Growing up it was easy to take books for granted. Books were always a part of my life as a child and nothing seemed unusual about having them readily available. But, as an adult looking back, it seems that those books played a significant role in my development and were a privilege of a good home.
My favorite books from childhood also reveal much about my personality and interests later in life. It is hard to know exactly how much difference books made in creating what I’ve become. However, it isn’t difficult for me to know which books have sentimental value and contained lessons that I still remember today.
So, without further ado, here’s my list…
1) The Poky Little Puppy
When my mom used to sing “where in the world is my poky little puppy” I knew who that was. Of my siblings, I am probably the most likely to get lost chasing after butterflies of thought and fall behind the crowd. I was curious, a late bloomer, the family slowpoke, head in the clouds, and could truly identify with a little puppy in a Golden Book. I’ve plotted my own course in life, both for better and for worse, and that book about being last was the first that came to mind.
2) The Story About Ping
This, another book about being last, is also a favorite. It was a book at my grandma’s house about a duck that hides to avoid punishment, nearly is made dinner while out wandering alone, and returns to face punishment. (Reminds me of a time as a child when I ran and hid to avoid the consequences for throwing something at my sister Olivia and sending her off in tears. I came out of hiding to face the music only after my parents threatened to leave without me. I was so gullible.) This book had a good lesson about punctuality and also piqued my interest in a culture different from mine.
3) Make Way For Ducklings
Okay, what’s not to like about a family of ducks? I think as a child it was good for illustrating the dangers in the world beyond and also that there are people, like the policemen who stopped traffic, who are willing to help. (Wait, now why do I suddenly feel manipulated by this story?) I believe one of my gifts is situational awareness. It is important to find those ducks out of water around us and return them to safety again.
4) Blueberries for Sal
This book, as well as Make Way For Ducklings, is the creation of Robert McCloskey and noteworthy to me for the artwork. Sure, the story about a day picking blueberries and a mother mixup involving a bear cub and human child is entertaining enough. However, I remember my appreciation for the drawing style even at a very young age. I also like blueberries.
5) Choo Choo The Runaway Engine
Before there was Thomas the Tank Engine, there was another little engine that ran away named Choo Choo. I’m not sure why steam engines are so fascinating to children, but I know that I loved all manner of machine and the railroad age still captures my imagination today. This book by Virginia Lee Burton is the first of three of her books that made the cut for my list.
6) Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
This book about man, machine, and loyalty to the end. I remember my empathy for Mike and his steam shovel, Mary Ann, as they face off with the big modern (and soulless) competition. It is a book that captures many of my lifelong values. I love underdogs and determination against the odds. It seems also that loyalty is more and more uncommon in this age when bigger and newer is often considered better. I love the creative and unexpected solution at the end of this book about change.
7) The Little House
Of the three books by Burton, this one probably hits me closer to the heart. Change and the passage of time take their toll on this little house. My feeling like an old soul probably started with the nostalgia this book inspired. I pitied that little house, once so happy, later run down and forgotten. I guess someone like me, who always had to struggle keeping up and understanding the longing to be loved, wanted that lonely old house in a crowded city to be happy again.
Some runners up…
Are You My Mother?
Horton Hears a Who
The Wump World
The Giving Tree
And, last to make my list…
8) The Way Things Work
This comical book from later in my childhood explained everything from faucets to fission reactors. What better for a child who asked why constantly than a book answering how? I believe it was a gift to my brother Kyle one Christmas, but it was shared between us boys and definitely one of my favorite books. It was a silly book of mammoth proportions. Wooly mammoths, to be precise, and one of several by David Macaulay (check out Cathedral, Castle, and Colosseum) that contained beautiful drawings, great explanations and wonderful detail.
There’s one other book that I can’t recall a title for nor can I remember the exact story. It was a book with an elevated rail line and corner stores reminiscent of Brooklyn or Queens near the turn of the century. It would come back to me later in life while making one of my frequent trips to New York City. What amazed me is how the Big Apple has retained some of that same character. Apparently the city that never stops has time for a little nostalgia lane too.
What are your favorite children’s books?