What Did You Read As a Child? Collecting Memories

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”

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

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”

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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  • Pua Ting

    Post-WWII in Hawaii was pretty bleak. The public library was a haven in the 50s, and I thank Ms. Gail Potter the children’s librarian for inspiring me to read some pretty advanced literature as a 6 year old. Obsure titles as Wiggins’ the Bird’s Christmas Carol, Armstrong’s Call it Courage, Mallory’s King Arthur (kid version), even very very obsure titles like Canyon of Whispers (cowboy), Lest We Forget (civil war), the Book of Living Dolls (creepily fascinating). It was a practical education for an island girl as it launched me into the classics that Liz H. extols!

    My love of books enabled me to bond with my very literate mother-in-law and transferred itself happily upon my daughter who is now in museum work. It also manifests itself in my granddaughter who as a 3 year old I introduced to the Elephant’s Child, Mike Mulligan, Ramona Quimby…the Real Mother Goose, Winnie the Pooh. Some of her picture book favorites were Sendak’s Outside Over There and We Are All in the Dumps, Stella Luna, Momotaro, Matsumoto’s How the B-52 Cockroach Learned to Fly….

    What I truly loved were the Little Golden Books, and I now have a hefty collection of my favorites amassed over fifteen years: Ukelele and Her New Doll, Mr Fibberty Jib, Gaston & Josephine, Duck and Friends, the Big Brown Bear, Pokey Little Puppy, Rainy Day Book…were just some of my favorites…and the older the edition the better.

    Then, there is my collection of Scott Foresman & Company basic readers, pre-1950, the Dick and Jane series…talk about nostalgia! As a native of the Pacific I yearned to see the freshwater Great Lakes as related in “Far Away Places” (I think that’s the title), and finally, in 1998, found them as romantic as I envisioned. Through books, the magic of imagination never dies.

    Good article Liz, bibliophiles will wax forever if given the chance.

  • Pua Ting

    Nothing more to add besides more nostalgia…thanks for the opportunity to blog.

  • Jackie Ginsberg

    I have an old “Honey Bunch Book’ and I would like to know if it is a collectors item and if so the value.

  • Elizabeth DeWitt

    Thanks for doing this.
    It is not at all PC but I loved “Little Black Sambo” and would love to touch a copy and see the pictures again. No other book conjures such vivid memories. One drawing is the tiger chasing Sambo around a tree and he runs so fast his path turns into butter. That is my memory anyway. I haven’t seen a copy since it was banned 50 (?) years ago.
    Another favorite is “The Water Babies” also for the art as well as the words. In the same vein, “The Borrowers” is great for the imagination.

    • Vicki Rebneris

      Hi Elizabeth

      Little Black Sambo is back in print….finally. I purchase a copy for every new grandchild, great niece or nephew. It is and was a beautiful story.

      copies run about $9.00. The ISBN Number is 1-55709-414-4

      by Applewood Books , P.O Box 365, Bedford, MA

      The preface in the book reads: “Applewood books is proud to re-issue this classic edition of “Little Black Sambo”. During the last thirty years, the book and its little hero have been the center of a big controversy. Sambo became, to some, a symbol of racism, and to others, he remained a long-remembered favourite”.

      A Canadian reader.

  • Cora McDonnell

    How pleasant it is to spend an afternoon remembering my favorite childhood books. I read all the “Little House on the Prairie” books to my daughter, a chapter each night, and found that that they were quite different from the stories I loved as a child. How interesting they were to my adult me.
    Albert Payson Terhune, how good it is to read his name. His dog stories were among my favorites. I was so proud of my own copy of “Lad, a Dog.” Janet Lambert’s stories about military brats deserve to be mentioned, as definitely being “girl books.” How about Joseph Alshelter? My older cousin passed on to me copies from his series for boys. I read, and loved many of them, even as a girl. Unfortunately, many of my copies of childhood books are falling apart. The paper is self-destructing. Products of WWII?

  • I have enjoyed reading the comments here very much! Lots of great vintage books remembered – many of them are on on my list of favorites too.

    Jackie – Old Honey Bunch books in very good condition are indeed collectible. The value depends on many things. If it is one of the original 1920s versions (with a thick, red binding, a paste-on picture on the cover and a unique pictorial dust jacket) it could be worth over $100. (Later issues became thinner, dropped the cover paste-on and used a common dust jacket illustration.)

    But the real value, of course, is what this book meant to you (or to one of your ancestors). Whenever I inherited a children’s book from a great aunt, great uncle or grandparent, it was usually in frayed and worn condition – but that just reminded me how well-read and cherished this book must have been. Especially if it was kept for over 80 years. That’s priceless to me!

  • margie reynolds

    As a adult I love to read but love can’t discribe what reading was to me as a child. It was love and so much more. At the end of several books I mourned, these charaters lost, like a death, when the book was finished. I read Charlete’s Web so many times I knew the first chapter almost word for word. The copy our school library had was a old hard cover. the kind that falls open and stays that way while its being read and has a particuliar old book smell, so wonderful. I loved the discription of the slop Wilber was fed for supper and Templeton’s hunt and his puzzling over which word was just the right one. Every time I read it I was there in the barnyar with Charlete, Wilber, Templeton, all the others, and I loved it. I loved Black Beauty. I love animals, so all that was done wrong to this horse inspired feelings in me I can still remember, one of those books I hated to end. The first time I started Little Women I was too young and had not been impressed. I would have never read it had it not been that two or three years later I was at my aunt’s cottage, bored and snooping around when I found another copy. Had there been any thing else to read I would never have opened this book that welcomed me into a family that I truly wanted to live with forever. And Pippy Longstockings, oh I wanted to be her neighbor too, and I absolutely loved the Little House series, and The Hobbit and the special treat I was afforded when my mother gave me the money to buy a Scholastic Book Club book, oh I can’t tell you how hard it was to wait till these books we order at school finally arrived. And that wonderful, brand new paperback book smell, wonderful..loved the old books and new books. I loved the pictures the words painted in my head, the places I was taken, the people I met. Books were a escape and pleasure I needed as a kid and I believe really added to my interesta and who I am as a adult.

  • Becky Solomon

    I loved Puddlejumper! I just loved the illustrations and I remember my mom reading it to me. Not long ago, my son was able to get me a copy from a children’s book dealer, and I still treasure it!

  • Donna

    Glad to know others go back in time w/ books!

    My favorites: Nancy Drew (originals) and my all time favorite book — dates way back: Through the Green Door

  • I was never without a book as a child. My mum indulged me with surprise stacks of new books on my bed when I would come home from school. I loved any kind of mystery story, especially Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and Harriet the Spy, even the Hardy boys when I had run out of girls’ books! When I was younger I loved Enid Blyton, from the Faraway Tree right up to Mallory Towers as I got older. I also devoured Judy Blume stories. Her writing prompted me to start writing a diary when I was 12, which I kept religiously up until I was 18. I ended up documenting my entire adolescence because of Judy Blume! I once wrote in my diary that I was writing it so I would never forget what it felt like to be a kid. I wrote that it would help me understand my own kids one day, and that maybe one day I would write books for kids as well as Judy Blume.

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