Memories of my childhood are imperfect. Yours, too?
I don’t remember having a lot of books as a child. I remember The Poky Little Puppy and another dog book (title unknown) and Three Little Kittens (perhaps a reminder to me to keep track of my mittens).
I remember using the school library voraciously to read books. I had no access to the public library (too far away) so that school library was my lifeline. And our librarian understood what I was looking for before I did.
But back to the question of having books on our shelves. My mother had a Doubleday Book Club subscription so a new book arrived each month for the adult reader in our family. I saw To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, The Light in the Piazza, and The Sun Also Rises added to the shelves, but other than curiosity, I felt no interest in those books.
My mother also subscribed to Reader’s Digest. We had a lot of music in our house in the form of LPs. Some of my favorites were those Readers Digest collections, classics, folk songs, Broadway musicals. There was always music on the turntable. More importantly, Reader’s Digest published story collections and books for children.
Yesterday, I was sorting through the three boxes that remain of my childhood toys and books. We’re downsizing, so the tough decisions have to be made. Do I keep my hand puppets of Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and Hush Puppy or let them go?
I know I’ve gone through these boxes since I was a kid but every ten years or so I’m surprised all over again by what I played with as a child and cared enough to pack in a box for remembrance.
I found two Reader’s Digest Treasuries for Young Readers and the three-volume Doubleday Family Treasury of Children’s Stories. My mother also subscribed to the Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers. This is how I read Lorna Doone and Ivanhoe and Where the Red Fern Grows.
I was startled to realize that my familiarity with many of the classic poems, stories, and nonfiction articles came from these books. I was introduced to Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Elizabeth Janet Gray and Dr. George Washington Carver and Jules Verne and The Odyssey and NASA’s work and more than a hundred more stories and articles. I’d like to believe that I’m an omnivorous reader today because of the wide variety I encountered in these books.
There’s a penchant for everything new right now. Grandparents pick up the latest Dora the Explorer or Where’s Waldo? book because they’ve heard of them and have a vague sense that kids like them. Or the bookstore clerk suggests a Caldecott or Newbery winner of recent vintage.
This is a plea to remember those classic books: the stories, the folk tales, the fables, the poetry. Children will read a lot that you wouldn’t expect them to read, especially if you give it to them. Those classics provide a common language for educated people.
Can’t find something suitable? Write to your favorite publisher and suggest that they print collections of classics, old and new. There are a few books published in the last 20 years that sort of approach these collections published in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Here are a few:
Perhaps 50 years from now your children and grandchildren will open their own box of childhood memories, being thankful that you gave them such a great gift.
Thanks, Mom. You gave me a gift that has sustained me all my life.