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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Books Fed to Me as a Child

“Stories are the natural soul-food of children.”- G. Stanley Hall

My mother reading to my older
 brother and sister.
My love of books definitely came from many hours spent leaning on my mother’s shoulder while she read to me from the time I was a very small child. In fact, Emilie Buchwald said, "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents."  I also know much of my understanding about the world came from those pages. Recently I read an article on Marie Popova’s wonderful Brain Pickings about picture books that celebrate the lives of great creators. And I started thinking about children’s books in general and how what we read as small children helps form our personalities and values. Much research has been done on fiction in the development of personality.  So I began to do my own exploring on the earliest books I was given.

All I had to do was go upstairs to my own children’s book nook and see what stories I was fed as a child.  You see I adore children’s books. My mother read to me and my older brother and sister on a daily basis and I still have most of those books. I also have all the books I read to my own daughters as well as more recent purchases. So I walked upstairs to see what books stand out the most in my memories…

One the earliest books my mother read to me was The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. Ours was a Silver Anniversary Edition and was given to my older sister in 1955 on her second birthday.   First published in 1930, the story was about being positive and working hard. I was raised to remember the words of the little engine who made it over the mountain by just saying, “I think I can-I think I can-I think I can-I think I can” over and over.   The theme that a good attitude can get you over the toughest obstacles was definitely taught to me at my mother’s knee.

Another beloved book from my childhood was Edith &Mr. Bear, A Lonely Doll Story by Dare Wright. First published in 1957, photographer and author Dare Wright went on to publish at least eight more in the series. I still have The Lonely Doll and A Gift from the Lonely Doll and The Lonely Doll Learns a Lesson. I read those books over and over. The main thing I remember is the scene where Mr. Bear spanks Edith for misbehaving. The books slightly creep me out now and my daughters never loved them like I did. I think the photo of Wright on the book jackets were what attracted me to the books. I was more influenced by the author than the main character, Edith. I imagined being a photographer and writer in New York City like Dare Wright. I recently read a biography The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: Dare Wright by Jean Nathan.  Her bizarre life was definitely not what I imagined when I read her books as a child. 

One book character that definitely influenced me was Pippi Longstocking. The wonderful books by Astrid Lindren filled me with joy. My copy of the first book, Pippi Longstocking, is dated on my birthday in 1967. So I must have been eight years old when I discovered this carefree tomboy. Pippi has no grown ups in her life and her funny adventures and creative spirit inspired me and children everywhere. I once read that she was the Junie B. Jones of her day. Her refreshing disrespect of adults and willingness to break the rules created my own distrust of authority figures. Pippi has always been a role model with her great physical strength and inventiveness. A few years ago, I was able to visit the statue of Astrid Lindren outside the Junibacken, museum devoted to Swedish children's literature (especially the beloved Pippi) in Stockholm, Sweden. It was a thrill, as you can see.

In my next post, I will share more books that I loved as a child that influenced me as an adult.  What were your favorites?

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