My previous blog focused on how much I loved reading as a child and promised that the next one would include a list of my favorite childhood books. After a couple of days of agonizing over the choices, I’m (sort of) ready to provide a list. I arbitrarily capped my list at 10, and since I was driving myself crazy trying to prioritize the titles, I ultimately decided to just go with the first 10 I thought of. My memory is lousy, so I have no idea exactly how old I was when I first read any of these, but I did keep the list limited to books I’m sure I read before my teenage years.
Today’s blog will look at the first five, and I’ll finish up the last five tomorrow.
Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott, was the very first title that popped into my head when I sat down to list books I loved as a kid, probably because it’s one I still reread at least once a year. I also liked Little Women and Jo’s Boys, but this middle book of the trilogy has always been my favorite. I love the adventures the boys get into, the sly humor of the writing, and yes, the sentimentality that slips in fairly often. One of the books that could make me laugh and cry as a child. Oh, who am I kidding–it still makes me laugh and cry.
While I read pretty much all of the mystery series available for kids in the 1960s (The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames-Nurse), the Trixie Belden books, written by Kathryn Kenny (at least, that’s the name on the books I have) were my absolute favorites. Not only did Trixie, her brothers, and her friends solve mysteries, but they belonged to the cool Bob-Whites of the Glen club! The characters argued, fought, made up, completed chores, and dealt with their parents–all in a very PG rated atmosphere. When I read them, these books seemed more realistic, or at least more like my life, than any other series. If, you know, my life had involved solving mysteries and hanging out in a cool club.
Apparently lots of people share my fondness for Sawdust in His Shoes, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw–used copies cost well over $100. I’d love to read this book again as an adult, but not at that price. The details are now blurred in my memory, but this is about a boy forced for some reason to leave the circus that is his home and go live on a farm. At some point in the story he’s caught while practicing trick riding on a farm horse . . . and that’s really all I remember about the plot. My love for this stemmed, I think, from the outsider aspect, especially when the main character won over those who didn’t really understand him. The circus boy didn’t fit in with the farm family, but in the end was able to be himself and show everyone the “sawdust in his shoes.” At least, I think that’s what happened.
Speaking of “outsider” stories, another of my favorite childhood books was The Forgotten Door, by Alexander Key. In this case the outsider is literally an alien, a boy on another planet who falls through a forgotten door and lands on earth. The family he ends up with doesn’t know the truth about him, but at some point he reveals his otherworldly abilities, which frightens many of the neighbors. This is one of the few science fiction stories I read as a kid, but what I liked most about it is what I still like most about science fiction–the opportunity to really look at ourselves as outsiders might see us. This may have been the first book that made me think about how fear, and not just evil, can make people react violently to people who are different.
I’ve combined The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, because I read them together. Boy, talk about books that make you think! After reading all the fun adventures in Tom Sawyer, I immediately read the sequel, because that’s what I did. As I’ve said before, I have no idea how old I was when I read these books, but I do remember thinking at the time that I might be too young for Huck Finn. I realized that this was a whole different kind of book and that I was missing part of the story, one of the few times I remember being frustrated because I didn’t really “get” what the book was about. This was probably the first time I truly understood that books could do more than simply entertain.
So those are the first five I thought of. Next time I’ll talk about the final five. Meanwhile, what are some of the books you remember reading as a kid?