My Childhood in Books

by Lindsey A.

In February, I was fortunate to attend the 15th Annual Western Washington University’s Children’s Literature Conference. I watched presentations from Pam Muñoz Ryan, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Sophie Blackall, and Kevin Henkes. A common theme among these youth authors and illustrators was their personal history of reading; specially, what led them to become readers, and which books captivated them when they were young. Sophie encouraged us to think about the books that shaped us, so I’m dedicating some time to the books I read voraciously as a kid.

It’s remarkable how those early books are so firmly rooted in our memories. I can barely remember what I did yesterday, but I remember that the first book I checked out from the school library in first grade was “Trapper” by Stephen Cosgrove. My mom remembers that the first book she read on her own was “The Man Who Lost His Head” by Claire Huchet Bishop and Robert McCloskey. A few years ago I discovered a reprint of this book, and I think it’s her favorite birthday gift I’ve ever given her. Clearly these books have a direct line to our hearts!

Why not join me on a trip down memory lane?

Childhood Favorites

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

This is the book where Pooh disguises himself as a rain cloud, where he gets stuck in Rabbit’s front door, where Piglet’s house gets flooded, and many more classic tales from the Hundred Acre Wood. It was followed by The House at Pooh Corner, but this was the only Milne book we owned. I still have the Dell Yearling paperback we bought when I was eight (see the exact cover on the left). The E. H. Shepard illustrations are charming and memorable, and I was enchanted by the idea that Christopher Robin was based on a real boy, as suggested in the prologue, which includes an image of the boy dragging his plush bear up and down the stairs.

I watched Goodbye Christopher Robin recently and it inspired me to learn more about Milne’s life. I had no idea he suffered from severe PTSD after World War I, or that his son Christopher Robin (called Billy Moon in early childhood) resented the fame thrust upon his family. I knew plenty about Winnie, the real bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, from the children’s books Finding Winnie and Winnie, but this was a real revelation for me.

The Fire Cat by Esther Averill

I also fell in love with Pickles, from fellow cat fanatic Esther Averill’s The Fire Cat. Pickles begins his life as a stray, living in a barrel, until Mrs. Goodkind adopts him. He is young with big paws and a lot of energy. Other cats in the neighborhood see him as a troublemaker. Eventually Pickles hooks up with the local fire department, becoming the titular fire cat, and puts all his energy to good use.

Averill wrote about a number of cats. While I didn’t read the Jenny books until my thirties, the cool teen girl next door once loaned me her copy of The Hotel Cat. I was obsessed with it until I inevitably had to return it, but “The Fire Cat” was my first Averill love.

Little Golden Books by Various Authors

The majority of the kids’ books I owned growing up were Little Golden Books. They were cheap and easy to find in grocery stores and garage sales, so I had a whole shelf of those slim, gold-papered spines. They tended to get tattered easily, but we kept them even when their covers went missing.

Unfortunately, a number of my favorite Little Golden Books are no longer in print, including “Four Puppies” by Anne Heathers (as seen on the left), about a litter of collie puppies exploring the four seasons, and Jane Werner Watson‘s “Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles.”

As a dinosaur fan, that Giant Golden Book was my favorite reference guide, and I lingered over the image of my beloved Brontosaurus (R.I.P.).

However, we’ve seen a lot of reprints lately (for example, the books below) so I’m holding on to hope that I will see them again (hopefully updated with new information in the case of the dinosaur book).

For an extra dose of fun, check out the Everything I Need to Know… series of books, which contain illustrations and life lessons from many Little Golden Books.

There were other books I read over and over again, like Old Yeller, Stuart Little, the Ramona Quimby series and the Baby-sitters Club series (I always make a point of telling people that the entire series is available digitally on OverDrive), but I don’t want to go deeper down the rabbit hole. I’d rather hear about your favorite childhood reads. Please share them in the comments!

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18 responses to “My Childhood in Books”

  1. Carla Fisher says:

    Oh, my . . . Too many to even remember. My Mum used to say that when she put me in the highchair at lunch, I would look at her and say, “Read me and feed me!” (Some things do not change with age.) She read to me from The Winnie the Pooh books and AA Milne’s poetry (When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six), Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling), Paul Bunyan, Brer Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland, and lots of Little Golden Books.

    My first chapter book that I read by myself was The History of Numbers (I became an engineer, but I’m sure there’s no relationship). I loved Harriet the Spy, and A Wrinkle in Time was also a favorite. Of course, I interspersed Mad Magazine, comic books, and lots of forgettable tripe among the gems.

    I can still recite chunks of Milne and snippets of Just So (the great, green, greasy Limpopo River), and I credit all the hours of reading aloud that Mum logged for my ongoing love affair with the printed word.

    • Lindsey A. says:

      I don’t know how I’ve never read Kipling’s Just So Stories. I’ve only read The Jungle Book, which I found much richer than Disney’s version. I’m adding it to my list!

      I love that you can remember the first chapter book you read by yourself, Carla. I don’t think I can remember mine, but it was probably a Beverly Clearly book borrowed from my older sister. I was always ransacking her collection. I also credit my love of reading to my parents. My dad read aloud with me almost every night from a young age and those are some of my favorite memories!

  2. Brian says:

    Fortunately by Remy Charlip “Good and bad luck accompany Ned from New York to Florida on his way to a surprise party.” Dropping from a plane with a parachute and surprise birthday parties had my attention when I was a kid. That and rescuing dragons. My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.

  3. Emily Z says:

    I loved Cosgrove’s books as well, though I was more enamored with Serendipity as she was magical and pink. Leo the Lop was a close runner up.

    The first books I remember reading to myself were Syd Hoff’s stuff (in the I Can Read line), Amelia Bedelia, and the Little Bear books. The first books I had opinions about and kind of obsessed over were the Little House on the Prairie and The Borrowers series. I guess I had a thing for survival stories and upcycling?

    I loved hearing The Teacher from the Black Lagoon and James Marshall’s George and Martha books too.

    • Lindsey A. says:

      I loved me some George and Martha. It was ALL about James Marshall when I was in second grade. I really loved Syd Hoff, too, especially Danny and the Dinosaur, Sammy the Seal, and Thunderhoof.

      Until I reread a few recently, I completely forgot that the Serendipity series came with a moral for each book. I obviously missed the point as a kid. I was just drawn in by the cute animals!

      Mad love for the Little House books, too. I loved when they made maple candy in the snow and played ball with a pig’s bladder. Pioneer life seemed so strange and fascinating!

  4. Adrienne S says:

    Seems topical now that the movie is back in the news…but I loved the Wrinkle in Time series. Also the Narnia Chronicles, A Walk Out Of the World (Ruth Nichols), and my earliest readers were of course the Oz books, and The Witch Family (Eleanor Estes), and one of the few non-magical- Harriet the Spy!

    • Lindsey A. says:

      The Wrinkle in Time movie has definitely generated more interest in the book. The requests for it have skyrocketed at the library! One of these days I’ll finish that series.

      I’ve never heard of A Walk Out of the World and The Witch Family but they sound right up my alley. I was also a big reader of magical books. (Harriet had her own kind of magic.) Thanks, Adrienne!

  5. Erin L. says:

    My first chapter book I read myself was “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”. My mom knew it was not too long before she wouldn’t need to read to me anymore and she wanted one last one. The phone rang after the first couple chapters and she took wayyy too long with the book just sitting there. Needless to say I was several chapters ahead when she got back and I was hooked so she gave up. Off I went on many adventures. My favorite, besides Narnia, was the Little house series and then I got hooked on Nancy Drew for a while. Then, in third grade I read Little Women and the teacher was so impressed because of the size of the book she gave me credit for at least two book reports. I love reading.

    • Erin L. says:

      Also, before these I remember “The story of Ferdinand”, “The Purple Crayon”, and “There’s a Monster at the End of This Book”.

      • Erin L. says:

        My childhood memories are awakening! I also remember the Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper and the original Boxcar Children. So much fun!

      • Jackie P. says:

        I, too, avidly read the Boxcar Children, but in my head it’s oddly linked to Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming – as though it’s the Boxcar Children in an alternate timeline. I should revisit the Tillerman books someday… I regularly think it’s time to revisit the Anne books.

      • Jackie P. says:

        I’ve just recently read all three of these to my preschooler. They were a joy to revisit.

      • Julie says:

        Grover is at his hilarious, zany best in “There’s a Monster at the End of This Book”! Even as an adult, it cracks me up! Jackie, the Tillerman books are some of my all-time favorites! Dicey was very aspirational for my young self.

    • Jackie P. says:

      Out of curiosity, Erin, what genres or types of books do you find yourself reading these days? Historical fiction like the Little House & Little WOmen books? Fantasy like Narnia? Mystery like Nancy Drew?

    • Lindsey A. says:

      Oooh, credit for two reports! I read Little Women a couple years after you, around fifth grade and you’re right, it’s a whopper. We share so many childhood favorites! I also loved Ferdinand, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Boxcar Children, and Little House. I definitely remember reading Nancy Drew for a book report.

      I bought The Monster at the End of This Book for my niece and nephew and my two-year old niece is obsessed with it. She can’t read much yet but she has memorized that one and she reads it aloud with such panache. It’s nice to know so many of these books stand the test of time!

  6. Julie says:

    I’ll echo everyone about “My Father’s Dragon”! My third grade teacher often paired a new food with a book the class was reading. For MFD, we enjoyed orange marmalade 🙂 A.A. Milne’s “Now We Are Six” holds a special place in my heart; I read it so often at my grandparents that my grandpa gave me his well-worn orange hardcover. The Boxcar Children, Babysitter’s Club, Harriet the Spy, and Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, are only a small sampling of childhood favorites. Kids that have gumption, courage, rich imaginations, and strong friendships are apparently ones that pulled me in most (even if I was sometimes lacking in one or all of those qualities). Thanks for another great post, Lindsey!

    • Lindsey A. says:

      Marmalade always makes me think of Paddington Bear!

      Kid characters with gumption are the best. I kind of wanted to live in a boxcar after reading the first Boxcar Children book, which is such a eight-year-old way of thinking.

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