Books were everywhere in the house I grew up in. We had a library wall with its own sliding ladder in our living room. We had the basket where we kept the books from the actual library. Then there were the books just lying around. In my room, I had a shelf where I kept the stories I loved. Here are some of the books that found their way onto that shelf.
Go, Dog. Go! (I Can Read It All By Myself, Beginner Books) by P.D. Eastmen
(Random House, 1961)
Go, Dog. Go! was the first book I ever read to myself…over and over and over. I think, push come to shove, I could recite it now, decades later, word for word. Ostensibly, it is about a bunch of dogs which come together for a party in a huge tree. But like all good books, it’s about so much more. Diversity—the dogs are different breeds and colors and some even prefer cats (yes, I’m thinking subtext here, too). Romance—the slow burn of whether the pink poodle will ever get the yellow dog to like her hat. Adventure—the dogs travel in cars, boats and trains, always jumping into the next experience with all four paws. Who knew dogs had such exciting lives?
The Velveteen Rabbit: Or How Toys Become Real by Margery Williams
(George H. Doran Company, 1922)
The classic tale of a stuffed toy rabbit and the nursery magic, a boy’s unconditional love and a fairy’s kiss which turn him “real.” My favorite quote—and probably everyone else’s too—is when the Rabbit learns his first life lesson. “ ‘When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’ ‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit. ‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ ” So true, and I still wholeheartedly believe in nursery magic since not long ago I watched my son turn his stuffed polar bear “real”.
Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
No book is more saccharine—the eponymous main character calls his mother “Dearest” for the ENTIRE book—or falls into more obvious plot tropes—rags to riches, for starters. But there is something so unabashedly joyful about young Cedric and the infectious, good-natured way he approaches life. His transformative relationship with his grumpy, aristocratic grandfather may actually renew your faith in human nature. Sentimentality notwithstanding, it taught me about the true power of a good attitude.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (Random House, 1961)
Bored out of his mind, Milo comes home from school one day to find a magic tollbooth sitting on his doorstep. He drives a magic car through it into both the Kingdom of Wisdom and one of the best adventures out there. The word play and puns in the book are laugh-out-loud funny, and the situations that Milo finds himself in are so clever, that as a kid, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. While enjoying the ride, I learned a thing or two about education. Mainly, that learning could be fun, but I had to find my own way into it. No one was going to do that for me. And that, the love of words could carry me, like Milo, through an awful lot.
The White Mountains (Tripods Series #1) by John Christopher
(Simon & Schuster, 1967)
This was the first science fiction book I ever read. Plot wise, Will Parker’s capping day is coming, but he’s not sure the giant, alien Tripods have the human’s best interests at heart. Spoiler alert—they don’t. This book introduced me to dystopian fiction and all the thought-provoking questions about government and human nature that run through this genre. The second book in the series, The City of Gold and Lead, is officially my favorite. The world building there just can’t be beat, but you never forget your first…
These books sit on my son’s shelf now, all except for Little Lord Fauntleroy. “Too silly,” he said when I tried to read it to him when he was little. So, I put my son to bed and stayed up half the night reading it cover to cover by myself. Still wonderful! Who says you can’t go home again.
What books colored your childhood? Let us know in the comments, below.
Catherine Lane and her wife live in Southern California with their son and a mischievous pound puppy. When Catherine finds herself at loose ends, she enjoys experimenting with recipes in the kitchen, paddling on long stretches of flat water, and browsing at libraries and bookstores. Oh, and trying unsuccessfully to outwit her dog. She has recently published Heartwood with Ylva.