Tuesday, May 3, 2011

15 Favorite Books from My Childhood

Original Books from Phantom's Childhood
It’s Children’s Book Week, and Book Phantom has been reminiscing about the books on her childhood shelves.  I still have many of my dog-eared and Pepsi-stained paperbacks (most of them cost between 95 cents and $1.25!).  I’m not sure I had very good taste when I was a child.  My mother bought me the best titles of that time (early 80s), many of them Newbery Award winners, but as I flipped through them, I realized that I don’t remember the stories as well as I should.  Perhaps my comprehension wasn’t as developed as it is now.  Perhaps I only read part of them before casting them aside.  The only books I absolutely remember loving to the point of re-reading was Judy Blume’s books.  My copy of Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret is pretty tattered. 

I also remember loving a couple of fluffy books that my mom probably gave away.  I guess they didn’t seem to merit saving for twenty years until I had my own home to clutter with childhood detritus.  In spite of their dubious literary value, I remember details from those books that I don’t remember from the award winners.  Just goes to show you that what appeals to kids is often very different from what parents and critics like.  Kids should always be allowed an opportunity to choose most of their reading, even if their selections make you roll your eyes and fill you with dread of story time.

Here is a list of important books from my childhood:

Ages 3 - 8
  1. I Like Winter by Lois Lenski.  This was the first book I ever read.  For some reason, the memory of reading “clicking” for me is fairly vivid while much of my childhood is a haze.  My mother had checked this out from the library, and we read it so frequently that I began to link the spoken word with the symbols on the page.  I hate to admit it, but I don’t think we ever returned the book to the library.  It had an old green cover.  I guess nobody missed it, but I never forgot it.  On my daughter’s first Christmas, I purchased it for her.
  2. The Arthur the monkey books by Lillian Hoban.  This was a series of books about a cute monkey named Arthur and his sister Violet.  The stories were usually seasonal and thematic.  I specifically remember Arthur’s Christmas Cookies.  This was my sister's book, and she wouldn’t share with me (I must have snuck to read it - I was sneaky back then, too).  Arthur looked like he was having so much fun rolling out the cookie dough on the cover.
  3. Pippa Mouse by Betty Boegehold and illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres.  This is an adorable book with six separate stories about Pippa and her forest friends.  My favorites were “Ice Mice” and “Not-Even, a Mouse”.  Not-Even was the mouse from Twas the Night Before Christmas.  I’m seeing a pattern here – I loved Christmas books and stories as a child.  Christmas is the end-all and be-all of childhood – looks like it influenced my reading.  The illustrations are irresistably cute.
  4. Old Hat, New Hat by Stan and Jan Berenstain.  I was never really a fan of the Berenstain Bears, but I loved this book.  For me, the appeal was all those crazy pictures of the hats.  Kids love the idea of putting goofy things on your head.  It seemed like this one was always checked out of the library.
  5. The Boy and the Tigers (aka Little Black Sambo) by Helen Bannerman.  Now, readers, I ask that you please forgive me for this one if it offends you.  This book was first published in 1899, so the title and the illustrations are considered racially insensitive today.  The version I read as a child most certainly was.  That being said, the story itself captured my imagination.  I thought Sambo was clever and brave, and nothing is better than those tigers running in circles until they turn to butter.  The story still makes me crave pancakes.  Contemporary authors have made efforts to save Sambo by making the title and illustrations palatable for modern audiences. 
Ages 9 – 12
  1. More Lois Lenski:  Lenski wrote a series about girls from different regions in the United States.  I read Cotton in my Sack, about a girl from Arkansas and Strawberry Girl, about a girl from Florida.  I loved Lenski's illustrations and the maps at the front, and I liked reading about kids from other places.
  2. Trixie Belden and the Mystery in Arizona by Julie Campbell.  My mother gave me this to read on a long car trip to see my Uncle in El Paso.  Trixie, her best pal Honey Wheeler, and all their friends spend a summer working at a dude ranch.  I don’t read a lot of mystery now, but I sure loved this book.  Working at a ranch couldn’t really be as much fun as this book made it seem.  I wish I still had my copy.  This is one that mom gave away, but I never forgot it.
  3. Judy Blume: Are You there God? It’s Me Margaret and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great.  These were my two favorite Blumes, although I read and loved almost all of her books.  Judy Blume had the guts to have “the talk” with Generation X when our full-time-working and oftentimes single parents didn’t.  I loved Sheila the Great because I could relate to her fear of the water.  I also have paperback copies of Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (which taught me what I didn’t know about adolescent boys), Blubber, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  I also read the juicy parts of Forever in a friend’s copy because mom never bought it for me.
  4. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.  My teacher read this aloud to the class, and we thought it was the funniest thing we’d ever heard.  When we didn’t behave, her refusal to read the next chapter was our punishment.  When I read it to my kids, however, it seemed to have lost this magic.  They were not impressed.
  5. Noel Streatfield’s Dancing Shoes and Ballet Shoes.  I never took dance lessons as a girl (I was always in gymnastics), but these books made me want to be a ballerina like nothing else.  The unique identities of each of the Fossil girls (Ballet Shoes) intrigued me, and I wanted to run all over the world exploring like Great-Uncle Matthew.  I have to give a tiny bit of credit to this story for inspiring me to study archaeology in college.
  6. Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.  One of my favorite poems is “My Beard”.  I loved that kooky picture of the little naked guy with his beard wrapped around him.  Shel still rules.  My seven-year old son can’t get enough.
  7. Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books.  I read many Beverly Cleary books, including The Mouse and the Motorcycle series, but Ramona was the best.  I’m sure Cleary was an inspiration for Barbara Parks’s Junie B. Jones books.
  8. P.S. I Love You by Barbara Conklin.  This was the tween equivalent of a Harlequin romance.  It was part of the Sweet Dreams series.  I remember how fun it was to read about Mariah buying a new wardrobe for her newly trim figure.  It was a really sad book, but that exciting girl-meets-boy thing appealed to me as a middle schooler.  Apparently, I’m not the only one who remembers it fondly: of the 33 people who reviewed it on Amazon, 28 gave it five stars.  Not too shabby for a fluffy little romance.
  9. Tales for the Midnight Hour by Judith Bauer Stamper.  I bought this at the school book fair, and it scared the pants off me.  My cover had a maniacal skull on it with these great bulging eyes.  After reading the stories, I’d have to turn the book face down before going to bed.  I couldn’t deal with that crazy skull-face watching me in my sleep.  My favorite stories were “The Black Velvet Ribbon” and “The Jigsaw Puzzle”.  I still freak out at night thinking some monster might be looking in my window.
  10. Edgar Allen Poe stories.  I got one of those children’s mini books by classic authors in my stocking one year (Christmas again?).  This one had all of Poe’s short stories watered down for young readers.  My favorites in this book were “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Other books that have a place in Book Phantom’s childhood:
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (sniff, sniff.  Boo-hoo-hoo!),
  • The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
  • Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith (we read this in school)
  • How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
  • Beat the Turtle Drum by Constance C. Green
  • Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson
  • The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (can’t forget the Seuss)
I'd love to hear about your favorite books from childhood.  Please leave a comment and tell me why you loved them.


  1. In no great hurry, over the last few years I've been making my way through some of the most memorable books from my childhood. I wondered if they would hold up. I wondered if they really were as wonderful as I remember.

    I think, yes and yes. In no particular order:

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
    by Betty Smith.
    It turns out that all the different stories I remembered from "books I read a long time ago" came from THIS book.

    Charlotte's Web
    by E.B. White

    A Wrinkle In Time
    by Madeleine L'Engle
    My first sci-fi. Knocked the top right off my head. My daughter adored it, too, then continued to read all the rest. Why didn't I know about those?! (I must have read Wrinkle soon after it was published.) What fun to catch up.

    Treasure Island
    by Robert Louis Stevenson

    The Witch of Blackbird Pond
    by Elizabeth George Speare

    Brighty of the Grand Canyon
    by Marguerite Henry

    Island of the Blue Dolphins
    by Scott O'Dell

    Robinson Crusoe
    by Daniel Defoe

    The Good Earth
    by Pearl S. Buck

    My Side of the Mountain
    by Jean Craighead George
    I must have read this eight times in three years. When I wondered out loud why I had loved it so, my husband pointed out that, as the oldest of five siblings, I must have been drawn to the whole "all alone" thing. Smart man. I think that must have been part of the draw with several of the others on my list.

    I also read a LOT of Nancy Drew in the third grade. I don't have any great and abiding memories of those. They did leave me with the stongest desire to have a secret room in my house, though.

    And thank you for asking.

  2. You didn't ask, but now it's on my mind, so...

    A few of the books my kids loved:

    Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
    Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit
    Oddkins, by Dean Koontz
    Sabriel, by Garth Nix
    The Thief of Always, by Clive Barker
    Pretty much everything written by Roald Dahl