What was my favorite book as a child? I was such a bookworm that I couldn’t possibly pick just one. And I still own so many of the books that I loved as a child and teenager that now I qualify as a book hoarder. One of the greatest joys of parenting my own children was that I got to share my love of books — and my actual books — with them from the time they were infants. Sitting in a rocking chair with a baby or toddler in my arms, reading picture books to them, is a memory I deeply cherish. It only got better as they got older, when we took turns reading to them, and then they took turns reading to us. Oh, how we loved The Cat in the Hat, fairy tales, anything by Eric Carle! Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, Little Golden Books, we sailed through them all.
Reading alternate pages of “Peter Rabbit” was one of our methods to encourage our early readers. As a child, I loved Beatrix Potter’s little books, which were generously given to me and my sisters one at a time by many relatives, especially the English ones. I pored over the illustrations, discovering new details every time. I was intrigued by the words she chose, much as the character of Vivian Bearing in Margaret Edson’s play “Wit” is intrigued by the word “soporific”, which she first read at the age of five in The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies. I also loved the magic and humor of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, J.M. Barrie, and envied the adventures of the children in those stories.
As I grew, I fell in love with the Chronicles of Narnia, which in hindsight had the effect on me that C.S. Lewis seems to have intended: to open my mind to Christian ideals in the general sense, while enjoying wonderful stories and characters. I never felt preached to when I read the Narnia books but I understood the messages about good and bad moral choices, and recognized the Christian themes as I grew older and learned more about the church in which I was raised. Madeleine L’Engle and Ursula Le Guin entered my growing library, as did science fiction authors like Zenna Henderson.
Other favorites? In hindsight, many were by authors seeking to convey their ideas about good and evil, sometimes overtly Christian and sometimes not. I still cherish Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and its sequels, which are full of exchanges among characters about ethical choices and beliefs. I discovered the authors Elizabeth Goudge and Rumer Godden as a child, through their children’s books, and read virtually all of their books for older readers when I was a teenager. I especially loved Elizabeth Goudge’s books The Little White Horse and The Child From the Sea, The Scent of Water and the Eliot Trilogy. Another common thread among these, however, was the excellence of the descriptive writing, both of settings and of characters. And oh, those characters! Complex, nuanced, intelligent, sensitive — men and women alike, with rich internal lives.
I was introduced to Tolkien at the age of eleven, by a beloved teacher who read aloud to us every day from The Hobbit. I followed the tales of Middle-earth into The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which shaped my interest in languages and linguistics. I puzzled over the appendices for hours, reveling in the alphabets, the genealogies, the history, the maps. Here too were marvelous descriptions of mysterious landscapes, nuanced though mythical characters, heroic adventures. I taught myself ancient Greek in high school as the closest thing I could find to Elvish, majored in Latin and Greek languages and literature at university and later tried to learn Anglo-Saxon too.
Favorite childhood books? I haven’t even scratched the surface here, but what fun to reminisce about them.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Bedtime Stories.”