Thursday, May 5, 2011

Childhood Favorites

In honor of Children's Book Week, I thought I'd take a little trip down memory lane and talk about the books I loved as a kid and teen. I started learning to read when I was around 2 1/2 years old. Thanks to my mom, I had a life long love of books.

Books I loved in preschool/kindergarten:

Little Golden Books

I was a fan of the Little Golden Books. I read these over and over. My mom used to tell me the story of The Little Red Hen which is probably why it was one of my favorite books. I loved Donald Duck and the One Bear and I even remember rereading it in elementary school. There are some Little Golden Books I loved that I can't remember the titles of like the one with the little girl who goes along with her mom on daily errands. Little Golden Books made such an impact on my life and that of my little sister. We used to fight over our books (just like everything else back then!). Looking over this list certainly brings back some fond memories. I am glad that Little Golden Books are still around for today's generation of young readers.

Books I loved in elementary school:

Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff

My parents signed me up for the Weekly Reader program when I was in first grade and this is the first book I received (it came with a little plastic frisbee that got good use as a dog toy later on too). I loved dinosaurs when I wasn't afraid that they would come and attack me in my sleep. I liked the idea of a pet Brontosaurus and imagined that I could keep it in our yard.

Little Bear's Visit by Else Holmelund Minarik

I adored this book and my favorite story in it was the one where Little Bear's grandmother tells him about her own childhood and how she took care of an injured bird. Such a sweet book!

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary

This book has special memories for me. I thought it was really funny and enjoyed Ramona's adventures. I also liked the title because it led me to a great nickname for my own five year old sister: Reneta the Pest. See how well it worked? My sister would disagree. (She did get me back later on by pulling on my curly hair the way Ramona does to her classmate Susan.) Ramona quickly became one of my favorite characters and I learned quite a few vocabulary words too, like zwieback. When I got shiny pink rain boots, I couldn't help but remember Ramona's pair of red ones. Ramona the Pest is a magical book about a time in life when everything is new and full of adventure, wonder, and excitement.

The Little Gymnast by Sheila Haigh

I wanted to be a gymnast so badly when I was a little girl. I idolized Nadia Comaneci after seeing a TV movie about her life. It was a thrill for me to live vicariously through the character of Anda Barnes as she became a gymnast. I can still remember the descriptions from this book like I read it yesterday. Considering how many times I read it, I probably had The Little Gymnast memorized by the time I started fourth grade! Even though I never fulfilled my gymnastic aspirations, this book brings back fond memories. Sadly it is now out of print.

Mandie and the Ghost Bandits by Lois Gladys Leppard

This is the first Mandie mystery that I read and it became a favorite. I even wrote a book report on it for my third grade reading class. I went on to read several of the other books through middle school and up to Jr. High when I finally decided I had outgrown them. This was always my favorite book in the series though. I liked reading about Mandie, her best friend Joe, Uncle Ned, and their adventures. Mystery quickly became my favorite reading genre next to historical fiction and this series offered both. I remember how I used to beg my parents for Mandie books for birthdays and Christmas gifts. My sister also collected the books and she was later able to pass them on to her stepdaughter. Mandie books are still being written today and enchanting a new generation of young girls.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I grew up watching the T.V. show. It was one of the few television programs that my conservative parents allowed my sister and I to watch without reservation and I really enjoyed the show, especially the episodes where Laura played tricks on mean Nellie Olsen. I also enjoyed reading the books, especially Little House on the Prairie. It was my favorite of the series. I liked the descriptions of the girls' lives and was even more excited when I found out that Laura and Mary were real people. The Little House books (and the show) were such an important part of my childhood and bring back many cherished memories.

Books I loved in middle school:

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

This was one of my mother's favorite childhood books so when she told me about it, I knew I had to read it. I also loved the movie and I'm glad it is one of those children's classics that will be around for future generations to appreciate. I became a horse fanatic around this age and used to trace pictures of horses from our encyclopedia and read every horse book I could get my hands on like Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy: Misty's Foal.  I also loved reading books about other animals like Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and A Home For Jessie.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

My fourth grade teacher Mrs. Pratt used to read to our class from Judy Blume's Fudge books and she started with this one. I credit her for introducing me to one of my favorite childhood authors after Beverly Cleary. I later went on to read Judy Blume's other children's books like Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, and Are You There God, It's Me Margaret. Even though it's been years since I last read it, I will always hold a special place in my heart for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, the book that started it all.

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol

The love for mystery books that started in the third grade only continued to grow in my middle school years. I thought Encyclopedia Brown was so smart and I enjoyed learning from him. He served as a gateway to Nancy Drew and later Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

The House on Hackman's Hill by Joan Lowery Nixon

This book kind of scared me when I read it, especially the parts about Anubis, the Egyptian god of the Underworld. It even gave me nightmares. That didn't stop me from rereading it many times though! I also became a fan of Joan Lowery Nixon and the book fueled my interest in Egyptology. I later read The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder for school and it also became a favorite. Too bad Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid wasn't around back then. I would have devoured it too.

The Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene

The first Nancy Drew books I read were the old classics like The Secret of the Old Clock and The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes. My favorite Nancy Drew books however were from The Nancy Drew Files series: Most Likely to Die and Sisters in Crime. Like the Sweet Valley books, I read Nancy Drew for years. I even continued to buy and read the books into my early teens. My parents refused to buy them for me so I'd find ways to save my lunch money (I'd buy snacks instead and put aside the remaining quarters) so I could buy them. My teacher would order them for me through Scholastic and I would pay her back. (Mrs. Bailey was happy to encourage my reading and I am grateful to her.) My love of Nancy Drew mysteries only ended when I realized that they were too formulaic. I actually started wishing for Nancy's death! Once I picked up my first Agatha Christie there was no turning back and my Nancy Drew days were over for good.

Books I loved in jr. high/high school:

The Cedar River Daydreams series by Judy Baer

This is one of the earliest Christian fiction series I read (after the Mandie books I read in elementary/middle school). A cousin gave me the first book for my birthday and I became hooked. The series was meant to be a Christian version of Sweet Valley High and the plots were quite similar but with some heavy Christian after school special messages at times. Still, I liked reading about Lexi and her struggles within herself as she tried to be true to her faith even when it went against the popular crowd. After awhile I finally got tired of the endless preaching in this series and moved on to Christian fiction for adults. To be honest, I was more interested in reading about romance!

The Other Side of Dark by Joan Lowery Nixon

This book about a young woman who wakes up from a coma after four years and is the only witness to her mother's murder captivated my attention so much that I read it multiple times. It had romance as well as suspense and I liked how the protagonist learned to cope with all the changes in her life while realizing that someone around her could be the killer, just waiting for her to remember. This book began my fascination with suspense fiction.

Don't Look Behind You by Lois Duncan

I read a lot of Lois Duncan's suspense novels and liked most of them but Don't Look Behind You was my favorite. I liked the witness protection angle a lot. I also really liked I Know What You Did Last Summer, Stranger With My Face, and The Third Eye.

Last Act by Christopher Pike

In my early teen years, I was a major fan of Christopher Pike. I really liked Witch and loved his suspense/horror books but this is the book that stood out the most to me. I couldn't figure out who the real killer was and it was more of a mystery rather than horror. This one is now out of print.

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith

I read this book in the early 90s during the summer before my freshman year of high school. I remember being enthralled with the romance and the idea of vampires. Of course now, everywhere you look there is a YA vampire romance but that wasn't the case when I was a teen! I only read the first book in the series and when the T.V. show started last year, I reread the book and did not feel the same way about it (though I did enjoy the show).

My favorite books as a teen (surprisingly only one is actually YA):

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

In high school, I made the jump from YA books to reading mostly books for adults by authors such as Agatha Christie, Catherine Marshall, Bodie Thoene, Timothy Zahn, and John Grisham. One of the few YA books I read and enjoyed during that time is The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. I remember being inspired by Aerin's bravery and courage. At the time I didn't really read much fantasy though I was a huge fan of the Star Wars saga and related fiction (Timothy Zahn). I wonder how I'd feel about The Hero and the Crown if I read it now.

Christy by Catherine Marshall

I decided to read this after I started watching the T.V. show starring Kelly Martin. I was enchanted by the story of Christy Huddleston as she started over as a teacher in a rough Appalachian community. She faced many challenges and made many mistakes along the way but she learned and loved her students. I wanted to be a teacher at the time so I was especially inspired by this book. It also has a really nice romance though I remember wishing that Christy had ended up with someone else (based on the fact that I thought her other suitor on the show was better looking than the man she chose!). I became a huge fan of Catherine Marshall and I later read Julie as well as her biography and I did a report on her for my high school English class.

The Heart of India series by Linda Chaikin

These were the first Christian fiction books for adults that I remember picking up at my local library. I was excited because the books were set in India, though the protagonist was not Indian. Coral is sixteen when the series starts out and by the end she is only in her early twenties.  Her love interest is a rakish sea captain named Jace (like a certain YA character I am fond of!). While I was initially drawn in by the setting, I loved the romance of the books the most and was disappointed that I had to wait till book two for the kiss between the main characters. I remember getting busted by my parents for staying up past one in the morning to read the final book (on a school night no less!). I still own these books but don't read them anymore. They are kind of imperialistic in their attitude toward Indians though the characters do condemn horrid practices like bride burning and Jace is more liberal minded than Coral.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

I became an Agatha Christie fan in high school, particularly her Hercule Poirot books like Murder on the Orient Express and Murder in Mesopotamia but my absolute favorite is not one of her detective mysteries.  And Then There Were None is one of the few mystery books I've read where I couldn't figure out who the killer was. It was brilliant and is still my favorite Agatha Christie work (though I despise the racist original title and rhyme used and am glad it was changed).

The Zion Covenant series by Bodie Thoene

These books were my absolute favorite books of my high school years. The story of Elisa Lindheim, a Jewish violinist in Nazi occupied Europe who helped smuggle children to safety is still a favorite of mine. The first few books in the series were better than the later books that focused on other characters besides Elisa. Bodie Thoene and her husband Brock are still writing books about these characters for new series but they are not quite as good as the originals. The Zion Chronicles, set in the mid to late 1940s in Jerusalem were also really good. Because of these books, I was able to do really well in my high school history class too when we studied World War II. My history teacher was impressed by how much I seemed to know. I didn't tell him that I got the information from reading fiction books rather than the dry textbook!

Looking back over my list it looks like I mostly read suspense. I did enjoy reading historical fiction quite a bit back then and I also loved romance and I still do. Mostly, I just loved to read as a kid and teen and I'm glad that there is a week devoted to celebrating children's literature in all its forms.

Have you read any of the books on my list?

What were your childhood favorites?


  1. Oh my gosh! These books bring back such fun memories. I loved the Ramona books, Judy Blume's books and of course, Christopher Pike! I was also a big fan of the Sweet Valley High series and Babysitters Club. Great post, Christina!

  2. I read many of these books to my daughter when she was young. I've been an Agatha Christie fan for practically forever and I do love AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Such a wonderful mystery. CHRISTY is a book that was very special to me as a teen. I wrote a special blog post about it a year or so ago.

  3. Your children's list makes me smile and quite reminiscent. I should write a similar post. Thanks!!

  4. oooh nancy drew!! love that cover you chose!

  5. I am in love with this post, Christina!
    I am so gonna do one of these posts tomorrow! Thank you for sharing your favorites with us :)

  6. Anytime I see super curly hair all I can think is "boooooiiiiing!" ;)

  7. I thought I was the only person who read The Littlest Gymnast! I loved it too!


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