My interview with Brian Sibley, and reading his wonderful autobiographical post, My Life and Welcome to It on his blog, prompted me to think about some of the books that meant the most to me in my childhood. While I can’t possibly list them all, I want to share a few of them with you, and perhaps get you thinking about the books that were special to the child you.
One of the few books from my childhood that I still have is a well-worn large-sized 365 Bedtime Stories. My parents read the stories to me, then when I was able to read, I read the stories over and over until I had some passages memorized (that is a cornerstone of my reading experience to this day — reading and re-reading until some beloved passages are forever in my memory). It was delightful to find the link I’ve shared above, and to rekindle more memories of those stories of life on What-A-Jolly-Street.
There were picture books, Little Golden Books (The Make-Believe Parade was a favorite), a series of paperback “Stories to Read Aloud,” from which I grew into Whitman Classics, and of course, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames. Librarians in my childhood looked down on those series books, and granted they weren’t great literature, but I learned from them, they kept me reading (and re-reading), and they were “friends” to an only child who spent a great deal of time with her nose in a book.
My first vivid memory of my mother reading aloud to me is oddly not until I was 7 years old, in fact nearly 8, in the hospital to have my tonsils removed. She sat by my bedside (for some reason I’d been put in a private room in the women’s ward instead of the children’s ward) and read Johanna Spyri’s Heidi to me. I later re-read it many times for myself.
Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins was an early and long-lasting favorite as well. Watching Rose come to life as her seven boy cousins swarmed over the Aunt Hill, and Uncle Alec doctored her with fresh air, exercise, and pills concocted by rolling bits of brown bread (to satisfy the Aunts) never failed to delight me. Little Women was also part of my life, although reading about Beth’s death always tugged at my heart — particularly because of her name. The Anne books by L.M. Montgomery are, quite simply, part of my life now. Imaginative Anne spoke to the heart of imaginative Beth — and there is a reason my mother insisted that my middle name, Anne, be spelled with an E!
Our sixth grade teacher read aloud to us for half an hour (well, sometimes it was longer!) every day after lunch. She was the last teacher to do this, before we got into junior high where there was not the luxury of being read to. She read books that would appeal to many tastes, but the ones I remember most fondly are My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming. Although I brought them home from the library many times after that, it is still Mrs. Page’s voice that is in my mind when I think of them.
Two non-fiction books that were an integral part of my teenage years as well as my early adulthood were Karen and With Love from Karen by Marie Killilea. Marie was Karen’s mother, and she lovingly told the story of her daughter’s premature birth, the eventual diagnosis of cerebral palsy, and the struggle to help Karen reach her full potential as she grew up in the 1940s and 50s. Those books profoundly affected me. I wore out my first paperback copies, and replaced them a couple of times! I still frequently quote the books in my daily life.
Other classics I didn’t encounter until after I was out of my childhood. I was introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and the house at Pooh Corner when I was not-quite-eighteen, living in residence at Naramata Christian Training Centre, part of Winter Session — which was billed as “leadership training” or some generic moniker like that, but which was a rich and varied exploration of self and possibilities. One of the leaders read Winnie-the-Pooh stories to us one evening — and I was immediately drawn to Pooh, and his delightful friends Piglet and Eeyore (whom I particularly identified with). I bought the boxed set of the two Pooh books and A.A. Milne’s poetry, and much of those stories became an integral part of my memory as well.
Paddington Bear also entered my life around that time, marching into my mind and heart with his Please Look After This Bear tag around his neck, his suitcase in his hand, and his marmalade sandwich under his hat. I’d known Rupert Bear when I was a child, now Paddington and Pooh added to my bearish repertoire.
One day in early 1974, I walked into a downtown bookstore, and saw on the corner of a table display the new book The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards. I am currently re-reading it. (I do wish I’d kept a tally of all these re-readings of all these books!) Her book Mandy had charmed me a couple of years earlier. Whangdoodle, with its emphasis on imagination and on nature, plus the wordplay and fun inherent in the book, delighted me to the core of my being. In fact, if I could, I think I would turn flange (every color of the rainbow, all at once) when reading it.
I am so grateful that I didn’t allow adulthood to make me feel I had to “grow out” of reading children’s books. They have brought me joy, they have comforted me, they have made me laugh and cry, they have been my friends throughout my life. They have, indeed, helped to raise me.
What books helped to raise you?