The acts of reading, and being read to, hold a cherished place in many people’s hearts. Today at Eleventh Stack, the blog team shares some of their earliest memories of reading, being read to, and–in some cases–reading to their own children.
My first memory of having a favorite author whose name and work I knew well is definitely James Marshall. I was a huge fan of the George and Martha series, which chronicles the adventures of two doofus hippopotamus friends, and The Stupids, which chronicles the adventures of an entire doofus family. (The Stupids books were written by Harry Allard, of Miss Nelson fame, but were illustrated by James Marshall). These extremely silly books and their simple, child-like illustrations captured my imagination and were a big part of why I started writing my own picture books (My mom still has a copy of my opus, Can You Find the Turkey?, if you’re interested).
When this topic was proposed, I immediately thought “Little Golden Books!” Sadly, the two titles that I remember best are not in our catalog. First, The Sesame Street Together Book – where the gang helps each other on their endeavors, from a finding a straw for drinking a milkshake to a providing a sled for sliding down a hill (I re-read it with my nephew recently – he loved guessing what the characters needed!). Second, The New Baby – all about, you guessed it, a new baby in the house. My sister showed up 28 years ago this month (Happy birthday, pal!), so three-year-old me got a lot of mileage out that one.
We now have Diane Muldrow’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book to relive those Color Kitten-shaded memories. As the editor for Little Golden Books, she knows what’s up (her 2013 essay is also a great read).
The first book that I remember reading was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This book will always have a special place in my heart. I remember reading it in school and I loved it. The experience combined two of my favorite things: reading and food. I always loved the illustrations in the book. They were so colorful and cool. Every time I see the book; it makes me smile. I think that every child should read this book and maybe get a snack afterwards because they might be hungry after reading it.
I decided to pose this question to my coworkers and here’s what they had to say:
“I remember my grandmother reading to me every night Dr. Seuss books, specifically Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.” – Laura
“I can’t recall the very first book I ever read, but I do remember when I first started visiting our school library in second or third grade. There was this series of books called Childhood of Famous Americans. Reading about what it was like to grow up during an earlier era was so fascinating to me. One title that I remember to this day was Dolly Madison Quaker Girl.” – Marian
“As a child my first books that I remember reading were the Dick and Jane books also the Spot books and Puff the Kitten. I enjoyed them and would read them over and over again. So I decided to check our catalogue and found them in the library. Some of the titles were Dick and Jane Away We Go, Dick and Jane Play Ball and I also found one Storybook Treasury of Dick and Jane and Friends. It brought back to me memories of my childhood days.” – Michele
As for me, books were an integral part of my early development. I remember watching Reading Rainbow as a child and writing down the titles that I thought were interesting and going to the library once a week to get them (all right, so I didn’t write them down, my mother did. Thanks, mom). Some of those titles were Arrow to the Sun and Anansi the Spider. At Christmastime, I remember my mother reading me a lot of Hans Christian Andersen, heartbreaking beautiful tales like The Fir Tree and The Little Match Girl. I think my actual first book memory is probably The Monster at the End of This Book. I remember my mother reading it in a pretty spot-on Grover impression. I checked the book out recently and read it to my mother while we were sitting in traffic, using my own “Grover voice”. It was a nice moment.
This probably isn’t the very first book I ever read, but my earliest reading memory is my mom reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to my brothers and me before bed. I think at that point all three of us could read, but sometimes she read to us anyway. Unfortunately, Mom’s tendency to fall asleep on the couch meant we weren’t getting through the story as fast as I wanted. One night she fell asleep in the middle of a chapter so I picked up the book and kept reading on my own.
The next night when Mom asked where we left off, I said “Edmund let Lucy down!” Apparently I had gotten to the part where Edmund denies having been to Narnia so no one will believe Lucy. Since no one else had read that far, my first reading memory is also my first memory of “spoiling part of a book for someone who hasn’t read it yet”. Oops.
And Billy, and Taffy and Melissa Molasses, and Star and Cupcake.
And their creator, Philadelphia author Carolyn Haywood (1898-1990) who wrote and illustrated 47 books for children. Among them were B is For Betsy; Here Comes the Bus!; C is For Cupcake and Away With the Balloons. My favorite was Taffy and Melissa Molasses, a book that my mother eagerly pulled off the shelf of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Fox Chase branch because in 1975, Melissa wasn’t a common name – much less one seen in print – and a character with my own name IN A LIBRARY BOOK was A Very Big Deal.(So big of a deal that I would write my first-ever fan letter to Carolyn Haywood when I was six years old. All these years later, Carolyn Haywood’s genuine letter in response is still something I treasure).
Betsy and Billy and Eddie’s stories were my stories; they had the same problems (being nervous about the first day school, dealing with a younger sibling) as I did. Carolyn Haywood’s books were special. I couldn’t wait to read them and I checked out every single one, over and over again. On tiptoe, I stretched and placed them, as if precious diamonds, ever so carefully on the library’s circulation desk. The due date was stamped in the back, and Betsy and Billy and Eddie and Melissa and I were ready for all kinds of fun … if only for a brief time.
It is hard for me to choose one memory as my “first” book memory. I can’t remember a time I didn’t love reading. I remember the first time I heard The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (my 3rd grade teacher read it to my class.) I remember the first time I read James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. It was the also the first (but not last) time I read a book in one day! I loved Cinderella and weirdly, Rumpelstiltskin.
However, hands down, no question about it, the book that still makes my heart smile, is Go Dog Go by P.D. Eastman. I actually already wrote about it once on here. If you think his illustrations are distinctly Dr. Seuss, you would be correct: Eastman was a protégé and colleague of Theodor Geisel. It isn’t heavy on plot: a bunch of dogs zooming around on bikes and in cars and wearing funny hats. (Or from Wikipedia: “The book describes the actions and interactions of a group of highly mobile dogs, who operate cars and other conveyances.”) I adored the scene with the dogs partying in the tree and I’m still pretty sure I’ll get invited to a dog tree party someday.
I also really think the dog in the car illustration would make an excellent tattoo!
I don’t remember my first book, but I do remember the first book I got in trouble for reading. I was in first grade, and we were droning on through Dick and Jane, and it was a huge snore. So I brought Charlotte’s Web to school, hid it in my textbook, and read it during silent reading period.
When I finally got caught, my teacher said, “You can’t possibly be reading that.” When I protested, she made me stand up in front of the class and read out loud. I think she thought she was going to shame me or something; you should have seen the look on her face when I launched into my reading, using different voices for each character. My school life–and reading life–got considerably interesting after that. Thanks, Charlotte, for rescuing me from literary purgatory, and starting me on a lifelong path of public mischief.
The first book where I remember the story and internalized the message is Watty Piper’s (aka Arnold Munk, the book’s publisher) The Little Engine that Could. Let’s face it, it has all the essential factors to be great literature; an absorbing plot, trains, toys, the outdoors, angst juxtaposed with optimism, and perseverance. At every reading I was on that train, wondering if the little blue engine would succeed again. At that age, you take nothing for granted, even the ending of a book. I’m happy to say that it’s still available in stores and at the library.
The first book I remember choosing to read on my own was from old Woods Run branch on Brighton Road the summer after I finished 1st grade. It was a biography of Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret as children – sorry I can’t recall the title. The royal sisters had a life-sized playhouse and a bunch of dogs I think at Windsor Castle. I talked about that playhouse for weeks.
Then one day, later that that summer of 1957, my mother told me she had a surprise for me that night. I was so sure I was going to get a real playhouse of my own for our back yard. I can remember the anticipation, waiting for daddy to come home, thinking he’d have it! Boy was I ever disappointed when instead, the surprise was that Debbie Reynolds was going to be on the Eddie Fisher TV Show that night to sing the theme song from her movie Tammy.
I remember many books in my early life, but I don’t know which came first. I do remember one in particular that I returned to over and over: a nonfiction book about space. The title and author elude me now, but I pored through that book, obsessing over the names of moons. My parents gave me a poster of Saturn with all of its satellites labeled. My mother bought styrofoam balls and paint, and together we made a mobile of the solar system. I’m sure she did most of the work. When I added a cloud to Earth, I obliterated Australia.
Your turn, constant readers: do you remember the first book you read? The first book somebody read to you? Any other memorable “first” attached to books or reading? Tell us your story in the comments section!