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)
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.
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)
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!
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