Love and the Book

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Some of my happiest memories of childhood centers on reading books. When I very young, like third grade, my Dad would pick me up from the local library on his way home from work. I had checked out a pile of books, my face barely able to reach the check out counter where the librarian stamped the due date on each book with the efficiency of a line assembler in a factory. My books tended to be cherished fiction for kids, animal stories, adventure tales, and stories of scientists. Now and then I included a book of poetry.

After we moved to a rural town, our country school arranged for the Book Mobile to appear every two weeks. Here I discovered Little Women which became my all time favorite book of early junior high. A year or so later I was asked by a teacher to read The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and give a report on it. I was a bit chagrined at the thought. Here I am a budding ‘woman’ and I’m asked to read such a juvenile trope on growing up. To my surprise, I liked it. The series of the Pepper family is a classic of how a family learns to be generous and loving though they are very poor, living in a “little brown house” in an unnamed state. A wealthy man and his son take them into their home and a series of adventures leads the family to successful young adulthood. The series was the subject of several movies between 1939 and 1941. Still, Little Women remained my favorite until Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn were assigned in later years.

The publishing industry for children is right up there with adults. Huge!! Just wander into any bookstore and look for the children’s section. Read any publishing press or major newspapers’ book review sections and you will see almost as much coverage for children and young adult books as you will for adult best sellers and newly published books. That’s a lot of books for teachers and parents to keep informed about. But of late, I am nonplussed at the rancorous school board meetings that challenge teachers for the curriculum they follow in assigning books for their classes. I remember my friends in college loving every moment of ‘Kiddie Lit,’ the affectionate nomenclature for Children’s Literature class. College students learned how to evaluate books; how to critique their content and their art; how to judge the meaning of the book. They studied the prose of the author. They did research on the genres like fantasy, adventure, animal-human relations, metaphor, sports, games, the arts and so forth. When my friends became teachers, they walked into their elementary classrooms fully prepared to teach a love for reading.

That brings me to ‘love.’ When I wormed my little self into a chair or corner to read, the world fell away. And my mother let it happen. She didn’t demand I get up and do the dishes although she made sure I didn’t avoid my chores. I had to get them done before I would read my book. I simply loved my ‘book time.’ When my brothers sprawled on the living room floor to read Jack London’s Call of the Wild, my mother looked on them with love. When any child sits up in bed to read and a parent cuddles to read with him, isn’t that an expression of love? When a toddler points to a dog or a cat or rabbit in a book and tries to say the word for each, she is taking beginning steps in word recognition and what do you do? You hug her. She knows she is loved as she explores the book.

Reflection

Love and books seem to go together. You get books as gifts from people who love you. They choose carefully and you know they had you on their mind when they bought and wrapped the gift. It becomes a treasure for you. As you read a book you often think of someone you care for and your heart warms with the memory. Books can be difficult to read if they tell a story of sadness or injustice, but you learn from this. A young reader will often take the contents of the book to his parents and ask questions. This can cement relationships between parent and child more than the adult screaming at a board meeting to condemn a book, which they might know nothing about, while undercutting the professionalism of the teacher who chose it. That’s not love.

Once my brother chose a book which affected his nine-year-old heart rather significantly. It had a one word title but I cannot recall it other than it was the nickname of the main character, a black boy who wanted to join an all-white local boys baseball team. We are talking early 50’s here. After much duress and many efforts to prove himself, the boy is accepted and stars for the team. I’m wondering if this book would be accepted today with all the clamor about race and justice found in children’s books. It left my brother brushing away tears because we lived very close to an African-American settlement in our rural area and my brother played ball with boys from that settlement.

I hope we can help parents understand that teaching reading needs to be left to the teachers who are eminently prepared for the job just as one’s oncologist provides direction for your disease or one’s financial planner advises your portfolio, and you respect their counsel. Maybe some of us can help friends see the importance of accepting what teachers know as well.

What are the favorite books of your childhood? Why did you love that or those books?

What can you do to help parents be more calm, more informed about their children’s reading lists?

And, finally, do you ever encourage reading the Scriptures with your children or grandchildren? I encourage you to choose the stories sometimes in the quiet of bedtime so that the child wonders and lets his or her imagination provide the comfort of reflection.

Let us know of your favorite childhood books…

14 thoughts on “Love and the Book

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  1. Mary Ann, I loved your essay on Children’s Books and your story of childhood reading. I remember reading Little House on the Prairie, the series called Beth, Stacy and Tibb, and the classics you cited. When I was very young, the books had to have pictures!
    My favorite memories begin with sitting in Sr. Immaculata’s Kitty Lit class at St. John College. She read to us at every class and taught how to truly read kids’ books to kids. She was the best. When I went out to teach, I too, loved to read to the class and have them read as well.
    Even today, when I visit a bookstore, I always browse the Children’s Book Section to see what is new! What is forever on the shelves.

    Many thanks for sharing your precious memories of childhood reading.

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  2. Thank you Morgan. And thanks for the titles, too. The memories of Sr. Immaculata’s class is where I got the info from mr friends who took it. She was a great teacher for teachers-to-be. About “Little House on…” I was so disappointed on a vacation when we stopped to see the house Laura Ingalls wrote in. It is a large frame colonial–not at all like Little House…I don’t remember if it was her childhood home or her adult home.

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    1. Mary Ann, the reply from Morgan was actually from me. Jane Cavanaugh. I am not sure how the name Morgan landed on the post!

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  3. I remember reading everything I could get! Hardy Boys series and Nancy Drew were favorites, and the Albert Payson Terhune, Lad, a Dog series – though I didn’t like that series when I got older, it didn’t hold up as so many of the others did. I love sharing books with my grandkids, though my middle grandchild asked ‘Aren’t there any toys in NY?’ I love encouraging all children to read, love is easily shared that way.

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  4. My love of reading did not start until later in life but especially when my children and grandchildren came along. We had books and read together Good Night Moon, Dr. Seuss and enjoyed going to the library for “story hour”. Judy Blume books became a hit, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Are you there God its’s Me Margaret, and Nancy Drew Mysteries. Thanks for you book recommendations each month, I am branching out because of them.

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  5. Thank you, too, Marg. I got a chuckle out of the toys and New York comment! Keep after the grandkids. My grand nieces and nephews know what kind of gift they will get from me for every occasion. No complaints so far!! Mary Ann F

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  6. I also had Kiddie Lit at St. John’s College, but I believe my teacher’s name was Sr. Angela-not positive. She always wore a blue suit, had white, curly hair and a constant smile on her face. She made me LOVE kids’ books. One favorite was A Year to Grow by Felice Holman. Just a few years ago I had to order it to find out why I loved it so much. The same feelings returned, so I ordered as many of her other books from Amazon as I could find. I love their simplicity and still have them! My treasure even if no one else ever heard of her or them. 😊

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  7. Sharon: Thank you for the comment. I believe Sr. Angela was a Humility of Mary Sister, one of the finest English professors one could have. I’m guessing she taught Kiddie Lit as a sub for a while. Great that you still have these precious books. MAF

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  8. Dear Sr. Mary Ann,
    Thank you for your wonderful posts! Your latest warmed my heart as I have a great love for children’s books too. This was instilled by my Italian mother who enrolled me in summer reading programs at the library. Another great influence was my aunt who had a huge cupboard of beloved books she would read to us when we would visit for overnights. I went to St. John College too and had the joy of taking “Kiddie Lit “ with Sr. Ruth Wilfred H.M. She shared her love of books by Leo Leonni, Shel Silverstein and Margaret Wise Brown. My favorite books as a middle schooler were The Witch at Blackbird Pond and Huckleberry Finn. I share my love of reading with my great nephews and the many children I have taught through the years as well as those I babysat for. I am now in a book club with retired teachers and they have widened my knowledge of authors and superb literature!

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  9. Reading….my favorite pastime. Favorite as a kid was Little Black Sambo because when the tigers chased him, they turned into butter for his pancakes and I loved pancakes! Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass that I would read under the covers long after I was supposed to be asleep! Still love biographies and read every single one from St. Mary’s library along with the required book reports which I still have. Now I read everything and try to read at least 80 books each year. 📚❤️

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  10. As much as l loved your article on reading and love and can certainly identify with wonderful childhood memories, I do want to caution you that some books being taught in schools and accepted by school boards border on pornography and others are supported by Planned Parenthood. It is important for parents to carefully learn what is being taught in their school system. Parents have a right when it comes to their children and institutions where their tax dollars fund.

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  11. Yes Joan, we need to be careful and intelligent about what books we allow our children to read. I’d like to see that private and political interests avoid writing for children. There are some politicians who are currently writing chidrens’ books and I am suspicious of that. However, in the hands of an experienced author, a children’s book can be created carefully about a leader or celebrity who’s life deserves to be known by children. Let’s teach the kids to read and eventually read critically so that when they grow up they can read a political memoir with understanding. Happy reading! MAF

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  12. RS Smith and Nancy Rich: You share wonderful memories of childhood reading. The positive effect of a Kiddie Lit class is that you can still share titles and authors who influenced you in reading. I’m sure this helps the young people in your lives. I want to add that I did not major in elementary education so I did not take Kiddie Lit. A sister with whom I lived had suggested I read some of the books anyway and she got me hooked on “Charlotte’s Web,” and later writings of E.B.White, arguably the greatest essayist for adults through The New Yorker magazine. MAF

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Path towards light

Spiritual reflections through self-development, nature, meditation and dreams

Kimberly Novak, Author

Creating Gems of Inspiration - All for the Glory of God

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with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis

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