Monday, July 27, 2009

Childhood favourites

What did you read, when you were a school student, either in primary school or secondary school?  Shane Symonds over at his TL blog had an interesting entry about what kids are reading now, and what he remembers reading when he was a kid: I remember reading Willard Price, Biggles, the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators, he wrote.  One point he made was about the amazing amount of choice kids have now.

Set me to thinking about what I read when I was a child.  I hope you'll add your input in the comments - I'd like this entry and its comments to be a collective venture, representing more memories than just my own.

Although I've been a reader/bookworm from a very young age, my reading memories probably start in primary school.  I know we had many Ladybird books, and some of the pictures are with me still.  I remember authors, and series, and Puffins, which seemed to be the publishing house producing lots of what I read then.  They published the editions I read of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods series, for example.  I read my mother's copies of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, and gradually accumulated my own; it was probably her copy of Daddy Long Legs I read, and its sequel, Dear Enemy.  C.S. Lewis' Narnia series was another I read all through, and more Enid Blytons than I can count or remember.  I never quite got into Alice in Wonderland, but had all four books in the Little Women series, and tracked down Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, rather less well-known Louisa M. Alcott books.  Mary Poppins and The Borrowers, all of them.  At one stage I was at a school that had lots of the colour fairy books by Andrew Lang - the Green Fairy Book and Blue Fairy Book and I think he got into some rather more obscure colours after he'd used up the obvious ones (?Aqua ?Chartreuse - not chartreuse!).  One local library near us had all, or nearly all the Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum - not just the well known first, but also Ozma of Oz and The Patchwork Girl of Oz and others.  Read those.  My sister and I read Noel Streatfeild books, particularly the Gemma series but also the others; and all the Chalet School books by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer.  Elizabeth Enright's books gave me a view of life in America.  Winnie the Pooh is a given, and The Wind in the Willows.  The entire series of Swallows and Amazons.  Leon Garfield's versions of the past, and Joan Aiken's historical fantasy books.

There were single titles too, lest I sound series-obsessed.  Children of the Oregon Trail.  The Silver Sword.  The Endless Steppe, in which the privations were terribly real.  The Diary of Anne Frank, although I didn't find it all that interesting and much preferred The Footsteps of Anne Frank for its biographical account, to her first person voice.  Elizabeth Goudge's children's books, and on into her adult titles.  The Swish of the Curtain  by Brown.  The Far-Distant Oxus  by Hull and Whitlock.

Longtime Passing and Pastures of the Blue Crane by Hesba Brinsmead were from my high school years, as were Mary Stolz books, particularly The Seagulls Woke Me and The Organdy Cupcakes.  In both primary and high school I read the excellent historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff, Henry Treece and Cynthia Hartnett, and D.K. Broster's Jacobite trilogy beginning with The Flight of the Heron. Sometime in high school my mother started me on Georgette Heyer with These Old Shades, and Arabella, and they remain favourites.  The teenage girls of Fifteen and Seventeeth Summer seemed so real (I discovered recently that sometimes you can't go back, when I tried rereading one of those). 

My memories start blending into what I read later and still keep on my shelves, at home or school or both.  Robin McKinley is a teacher librarian's discovery in the 1980s, since I was an adult when it was published, and I'm not sure if I read The Dark is Rising books first as adult or child.  Likewise The Wizard of Earthsea

I'll admit to scooting over to the children's lit bookshelves at home to add to this list; and yet what's there is a fraction of what this voracious reader worked her way through at the school library and local library in my childhood and adolescence.  There were so many more books than I can remember or recall.  I note my enthusiasm for reading through authors/series, and that this is still popular with kids, even if the preferred authors/series have changed (maybe now they're also easier to remember than single books).  I note how few of the books I have at school, or lend, are ones I read as a child.  A lot of the above could be characterised as 'girls' books', too.

And thinking of my own work at school now as a teacher librarian, I wonder how many of the loans we do will be books that 'stick'?  I don't know that this is the most important thing.  Some will, because they do, for their individual impact on a specific child or because (eg. Harry Potter or Twilight) they have become social phenomena of unforgettable size.  But many won't; and yet isn't the most important thing the fact that we are encouraging them to read, to voyage in stories and take from them what they will for entertainment and to inform their lives in ways we may never know?

Try this: whether or not you choose to leave it as a comment, write down ten authors/books you remember reading as a child; give each a brief comment on what you liked/why you liked them.



PS for another view, here's NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof's recent  list of the best children's books ever.  He got over 2,000 comments (read them here) and wrote a response to that here.  All of which gives you a bunch of ideas from many people on what are the best children's books.  In their opinion/s, many and varied.  In a reader's comment on his reponse, one person wrote: It would be magical to regain the joy I found in books when I was ten years old. But you really can’t go home again.  Not always, as a grown-up.  But sometimes, yourself.  And sometimes when reading/sharing books with kids.


Anonymous said...

I remember reading Famous Five and Secret Seven books. That is my earliest memory, although there were always books in the house. My next memory is reading The Hobbit in one weekend, I was 13 I think. That is what really got me interested in the Fantasy genre. I remember reading Tom Brown's School Days and Swiss Family Robinson. These books were bought as part of a series, I cannot remember the name, of classics, like the Penguin Classics that are round now. I think I devoured all that we bought, I remember reading Swiss Family Robinson several times. Patricia. PS I love this blog.

Ruth Buchanan said...

Ah yes, the Swiss Family Robinson. My clearest memory is the bag the mother packed before the ship sank/was fully wrecked. It was a Tardis of a thing - she always seemed to be able to dig into it and find just the item required....

Glad you enjoy the blog!
Cheers, Ruth