Several months ago, I happened upon an online conversation about books one reads in childhood and the subsequent impact those books made on the adult. (Sorry, I’ve been unable to locate the web-link; I’ve tried!)
For me, that online discussion spurred my own reflection, trying to recall which books I’d read and weighing how each book played a role in my own writing/reading life today. Why I didn’t I have the forethought to keep a reading journal in those days, I just don’t know. (Ha!) It’s a challenge to create this kind of list from memory: I have to keep asking myself, was this title one to which I introduced my children, or one I actually read for the first time in my own childhood?
Long before I was able to read on my own, my parents read to us. I remember A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. (In addition to his simple verses, I felt a special affinity to Stevenson because his initials (RLS) were the same as mine!)
The Tales of Mother Goose, Aesop’s Fables and Grimm’s Fairy Tales were bedtime favorites for me. Long before Disney, I knew the tales of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow White & Rose Red and Cinderella and The Goose Girl. In my mind’s eye, they were much more beautiful than the cartoon characters popularized for children today! While still quite young, I had internalized many of the one-line moral lessons from Aesop, and found intense empathy for the “drudge of the household,” a diminutive child named Little Thumb (from Mother Goose).
Once I’d learned to read on my own, I branched out while continuing to consume both fairy tales and verse. I delighted in the poetry of Eugene Field (Wynken, Blynken and Nod) and James Whitcomb Riley (Little Orphant Annie). I adored Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales as well as the stories of Ali Baba, Sinbad and Aladdin from Arabian Nights Stories.
I immediately identified with certain characters in the books I read; others, I appreciated because of their whimsy. I looked at The Bobbsey Twins as a family almost like mine. Though there were no twins in our family, I had two brothers and one sister (at the time), so I enjoyed the similarities − and on more than one occasion, wished I could be a twin!
J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan fed my desire for an almost modern fairy tale. The book’s whimsical flavor set it pretty high on my list: a family named “Darling,” a boy who resolves never to grow up, and a fairy − small as your hand − whose every movement rings a lovely tinkle of bells, Tinkerbell. Who could read this book without loving it?!
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Elsie Dinsmore and Heidi were three books I read and re-read! Yes, there are extraordinary similarities between all three heroines; each is a girl displaced, sent to live in the company of strangers. Each girl suffers hardship and the pain of being misunderstood. Each endures crisis, but in the end (of course) everything works out for the good.
My list would be incomplete without the names of Frances Hodgson Burnett, Rudyard Kipling, George MacDonald and Beatrix Potter, though I had only dabbled in their works during my pre-teens, with limited exposure (respectively) to The Secret Garden, The Jungle Book, The Light Princess and The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
This is a sampling from my pre-teen years. (Certainly, you would be correct in observing one particular name is curiously absent.) Tomorrow, I’ll continue, but for now, I leave you with the words of Rudyard Kipling who noted the following: “A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition.”
Kipling wasn’t just a brilliant writer, but a man of exceptional wisdom.