Monday, November 13, 2006

Happy Children's Book Week

Today, a lot of us are blogging about the books that influenced us as children, in honor of Children's Book Week. Frankly, I've had a heck of a time coming up with an entry. My fellow "IAG" blogger Eric suggested that my favorite had to be "Curious George." Given that this was one of two hated nicknames my so-called friends tagged on me when I was a kid (the other being Georgie Porgie), you can understand why I declined.

The fact is, I don't remember a lot of children's books. Part of this is due to my advancing age, but part of it is due to the fact that I skipped directly to adult books. I read 1984 for the first time when I was in eighth grade, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a freshman in high school, Slaughterhouse Five when I was about 14. I got thrown out of Boy Scouts for reading a Perry Mason novel with a racy title (The Case of the Vagabond Virgin) on a camping trip.

There are two books I do remember from childhood that had an impact. When I was 8, I became an altar boy. During one of the holy seasons, we had long stretches where we altar boys had to be in observance at the altar. There were no services at the time, just me, the Eucharist, the smell of incense, and a huge, empty Gothic church. We weren't allowed to bring our secular reading material to church (Spiderman not being a favorite of Father Beachler), so we had to read the religious books. One of them was Lives of the Saints by Alban Butler and others. This book convinced me that I was never going to lead a saintly enough life to get into heaven, making my decision to leave the church several years later much easier. On the upside, the lovingly illustrated martyrdom stories were harrowing enough to pave the way for my future love of Ambrose Bierce and Charles Addams.

The other book I remember is the one that started a love of science fiction that lasted for several decades: Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine, by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams. Danny was a boy scientist who invented amazing machines and had terrific adventures, sort of a pre-pubescent MacGyver.

I've tried to get my grandson Jake interested in the classic children's books as he develops his reading skills, and he is now proficient in Green Eggs and Ham and a few others. I guess I am going to have to develop a love of children's literature by proxy. But actually, I'm looking forward to introducing Jake to Morticia, Gomez, and Uncle Fester...


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'd moved on to adult books by eighth grade (I think: I'm older than you are, George)--I do remember the joy of being "legit" upstairs in the Big People's Library, not just downstairs in the children's section. [I left the Boy Scouts at an early age because the troop was a bit too much into rifle practice for my taste...]

I chose a book that didn't even exist until I was, mumble mumble, 29 years old, because it speaks to me now. I really don't remember the specific children's books that spoke to me back then (well, there was the Oz series). My love of SF, which continues, started before high school--I do know that much.

If you like Charles Addams, you should also (I believe) like Edward Gorey, one of my all-time fave raves.

Eric said...

George, it's a pity childhood bullies ruined Curious George for you. For myself, I recall rather liking the book. And I'm a big fan of excellent column over at WebJunction, "I'm Curious, George," which some might think alludes to the Margaret Rey book.;)

Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to the Lives of the Saints reading. I found them strangely, morbidly seductive but also knew that if tested in any of those ways I would never make it to sainthood. And I believe that to this day.

Anonymous said...

It is always great to see how so many of us care about Children's Books and literature. If you want you could check our reviews of children's books at