Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Childhood Readers and Favorite Books

My Childhood Readers and Favorite Books

Be prepared! There's a quiz at the end. Which were your favorites?

We were very poor when I was growing up. Because of this, I rarely received new books until I reached my early teens and began asking for them for my birthday.

I’m not claiming I was never given any books. One of my earliest was a tiny collection of fairy tales—each its own book, and once all housed in their own cardboard box. Published by Birn Brothers of London, each book was only about 3 by 3 inches, each cover a drawing of the story inside & colored mostly in royal blue, orange-red and yellow. Every other page within—they have about 80 pages each—was a rather intricate ink-drawn illustration of that part of the plot. I still have some of them: The Three Bears, Jack the Giant Killer, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, Hop O’ My Thumb, & Beauty and the Beast.

I tried to find these on the web but the closest I could come was at:

They were my first introductions to fairy stories and fables. Once I knew them practically by heart, I always looked for more but it would be many years before I had a copy of Grimm, Andersen, or Lang. (I actually asked for Grimm and Andersen for my birthday when I was a preteen. The Lang set I bought as an adult.)


My parents gave me some Golden Books—who here remembers those from their childhood? Most of these held one story each: shortened versions of Little Women or Little Men or early spin-offs from TV shows like Rin-Tin-Tin or Spin & Marty from the Disney show.

The Golden Book that I remember best was huge: both thick and composed of larger pages than most Golden Books. I can still remember coming home from someone’s house or the store, flipping through it and just staring at all of the stories and the illustrations. Treasure! Once I had worked my way through from end to end, I had consumed: Heidi, Peter Pan, Hans Brinker (The Silver Skates) and a variety of fairy tales I had never read before. My favorite involved a young man tasked to find out where three princesses went at night. (I think they went dancing.) He followed them for three nights and brought back proof of their whereabouts: a silver leaf, a gold leaf, and a diamond leaf. Of course, he was rewarded by marrying the princess of his choice.

The Golden Book that I loved best was the one on horses. I was enamored of horses at that age, and I thought every color illustration a work of art. I also set about memorizing various useless but fascinating facts. Did you know that Arabian horses have one less rib than other horses? So said my Golden Book. I also had a copy of Black Beauty.

Well, by now, I’d developed the reputation for being a bookworm, so it’s no surprise that my best friends gave me books for my birthday. That’s how I acquired “Donna Parker at Cherrydale” and “Polly French & the Surprising Stranger”. (These were my first introductions to “teen romance”, to the extent that it was mentioned or described in those days. (1950’s)


School Readers

Now, for a little “school reader” esoterica. You’ve been wondering when we would hit this section, right?

In many ways, the backbone of my childhood reading collection for years would be readers which my parents had used in elementary or junior high school. Both sides of my family came from the same city and, at that time, parents were required to buy some of the books that their children used in school. Thanks to this, I still own my mom’s second grade reader, my dad’s 8th grade reader and the fourth grade readers of both parents.

These are real treasures on more than one level. Obviously, there’s the connection to my parents. In addition, most of these books were filled with beautiful illustrations. The variety of stories and the enormous breadth of authors is truly astounding. Excuse me while I bore you a little bit with some of the details:

The Winston Companion Readers---Second Reader; Winston, 1923.

My favorites: Mr and Mrs Vinegar, The Wolf and the Fox, The Keg of Butter, How the Turtle Saved His Life, How the Sun the Moon and the Wind Went Out to Dinner, Tiny, Peeriefool; Ashiepattle and the King’s Hares. Do you see a trend here? Fairy tales!

Take a peek at the gorgeous cover at:

Many illustrations inside are nearly as intricate, especially the end papers.


My mom’s fourth grade reader was my second favorite:

Good Reading: Fourth Reader; Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1927.

Favorite Stories:

The Turnip Children, The Elephant, Some Birds to Look for this Fall, Red-Riding Hood, Fables, Mice, Woodchuck Ways, David & the Giant, The Boyhood of Washington, Thor Among the Giants (loved this!); First Aid, Chip And Peep (memorized this), The Fly (memorized this), The Fairy Folk (memorized this & recited it at some kind of Brownies show for parents); A Letter from President Roosevelt, The Runaway Furniture (Intelligent and angry furniture, with a righteous cause! Very cool!).

Look at some of the authors. Do modern elementary school readers still try to include classic writers at this age? Alfred, Lord Tennyson; Robert Louis Stevenson; William Shakespeare; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Walter de la Mare; The Younger Edda; Robert Browning; Teddy Roosevelt. (Wait til you see the authors in the 8th grade book.)


My dad’s fourth grade reader still amazes me because of the often serious subject matter and again for the illustrious authors.

Fact and Story Readers: Book Four; American Book Company, 1931.

Divided into the following sections: Pt.1 Sailing the Seven Seas; Pt.2 Boys & Girls Who Became Famous; Pt.3 Out-of-Door Tales; Pt.4 Doing the World’s Work; Pt.5 In Story Land; Pt.6 The Making of America. (Some of this was pretty stern stuff, compared to my mom’s.)

Lots of famous authors including the leaders in fairy tales:

Thackeray’s The Bronze Door Knocker (extract from The Rose & the Ring—this story scared the bejeebers out of me!)); Charles Kingsley; Hans Christian Andersen; Emily Dickinson; Andrew Lang; Jonathan Swift; Walter de la Mare. (What? No Shakespeare?)

I found the cover of this one here:


And finally my dad’s eighth grade reader. Speaking of formidable books!

The Elson Readers: Book Eight; Scott, Foresman and Company (1927)

Divided into:

Pt.1 The World of Nature; Pt.2 The World of Adventure (which includes: Masque of the Red Death; Noyes’ The Highwayman; A Christmas Carol; and the Lamb version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Pt. 3 The Great American Experiment; Pt.4 Literature and Life in the Homeland.

Authors: William Cullen Bryant; Wm Wordsworth; P B Shelley; Wm Shakespeare; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Robt Browning; Edgar Allan Poe; Sir Walter Scott; Henry Longfellow; Ch Dickens; Lord Byron; Joyce Kilmer; Daniel Webster; George Washington; Abraham Lincoln; Woodrow Wilson; Theodore Roosevelt; Robert Burns; Rudyard Kipling; Oliver Wendell Holmes; John G Whittier; Nathaniel Hawthorne; O Henry; Mark Twain.

The illustrations are few and tiny, and the cover isn’t impressive but you can find it here:

Oh. Note the nearly entire lack of women authors in any of these! I guess I never noticed back then, or I might have received a subliminal signal that “girls don’t write”. ;-)


My paternal grandfather gave me three beautiful books a couple of years before his death, which would have been when I was about fourteen. These three are still much beloved:

“Robin Hood and His Merry Men” (by Rosemary Kingston and illustrated by Alice Carsey.) So there were –some- women involved with books! The exquisite illustrations in this are priceless to me.

A collection of Rudyard Kipling’s Stories and Poetry, featuring a richly-colored cover of two men on horseback chasing each other across a rugged terrain. (Illo for the poem inside “East is East, and West is West”). I was enthralled before I opened the book. Wow, did I have trouble with the dialectical writing, though!

The Complete Sherlock Holmes (published before modern authors started adding non-canonical stories).

And that’s about it. I’m sure I had other books—well, like the complete run of Donald Duck comics (for the mysteries, I’ll have you know)—but these are the books that I treasured as a child and that I still treasure today. God bless all those who gave them to me!

What books are your treasures from childhood or teen years? Please tell us about them!

Sherry Thompson

The Narentan Tumults: SEABIRD

EARTHBOW Vol.1 Vol.2


  1. I clearly remember my love for reading taking off in the 4th Grade in Mrs. Rinehart's class, with the first Scholastic Books flier that landed on my desk. I remember checking off on the order form all those wonderful books that I wanted (and my parents telling me I could order only four). And I remember the joy of receiving my order in the classroom. It was a magical, memorable moment in my life.

    I don't recall the titles of the books in that first order, but the point was this--I had selected the books and they were now mine.

    I wrote my name on the back of each front cover--something I had never done before (because I'd read mainly library books before that). I owned books!

  2. My earliest books were my father's six 1950's hardcover Enid Blytons - I still have those. And my grandfather once gave me a large book of fairytales called "The Stories of Spirescu" which I always felt a bit naughty reading because it had magic in it and my parents thought that was bad. I remember it well because its characters never had names - there was just the honest tailor or the pining prince or suchlike.

    I got hold of my first proper book just before I turned seven: John White's Tower of Geburah (which also had magic but was somehow all right) and I read its 400+ pages in three days. It opened a whole new world...which then remained restricted to that one series for four more years until I got my hands on Stephen Lawhead's Taliesin, a tale so beautiful that it has influenced everything I write.

  3. When I was little I read through the entire Bobbsey Twin series - or as much as I could get my hands on. We have one old one from the early 1900s with beautiful illustrations.

  4. I so envy you and your memories of books you loved and still love. As a child I was not a reader. I don't recall any books in my home, growing up. There may have been and I just didn't pay attention to them. My younger sister read. She says she brought books home from the school library. I have an old copy of "110 Favorite Children's Poems" copyright 1943 and "The Real Mother Goose, 1944 renewed copyright. It has Crockett Library stamped on it.

    I met Golden Books and Dr. Seuss when I read to my sons. Now, my bookshelves overfloweth.

  5. Hail, WB, great owner of books! Congratulations!
    You know, Scholastic sounds familiar but not in terms of books. Was there a weekly scholastic sheet or folder that was distributed to classes or something? I have a vague memory of science or social study subjects maybe?

    By the time I was a teen, my brother (8 years younger) used to get some kind of monthly science booklet. I remember looking at those and finding them interesting.

    What kind of books did Scholastic sell? I assume from the name of the company that they were educational.

  6. Wow, Grace! Aside from Lawhead, I've never heard of any of these authors. What kind of books did Enid Blytons write?

    Re the "magic", I don't think my parents cared but then they were like Christians who didn't generally go to church--and whom a relative who was a Baptist minister was always trying to "save." Anyway, the uncle /cousin would probably have cared but not my folks.

    How did you get away with the first book with magic in it, and how come second one was considered okay? Or did you just not care at the time, and happily read them? ;-)

    Re John White, that must have been cool to be reading through a series (all in one "world"?) at such an early age.
    I don't know when I hit my first series but it was probably Walter Farley's horse books and not until preteen days.
    Did you make-believe with the White books? Sounds like you were the prime age for it.

  7. Hi, Christine!
    I think maybe I borrowed a couple of Bobbsey Twins from the school library.

    Re the early 1900's one, the older illustrations were always the best. In most cases, there's so much more attention to detail.

    When it comes to more modern illustrators, I really like Michael Hague. He did a splendid Wind in the Willows--amongst other books--which I read first as an adult.

  8. Hi, Beverly! You wrote: I so envy you and your memories of books you loved and still love. As a child I was not a reader. I don't recall any books in my home, growing up. There may have been and I just didn't pay attention to them. ... Now, my bookshelves overfloweth.

    Well, it sounds like you made up for lost time. (Laugh) Assuming of course that you actually have time to read your overflowing books. Watch out! They multiply at night, you know. That's that giggling and rustling that you hear on occasion.

    I have an old copy of "110 Favorite Children's Poems" copyright 1943 and "The Real Mother Goose, 1944 renewed copyright. It has Crockett Library stamped on it.

    They sound great! I had a Mother Goose, but it went the way of all things. In that case, maybe given to my brother.

    I met Golden Books and Dr. Seuss when I read to my sons.

    I've never had children, so I discovered Dr. Seuss all by myself. I'm sure it's not the same reading them for the first time as an adult. When I had a part-time job in a local public library, one of my duties was reshelving children's books. Some of them--like Seuss-- required reading first. ;-)

  9. I remember loving Island of the Blue Dolphin and Pearl S. Buck books. I know I read (or was read to) as a child, but I don't remember specific books. Richard Scary's illustrations look familiar, so maybe those were the books I had as a child.

    Also LOVE Dr. Seuss.

  10. Hi, Natasha!
    Believe it or not, Pearl Buck were some of my grandmother's favorite readings. She particularly liked The Good Earth.
    What does/did Richard Scary illustrate?

  11. Highlights Magazine; Nancy Drew; Hardy Boys; Little House on the Prairie. I don't remember reading a whole lot when I was a kid. I DO remember making up stories, however. Lots of stories. I read to my kids, tho. Lots of Golden Books. Favs Home For A Bunny, Hansel and Gretel, Treasury of Fairy Tales, Thomas books, etc. When I got older I read the Lucky Starr books and Wrinkle in Time, Star Trek novels, and a lot of fantasy books.

  12. That's quite a variety, JennaKay!
    I also read a fair number of Nancy Drews from the library, but have never touched a Hardy Boys or a Little House. Never heard of Lucky Starr- they sound like Westerns. What were Thomas books?

    I used to make up stories too, sometimes with my best friends. I remember one time a friend & I were making up a sad story in my bedroom and we both got crying about how sad it was. My mom rushed in to find out what was upsetting us. ;-)

    Love the Wrinkle in Time series, but didn't hit that until I was an adult. Likewise Narnia, and several others.

  13. Lucky Starr books were science fiction written by Asimov under the pen name of Paul French. They were penned in the late fifties. I have three of them, but I think there were 6. Here is some information:

  14. LOL. Yes, books do multiply. I keep wondering where they all come from. Surely I haven't ordered so many. :)

  15. Hmm. Asimov juveniles, huh? The Wikipedia article mentions that he originally wrote one of the books on a Venus setting covered by oceans. That reminds me of Lewis's Perelandra, from his Space Trilogy.

    I'm afraid I never heard of these, but then I took no interest in SF until years later. Also I was raised in a small town with what was then a small library. I doubt they would have been stocked there.

  16. Bev, ordering books is truly only half of it. Stowaways are tucked in those boxes that come to your door.
    Books slide from bookstore counters directly into your bag before you can leave.
    And I've already said as much about the rustling and giggling at night as I believe appropriate on this blog.
    They're everywhere!

  17. Hi Sherry!
    I fear I'm late to the show again. I read a lot growing up, and I can't remember much right off the top of my head, but Beverly Cleary certainly comes to mind. I vividly remember my first grade teacher reading "The Mouse and the Motorcycle", and reading her books by myself at home. The Hardy Boys were another favorite! (Good choice, JennaKay!)
    Also, in fourth grade, I remember reading what were probably abridged versions of Sherlock Holmes.. all the ones that I could. (I eventually got tired of "The Red-Headed League! It showed up in every collection!) And finally, the poems of Shel Silverstein were always entertaining!
    Neat lists everybody!

  18. Hi, Brandon!
    The name Beverly Cleary certainly sounds familiar but I don't think I've read anything of hers. Probably she started writing after I was older than her audience. That's what happened with others like Dr. Seuss, whom I read as an adult.

    Someday, I ought to read a Hardy Boys. I think only boys read them when I was growing up. Do only girls read Nancy Drew? Probably.

    Yeah, repeats of The Red-headed League would get to be pretty wearing, especially since the man was such an obvious patsy.

    Most of what I know of Shel Silverstein was set to music by Clam Chowder (filk/folk group out of Baltimore). Did SS also record some of his poems as songs himself?

    Thanks for writing! It's never too late!
    UtM S