Audience, I was writing, is made up of the readers on your radar. It is the middle word in “PAT,” an acronym designed to help young writers focus. Purpose, Audience, Topic: I preached it many times in front of and weaving among the desks of older elementary students. But this will wait for another time, and I’m sure I will find enough to say about it, because an author’s audience is also his or her market. The commercial aspect of books can’t be ignored if they are to be read by more than a few.
Instead this week I’ll ask you a question. What books do you remember from childhood? What pieces of classic or not-so-classic literature amazed you, got you interested in storytelling, history loving, sci fi imagining, or subject investigating? What are the books you loved to read?
Sometimes I visit the bookshelf in our spare bedroom. A few of the volumes there are ragged-looking ones I kept from elementary school or jr. high (not called middle school then) but many I read were reluctantly returned to the library or went the way of my mother’s garage sales. I have made a point to get copies of my favorites from used bookstores or online, with more always on the list. I read all or parts of them to my fifth graders during my teaching days. They weren’t going to miss them if I could help it.
TR said once that books are as individual as friends – and most of his cherished library can still be seen on shelves at the family home, Sagamore Hill, on Long Island. There are more than a few children’s books among them. He thought every good children’s book had something for adults, too, and I agree. A friend who has a blog recently suggested reading a children’s book as a practical way to cope with grief. Books make us happy! Books quench a thirst. Here are a few from my early canteen.
The Bobbsey Twins series was what I really wanted to read before I knew how, because I saw my sister go through one book after another. Finally I read them, slowly at first and picking up speed as I got older. I loved the idea of two sets of twins in a family, and their simple adventures, even though they were written many years before I was born. This was probably the first time I thought about characterization, because of the difference of the twins’ ages and appearances. I remember wondering about strange things like magic lantern shows and wind-up toys they had.
About the time my fluency took off, I read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, noticing distinct differences between the book and the movie, which I loved. I did like the book better, and thought MGM should have at least included the little green fountains that sprayed perfume into the air during Dorothy’s stay at the wizard’s castle. I eagerly read the sequels, some by L. Frank Baum, and some by others. Ozma of Oz is my favorite of the rest, with new characters of Tik Tok, the Nome King, and the Royal Family of Ev. The plot takes a twisting route of turns, and I think it must have encouraged my imagination quite a bit. (Subsequent attempts at movies, such as Return to Oz were fanciful but do not compare to the original tales).
My parents sent for the first Readers Digest Treasury for Young Readers for us. I read it from cover to cover many times. This brought me to realize that true stories can be just as interesting as made up ones. Two boys found a real pirate’s treasure, a pint-sized baseball team won the Little League World series, and a family survived by eating glue and crayons while stranded in the desert! Wow! And there were many more, including a ghost tale that I always read to my class on Halloween, A Girl Called Lavender.
Pioneer stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder pulled me in; we’d been introduced to them by my mother reading aloud an excerpt from Little House in the Big Woods when we were very small. I believe it was from her own third grade reader which was printed soon after the first book came out (“To think – I’ve slapped a bear!”) But to my class I always read Farmer Boy, in which Almanzo was the main character, because I think it was more of an accomplishment for Laura to write about her husband in his voice. Her descriptions, especially of food and home, are unmatched in children’s litereature. I read another Wisconsin pioneer story, Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink, many times over, as I did one later called A Lantern in Her Hand, by Bess Streeter Aldrich.
The simplicity of Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, and A Rose in Bloom stays with a reader forever, as does the relatively short tale of The Birds’ Christmas Carol, written at the turn of the century by Kate Douglas Wiggin. That was always the last read-aloud I did before Christmas vacation. My eyes weren’t the only ones that were misty by the time I was finished.
So – do you have a favorite book from childhood? Share it in a comment! Add to the list of books we love.