Avid readers and book collectors all have one thing in common—they were inspired by their childhood favorites. We learned to value books because of the ones we read when we were young. These are the books we will always remember—the ones that stimulated our imaginations, took us away to fabulous places and created in us a life-long love of literature.
1962’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”
So what did we read? My list is probably similar to many of a certain age: The Little House series, “Winnie the Pooh,” “The Story of Dr. Dolittle,” “The Yearling,” Beatrix Potter, “The Secret Garden” and “Anne of Green Gables,” to name just a few. I devoured the yellow-spine Nancy Drews—literally reading them under the covers with a flashlight in the wee hours of the morning. I read “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle almost without ever putting it down (even stealing a page or two during the five-minute breaks between my 7th-grade classes). And I spent long Saturdays at my small-town library with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, “Alone,” by Admiral Byrd, and everything by Aldous Huxley, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and George Orwell. I loved those books, even in their plain, stodgy library bindings.
When I was in college, my grandmother gave me her own favorite childhood book—a gilded first edition of L. Frank Baum’s “Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz,” with a marvelous lithograph cover. I began, for the first time, to understand the value of a collectible copy—and to appreciate illustrators as much as authors.
1908’s “Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz,” illustrated by John R. Neill.
As an adult I started to collect books and I searched for the 1800s and early 1900s books that I would have considered too dated to read in my youth. These included the Mary Frances series, with all of their wonderful special effects (like real tissue paper clothes patterns and cut-out doll house furniture), Andrew Lang’s rainbow of Fairy books and George McDonald’s disturbing 1868 metaphor of death, “At The Back of the North Wind.” I delighted in Edward Lear’s “Jumblies” (they went to sea in a sieve, they did), was fascinated by the evolution of Louis Wain’s cats as he descended into madness, and loved collecting the different illustrators for Charles Kingsley’s Victorian gem, “The Water-Babies.”
There was so much to discover! So much I’d missed! Edith Nesbit, Randolph Caldecott, N.C. Wyeth, Kate Douglas Wiggin, the art of the Robinson brothers—Heath, Charles and Thomas—and much, much more. I was especially thrilled (in the pre-Internet days, when finding rare books were indeed difficult) by the dust jacket cover illustrations on the original Tom Swifts.
1914 dust jacket cover for “Tom Swift and his Photo Telephone.”
But I re-discovered some favorites too. When I re-read the Little House series (now with a completely different perspective than that of an 8-year-old), I was amazed to realize that the last four books were actually a tender love story. And if you have not re-read “The Wind in the Willows” as an adult, it is highly recommended. The story is really too verbose for many children, and the nuances are definitely aimed at grown-ups. The writing is spectacular and Kenneth Grahame’s endearing characters will charm even the oldest of readers. It is such a rewarding, richly-told tale of friendship and living life to the fullest that I now read it every couple of years.
And what did you love as a child? Albert Payson Terhune’s collie stories? Freddie the Pig? The Hardy Boys? The Roosevelt Bears? Kate Greenaway? Cherry Ames? Uncle Wiggily? Do you search for those books now that you are an adult? Did your juvenile favorites influence your collecting or reading choices today? It’s always fascinating to learn what others read as a child.
I really want to know. Please post your responses here and share your memories with the rest of us.
Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in collectible books.
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