A weekly pilgrimage to the library with my mom and sister was one of the staples of my childhood. I’d sit on the yellow carpet and pull books off the shelf one by one, putting into my book bag the ones that piqued my interest. The novelty of nearly unlimited, free books never wore off, and it hasn’t to this day. My mom always said that she “felt rich” coming home with a bag full of library books.
My mom and I read picture books together when I was little, and as I got older she read me chapter books like The Secret Garden, and even grown-up novels, like The Greengage Summer. On my own, I became hooked on girly series like The Babysitter’s Club and the second-rate Little Sister and Sleepover Friends books. I remember the thrill of anticipation as I waited for the next installment to be published, so I could pick up a paperback copy from the local bookstore. I also loved Choose Your Own Adventure books, where the story would pause periodically for you to decide your next steps, like:
If you decide to start back home, turn to page 4.
If you decide to wait, turn to page 5.
Indecisive and wanting to make the best choice, I’d hold the place with my finger so I could go back and make the other choice if the story turned out badly.
As a preteen, I loved scary stories: R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike in particular, which had titles like ‘Prom Dress’ and ‘Beach House’ and melodramatic cover art. The Christopher Pike books were actually pretty graphic, with accidental shootings during a school play and people’s lungs exploding during deep sea dives. I later graduated to Dean Koontz and Stephen King and eventually outgrew my fascination with the horror genre.
My favorite author of all time was, and still is, Roald Dahl. His writing — simply put, incredibly imaginative, with characters that nearly leap off the page — shaped my sense of wonder. I still think of Matilda, the girl genius who could move objects with her mind, as a dear friend. After reading The Witches, a friend of mine was convinced that one of her teachers was a witch.
Inspired by a class visit to the school library with the elementary school kids, I made a visit to the Sonoma library. I checked out a bunch of books that I used to read as a kid (or books from the genre I used to read, in the case of the craft and riddle books). Here are my impressions today:
The grandmother of Hush, a young possum, knows magic and turns her invisible to protect her from snakes. After the novelty wears off, Hush wants to be seen again, so she and her grandmother travel all around Australia sampling foods that might turn her visible again. Besides encouraging my imagination, I think the book nurtured an early passion for food. The possums “ate Anzac biscuits in Adelaide, mornay and Minties in Melbourne, steak and salad in Sydney, and pumpkin scones in Brisbane.” Though I wasn’t familiar with some of these Australian foods, they sure sounded delicious, even a Vegemite sandwich (a salty yeast spread which, by all reports, is repugnant to most Americans except my mother).
In an old house in Paris
that was covered with vines
lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.
Madeline, the smallest and boldest of the bunch, falls ill and has to get her appendix removed. The other girls visit her in the hospital and see all her toys and flowers, and that night they begin to cry, “Boohoo, we want to have our appendix out, too!” The story ends, in font that shrinks as it moves down the page, with the lines:
“Good night, little girls!
Thank the lord you are well!
And now go to sleep!”
said Miss Clavel.
And she turned out the light–
and closed the door–
and that’s all there is–
there isn’t any more.
To Be a Kid
This book wasn’t published until I was in college, but it’s now one of my favorites. It’s about how being a kid is a common experience all around the world. It features photographs of kids in forty countries, such as Ecuador, the Philippines, and Benin, illustrating that “To be a kid means…”
– being carried by those who love you, and spending time with your family
– painting beautiful pictures, sharing the joy of music
– goofing off and acting silly
– having a cool snack on a hot summer day
It reminds me that these have been the best experiences of my reschooling, and most are simple joys that are inexpensive or free.
Kids Create!: Art & Craft Experiences for 3- to 9-year-olds
I used to make things like a hula skirt out of shredded paper and masking tape just for the fun of it. I also had converted the inside of a cabinet into a two-story dollhouse and occasionally made furniture for it.
The Nuttiest Riddle Book in the World
I used to check out joke and riddle books from the library and follow my mom around all day reading from them. After indulging several questions like, “Which fruit is always complaining?” (Answer: A crab apple), she would say, “OK, one more.” Then I had to find someone else to pester. Paging through the book of horribly corny riddles reminds me that as a kid, I’d do things purely for enjoyment, not for self-improvement or obligation. Filling my head with jokes probably wasn’t going to make me any smarter or more knowledgeable, but that wasn’t my concern.
Imagine that magic can happen. Appreciate life’s simple joys that don’t cost anything. Create art. Do things for enjoyment, not self-improvement. These are the things I could do as a child, and that I am trying to learn again today.
Your Two Cents: What are your library memories, and the books you loved as a child?