Thursday, July 16, 2009

Princesses, Secrets, Poems, and Pirates

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 MockingbirdThe 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? 


  1. Oh I am wishing to take one of you classes as I read this.

    I absolutely loved "the princess and the pea". I used to have a hard time sleeping and I truly believed I might have a garden pea underneath my mattress.
    Would you believe I have a golden book "little black sambo" My grandmother left it to me.
    PS: Why is it again, we live so far away from one another? lol

  2. Thank you for the question, Gigi! It sent me on a lovely trip into my reading past. So, as a younger reader, I loved "Where the Wild Things Are" -- I thought Max was so cool! Then there were the Little House years -- I even called a relative of Wilder who lived in the area and chatted with her about the books (at 8 or 9!). The other that I remember a bit later was Old Yeller -- so sad, but so powerful for me.

  3. Wow, Christina, that Golden Book of "Little Black Sambo" is a rare treasure, indeed, especially since your grandmother left it to you. How magical that you imagined yourself as the princess sleeping on a pea. A princess who wears Chucks, of course!
    Marlowe, why am I not surprised that 9-year-old you would call up a relative of Laura Ingalls Wilder to chat about the books? This is why you rock my world.

  4. Oh, great post! I've always wanted to work for a children's (fiction) book publisher and have made many career choices based specifically on that goal. I like where I am now, but maybe someday...

    As for books I loved as a child, Peter Rabbit was one of my favorites and I still have my old copy, one of my prized possessions. Definitely the entire Little House series as well as all of the Black Stallion books and all of the Trixie Belden mystery books. And The Chronicles of Narnia, which I recently reread. Alice in Wonderland, Jacob Have I Loved, The Secret Garden...I even loved writing book reports all summer.

    And I love reading just as much now as I did then!

  5. Great post, I'm a hugh collector and reader of books, just loved those two books pictured ... hmmm would like those.

    My dad used to read Rudyard Kipling to me, which I loved. My elder sister would read Flicka, Green Grass of Wyoming, Thunderhead to me (hmm I was a little spoilt i guess). I would read famous five a lot when I was quite young. I just loved mysteries and I still do! I just adored Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, grew up reading them and looking at those pictures which just stay with you. Anyway I'd better stop, could rave on for a while.xxxx

  6. A magical, fun post, Gigi! I just love children's story books. Peter Rabbit & all of B. Potter's sweet tales are still great favorites. And everything my L.M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder too. Oh, and can't forget The Secret Garden! :o) Thanks so much for the birthday wishes for my hubby... We ate more than too much of that cake! ;o) Happy weekend ((HUGS))

  7. Well, I have to say that Curious George and Where the Wild Things Are did it for me when I was very small. Speaking of the latter, have you seen this movie trailer?

    What a risk! And it looks as though it could turn out to be a wonderful thing in its own right. I hope so.

  8. m. heart: Oh, Trixie Belden! Those were so much fun. I think Alice in Wonderland and the Narnia books make for great grown-up re-reads, too.
    DJA: I'd love to see your book collection. I collect books, too. The JM Barrie book is mine, but I don't own that copy of Secret Garden. Wish i did!
    Tracy: Anne of Green Gables is a beautiful series!
    Jonathan: I HAVE seen the trailer, and I'm waiting very impatiently for the opening, which is scheduled for a certain someone's birthday!!! Hooray!

  9. So many books to mention that I loved! I was a voracious reader as a child...then discovered even more books when reading to my own children:)...Little Women and every book by Louisa May Alcott has to be at the top of the list, many Weekly Reader Book Club book selections like The Silver Sword and The Secret of Crossbone Hill and The Pink Hotel, the Trixie Belden series was a favorite, The Secret Garden, an old book titled The Haunted Hound...My mind is swirling with many more.

    My oldest daughter became a children's librarian and introduces me to still more children's books that I now read to my grandchildren:)

  10. I knew it! We are long-lost cousins. Fore me, books have always equalled bliss. My parents gave me the same gifdts yours did, and now I pass them along to Sloane. In fact, as I write this, we're all curled up in the living room, doing our own reading. I think you'll like my recent post - a peek into another reading family. Anyway, I am intrigued by the class you teach. I have often dreamt of being an adjunct prof at a local university and teaching just that class. I'd also love to teach a young adult lit class aimed at would-be teachers. A big focus for me would be how to do book blessings and book commericals. Anyway, I could obviously talk to you about this for hours.

    I have so, so, so many favorites, but I will try to limit myself. Here are (just a few) of the books I adored as a child and still love.

    The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright
    All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor
    Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
    Trixie Belden and Meg Mystery series
    the Babar books - especially the ones with the cursive
    Thirty-One Brothers and Sisters
    the rainbow fairy books by Andrew Lang
    ANYTHING by Frances Hodgeson Burnett

    Well, there's a start.


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