Returning to Childhood With Favorite Books

I’ve written before about the importance of reading in my family when I was growing up (see here and here), and about how my husband and I read out loud to our kids when they were small (here). I recently had occasion to revisit some of my favorite children’s books.

My husband boxed up a bunch of our daughter’s old belongings, intending to ship them to her now that she has her own home. When she found out about his plan, she told him she didn’t want any of that stuff, and he should just give it away. We’ve adopted an interim solution—the boxes will await her visits during the holiday season, so she can review and confirm that we can give away her childhood possessions.

Some of the books I rescued from the "give-away" pile

Some of the books I rescued from the “give-away” pile

But I have already rescued a few of her books. Some were my childhood books that I gave her when she was small. Others were books I bought for her that I loved as a girl, but didn’t own. A couple were even my mother’s childhood books, which my mother gave to me. No way will I let those go at this point; someday, maybe, but not now.

Some of the books from my daughter’s shelves I decided I could part with, even though I loved them. They were paperback copies of books now in the public domain. Most notably was What Katy Did. This was the first in a series of three books about a tomboy named Katy, written by Susan Coolidge. Katy ended up with an injury that cut her tomboy days short. I won’t tell you any more, but even though I was never a tomboy, the story struck my fancy.

I have my mother’s copies of Little Women and Little Men, and my sister has our mother’s copy of An Old Fashioned Girl. An Old Fashioned Girl was my mother’s favorite of Louisa May Alcott’s books. My favorites were Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, about a girl named Rose and her seven boy cousins. The idea of being an orphaned girl pampered and bossed and teased by aunts and an uncle and all those (mostly older) boy cousins seemed such an unusual life to me—I had only younger siblings and no cousins in the vicinity.

My mother's Ex Libris sticker from her copy of A Wonderful Year

My mother’s Ex Libris sticker from her copy of A Wonderful Year

But the two books I loved most that were in the give-away pile—the ones I most had to rescue—were A Wonderful Year, by Nancy Barnes, and Up a Road Slowly, by Irene Hunt. Both are girls’ coming-of-age stories.

A Wonderful Year, published in 1946, was my mother’s book. It is about Ellen, a young girl whose family moves from a town in Kansas to a ranch in Mesa Valley, Colorado, sometime early in the twentieth century (well before 1946, given the illustrations in the book). Ellen feels terribly out of place on the ranch, until she becomes friends with a teenage English boy on a neighboring ranch named Ronnie. As a young girl, I often felt terribly out of place, and I empathized with Ellen, though she seemed to have many more interesting adventures than I ever had. But I could relate to her descriptions of tumbleweeds and sage.

I received Up a Road Slowly for Christmas when I was twelve or thirteen. This coming-of-age novel was the 1967 Newbery Medal winner. It’s set in some period earlier than 1967, though the year is never specified. The story is about Julie, whose mother dies when she is about seven, and she is sent to live with her strict aunt. As a result, she believes her family doesn’t love her. She lives with the aunt for many years, and the readers see Julie mature through her high school years. I read it when I was older than Julie when the book begins, but she was older than I when the book’s timeline ended. This novel formed many of my visions about what high-school life should be—visions that did not come true. But I still loved the story.

What these two books have in common is a girl protagonist who feels alone and friendless, much as I felt as a child. I could escape into their stories and see that they came out of lonely childhoods into a brighter maturity—a message I very much needed in those years.

Since my daughter has no interest in keeping these books, I guess her tastes in books are different than mine. Maybe the passage of the generations has made the books I loved less relevant. Maybe my daughter had more friends as a child than I did (I think so). Maybe she just doesn’t want to be encumbered by “stuff” in her new home.

Whatever the explanation for why she doesn’t want them, I welcome the opportunity to treasure them again. I want to dive back into another time when life was simpler, if not always happier.

What things from your childhood do you treasure that your children don’t care about?

Posted in Family, Philosophy, Reading and tagged , , , , , , , , , .


  1. I don’t have any books from when I was a kid. My mom is like your daughter and husband and easily got rid of stuff when we all moved out. My boyfriend and I like to read out loud to each other, it’s something I’ve always enjoyed.

    • Reading out loud to each other as adults — that sounds nice. Back in the 19th century families used to read out loud to each other a lot, but we rarely do it now. What a delightful habit you and your boyfriend are forming!

  2. I just wrote about the Alcott books today on Goodreads! Jo’s Boys and An Old-Fashioned Girl were my absolute favorites!!! Such good books. I don’t even need to read them again–they are still here (points to head and heart).

    • Of the Jo March books, I liked Jo’s Boys best. And while I didn’t like An Old-Fashioned Girl as well on my first reading, I’ve liked it much better as I got older. Both Jo’s Boys and An Old-Fashioned Girl deal with some grown-up themes. So does Rose in Bloom. Not all the characters make good choices, and it takes some of them a while to grow up.

      • I will never forget the gloves in An Old-Fashioned Girl and a woman becoming an ARTIST and independent. So amazing! And Jo’s Boys appealed to me in every way.

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