For the past week, I’ve been enjoying the My Life in Books feature over at Stuck in a Book. I had been meaning to check out this blog for awhile after it was referenced on my new favorite podcast, The Readers; however, it was longtime favorites Jenny and Teresa of Shelf Love that finally led me there. It was fascinating to see everyone’s answers, especially when there were overlaps in the choices. I particularly liked the “see if you can guess your partner” bit at the end of each post. I’m not sure how I would have fared there.
Anyway, I decided to take these questions on myself and am planning to post one answer a day. I encourage you to add your own answers in the comments if you feel so inclined.
Did you grow up in a book-loving household, and did your parents read to you? Pick a favorite book from your childhood, and tell me about it.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that I grew up in a book-loving household, but, as teachers, my parents definitely encouraged reading and I was read to as a child. However, I think they stopped as soon as we could read ourselves, and I don’t remember my parents reading for themselves, except maybe the newspaper. (As my profile photo demonstrates, we clearly had newspapers in the house!).
I know that my mom certainly read fiction from time to time, it’s just that in my mind’s eye she is usually knitting, sewing, or gardening instead. My father, who was a complete workaholic while I was growing up, never read at all until a heart attack in his mid-60s forced him to take it easy. Then, a switch flipped and he became a voracious reader of anything he could get his hands on, from Danielle Steele (I kid you not) to Robert Ludlum. He read so many cheap westerns that he would lose track of what he read and I eventually started keeping a list for him. To this day, the list remains on my computer.
I started reading early and know I was reading series like Dick and Jane and Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka in nursery school. We belonged to the Weekly Reader Book Club and that’s where most of the advanced picture books I read came from. I imagine this club was probably a great solution for my mother who, since she only came to the U.S. in her late 20s, had no background in English-language children’s books.
For this reason, there are a number of classic stories I don’t seem to have read: Anne of Green Gables, Ballet Shoes, Black Beauty, A Little Princess, Mary Poppins, Misty of Chincoteague, The Secret Garden, Wind in the Willows, and The Velveteen Rabbit. On the flip side, this also meant early exposure to French series like Tintin and Astérix, which no one else seemed to have back then.
Aside from Weekly Reader books, I don’t think we bought many new books—we went to the library a lot and got used books via garage sales and the like. Once I graduated to “real” books, I enjoyed a number of series, especially The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Little House books. My favorite series was probably Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective. I’ve always loved mysteries (and I have a feeling this will be a recurring theme throughout the week) and the Encyclopedia Brown books really played to my love of games and puzzles.
Later favorites include Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; Harriet the Spy; Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth; The Witch of Blackbird Pond; A Wizard of Earthsea; and A Wrinkle in Time. These are the ones that came to mind when Gavin asked for last-minute suggestions for Episode #20 of The Readers. (Listen for my name around minute 18!)
If forced to pick just one favorite above all others, I would probably choose From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. There was a time when I was absolutely obsessed with this book about a young girl, Claudia, who runs away from her home in Connecticut to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accompanied by her younger brother, they hide out in the museum, bathing in the fountains, sleeping in an antique bed, and eating at the automat. Along the way, they try to solve the mystery of whether an unidentified sculpture is by Michaelangelo.
Some time ago, when trying to pick out books for a French cousin who wanted to practice English, I reread many of these favorites and Mixed-Up Files was one of those that held up best.
And I still wish I could eat at an automat.