Childhood Literary Loves

Sarah (a blogger, and soon to be “official” YA real-life-book-author) recently wrote a post about her favorite literary series when she was a kid, which prompted a ridiculous spate of reminiscing on my part. 

Without further ado, here are some of my all-time favorite childhood series.

The Chronicles of Narnia

Author: C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes

I have no idea if this was my first real “series” (I suspect not) but it is most definitely the one I’ve read the most (I have large portions of it memorized).

C.S. Lewis wrote this series, which has since been touted as an allegory for Christianity. Lewis never officially supported that notion, however, referring to the series as more of a religious-scifi collection, answering the “what if?” of the following question:

“What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first book written, but is not chronologically first. Apparently there’s some serious debate in the publishing world about the order in which the seven books should be presented and read. Most scholars believe that Lewis meant for his writing chronology to trump the internal plot chronology. For me, a young, fairly inexperienced reader, the process of working my way through a series via author’s chronology (vs. internal chronology) was amazing. I’m not exaggerating. It was amazing. It made the story about 50 million times more interesting because I kept going, “OH! I know that guy, he was the one who was a historical LEGEND in the last book!!!!!”

When you are young, these are some of the most exciting discoveries of your entire life.

As a side note, my favorite book in the Narnia series is A Horse and His Boy, which I always thought was kind of weird. It’s basically a side story (about a talking Horse and a little boy who escape together to Narnia), not really connected with the central plotline of the series. But it is, without a doubt, my favorite.

Trixie Belden

Author: Julie Campbell Tatham (and pseudonym Katheryn Kenny)

I latched onto Trixie and held on for dear life for YEARS. My mom could probably offer some insight into when and why I picked this series up and left it off later; I have no memory of either. All I know is Trixie was the bomb, AND she was younger and less boyfriend-obsessed than that scamp Nancy Drew (whom I also loved, but whose constant involvement with boyfriends was like literary white noise to me; I had no frame of reference for Ned Nickerson). Also, she was terrible at math.

(As a side note for this one, my sister Zee consistently referred to these books as the “Trixie Bedouin books,” which annoyed the crap out of me at the time but has since become highly amusing.) 

Anne of Green Gables

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

This series was a gift set, given probably three to five years before I actually read it. I distinctly recall a conversation I had with my mom where I told her how DUMB those books were and how whoever got them for me OBVIOUSLY didn’t know my reading tastes AT ALL (I was all jacked up on Nancy Drew at the time).

My mother informed me that SHE had purchased the set for me, didn’t I remember?

I didn’t remember, but it was more than likely she was right (I’ve mentioned before that I am memorilogically challenged) and I was instantly stricken with guilt and shame for being so ungrateful about a present to the giver’s face.

I resolved to read or die, as penance, and let my mom know how much I LOVED the series (even if I hated it).

Turns out I was OBSESSED WITH IT. Anne Shirley was my LIFE for over a decade. I memorized “The Lady of Shalott” because of this series. I searched high and low for a man called Gilbert so I could shun and later marry him after he caught and then recovered from scarlet fever. I started actually writing because of this series (WOAH epiphany. I never made that connection before…)

I still cry EVERY TIME Matthew dies. Which happens approximately every time I re-read the first book in the series. Then I cry again when Gilbert recovers in the third book, Anne of the Island. Then I cry again when her kid dies in the fifth book, Anne of Windy Poplars. And again, in the final book (number eight), when all the kids are getting married slash there is a ridiculous war going on (aka: WWI).

They are all good cries, however. And that is what counts.

A Little Princess and The Secret Garden

Author: Francis Hodgson Burnett
Illustrator: Graham Rust

I just read that Francis Hodgson Burnett also wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy (one of my favorite childhood movies) as well. Wikipedia rocks.

Anyways, I’m pretty sure my mother was also directly responsible for these books. I got a set of two, both illustrated by Graham Rust (who also did a version of Little Lord Fauntleroy: I MUST HAVE IT). Can I just say? Regarding favorite illustrations in a series, Graham Rust is number one by an incredibly wide margin.

Let me explain that it’s not just the illustrations (which are detailed, bright, and luscious), it’s the whole book. These two books are hardback, with glossy dust jackets, and wide satin pages that whisper over one another when I turn them. The full-color plates fall exactly at the right spots in the story, never jumping the gun and ruining the plot. All the best parts of the book are highlighted by amazing, glowing pictures of Sara or Mary just about to discover some new world or finally realize some long-kept secret.

I still have these books, though they are worse for the wear at this point. I love them.

Little Women
(and Good Wives, and Little Men, and Jo’s Boys)

Author: Louisa May Alcott

My mother’s mother (that would be my Grandma) purchased the Little Women anthology for me as a gift one year. Here’s another case of a book that just felt good to read. Not only is it hardbound (I speak in the present tense because I still own/read this one regularly), but it’s a red cushiony-leather hardbound, with gold-embossed letters and designs on the cover. A ribbon book-mark is sewn into the binding, and the super-thin pages are gold-edged. It’s (dare I say it?) like reading an old Bible. Just the weight and texture and feel of it alone make it treat to read.

Nevermind that the stories are AMAZING. I especially like that not everything turns out perfectly for these characters. And they never seem to forget the really difficult things they’ve been through, unlike that ingrate, Anne Shirley… Despite the hard times, they always manage to have fun and foster incredible relationships with sisters, parents, spouses, etc… Which is how I’ve been molding my own family (oldest child, many sisters, I am allowed).

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I could go on. I may, in fact, go on, but if I do it will be in another post. We didn’t watch much TV when I was little, so I have a lot of book-memories.

I know I’ve missed some. And that some which deserve a mention didn’t come until later. Most of the non-mentioned I would not classify as “childhood” favorites. More like “teen” favorites.

What about you guys? Which books or series really stuck with you? Any that you still read as adults?

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And as a side note to this entire post: Thank you, Mom, for all the great books. I’m reading back through this and realizing that you were involved in every single one of these favorites. Well-played.

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9 thoughts on “Childhood Literary Loves”

  1. Trixie Belden!!! My mom had them in hardback from when she was a kid. Loved them.

    Also loved the Boxcar Children.

    I still read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys about once a year (give or take). I've always found that I can go back and connect with something new, whether it's a character or set of circumstances. I think that's why it's stood the test of time so well.

    Also read R.L. Stein, Christopher Pike, and L.J. Smith books (love fantasy). I still have most of those books for when Liz is old enough.

    Oh, and from when I was really little it was the Berenstain Bears. (Also still have these.)

  2. I remember loving almost all of those as a kid. I even became an L.M. Montgomery stalker and bought every book she ever wrote. I still have a whole shelf in my library dedicated to her.

    I also loved Gone with the Wind as a teenager and Daddy Long Legs.

    Great choices.

  3. All of those are favorites. Little Women was probably the most beloved. I still want to grow up to be Jo March. And Amy's comment when Jo sells her hair (“Oh Jo! Your one beauty”) makes me laugh every time I think of it.

    I often tell people that the key to understanding my twisted psyche is to know that I read the entire Alcott series AND all of the Conan the Barbarian books in the same summer.

    But highest on my list is The Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin (forget the 2 later books). Dark and poetic. It still bugs me that J.K. Rowling stole the school for wizards thing, didn't credit the idea to LeGuin, and worst of all didn't do the idea justice.

  4. I first encountered Nancy Drew at my grandparents' house, in editions from way back — the thirties, I think. There were a fair racial and otherwise non-PC things in them that were of course omitted from later editions. At that time Nancy drove a roadster, by the way. I consumed them (and of course the Hardy Boys) like popcorn.

    I had the sublime experience of encountering the Narnia books for the first time recently (within the past couple of years) by hearing them read aloud by a very skilled reader. I listened right along with my daughter as my wife conjured worlds for us. Hard to pick a favorite.

  5. The only one of these I never read (never even heard of in fact) is Trixie Belden. I did read Nancy Drew, though – but for some odd reason her name in Swedish is “Kitty” Drew. I suppose the name Nancy just didn't sound cool enough in the first Swedish editor's ears!

    I never read the Narnia books in my childhood but I have made up for that many times over as a grown-up!!! And I agree about the chronology 😉 I'm not sure which one I'd pick as favourite over all the others (I think I might go with The Last Battle) – but I do like The Horse and his Boy.

    I love Anne of Green Gables. I only own the first book (in Swedish) but I've read that any number of times. In my youth as well as later.

    Little Women + Good Wives are also long-time favourites which I still have in my bookcase.

    The Secret Garden I did not own as a child – think I read it though, and I bought it later!

    One series I loved as a child and a few months ago reread in English is The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I have intended to blog about that but have forgotten. Will try to remember…!

  6. I love Anne (with an E)! You brought back many memories of hours of childhood escape into a book. It was Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. And later the Black Stallion series.

  7. Endlessly interesting recalling those wonderful book encounters. I didn't come across “Narnia” until I had children of my own but loved the mixed chronology also. It was exciting coming across a familiar character in his early form!

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