Sharan Newman has challenged me on Facebook to put up ten covers from books that I loved when I was a child. I can’t do it one at a time, because each book I can think of has a personal story that goes with it. Here are all ten of them.
Katy and the Big Snow was an early favorite, not only for its inspiring moral message–oh, let’s face it, not at all for its inspiring moral message, because I was an unregenerately wicked child–but because the snowplow had the same name as I did. In nursery school I wrote my name with a Y. It was easier.
This is a Watchbird, watching you. Are you being bad?
The Watchbirds is an excellent book on correct behavior for bad little girls. For some reason I associate this book with the shoe store. I think the shoe store man must have given out Watchbird pamphlets for us to read after we stood on the Xray machine, watching the green bones in our little toes wiggle.
I still have my copy of Peter Pan, gorgeously illustrated by Roy Best, even after seven or eight. moves. I used to think of breaking it up and framing the illustrations to hang in a nursery, but none of my kids loved it the way I did. Something about that story of a gang of wild children without any parents spoke to my heart when I was growing up.
My mother read to to my sister and me when we were little, before we went to sleep. We would beg for just one more chapter. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were favorites along with the long version of Peter Pan.
The Brown Fairy Book belonged to my mother when she was a child. It contained many marvelous tales from different cultures and countries, beautifully illustrated. The first story, What did the Rose do to the Cypress, had the hero (probably the third son, it’s always a third son) traveling around Arabia seeking the answer to the eponymous riddle, falling in love with several helpful women and marrying.all of them, and in the end marrying the villainess as well, in order to punish her. To think that I read these stories to find out what life was all about.
That book lived in my grandmother’s house in Canada. We spent every summer there. My sister and I used to hunker down in the big brown velvet chair with glasses of Ovaltine while I read her those strange stories.
When I was in fifth grade I spent a week in the hospital in Evanston, Illinois. I had a dreadful stomachache which turned out not to be appendicitis. It took them a week to figure out what it was and cure me. In the meantime Buddy Sams, who would doubtless have been my boyfriend if we had lived in Crystal Lake for a few more years, lent me his books. Paddle-to-the-Sea was the most memorable, the story of a little Indian boy’s carving of a figure in a canoe and how it traveled through the Great Lakes and on to the ocean.
Turns out Harold also had that book and remembers it with pleasure.
My Aunt Mildred began sending me books for Christmas. The Black Arrow, a rip-roaring adventure, was my favorite of these, and remains one of my favorite books. I tried to get all my young friends to read it, without success. Robert Louis Stevenson was, I think, a person of great sweetness of character, and his character shines through his writings.
The Scarlet Pimpernel was another rip-snorter. My mother told me I would like it, and being thirteen, I was inclined to resist her suggestions, but even though it was mother-recommended it turned out to be a thrilling read.
Leave it to Psmith was the first Wodehouse book I ever read, but by no means the last. That man warped my prose style for years, I’m ashamed to say. Possibly to this day. What ho.
In eighth grade I was one of those girls who would fall into a book and not emerge until the last page. So when I took Lorna Doone out of the library and began to read it, Miss Hansen caught me reading it during morning exercises. We were supposed to be listening to her read a psalm, or announce something edifying. She took it away from me and made me leave it on her desk.
Before long the book became overdue, and I had to go ask for it back. I pleaded for it on the grounds that it was an overdue library book, so she gave it to me. I put it in my locker.
Now the doors of the lockers at North Plainfield Junior High were all attached to each other and locked with a single lock, so that to open one locker was to open them all. Someone needed the lockers opened while I wasn’t there, and Lorna Doone fell out on the floor. David Nichols saw the book on the floor and picked it up.
“Was that your book on the floor?” he asked me later.
“Yes. Where is it?”
“I put it on Miss Hansen’s desk.”
Oh, no. I didn’t even swear in those days, but I took such a feeling in the pit of my stomach as I had never felt before, guilt, terror, unease, a feeling that I had somehow screwed up and would never recover. Of course I had to ask for the book back again. It belonged to the library. Miss Hansen assumed that some other teacher had taken it away from me for reading it in class and gave me an extremely hard time.
I was to have that bad feeling again, many times, on many occasions. If only I had known it, the episode marked the end of carefree childhood.