Have you always been an avid reader or is it a newly acquired habit? I’ve been an avid reader since I first encountered Dick and Jane in first grade. But my love of books goes back even further. My earliest memory involves sitting on a baby blanket in the sun with my mother, surrounded by books. I don’t remember all of the books but do recall two – Nurse Nancy and The Gingerbread Man – because they were two of the first books I read by myself.
Two recent events have me thinking a lot about the books I read – and loved – as a child. First, I was sitting in a favorite restaurant enjoying a leisurely brunch, mimosa in one hand and Kindle next to my plate, when a family was seated at the table next to me. I immediately cringed, afraid that my peace would be spoiled by fighting children. Fortunately, I was wrong. While the parents and son quietly scanned the menu, the daughter (about 10 years old) pulled a book out of her pack and began reading. When the waitress came to take their order the girl briefly looked up, gave her order, and began reading again. I stayed for about 45 minutes longer, and the girl read the entire time.
I thought about that girl a long time afterward. Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money, and rarely ate meals in restaurants. But reading during meals at home? Oh yes! My brother and I were encouraged to read whenever we wanted, and we often read during meals.
But what types of books did I read? One of my fellow AAR staffers, LeeB, recently sent around a link to a USA Today article that lists the 100 Greatest Books for Kids as ranked by Scholastic Parent & Child magazine.
I immediately looked at the list and discovered that I had read 8 of the top 10 but only 22 out of all 100. I started feeling bad about this low number and checked out the editors’ methodology to see if they were flawed in their selections. Then I checked the list in more detail and discovered that many of the books I haven’t read were published well after my childhood years. And since I don’t have children, I don’t regularly read newly published children’s books unless they capture my attention, Harry Potter being a key exception.
But did I read books of comparable quality to those on the list? Frankly, my parents didn’t care what I read; they just wanted me to read. My brother and I, along with our mother, spent many days on our back porch reading piles of comic books – Archie, Batman, Superman, Richie Rich – whatever we could get our hands on. I’ve talked here before about my love of girl sleuth mysteries, particularly the Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew series. But my brother and I regularly read each other’s books, so I also read a lot of the Hardy Boys and Rick Brant series, as well as many books featuring race car drivers (a particularly favorite of his).
I know I read many of the childhood classics both in school and at home. My parents made certain we had cheap versions of all “important” books in our home (often picked up at thrift stores). Once a week my father took us to the public library where we would walk out with anywhere from 10 to 20 books piled high in our hands. But honestly, it’s not the classics that stick in my mind. In addition to those girl sleuth mysteries, the books I enjoyed the most are decidedly non-classic books.
As an early reader I loved what I thought of as books set in “olden times” such as the Bobbsey Twins and the Little House on the Prairie series. I also dearly loved the books I purchased through the Scholastic Book Club. Three of my favorites, that I’ve recently bought copies of, are The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink, Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians by Mary Nash, and Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrshkin. All three of these books feature children engaged in exciting adventures. The latter two had at least one child who was either brilliant or had particularly interesting talents. These books engaged my mind and made me want to have adventures. And most of all, they were fun.
I guess it’s that sense of reading as fun that has remained with me into my adulthood. Yes, I’ve read lots and lots of classic adult fiction, both in literature classes in college and on my own. I even briefly belonged to a classic literature book group. But I quickly came to the conclusion that as an adult, my reading tastes are very similar to my childhood tastes. I’ll read a classic book from time to time if it’s compelling. But for a daily diet, I want fun, enjoyable reads, the ones I get most frequently these days from romance and mysteries.
So let’s talk childhood reading. Does the Scholastic Parent & Child magazine list of top children’s books match with your childhood reading? Are there classics you think are missing? And what are the children’s books that have stayed in your memory the longest?
– LinnieGayl AAR