Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Alphabet: C is for Children's Literature




    I can't remember learning to read, nor a time that I couldn't read anything that came my way. My mother said that she taught me to read when I was 2 1/2 (probably in self-defense, as Brother #1 was imminent). So I've been reading for almost 58 years, and in each of those years I'm sure I read at least one children's book.  I've also read quite a bit of the history and theory of children's literature, and had many opportunities to hear writers and illustrators, particularly when I had a student job at the Kerlan Collection.

    My favorite book when I was small was called Dr. Goat.  It was a rhymed tale of a goat physician and his animal patients, and what happens when he himself gets sick.  It was a Tell-a-Tale book (published by the Whitman Co. in Racine, Wisconsin, and I believe, less expensive than the Little Golden Books) and probably cost 15 cents or less in 1950. Now? Copies in varying conditions, some pretty bad, go for $72 and up -- close to $300 for a copy in very good condition. I'll probably never see it again. (My copy was lost, either to the depredations of siblings or the exigencies of multiple military moves.)  You can see a picture of it above.

    During my first few years in elementary school, my parents enrolled me in the Junior Deluxe Editions book club, which brought me everything from Myths Every Child Should Know to Black Beauty to Oliver Twist.  Here's a picture of what those editions looked like (I still have most of those I got and have picked up others whenever I saw them at sales). Actually, the picture is above. I'm using Chrome, the new Google browser, and its interface with Blogger isn't as seamless as one would have wished yet. 

    They would also pick up books for me at used book sales. The first of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books I read was The Long Winter, because it was the one they found. It's still my favorite. One of my cousins recently returned my copy to me (it had been passed on to her and her boys consider themselves too old for it now).  Mine is the original edition illustrated by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle, not by Garth Williams as most of us are familiar with.

    School libraries and, starting with the Mary Taylor Memorial Library in Milford, Conn., public libraries, supplied me with still more books.  I spent some of my first post-college earnings at the Old Corner Bookshop in Boston on boxed paperback sets of The Little House Books and the Chronicles of Narnia.  When I was in the Army in Monterey, California, I got to visit the wonderful children's bookshop, The Magic Fishbone.  And, of course, once I had children of my own there were still more excuses to buy new books, old books, signed copies, library discards, and to read them all out loud.

     Children's literature has enriched my life and continues to do so. My most recent children's book purchase was My New Best Friend by Onkel Hankie Pants' cousin, Julie Bowe. It's the sequel to My Last Best Friend, her first novel. I highly recommend both!

     Of late, I've been more involved in mystery stories, and have slacked off a bit on keeping up with children's literature. So I've decided to add a little reading project to my two others (the Edgar Best Novel Winners and the A Mystery for Every State project), and read the Newbery Medal Winners and Honor Books, starting with this year and going back to 1922.  I've just finished the first one, Good Masters! Gentle Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz, with wonderful illustrations by Robert Byrd.  The author teaches in what sounds like a really neat school, where the kids were studying the Middle Ages. She wrote these dramatic monologues (a few are parallel monologues for two actors) featuring the young inhabitants of a medieval village, so that each child could be the star of a playlet.  The book also includes sidenotes and occasional two-page essays on aspects of medieval life. Schlitz doesn't sugarcoat some of the more repellent features of the Middle Ages, but her characters have a universality that would help young readers and actors see what they and the medieval young people have in common. This was a really good choice for the medal, and different when compared to the usual novel or occasional non-fiction title.  I'll be posting my reviews of the other books on Goodreads as I finish them.  I have the same sobriquet there as here so it shouldn't be hard to find them.

I'd like to know your thoughts on favorite children's books and whether as "grown-ups" you still read some.

1 comment:

Singing Owl said...

What a delightful post! Took me down memory lane remembering those Whitman books. I never saw Dr. Goat, but Toby Tyler was one of my favorites. My sister taught me to read when I was four. Soon I was reading anything and everything. In "reading circle" in class I could never understand why it was difficult to read, and the reading books were always too simple. I read Dickens when I was 10 or so--ah, if I could only have been so good at math! Favorites--there are so many. Some that come to mind right away are the Little House books--I love "The Long Winter" too. Anything by Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte's Web, Beverly Cleary's books, Dr. Dolittle (so much better than the dumb movies), Mary Poppins, Bobsey Twins, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew--and a favorite that I still read again and again, "The Wind in the Willows." Oh, George MacDonald's books too. Ah, I could go on and on!