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My childhood reading list


June 15, 2016

The New Yorker’s summer fiction edition arrived in my mail box last week—it is a publication I look forward to all year. Included in this year’s issue is a series of essays about childhood reading and specific books remembered from childhood. It is the kind of personal history memoir that I love to read.

I learned to read late and with considerable difficulty. I hated Nancy Drew, and “The Bobbsey Twins” were duds, too. I despised Sally, Dick and Jane, and can still remember the gathering lump in my throat as I struggled to read my sentence out loud when it was my turn in school. But I came from a family who loved books. We went to the library every week and even had a room designated as a library at home known as “The Book Room” where shelves were double stacked. And eventually, I did learn to read.

People love to read lists—so here is a list of my childhood favorites. Starting with the garage-sale copy of “Baby Island,” a kid’s novel about two girls shipwrecked with four babies, which I read to tatters. These titles represent books I read over and over again as a child and teenager.

1. “The Field Book of Ponds and Streams,” by Ann Haven Morgan, PhD

2. The Peterson Field Guide series (wildflowers, insects and butterflies, particularly)

3. “Alice in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll

4. The Blue, Red and Green Fairy Books (classic fairy tale collections that had a design of bumblebees held by leashes embossed on the book covers)

5. “Ballet Shoes,” by Noel Streatfeild.

6. “An American Tragedy,” by Theodore Dreiser. (I named my kittens after the main characters: Clyde, Roberta and Sondra.)

7. “The Ballad of the Sad Café,” by Carson McCullers.

8. “Kristin Lavransdatter,” by Sigrid Undset. (I am named for the novel’s heroine.)

9. “Rabbit Run” and the other Rabbit books in John Updike’s series. (It was a teenage introduction to sex in writing.)

10. The Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books. Followed by the more adult novels about pioneer life: “My Antonia” and “O Pioneers” by Willa Cather.

Like many little girls in the 1970s, I had a long “prairie dress” and a sunbonnet made popular by the television series “Little House on the Prairie,” which was modeled after the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The nine books comprise a semi-biographical children’s series depicting pioneer life in America during the 1860s to 1880s.