Favorite Books from Childhood

1950-lion-witch-wardrobeOne of the problems with reading a book of literary criticism at the same time one is reading a book to a child is that instead of (or perhaps in addition to) understanding the book better, one also might read unwanted criticism of the book. I just finished reading The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis to my daughter; at the same time, I am in the middle of reading The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventure in Narnia by Laura Miller, in which she says The Horse and His Boy is one of her least favorite books. You will have to read Miller’s book in order to find out why, but I’ll give you this hint: C. S. Lewis wrote in the earlier part of the twentieth century, and Miller wrote her book recently. If you remember anything about the Calormenes in the Narnia book, you may able to guess Miller’s objections. My teenage son guessed on his first try.

In the first chapter of the Miller book, Laura Miller poses the following question:

Do the children who prefer books set in real, ordinary, workaday world ever read as obsessively as those who would much rather be transported into other worlds entirely?

So here’s my challenge to you. Did you read books in Category A as a child or Category B? Or perhaps you read ones in Category M (M is for mystery). If you want, describe your own category.

Category A:

  • Narnia Chronicles by C. S. Lewis
  • Oz books by L. Frank Baum
  • Half Magic and other books by Edward Eager
  • The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Category B:

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder books (Little House on the Prairie)
  • Anne of Green Gables and other books by L. M. Montgomery
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Note that Anne, Harriet and Jo of Little Women all had vivid imaginations. They just didn’t travel to other worlds.

Category M:

  • Nancy Drew books
  • Hardy Boys books
  • Encyclopedia Brown

Aside: when do kids start reading science fiction, especially those that later become fans (or addicts)? Is it pre-teen or in teen years?

Here are some modern day versions of Cateogy A. Have you or your children read any of these?

  • His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
  • Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
  • Books by Lemony Snicket about the Baudelaire children (Series of Unfortunate Events)
  • Bartimeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

Perhaps, as my rabbi friend remarked on Facebook, your favorite book is none of the above; rather, the book was begun again this past weekend (i.e., the Torah).

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45 thoughts on “Favorite Books from Childhood

  • As a child, I loved reading – and rereading! -books from all three categories. In fact, of all your examples, there are only two that I never read: the Hardy Boys books and also Lord of the Rings. (I did read The Hobbit, however.)

    Of the modern books, the only ones I’ve read are the Harry Potter books.

    • An avid reader! I was, too. Used to read when I supposed to be getting ready for school. And I used to read while walking home from the train station.

  • all of the above!

    I read lots of sci fi (almost no fantasy, besides the chronicles of narnia and wrinkle in time series). Mostly Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, etc.

    I read lots of Judy Blum (the kid stuff, not the teen stuff)

    And lots of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.\

    Basically, I read anything and everything.

  • Category B. Never heard of Edward Eager till recently but enjoy it as an adult. I’ve given up on ever getting through The Hobbit and Lord of Rings. Even The Time-Traveller’s Wife’s fantastical premise detracted from my enjoyment. I read Encyclopedia Brown, but did not like it nearly as much as category B books. I never read Harriet the Spy. I loved Beverly Cleary books.

    • Yes, Beverly Clearly would probably go in Category B.

      I never read Laura Ingalls Wilder as a child but loved it as an adults. I also appreciate Anne of Green Gables and Little Women more as an adult.

      The Hobbit was my favorite book as a teen, but I have a hard time reading those books now. My mind wanders.

    • Harriet the Spy was my favorite book in elementary school. Because of it, I wanted to be a writer (gave that up by high school). As you write a lot, you might enjoy Harriet’s take on writing.

  • Like Mrs S. I loved (and still love reading) so I read books from all categories. Reagarding category M I was particularly fond of Enid Blyton’s books, particularly The Famous Five. Were they also popular in the States?
    I read some French classics for kids but I don’t know if they were available in other languages.

  • You pose an interesting question. I qualify in all three categories, then and now. I have a diverse collection of books, not only books related to the Holocaust.

    I read modern Literature, the classic authors, poetry, biographies, etc.

    My son loved science fiction during his preteen years…and to this day, at age 39 still loves it.
    His interests are diverse, though, and not restricted to any of the three categories.

  • Out of your entire list the only books I haven’t read at some point in my life were the Laura Ingalls Widler (Little House on the Prarie, no?) books and the Bartimeus Trilogy. I didn’t read all of them as a kid – I was 30 before I first read Anne of Green Gables, frex.

    As a kid I read a lot of SF, fantasy, and adventure (My side of the Mountain and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler being examples of the last). Also you didn’t mention Jewish books as a category – whether The All of a kind family books or Shalom Aleichem novels.

    I still recommend Half Magic to kids and read it aloud to them whenever they will let me.

    • I was thinking of including Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler in this post. I’ll have to take a look at My Side of the Mountain.

      All of Kind of Family would definitely fall under Category B; I once wrote a post comparing it to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie books.

      I’m guessing you would enjoy the Bartimeus series.

      Something like Shalom Aleichem – is that real life? folk tale? historical fiction? Not sure. Of course, one could argue in and out of any category.

      • A lot depends on which stories. Aleichem wrote outright fantasy/mystical stories with dybbuks, along with a pair of hilarious urban epistolary novels, and his nostalgic look back at the rural life of Teveye the Milkman.

        I’m a huge fan of a particular translation of The Adventures of Menachem Mendel – the story of a Jew from the sticks trying to make a go of it in the big city. His comments on stock market and currency speculation are timeless.

  • What a thought-provoking post. I’m of the Little Women ilk of bookworm. I like magical realism as an adult reader and love a touch of magic in many books, but my favorite magic has always been that of which is more consistent with serendipity and fate. I hope that makes sense.

    My partner is a sci-fi addict. He started reading it in elementary school. He thinks fourth or fifth grade.

    • My brother was a sci-fi addict, which influenced some of my sci-fi choices as a teen. Then he got into WWII battle books, which I understand he continues to read these days.

  • I did a lot of category B- the Little House books, the Anne books, the Sue Barton nurse books, and Cheaper by the Dozen. I also read Nancy Drews and Encyclopedia Brown. And lots of Babysitter’s Club. Then there was the Wrinkle in Time series, which is more category A, I think. When I got older, I went through all of Asimov (I even wrote my Junior thesis on him!), both the sci-fi and the mysteries. For some reason, the Narnia books did nothing for me. Neither did Beverly Cleary.

    I feel the need to note that while my oldest daughter is all about Category A, complete with all the Jewish versions too, my son devours non-fiction science and history books for pleasure. (They both also like the English Torah books like Little Midrash Says and all of the awesome teaching books like the Naftoli in the Beis Hamikdash series.)

    This is fun! How many of you were flashlight-under-the-covers kids?

  • As a kid, I loved to wander off into fantasyland, but enjoyed books set in real-life situations too. Was always reading, even when brushing my teeth. Sci-fi didn’t do much for me till I was in my late teens, then I did read Heinlein, Asimov, etc.

    I remember loving Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” Old-fashioned children’s books: E. Nesbit’s series, Narnia, Carl Sandburg’s “Rutabaga Stories,” Dr.Dolittle.

    Today’s children’s books don’t move me much, although I’m happy to see that there are many good ones addressing real-life issues like a new sibling, divorce in the family, combined families, etc. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a big hit with me and my kids – I would read it to them and give each one a square of chocolate at the end of a chapter.

    …Leora, wish you were coming to Blogger’s evening this Motze’i Shabbat…

    • Edward Eager was influenced by E. Nesbit. I forgot all about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! I suppose one would categorize Raoul Dahl with the fantasy books. Though it often seemed more like real life twisted up and around.

  • I’m another all of the above – I read voraciously as a child, everything from Narnia to Little House on the Prairie to Judy Bloom to the back of the cereal box. I’m still a voracious reader, those these days the computer eats up a much larger chunk of my reading.

    So far neither of my children are big readers, which saddens me enough that I’m making a conscious effort to close the darn computer already and read more in front of them to set a better example.

    I also still have a number of my childhood favorites – I still pick up one of my original Narnia books or something like The Little Princess on occasion and reread them. Escapism and nostalgia at the same time :).

    • >So far neither of my children are big readers
      Hey, your daughter is only six! You can read to her bits and pieces of your favorites. That’s what I do with my daughter (who can barely read at 7).

      • Sadly right now Maya isn’t even interested in listening to children’s stories that much. We do read her a bedtime story most nights, but generally still the same few over and over, and most of those without much of a plot.

        As she’s improved her aural comprehension and sequencing I’m trying to introduce books with more of an actual story, but she’s often simply not interested.

        Hopefully one day.

      • Too bad. I was just talking to someone who said his daughters are voracious readers, but his son (who has some special needs issues) isn’t nearly as interested in stories. I suppose they are who they are! Good luck.

  • Good post…I was and still am an avid reader and read all kinds of books from A, B and M and are still that way. Reading was stressed in our family, one of the few good parenting techniques that my parents had…. Michelle

  • My father used to read to me Lord of the rings. I have no idea what other are. We had to read many Russian books. I used to read a lot of Wild West books – Karl May “Winnetu” was my favorite as a kid – Karl May never stepped foot in America, but I came to live here 🙂

    • It’s very different when your first language is different from that of your country. My grandmother used to read novels in Russian, even though her English was quite good.

      But now you can read to your kids! Feel free to pick some from these lists.

      • I did take a look at the list. I realized I am stuffed with Disney crap. The only two American books they thought in the USSR high school were Tom Sawyer and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I read to my kids in English – I just need to upgrade the book list 🙂

  • I have always loved “all of the above.”

    I love love love Anne (and I’m reading that bio of LM Montgomery that you mentioned recently, thanks!) but I also read (and adored) Trixie Belden mysteries and Nancy Drew.

    I always loved reading historical fiction as a kid and I still do…

    There are so many MORE amazing books for kids now than there were when we were kids. I still read lots of kids and young adult books. I never miss a Margaret Haddix book or an Eoin Colfer book, for example.

    But I am always a big fan of that Other Book you mentioned too:-) (it’s even listed (#1) under my favorite books on facebook!!!)

    also – did you see this carnival that went up today? http://www.5minutesforbooks.com/1940/re-reading-a-childhood-favorite/ – right up this post’s alley!

  • Some from each category. I was a voracious reader as a child and שבוע הספר was a huge deal for me.

    חסמבה books were big when I was growing up in Israel. 🙂 I think I read the first 30 or so.

    I read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader in Hebrew. Moved to North America from Israel at age 11 and was delighted to discover that there were four more in the series 🙂 and read them in English.

    Liked Alcott’s Little Women, Little Men and Eight Cousins. Read the first two in Hebrew and the third in English.

    I had an eclectic book shelf: Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Enid Blyton. Dumas’ Three Musketeers: read it in Hebrew then in English. One day I’ll read it in French.

    LOVED historical fiction: Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman Britain novels: Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, all read in English.

    Read the Hobbit in Hebrew (pilots’ translation) and LOTR in English. Read lots of fantasy and SF as a teenager. Spider Robinson, Robert Heinlein, then got into military SF, esp. the Hammer’s Slammers novels by David Drake.

    ָHated Anne of Green Gables; found the entire series mind-numbingly boring.

    • Welcome to my blog, and great to hear of all these books.

      I never liked Little Women as a child, but I reread it as an adult. Actually, I got enamored with the movie, along with my daughter.

  • I read all the books in the second two categories, along with the Oz series in the first categories. I was a voracious (still am, in spurts) reader, but did not really drift towards the fantasy stuff. My oldest who reads more than any adult or child I have ever known loves the fantasy stuff, but she reads almost any genre.

    I could go on and on about authors and books I read as a child.

    It is interesting to me that many (I would even guess most) bloggers categorize themselves as “voracious readers”. Hmmm.

    • bloggers categorize themselves as “voracious readers”

      Yes, I noticed that, too! I put this post on Facebook, and I only got responses from bloggers.

  • I read Little Women (and Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn) when I was a kid…I didn’t read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings until I was 14, but The Hobbit sparked something in me! I also discovered Richard Brautigan at the same time and loved him, too.

  • I started reading science fiction before I was a teenager, although I read more of it as I grew older.

    The Last Battle was the Narnia book I really had a problem with as a child. The idea of everyone dying being a happy ending didn’t fit my world-view at all.

    • Nice to hear from you.

      idea of everyone dying being a happy ending
      Reminds me of a Russian joke:
      Q. What’s the difference between a Russian tragedy and a Russian comedy?
      A. At the end of both, everyone dies, but at the end of a Russian comedy, everyone dies laughing.

  • I read Category B. Loved Anne of Green Gables and little women. Also because those were classic children books we had in the house. I haven’t heard of any of the books from Category A.

    For me even if it’s set in every day life and doesn’t take you to another world, things still ran differently in those times and places that you do get the “fantasy” feeling of it.

  • Thanks for such a wonderfully nostalgic post! I’ve been an incurable bookworm since childhood and fall into Categories B and M, having read all the Nancy Drew books over & over, as well as “Harriet the Spy” and “Little Women”. It was nice to see “The All-of-a-Kind Family” listed, as well as the Beverly Cleary books, which I loved. Was anyone else a “Five Little Peppers” fan? How about the Beany Malone series by Lenora Mattingly Weber?

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