RWB March Book Club: Books of Childhood
RWB BOOK CLUB March 2016
Books of Childhood
I am now so derelict in getting this blogpost out that Childhood might well have fled, and everyone grown old. Books of Childhood was indeed the topic for our March meeting at the Pickford. We were an all female gathering of readers and this fact sparked thoughts and questions about girls reading and responding to boys adventure books.
As girls we seem to have read for adventure, never mind the boy-protagonists. RWB readers loved stories from the classic Hardy Boys to books like MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN about a boy who runs away to the woods, and TREE IN THE TRAIL about the Oregon Trail. JOHNNY TREMAIN, a story of the American Revolution, was a book I so loved I memorized the whole first chapter and would recite to myself in school when I got bored (in math). At age twelve I wrote a letter to the author, Esther Forbes, suggesting she should write a sequel with Cilla, Johnny’s friend, as the central character. She very kindly wrote back and said didn’t plan to write a sequel, but if she did, she would take my suggestion.
Several RWB writers dove deep into childhood, picture books they had loved. The Little Golden Books were a staple of early childhood reading, the Babar books, as well as Madeleine, and Andersen’s fairy tales. These stories with their accompanying illustrations remain memorable to this day. And these books, still in print, we could pass on and read to our own children and grandchildren.
RWB readers too responded vividly to animal stories. CHARLIE THE TRAMP by Francis and Lillian Hoban was a particular favorite of Pam’s; Charlie is a beaver. THE LITTLE FISH THAT GOT AWAY, and especially horses and dogs including classics by Marguerite Henry, KING OF THE WIND, BLACK BEAUTY, BORN TO TROT, THE BLACK STALLION. ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN was an especial favorite of Jes’s, and WHITE FANG lit up Jean’s youthful reading. Linda Morrow has the fondest recollection of FERDINAND THE BULL, not so much for the story itself but because her Cuban-born mother read the book to her many times, rolling all “r’s” with Spanish pronunciation.
The adventures of PIPPI LONGSTOCKINGS illuminated the childhood of our readers and writers, and famous series: Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, the Little House books, and for Frances whose childhood was not American, but English, the Enid Blyton books, a children’s author not much read here. Lucy Montgomery’s ANNE OF GREEN GABLES was a favorite of many of us, myself included, not surprising since Anne’s great gift is her imagination and readers who grow up to be writers are themselves afflicted with imagination. (We all agreed Anne became less interesting after she grew up and married Gilbert. ‘Nuff said.)
Moving into books for slightly older kids, Pam remembered the excitement of reading ANNIE ON MY MIND about two teenage girls who fall in love, the book coming out in the ‘80’s when Pam herself was struggling with this question. Frances remembers age fourteen reading Ayn Rand and being generally disagreeable for days on end; however, Rand opened up her mind to philosophical questions and pursuits. Perhaps the most memorable childhood reading belonged to Jes whose mother was in graduate school when Jes was young, and who had on her shelf LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER which Jes read, even if she didn’t quite get it. Also on Mom’s shelf was a big book of American Folklore which Jes loved. Jes’s mom, it should also be noted cut up all her children’s books and put them together in an anthology of her own making calling FRIENDS OF CHILDREN. She thought her daughter would be delighted, but this was not the case.
Though as an adult I do not much like mysteries, as a kid I read through all of the books I could find by a French Canadian author, Harriett Evatt, my favorite being THE SECRET OF THE WHISPERING WILLOW. I so absorbed this book, I came home speaking French, which is to say I answered my mother with “Ooee.” A woman with four little children underfoot doesn’t have much time or patience with childhood affectations, and my mother look askance till I told her where I’d got it. Then she corrected my French. She also rolled her eyes when I took to saying “Mayhap” after reading my other favorite kids’ book, HIGHLAND REBEL, a story of Scotland in 1745, a girl having a boy’s adventure. This novel gave me a life-long love of Scotland which I passed on to my sons and their friends.
The books of childhood stay with readers forever, far longer, more intense than last year’s best seller. Just think of an entire generation of readers who will have had the brilliant shared experience of the Harry Potter novels.