Wednesday, March 18, 2009

That magic childhood book

People who grow up to be avid readers can usually talk for hours about the books that they loved the most when they were children, the ones that gave them that special magical feeling, that took them to another world, that sparked their imagination. There were books that I read over and over again, such as Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall and, later, Pern books. And Madeleine L'Engle, Beverly Cleary, Diana Wynne Jones (although she didn't have that many published back then) and the Chronicles of Narnia. I loved the Black Stallion books, Marguerite Henry's horse stories, Lloyd Alexander, Judy Blume, Edward Eager, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, E.L. Konigsburg, and E. Nesbit.

There were other books that aren't available anymore these days, books I checked out over and over again from the library. I loved these books - sometimes when I was at the library, I just looked on the shelves to see if they were there, even if I didn't plan on checking them out. One of them was The Ghost in the Swing by Janet Patton Smith. It is out of print, and used copies run about $100, or they did the last time I checked. I'd been looking in used book stores for it, not to mention eBay and other online used book sellers, hoping to find it at a bargain rate. My husband finally bought me a copy for my birthday a couple years ago, and what a joy it was to reread that one after so many years. I'm planning on reading it to my children when the Halloween season rolls around, to see what they think of it. The other book I adored was called The Big Joke Game by Scott Corbett. That one is out of print, too, and is $50 or $60.

As part of my last course in library school, I'm doing a practicum in two school libraries, an elementary school and a high school. When I was helping a child find a book at the elementary school, imagine my shock when I saw, sitting there on the shelf, a copy of The Big Joke Game. It had been in the library, according to the stamps on the back of the book, since the year it was published: 1972! Not only that, but it was in pretty decent condition: a few dog-ears, yellowed pages, but the binding was solid. Compare this to the library books I end up throwing in the trash because they are so shoddily made that the bindings crack right in two within the first few months we own them!

Anyway, the librarian very kindly allowed me to check the book out, and I've read it to my girls (review forthcoming). I'm pleased to say that not only did it hold up wonderfully to my fond memories of it, but that they enjoyed it as much as I did! It was also interesting to me to see how linked my memories of the book were to the marvelous illustrations.

There's another one by Corbett that I'd love to reread, my second favorite of his, called The Red Room Riddle. I don't remember too much about it besides the deliciously creepy feeling it gave me when I read it - he managed to create a palpably haunting atmosphere. Maybe someday I'll run across that one, too.

What about you? What are the books that you wish you could reread that seem to have disappeared into the mists of time? Are there childhood books that make you happy, just thinking about them? Or are there any that you have vague memories of but can't remember the title or author? Favorites you checked out over and over again at the library? I'd love to hear about it!

The above image is by Bea Douglas. Click here to see more of her lovely images.


  1. It's wonderful you found a decent copy of a much loved book. I loved The Faraway Tree stories by Enid Blyton growing up. They really took me to many other worlds. My mum used to read me and my sister The Forest of Boland Light Railway by BB which is outof print. I may see if she still has her copy and see if she will let me borrow it. I only have vague memories of it but I know reading it again would bring it all back.

  2. i can't say that this is a book that was a favorite necessarily, but i remember a book from 3rd or 4th grade about a boy and a dinosaur. he finds an egg in a cave or in his backyard or ... something and lo and behold it contains a triceratops that completes gestation and hatches. the boy lives in new england, so there were questions about how to care for the dinosaur in a hostile weather environment.

    i wish i could remember the title. if i ever have kids, i'd like to revisit it with them. i remember liking it.

  3. I read the cover off of Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light and for years wouldn't go anywhere without it (it was my traveling book, because then I knew I would always have something to do). Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword fared slightly better, but only because the book's materials were better quality. I read Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising every year at Christmas for years and years, too. I can't find my copy or I would still be doing that (it got into a box in a move, and is probably still there).

    One book I keep meaning to pick up again is Margaret Mahy's The Changing, but it's not terribly easy to find. I remember loving it, but I have no idea how I would feel about it now.

  4. Rhinoa - I only discovered Enid Blyton as an adult, which is disappointing because while I enjoyed them, I know I would have adored them as a child. I've never heard of the other book - I hope you'll write up something about it if you end up rereading it - it has an intriguing title!

    Molly - I think that book you loved might be The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth. I loved that one, too!

    Kiirsten - A Ring of Endless Light will always be my favorite L'Engle! I'm glad you loved it, too. I discovered McKinley later, when I was older, but she is another favorite of mine. I have vague memories of enjoying the Mahy - but I can't remember much about it, either. Maybe we're both due for a reread!

  5. Anything by Lloyd Alexander, Jane Yolen, or Bruce Coville, along with the Narnia books, Monster Garden, and any number of Star Trek novels. (I started reading those when I was probably nine years old... I turned out fine. :) )

    My favorites were Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville and Monster Garden by Vivien Alcock (I reviewed it recently on my blog after a re-read, it's still excellent.) They were the first two books to ever make me cry, and Jeremy was the first fantasy novel I read. I read mostly sci-fi at the time... I actually read more books when I was a kid than I do now. So much less to do back then!

  6. Star Trek novels? I love it! I was wondering when to try the old Star Trek out with my girls (8 and 10). I think Next Gen may have themes that are a bit too old for them at this point, but I loved the old one when I was a kid. I can't remember how old I was when I started watching it. I will put Monster Garden on my list. Have you heard the audio version of Jeremy Thatcher? It's a Full Cast audio book, which means it's done with different voices like a radio play. My girls and I listened to that on a car trip and loved it!

  7. I'll have to find that audio!

    I was raised on old Doctor Who and the original ST series. :) I didn't really click with TNG until I got older, but I can't remember a time when I wasn't crushing on Mr. Spock. I think the show did me a lot more good than any possible bad... I remember always thinking about "Well, Captain Kirk would disapprove of that because of all these people that would get hurt..." etc., and it was my first introduction to a lot of basic ethics issues, and themes of friendship and honor.

    Of course, I have always been a bit of an intellectual child, even though I didn't realize how much I was analyzing it at the time.

  8. Wait! I got it wrong -- the Mahy is The Changeover, not "Changing." Sigh... poor brain is overtaxed by keeping track of many many small children for a full week (it's March Break up here, not sure about where you are).

    McKinley was the first fantasy author I ever read, and it was a copy of The Hero and the Crown that my Mom brought home from the library for me. I didn't bother with it until we were in the car to go take it back to the library -- and by the time we got there I refused to get out of the car because I would have had to stop reading. Thank heavens for backseat boredom!

  9. Fatalis - I will order up Disc 1, season 1 and see how it goes! It will fun to rewatch it from the beginning.

    Kiirstin - And I thought it was the ChangeLing! Oh, well. That's a great story about the Robin McKinley. I recently brought that one home from the library for a reread. I remember loving it, but nothing else. I'm looking forward to seeing what memories come back to me.


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