Portable Childhoods. She really captures the hopes and fears, the thrills and grave disappointments that happen as one comes of age.
The collection starts with “Basement Magic,” which retells the wicked stepmother/fairy godmother tale in a modern setting, with an ex-beauty queen as the stepmother, a workaholic absentee father, and the family housekeeper as the fairy godmother. The little girl in the story learns conjure magic to keep her nasty stepmother away, but ultimately discovers that magic has a cost.
In “Intelligent Design,” we meet God as a boy, learning how to make stars and bugs at his grandmother’s knee. “The Green Glass Sea” turns the horrors of an atomic test into a desert sea of green glass through a child’s eye. In “Flying over Water,” a neglected child falls too heavily for the enchantments of the sea.
A few of the stories are not about children, but still have such a sense of discovery that they blend well into the collection. In the suspenseful “Time Gypsy,” a young lesbian physicist receives an amazing chance to travel in time and meet her idol, another young woman scientist who disappeared just before she was to announce a major breakthrough.
The collection finishes with three stories that pack an emotional punch. “Guys Day Out” portrays a father’s love for his Down Syndrome son, particularly on the fishing trips that they share over a lifetime. The title story features 10 vignettes of a mother watching her daughter grow up. For book lovers, the best is saved for last: “In the House of the Seven Librarians” transports a sleeping beauty tale to a Carnegie Library, where seven librarians raise a girl in a library caught in the mists of time.
All in all, this is one of the most enjoyable story collections I’ve ever read, blending reality with quiet little touches of fantasy that capture a child’s experience perfectly.
Check the WRL catalog for Portable Childhoods