Once upon a time in a city distant as the mountains and near as the moon and real as the setting sun, there lived a woman who read many, many children's books. She spent much of each day talking about the stories she found inside their pages and wishing she had enough hours to read all the books that had even been written about runaway mice and fairy tale princesses and little boys who never grew up.
Illustration by Edmund Dulac
It's true. I really do spend enormous amounts of time reading children's and young adult books. I teach children's literature to college students who want to be teachers or psychologists or even mums and dads. I teach other English courses, too, but children's literature is perhaps my favorite. I wrote a post about it a few months back when I first started blogging because it is such a profound experience to watch people become reacquainted with childhood reading. Many of my students stopped reading books outside of school once they reached middle-school age. Revisiting a play like Peter Pan or a novel like Bridge to Terabithia or a book of poems like Where the Sidewalk Ends doesn't just bring back memories; for some students it reopens a door that was long ago locked, its key hidden away somewhere quite secret. Maybe my job in that class is to be the robin who shows them the key. Sometimes they find it, sometimes not, but the journey we take in that class is never, ever boring.
One of the first questions I ask at the beginning of the semester is, "What was your favorite book when you were a kid?" I love the answers I hear, and I love thinking about this question myself. For me, it depends on what part of my childhood I consider. In the early years I loved all fairy tales and all 23 Beatrix Potter books, plus Charlotte's Web and Peter Pan, then Little House on the Prairie and The Secret Garden, and later, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Outsiders, and The Hobbit. The list goes on and on. Todd says he loved Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. My good friend Jen loved The Lord of the Flies (she rules), and another friend loved The Wind in the Willows.
Key in all of this for me was that I was always read to when I was small, and later I was encouraged to read whatever I liked. Books were everywhere in our house. My bedroom was a chaos of books as well as notepads full of my own scribblings. This was one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me--a world of imagination and problem-solving and mystery and grand adventure. As a grownup, I cherish contemporary writers like Cornelia Funke, J.K. Rowling, Lois Lowry, and Philip Pullman for writing books that respect children and encourage them to dream of countless possible ever afters.
What books did you love as a kid and why? I am dying to know. Is there a favorite childhood book that you still love today?