Childhood Reading

Books have been lifelong companions – I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read. At the age of about 11, I recall receiving a large hardback containing abridged versions of classic tales. I suspect the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen contributed, but mostly I recall the adventure stories such as Treasure Island. I read it from cover to cover, but was equally happy reading Enid Blyton, or the thrillers/crime novels from my parents bookcase – quite literally anything I could get my hands on.

Before I went to boarding school, I was seduced by the idea it would be like the Mallory Towers and St Clare’s stories as penned by Enid Blyton. I was wrong – very wrong indeed. I spent a massive amount of time on my own reading. As before, I read whatever I could get my hands on, but I recall a lot of WWII action tales – much RAF heroism and sacrifice, as well as romantic nonsense – Mills & Boons, Georgette Heyer and the like. What I didn’t read was much in the way of children’s classics. Whole swathes of classic children’s literature passed me by. I caught up a little when my daughter was young but, with so much new in the mix, the early classics largely remained unread.

It would be hard for me to choose a favourite childhood book, although I very much enjoyed Little Women and its subsequent follow-ups. In a quiz when asked to pick a heroine from fictional childhood, I selected Jo March – but, in truth, my cupboard was really rather bare. I simply don’t have comfort reads from childhood.

With hindsight, what I missed were tales of good versus evil. I didn’t learn in safety, through the pages of books, about the consequences of being naughty or silly, unkind or mean. I read solely for entertainment and escape, it was only later that I read for knowledge and information, for mental stimulation, or to be made to think. Now I prefer a challenging book, and select purely entertaining or escapist tales as palate cleansers – in-between reads. Whenever possible I select books which make me think, which require that I learn – about countries and differing ways of life, about experiences I’ve not had, about life. I don’t object to a book being entertaining, but for me to really enjoy it, there needs to be more meat on its bones than pure entertainment. For example, while I enjoy humour, I want wit rather than slapstick. I want clever, I want smart. Teach me something I didn’t know while wrapping a story around it, and you’ve got me.

If we take my favourite childhood book to be Little Women, is it telling that I’ve a passion for learning and to teach what I know? That I want to write and to tell stories? I started writing this piece by asking myself the question below, without any idea where it would lead – perhaps you’d like to try it too?

What was your favourite book as a child? Did it influence the person you are now?

© Debra Carey, 2021

14 thoughts on “Childhood Reading

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  1. When I was very little, Yertle the Turtle. It was about oppression. Definitely affected me. Little women, gone with the wind, a tree grows in Brooklyn. All strong women characters. Judy Blume books.

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  2. Winnie the Pooh. Little House on the Prairie books. Nancy Drew mysteries. Those were the books of my girlhood. Kind of innocent, now that I think on it.

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  3. I had so many favourites, it’s hard to choose just one. Anything by Marguerite Henry, classic fairy tale compilations, The Magician’s Nephew and all the other C.S. Lewis books about Aslan and such. There was a book in my grade school library that I returned to again and again. About a girl who found a pass in the mountains that led to a magical country/place…I can’t for the life of me remember the author or the title. I have been searching for it for years and maybe it is better never found as I might be disappointed if I ever get to re-read it.
    I don’t know if any of these books shaped me, but they did instill in me a lifelong love of adventure and discovery. Great question!


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  4. “All strong women characters” eh LA? Great role models for what you’d go on to become 🙂
    I’ve not heard of Yertle the Turtle – I shall go looking.

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  5. Ally, I adored Winnie the Pooh, even though I was quite mature by the time I first read it. You know, I rather envy you that childhood innocence. I think that’s exactly the right thing for childhood, and isn’t something that’s easy to find or to provide any more.

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  6. Adventure & discovery sounds a good shape to have to one’s life Deb. I was going to send you good wishes for finding that elusive book but, as you say, maybe it’s too hard for it to live up to memory of it. I recently read a book which I’d loved. I still liked it, but the re-read only made me notice the stuff I didn’t like about it. So I won’t be doing that again!

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  7. Yay Janet! Another vote for Little Women 🙂 I think I’d have enjoyed Nancy Drew if anyone had thought to put one in my hand or on the bookshelves, but my younger sister enjoyed them when she came along 15 years later! Not heard of the Honey Bunch books – going to check them out now.

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  8. My favorite book as a kid was The Hobbit. My Dad read it to me as a bedtime story, as well as part of The Lord of the Rings. One of the things I really like about Tolkien is that his stories work as pure entertainment, if that’s all you want from them. But they work on deeper levels too, if that’s something you’re looking for.

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  9. That’s a very good point James. I didn’t read Tolkien till I was (decidedly) older, and the deeper levels weren’t what I wanted at the time which could explain why I found him a struggle.

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  10. All of my siblings and I read “The Melendy Family” by Elizabeth Enright. My wife spent a fortune last year buying on eBay the exact compilation volume we had in our home, which was wonderful of her to do. On my own, I read the Hardy Boys and also the Homer Price books by Robert McCloskey. All American books only I’m afraid, Deb! 🙂

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  11. Marty, I actually grew up overseas and had way more US & Canadian friends than British, but I didn’t come across “The Melendy Family”, so will have to look them up. What a great and thoughtful gift from Gorgeous. 🙂

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