Books of my Childhood

I was cleaning my office the other day and came across a ton of books from my childhood. It made me reminisce about what I loved to read when I was younger.

The earliest I can remember is Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. My sister and I scribbled in it, ripped the pages and generally treated the book like crap, but only because we loved it. I still love the cat drawings the best.

We had a huge amount of Little Golden Books – mostly Disney stories, like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. We also had a lot of Read Along Records. They were little books with 33 1/3rd records that narrated the book and you read along. All of them were Disney stories like Peter Pan. I can still hear the little chime that told you to turn the page. My grandma bought us both little Winnie the Pooh record players. Yes, I’m that old.

She also bought me the Charlie Brown ‘Cyclopedia series (my sister got a Sesame Street series). I still have all of the hardcover books and I suspect this series is what lead to my love of the World Book Encyclopedia. I’m still mad I never owned a set.

One year on my birthday (9 or 10 years old?) I got A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein. I still remember opening it at my party and seeing a photo of the author on the back and getting embarrassed for some reason and handing it to my mom to finish unwrapping. I still have it though, so the inside made a better impression.

I still remember deciding to read The Secret Garden for the first time after finding it in the bottom of a drawer (probably a gift I never read to that point). I feel like it was probably the first big book I read.

Reading was always something we did. After lunch throughout elementary school we had either SQUIRT (Super Quiet Uninterrupted Individual Reading Time) or USSR (Uninterrupted Super Silent Reading). It was a 15 minute block designed to calm us all down after running around at lunch by reading quietly. I remember how cozy I’d feel on a rainy day reading Little House in the Big Woods and imagining myself in a log cabin.

From age ten and up I read a lot of the Babysitter’s Club (I wanted to start my own group, but I hated babysitting lol) and Sweet Valley High (I’m still obsessed with the #95 to #100 Margo series, culminating in The Evil Twin (#100) and The Return of the Evil Twin (Magna Edition, #6)). I’m pretty sure my interest in both twins and sororities started here, although it never occurred to me it was weird a high school had a sorority.

The New Jessica, Sweet Valley High, #32
The New Jessica was one of my favourite SVH books. These covers are the height of 80s awesomeness.

I read lots of Judy Blume, the Fudge series, but especially Blubber, a book about bullying I think they should give all kids to read. I also loved Barthe DeClements Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade and Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You. That book was refreshing since the main character had a learning disability.

My personal favourite series as a kid was Nancy Drew. I read the original yellow hardcovers in my school library – taking them out so many times the school librarian asked me to stop and read something else lol (cut to me taking out The First Book of Stage and Costume Makeup over and over. Don’t ask, I have no idea why). Weirdly I owned only two Nancy Drew hardcovers. I found Nancy Drew Files around the same time and loved those. I still own False Moves, which involved ballet and a missing diamond. They were modernized and had a case summary at the beginning which I loved.

Some of my other favourites were old books of my mom’s. She had a hardcover of Trixie Belden’s Mystery in Arizona that I remember reading (the book went missing after that and I never found it again). A few years later the Trixie Belden series was reissued in softcover and I read a bunch of them (my favourite was the Mystery of the Headless Horseman, where I learned about grafting fruit trees, believe it or not).

My mom also had Annette books, mystery novels based on Annette Funicello. I didn’t read all of them, but I re-read The Mystery at Medicine Wheel a dozen times, which is why my heroine Ruby in Sin City loves horses and lost her mother to tuberculosis. My mom also owned almost every Donna Parker hardcover. The character of Donna Parker wasn’t out there solving mysteries, really, as the books were a lot more realistic and every day life reads – her best friend’s mom has a serious illness which leads to an awkward rift between the friends. I still love reading Donna Parker at Cherrydale and Donna Parker Mystery at Arawak.

I stole The Headless Cupid from my sister. Literally. It’s still on my bookshelf. I had to have it when I saw it dealt with witchcraft (I was very into wicca as a 13-year-old) and didn’t know until about ten years ago it was a series. I bought all of the other books a few years ago and read them all last year and they completely hold up to the test of time. I still love Janie the most.

I also read Lucy Maud Montgomery. A hardcover Anne of Green Gables was in my house – probably my mom’s. I read Anne of Ingleside (with this horrific cover) next, then went back and read the series in proper order. I still can’t remember how I ended up with my favourite of Montgomery’s books and series – Emily of New Moon. I identified with Emily the writer a lot more than I ever did Anne.

In grade 6 (and probably 7, I had the same teacher), he read The Cay and Mara, Daughter of the Nile to our class. Mr. Tibble (affectionately known as Mr. T) always did great voices for each of the characters. I can still hear his voice as Timothy saying “young boss” in The Cay. Mr. T passed away on Valentine’s Day this year, but he left a lot of us with great memories of reading. (And the ability to play the ukulele).

I resisted reading “adult” books until I was well out of high school (and then I just jumped straight into Patricia Cornwell, so it was a bit of a change lol). I read the high school standards like Lord of the Flies and The Great Gatsby, but was obsessed with The Outsiders (I’m sure the movie had a lot to do with it lol). That particular cover is the only I accept as my true Outsiders cover, since it was the first I owned. I re-read it in 2005 and it lead me to writing fan fiction and making some great friends and eventually led me to publishing.

I know in grade 12 we had to choose a more adult book to read. I chose Along the Shore, an L.M. Montgomery book that is Young Adult. Because Mrs. Murray let me get away with it. I thought adult books would be 1) boring and 2) maybe make me uncomfortable somehow with their content, so I policed myself. (My first adult read was Patricia Cornwell’s Unnatural Exposure – talk about jumping into the deep end! PS: Don’t start reading a series in the middle.)

These days some favourite authors include Tess Gerritsen, Jeffery Deaver, Lisa Gardner, Dana Stabenow and Kathy Reichs. But when I’m feeling like I need some familiarity and comfort, I pick up those old books from my childhood. Some may not be great literature (how many times can one girl have a boyfriend die, I’m looking at you Jessica Wakefield), but I loved them then and they are still great fun now. I could literally talk about books of my childhood forever, but I’ll stop now lol.

What books did you love as a kid?