I can’t tell you at what age I started reading, but I can tell you that since that day, I’ve pretty much never stopped.
I inherited my love of reading from my mom, and I took great pleasure in passing that same love down to my children. My son and daughter each have kids of their own now, and my grandchildren are already showing the same fascination for the written word. Family legacies? We’re doing it right.
There are a lot of great books out there, obviously, and Googling “best books for children” provides dozens of different links with hundreds of different ideas, from the newly released to the classic. There are a few from my childhood that hold special memories for me, and I want to make sure I share them with my grandkids.
Whenever I’m asked about the first book I remember, this series comes to mind. Four orphaned siblings make a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar before they’re discovered by their grandfather, and after realizing he’s not the ogre they believed him to be, go to live with him. The oldest brother is Henry, who does odd jobs where he can find them to make what little money the kids have. Jessie is next in line, the oldest sister who acts as surrogate mother to the two youngest children, Violet and Benny.
I read these books in third grade, when I was eight years old, and I still remember pretending to be Jessie. I wanted to be Jessie. I was sure that if I had to, I could take care of my younger siblings (I was the oldest of four) as well as she did. As an adult, I’m a bit horrified at the thought of what could have happened to four children living alone in an old train car but at the time, all I saw was the magic of the story.
Island of the Blue Dolphins is the story of Karana, a young girl left to survive on her own on an otherwise uninhabited island in the Pacific, after her brother is attacked and killed by wild dogs. (Although I didn’t know it at the time, the book is based on a true story.) Karana makes a home out of the bones of a whale she finds on the beach and learns to hunt and fish and provide for herself before, after several years, visitors arrive and she is rescued.
Karana is brave and resourceful and survives with nothing to depend on but her own wit and skills. Are we sensing a pattern here? There is, I’m sure, a carefully researched reason that so many books for children are about other children surviving on their own, with little or no adult assistance. I didn’t know anything about that as a child (and don’t know much more as an adult) but those were the stories that drew me in.
Although these books were first published in the 1930s, they became required reading when the TV series (starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert) began airing in 1974. I was nine years old that year, and my fourth grade teacher gave us extra credit for watching the show every week.
I’m aware that not everyone approves of these books and now, as an adult, I recognize that they are problematic. I remember them through the eyes of my childhood, however, and I look forward to sharing with my grandchildren the mysteries of maple syrup candy and life in a dug-out prairie house, and to complaining about mean ol’ Nellie Oleson.
There’s no way I can talk about books that I want to experience again with my grandchildren without including Harry Potter. I’ll have my 49th birthday this year and I still re-read this series every year. Harry, Ron, Hermione. Witches and wizards and werewolves. Friendships cemented fighting trolls, tested by the intrusion of the twin evils of jealousy and insecurity, strengthened anew by choosing what is right over what is easy.
I learned from Dumbledore, from his wisdom and his mistakes. I’m still a bit scared of McGonagall. “I trust Severus Snape completely.” I still mourn Fred. And Dobby, a free elf. I love Molly and Arthur. I am #TeamRon and glad that Harry and Ginny had ginger kids. And I will always secretly hope it’s never too late to get my own letter from Hogwarts.
Those are a few but there are dozens of other books I can’t wait to read to my children’s children. Where the Sidewalk Ends. The Velveteen Rabbit. Anne of Green Gables. The Secret Garden. Goodnight, Moon. Charlotte’s Web.
The list goes on and on and on and I’m still open to suggestions. What are your favorite books from childhood?