A Love Affair (with Words)

I recently joined Goodreads and have been getting a little nostalgic while building my book list, especially thinking about childhood favorites. It also got me thinking about learning to read and write way back when. My love affair with words, and stories, began with that learning.

I have a very specific memory of taking a spelling test early on with simple rhyming words: cat, sat, mat, and so on. I thought it was so wonderful that I could learn lots of words at once. Just change the first letter and there was a new word. I was so happy. Each one I learned felt like it expanded me. Reading elicited similar feelings.

At the time, my family lived in a magnificent old Victorian-style house that had three floors. I can’t quite remember the layout, but somehow I could climb out a window on the third floor and be on the roof of the covered back porch. It was one of my favorite places to go. The sun would shine, there might be a light breeze, and I was alone with a book. That young, I was reading something like The Little Red Hen, but it felt like I’d been let into some magical world because I could read on my own. I loved the school library with so many exciting opportunities. Later, the Scholastic Books flyer was a much-anticipated treat with more stories I could choose.

I wish I could remember more of those early books. Right now only Mr. Popper’s Penguins comes to mind. Below are some childhood favorites from a bit further along that I still have and still read now and then. No particular order.

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle: I’ve mentioned this one before. It was probably my first sci-fi book. Travel to other planets; amazing, magical, non-human beings; and an ordinary girl who felt so out of place in her life yet ultimately saved the day. Oh, the adventure! And what an introduction to the idea that there is more to the world, to the universe, than we know, including more to ourselves. (I’m cautiously looking forward to the upcoming movie. The casting is great; I’m a little leery about the apparent big-budget action.)

The Black Stallion – Walter Farley: There’s a whole series of Black Stallion books, and I read quite a few of them, but the original was my favorite. I’ve loved horses since always–the best summer of my life was when I was 8 and took my first riding lessons–and so the story about a beautiful black horse caught me, along with the special bond between Alec and The Black. I recently re-read this one, and unfortunately, it didn’t hold up as well for me as an adult. No matter; it gave me lots of joy as a child. (The movie was terrific, focusing more on the visuals than a lot of dialogue. The sight of that horse running free on the beach… sigh.)

Farmer Boy – Laura Ingalls Wilder: This was the only book in the whole series that I read. I tried a couple of the others but didn’t enjoy them as much or even finish. I’ve had a farming fantasy since I was little, so, combine a story about growing things and having lots of animals with a boy who absolutely loved horses, and this book enthralled me. I didn’t like the butchering chapter, but the rest appealed to me so much. Still does. (Who knows; maybe I had a life on a 19th-century farm.)

Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White: What’s not to like? This classic still delights. Talking animals on a farm? A crusade to save a pig’s life? There’s sadness too, of course, but what a beautiful depiction of love and friendship.

All Creatures Great and Small – James Herriot: Includes the whole series, really, but especially this first one. I’ve read this so many times that I pretty much know what happens by the first sentence of each chapter. I know that Chapter 11 will make me cry. Just the mention of Trickie Woo makes me smile. I had my first crush on a literary character (well, real-life but dramatized) in Herriot, the kindly Yorkshire vet who was actually a Scot. Except I never understood how someone who loved and cared so much for animals could eat them. Nevertheless, I spent many hours lost in this book.

The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster: A fun book that follows young Milo on a fantasy adventure through a magical land. He enters Dictionopolis, where people literally eat their words. He meets the Whether Man, jumps to the Island of Conclusions, and watches a conductor create sunrises and sunsets. All this on a journey to restore the twin sisters Rhyme and Reason to a troubled land. It’s very clever and plays a lot with words.

The Black Cauldron – Lloyd Alexander: My first fantasy series with more magical beings, yet somewhat dark, as I recall. I haven’t read this in a long time but I remember loving it.

Anyone else have particular childhood favorites or memories of reading?

 

 

6 thoughts on “A Love Affair (with Words)

  1. I remember reading Spiderwick and Nancy Drew…it’s funny because all of these books are slowly coming back to me, but not so much what they were about or their titles, but where I was reading them. I think that’s something so magical about reading – books can help recall old memories, it’s like a snapshot in time. I remember when I found my copy of Treasure Island, the weather, who I was with – just like your memory of the Victorian house.

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

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    1. I completely agree about the snapshot in time. Those memories are so clear, along with the pure joy that early reading gave me.

      (Adding Nancy Drew and Treasure Island to the list of early books.)

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  2. Jean Thayer

    I remember loving Black Stallion! Also Lorna Doone, which when I read it later as an adult, I didn’t so much care for. Loved the Cherry Ames series when I was in middle school, and thought I wanted to be a nurse like her. Didn’t work out that way…

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    1. It’s such a gift we have, as children, to project ourselves into different realities — books help! All our imaginings seem possible. Wish adults (in general) could / would retain or recapture that level of belief. Can’t help but think the world would be better for it.

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  3. bakermac

    My love of books began with my father reading bedtime stories, in particular, Seasick the Sailor. I don’t remember the story really, but how do you forget that name? Also, his mother was a volunteer at her local library so each time we visited her, we would spend one of her shifts with her there. What a treat!

    I spent many an afternoon with Richard Scarry, the Little Golden Books, and all the Disney Classics. And then there’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Narnia Series.

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    1. I didn’t read Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach as well as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) until later years. I enjoyed the irreverence! I remember the Little Golden Books, too, and just realized I forgot to mention Dr. Seuss! Wore those out.

      My mother volunteered at my grade-school library, which was a perfect excuse for extra time there. I’m with you: such a treat!

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