Thursday, April 07, 2011

My favorite childhood books

When I was growing up, my mom took us kids to the library during the summer on a very regular basis. It might have been every week. It was at least every two weeks, because that's what the lending period was. There was a drugstore across the parking lot from the library and my mom usually let us pick out a treat on the way home. I almost always chose sugar-coated lemon drops. Then I took them home and ate them, one after another, until my mouth was sore and I couldn't even taste them anymore. As I ate, I read. I chose whatever books I wanted, and they were usually juvenile or YA literature (the only restriction I distinctly recall was that I was not allowed to check out Sweet Valley High books. Sweet Valley Kids - or whatever the younger, tamer variety of that series was called - was OK).

I caught a whiff of lemon-flavored candy this morning and it brought with it so many memories of reading really good books. Here are some of my childhood favorites.

The Baby-Sitters Club series, by Ann M. Martin. I loved these books and I can still remember details about the characters that are totally irrelevant to my - or anyone's - life. Like how Claudia Kishi's Japanese grandma pronounced iron as "i-ron." Stacey was my favorite because she was supposed to be everyone's favorite, but in reality I think I secretly liked Kristy the best. A darned fine girl with no nonsense about her.



Constance, by Patricia Clapp. Somehow we ended up owning this book. It's a good thing, too, because I ended up reading it approximately eleventy billion times as a kid. The neat thing is that it is firmly based on the truth, which I found out years later when I read Mayflower.

Stepping on the Cracks, by Mary Downing Hahn. When I was growing up, there were a LOT of YA books about WWII. This was one of the best ones. Discussion question: are there still a lot of YA books about WWII?

Calico Captive, by Elizabeth George Speare. A lot of kids read Witch of Blackbird Pond, and that's fine. That's a great book. Calico Captive is better, in my opinion, and has the added interest of being an only slightly fictionalized true story, as well as featuring a literary heroine who ended up with the wrong man.

Boy, by Roald Dahl. I devoured most anything by Roald Dahl, and yet his autobiographical novel was my favorite.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi. They don't write books like this anymore. They just don't (or when they do, they end up being creepy and pedophile-y, like Bloody Jack). I wanted to BE Charlotte Doyle for vast swaths of my girlhood.


The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I get shivers just remembering how a bright, happy story suddenly turns SUPER FREAKY. And AWESOME. This book is scary to kids in all the right ways.

Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson. An isolated fishing village, a neglected twin, plenty of teen angst, unrequited love, and World War II. Oh - and a lovely, fulfilling ending. What more could you ask for?

Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes. The first time I tried to read this as a kid I was so bored I had to stop. I never got much past his stupid hand getting deformed. But when I tried again and finally got into it, I was INTO it. I still love this book.

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. I liked to wait a year or so between re-readings so the mystery was as fresh as possible. Sometimes it even worked.

I'm sure I missed some great titles, but these are the ones that stand out. What are your favorite childhood books?

20 comments:

Becky said...

Love this post! Brought back great memories of library trips as a kid, and I also loved almost all of these books. I would add "Little House on the Prairie" and "Ann of Green Gables" as well as almost every other series LM Montgomery wrote. I liked some of Avi's other books as well. And, "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm". How funny that I was also not allowed to read "Sweet Valley High"!

Bridget said...

Little House on the Prairie, of course!! How could I have left it out? I can't wait to read those with Miriam.

Liz Johnson said...

OH MAN BABYSITTERS CLUB!!! I love them so much. And Kristy was totally my favorite. Loved that girl.

I devoured R.L. Stine books as a kid. Also, I read "Little Women" 3692 times.

Sarah Familia said...

Oh, the memories! I liked the WWII books too, but my favorites were mostly fantasy: Madeleine L'Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, and most of all, Patricia McKillip. I must have read the Riddlemaster trilogy dozens of times. I guess I was more of a tomboy. You couldn't have paid me to read "Sweet Valley High" but I read every single Hardy Boys mystery.

Amanda said...

This may sound bizarre, but I didn't much like reading when I was a kid. I liked Anne of Green Gables and tried reading the rest of the series, but it got lame about 3 or 4 books in. I was busy and I didn't figure out that I liked reading more than other leisure-time activities until Jr. High, at which point I wanted to be viewed as super smart (or I wanted to 'get' all the references, so I read a bunch of "Classics." So, I kind of skipped out on the YA fiction phase of life. I've read a few of these books as an adult... maybe I should go back and read the rest. (All I know about Johnny Tremaine is that Marge makes Bart read it and he says, "They should call this book Johnny Deformed!")

AmandaStretch said...

Another vote for the BSC! I'd read so many that I often skipped the second chapter or so where they introduce the girls. every. single. time. However, Claudia was totally my favorite, even if I'm more a Kristy or Mary Anne. I also loved the Little House on the Prairie series. Other favorite series: Goosebumps, Fear Street, Animorphs, Redwall. I also remember reading all the Work and the Glory books in about two weeks over Christmas in 9th grade. The Giver is my all time favorite book, and I must have picked that up sometime when I was a teenager. I probably should post this comment before I start listing everything. :)

I do remember that my mom took us to the library every Wednesday morning in the summer. We'd go to story time, then pick out our books (I think we were allowed six each, which gets to be a lot between 4 people - Mom and three kids). Then, we'd go to the neighboring park and play or splash in the wading pool while Mom read.

Good times. :)

Kathy Haynie said...

One of my earliest memories is walking to the small-town library every week with my mom and brother. My favorite childhood series (late 1950s) was the "twin" books: The Chinese Twins, The Dutch Twins, The Twins of 1812, etc. I loved them so much. They were always a set of boy-girl twins who lived in the different settings and/or time periods. It was history and geography in story form. I looked for them when my own children cam along, but by then they were out of print.

I loved the Boxcar Children. When I was a little girl, there was only the one book. It wasn't a series until my kids were readers. I wanted to go live in a boxcar.

Of course the Little House on the Prairie series. I remember the shock of realization, reading Farmer Boy about Almanzo Wilder, and suddenly realizing that Wilder was the author's last name, and that--oh my gosh--the whole thing was true! I devoured those books.

By the time I was a teenager, Madeline L'Engle's books were coming out. I devoured them. Reread them many times, especially The Arm of the Starfish and A Wrinkle in Time. I wanted to be Meg.

Kathy Haynie said...

PS - About those lemon drops. My great-grandma always kept some handy, so they make me think of her. I know what you mean about sucking on them one at at time till your mouth is sore. They do make good reading companions.

Tia said...

I loved Babysitter's Club too. I actually had the whole collection. I wish I would have kept it. Especially since I have 3 girls.

Jessie said...

I was a horse nerd growing up so I read all the Saddle Club series. It was always a beeline to that shelf each time I went to the library. We had one within walking distance from our house in Virginia, so I went ALLLL the time.

The books I read the most as a young girl were a three-book series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor called "The Boys Start the War". "The Girls Get Even", and "Boys against Girls". I don't think many people have even heard of them, but I LOVED those books and have probably read each twenty times.

Also a huge Roald Dahl fan. (Sidenote- My sister put her picture into one of those celebrity look-alike websites and it came back with Roald Dahl. We laughed for a week.)

Suzanne Bubnash said...

One of my happiest childhood memories was our frequent visits to the library. I remember being at the same height level as the children's shelves, and checking out every Snipp-Snapp-and Snurr & Flick-Ricka-and Dicka books they had.

Fast forward 47 years. I was visiting that area and happened to see in the newspaper that that old library was to be torn down and replaced with a bigger, better version. I took my camera down and photographed memorable areas of that library. I had stepped right back into a cherished childhood memory.

Horse books were my favorites up until adolesence. Then it was historical fiction and anything off the classics list.

Sarah Rose Evans said...

I wasn't allowed to read Sweet Valley High either, despite loving the elementary versions of the books. So I started reading romance novels instead.

Little House on the Prairie was the first chapter book I read by myself.

There was also a series about kids dealing with cancer, although I can't remember titles or an author.

Jennifer said...

Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew, Boxcar Children. I loved them all! I also loved those "choose your own ending" mysteries. I think I even wrote some of my own! Charlotte Doyle was a favorite too. This is a great list.

Oh, and my mom took us to the library, but never to the drug store for a treat. You're lucky :)

Matthew said...

Great list Bridget! I wonder if you would mind updating your post to show what ages you think each of these would be best suited for? It seems like they range about 10-13, is that correct?

Lisa Lou said...

I remember getting to school early and going to the library and reading/sneaking in a few chapters of Sweet Valley High books. I was such a rebel. I loved the Amercian Girls books - the classic ones. Now they have all sorts of shoot-offs and things. I LOVED the Baby-sitters Club. I think my favorite book was when Mary Anne and Stacy's parents got married and they became step-sisters. At least that's what I remember...

Bridget said...

I have never read Little Women. I KNOW. I only know the movie, and also how one of the Sweet Valley twins read it and talked about it in one of the books.

Sarah, I tended toward historical fiction, obviously, but I do remember loving The Dark is Rising and A Wrinkle in Time, etc. I also distinctly remember not "getting" science fiction, though.

Amanda, I cannot believe you were not a great reader as a child! You fooled me.

AmandaStretch, I remember every boy in my sixth grade class was crazy about Redwall. The author came to speak at our school and it was the biggest deal EVER for them.

Oh Kathy, The Boxcar Children! I think I would have liked those books more if Little House on the Prairie hadn't existed. But there was always a part of me that even as a kid was like, "really, pine needle soup? Come on."

Tia, my 10-year-old self is so jealous of your BSC collection. I remember being so sad if the next book I needed was checked out of the library. :(

Jessie, isn't Roald Dahl a hideous old British man?? Now I'm wondering what your sister looks like. Also, have you re-read any of his books since you've grown up? They're a lot ruder than I remember them. I actually had to edit on the fly as I read Fantastic Mr. Fox to Miriam.

Bridget said...

Sarah, a series about kids dealing with cancer sounds so...unlikely to me. And good thing you read romance novels instead of SVH, huh. :)

Jennifer, I remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books!! Do they still have those? Oh how I loved them.

Matthew, if your kids are precocious readers (and I bet they are), then any of these books would be fine even from 7 on up. I'm sure I was younger than 10 when I read and re-read most of these.

Lisa Lou, I believe it was Dawn and Mary Anne who became stepsisters. Not that I knew that off the top of my head...

robin said...

first of all, you are my hero because you answered one of my biggest questions! THE WESTING GAME! i have been trying to remember the name of that book for YEARS. i read it as a kid (i remember reading it on a family camping trip, sitting in my one-man tent by myself and not wanting to put it down).

anyway, i have tried and tried for years googling things i remembered about it and have had no success. until now! thank you so much. it's really been bothering me. i can now sleep at night.

when i think of my childhood, i remember reading. i was a huge book worm. i loved to read. in 6th grade i remember overhearing my teacher challenge my incredibly intelligent and gifted best friend to read x amount of books (above and beyond what the rest of the class had been assigned.) well, i wasn't about to be out-read by her! i secretly made it my mission to read more books than her... and i did it. i guess i was a very competitive young girl! sheesh.

so, books i remember loving: the phantom tollbooth, ALL roald dahl (especially boy, like you), island of the blue dolphins, babysitters club (of course. dawn was my favorite. oh, to have the name dawn!), the castle in the attic, the trumpet of the swan, just as long as we're together (by judy blume, so scandalous!), redwall...

my favorite class in college was children's literature. can you tell?

Amanda said...

I think I read all of these books but didn't love any of them. Funny. I like historical fiction, but more like Caddie Woodlawn, or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, or the Orphan Train series.

As for my random memory, my teacher read "Boy" aloud to us in third grade. There happened to be a boy in our class named David Boyle who was out with chicken pox at the time we read the part about Roald Dahl having boils. I whispered some silly sarcastic remark from the back of the room about David Boyle having the boils. Unfortunately my teacher overheard and totally chewed me out, correcting me on the differences of chicken pox and boils. One of my more embarrassing moments.

sarah-lucy said...

I loved The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and Jacob Have I Loved, which I don't think I discovered until my senior year of high school? Perhaps even college.

Also loved: everything by Robin McKinley.

I too read many, many WWII books as a child, and I think that sort of warped my personality.

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