Between the Pages

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I have a very vivid childhood memory of sitting next to my mother on our orange plaid couch, leaning contentedly against her shoulder with my eyes closed while she wove the words of a book around my head. It was My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, and as she read it aloud, I could picture every dusty ray of sunlight sifting down through the dark green trees of the Catskill Mountains, feel the icy cold stream water shocking my bare skin, and nestle into the warmth of a perfect tiny home carved out of a giant redwood tree. For years after we finished that book, I entertained a secret fantasy of running away and living off the land in a hidden, far off place.

Fortunately for all concerned, I never ran any farther than the creek that gurgled along in the woods behind my house, but that was far enough for my imagination. Together with my brother and sister, I lived out that fantasy across many lazy summer days—building rafts (most of which promptly sank to the bottom of the wading hole); digging forts between the tree roots, roofing them with sticks, leaves and copious amounts of red Georgia mud; and foraging for edible plants along the forest floor (without poisoning ourselves in the process, a minor miracle.)

The book and its magic stayed with me, and I know a part of that magic was the time that my mother and I spent together as we read it. That time, carved at great cost out of a schedule full of hard work and obligations, was an amazing gift to me and to my siblings. It told us, as nothing else could, that we were loved, and that in our house, reading was important. It’s a gift that I want to give to my kids, as well.

Right now, Katie and I are reading through the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As we turn page after page, we travel back in time together to Wisconsin in the 1800s. I am a returning visitor to the Big Woods, but I keep my eyes on Katie as she turns round and round, examining the pieces of a long-gone and simpler life like a foreigner in a strange land, where people grow their own vegetables, slaughter their own livestock, and trade at the general store for what they can’t make themselves. Tonight we learned about sugar snow, and how Laura’s grandpa would collect the sap from maple trees and boil it down into maple syrup before pouring it into saucers to make thick, crumbling cakes of maple sugar. As soon as we placed our bookmark at the end of the chapter and carefully closed the book, Katie was on fire to try out the process for herself. It took me a while to convince her that I didn’t know where we could lay our hands on any maple tree sap, but inwardly, I smiled. The magic is working on her, too.

Katie is a strong reader in her own right, and though she enjoys our time snuggled up together on the couch with a good book, I know that one day she’ll grow tired of me reading aloud to her, impatient to know the end of the story faster than I can stutter through it, or just too busy with her own activities to steal away a quiet hour or two with her mom. When that happens, this particular chapter of our relationship will end, giving way naturally to whatever comes next.

In the meantime, though, I’ve started a list. There are so many books I want to share, bejeweled fantasies and riveting adventures just begging to be read aloud to a child beginning to see the world for all its amazing possibilities and its stories unnumbered. We’ll simply start at the beginning, and keep going for as long as it lasts.

As Kathleen Kelly, Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, says so insightfully, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”

I think that’s absolutely true.

How about you? What book made its mark upon you in your childhood?

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29 responses »

  1. The Hobbit. I still have to read it every now and then. I even have it in hardback! The speech weaves a picture for me so clearly and I feel compelled to draw the dwarves as they arrive at Bilbo’s house. Alas, I can never capture the picture in my head on paper. It’s true, the book is always better than the movie.

  2. Did anyone else read Look Through My Window?

    And Julie of the Wolves?

    And 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?

    You would THINK I could get my boys to read the last one, but so far, no luck. Damn Captain Underpants.

  3. Hi! nosing into your blog. I had to stop and read because A) this post topic was perfect, and B) I am from Idaho. (begrudgingly I no longer live there but it is homesickness which holds my hand and haunts me throughout each day!)

    When I was younger no one read with me. It’s a wonder I came out to be any sort of reader at all, yet I consume books!
    I have read countless books with my little girl but of my favorites they have been: Theatre Shoes; The Nurse Matilda series (because they were just fun to read aloud); and The Eddie Dickens Trilogy (also, very fun to read aloud.)

    I will be sure to check back again!

  4. Stay tuned, Katrina. A lovely coincidence has emerged. InlandEmpireGirl and Silver Valley Girl and I give each other writing assignments and our next one, assigned by InlandEmpireGirl is for us all to write an essay responding to the very question you ask at the end of this blog. I think our due date is this coming weekend.

    Thank you for your comments about my teaching and what you sense happens in my classes. If your family ever decides to take a trip to the Willamette Valley and spend any time in Eugene, let me know and you will be welcome to be a guest in any class I teach.

  5. I loved My Side of the Mountain, too!! Thanks for that reminder, I’ll have to see if LM has read it (it’s hard to keep up with what he reads). I’m reading the Little House series to LM and the neighbor girl while we wait for the bus. I’m finding that I have to keep explaining things, as it’s getting so “old fashioned” that they don’t understand what is being talked about.

    The book I’ll never forget sharing with LM was Where the Red Fern Grows. I had read it before, but even reading it aloud with him, I was sobbing so hard by the end I could barely read the pages. He was so mad at me for that book. For days he was upset with me for reading it to him, but now he loves it just like I do.

    One of my all-time favorites that I read over and over was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Loved that book. Still love it today!!

  6. OH! The Boxcar Children! Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh! how could i forget!

    i love the Wizard of Oz series, anything by Roald Dahl (he is magic!), and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

    kids books are the best, aren’t they?

  7. I read Julie of the Wolves, too! And Where the Red Fern Grows, and the Little House books, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and I could go on and on! Also, Bridge to Terabithia (sp?), too. Oh, this post was so great, I had completely forgotten about most of these! Now I can go get them and share them with my daughters, too! Thanks, Katrina!

  8. OH My gosh…the Little House books are so wonderful! I got a new book each Easter and I can’t wait begin reading them to my daughters.

    All the Judy Blume books as well. And Charlotte’s Web. I cried every time.

    *sigh*

    I am going to read them all over again!!

  9. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. It had everything: shipwreck on a desert island, horses, short people…right up my alley.

  10. I love all the ones mentioned already. But one that I remember the most is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I read it when I was young and then I read it to my sister when I was 16 and she was 10. She gave me a copy of it to tell me when she was pregnant with a note in the front that said, “Soon you can read it to my baby.” (She gave my mom a copy of The Runaway Bunny, one of the books she remembered her reading to us when we were little.) Books surely influence areas of our lives that we never expect and that influence goes far beyond just the story.

    (I’ve read Little House books to my boys and they love them, too. Especially the parts with animals!)

  11. The Little House books – first and foremost. I still have them! I still read them!

    When I was very little I loved Dare Wright’s Edith & The Bears series, and Horatio the Cat.

    Around age 8, after the Little House Series had me in its grip, it was Roald Dahls Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Charlie & The Great Glass Elevator, Fantastic Mr. Fox…

    Judy Blume’s Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, Deenie, Tiger Eyes, Are You There God It’s Me Margaret – man, I still love Judy Blume.

    I also read Encyclopedia Brown, Katie John, Trixie Belden, Charlotte’s Web, The Little Princess and Trumpet of the Swan – all favourites.

    Pity Harry Potter wasn’t around then; I’d have eaten that up! Who am I kidding – I AM eating it up!

    No wonder I didn’t run around much – I was forever reading. LOL Thanks for this post Katrina, it called up a lot of memories.

  12. Ah, thanks for reminding me about sugar snow! I read that when we lived in San Diego and got so mad that mom could not make it for me.

    I loved Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, and I also adored From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Other great reads included all the Encyclopedia Brown books (I even opened my own mobile detective agency from my bicycle – I put a sign on the basket in the front).

    As a little older, I liked the Trixie Belden mystery series and also an old series about a nurse named Cherry Ames (it’s seems like it is set around WW2, maybe).

  13. One of my favorite series of books growing up was the Betsy-Tacy Series by Maude Hart Lovelace. They are not as well known as some, so I am always happy to hear Kathleen Kelly recommending them to a customer in You’ve Got Mail. I started reading the series when I discovered them in my elementary school library. I remember sneaking out of bed and reading by the light of the open oven to finish reading one of them. Our school library was missing one book in the series; so when we moved to a new town and I visited the local library and found that they had the missing book in the series, I had to read the whole series over again as an eighth grader. Of course, I recommended them to my best friend who read them at the same time. I also read Ivanhoe because Betsy loved it. I decided that I needed to have a signature color and scent because Betsy did. I guess that I could have had a worse role model at the age of fourteen.
    I have always been a regular patron of whatever local library I have lived near, so when I started to read chapter books to my boys, I was delighted to see my old friends Betsy and Tacy at our local library. My boys enjoyed listening to Betsy and Tacy until they(Betsy and Tacy)got into high school and started liking boys; but, of course, that did not offend me, so I finished reading through the series again. Naturally, since my daughter was not old enough to enjoy them at that time, I had to read them all over to her. We have some Betsy-Tacy inside jokes. I just asked her what is her favorite book that I have read to her. She said,
    “My Friend, Flicka.” (Which we are reading right now.) Then she said, “Betsy and Tacy.”
    This epic answer is just about one of my favorites. You should know better than to get me started with such a thought-provoking question!

  14. Hey Katrina,its me,Amelia.My mom has read so many books to me!I don’t know if you’ve read them, but I’ve always loved the Catwings series.I have the whole collection!I have read Phantom of the Opera twice,and I’m starving for it again!I LOVED Big Red.I have Betsy and Tacy to thank for my reading relationship with my mom.I get lost in the pages of Island of the blue Dolphins.If you read it you’ll think of how in My Side of the Mountain the whole wanting a private little ‘forest’made house!I agree with you so much with that book!You inspire me so much with this blog of yours!

  15. Thank you all so much! I’m seeing so many old friends in your book recommendations, many of which I’d forgotten about. It sounds like I have a trip to the library in my immediate future!

    I’ve never read the Betsy-Tacy books, though I’ve heard of them, or the Trixie Belden series. Maybe Katie and I can discover them together!

    Amelia, wonderful girl, your comment just pasted a huge grin on my face. You are most definitely a kindred spirit! (Oh! Anne of Green Gables–there’s another wonderful set!)

  16. Just passing through, but had to jump in on this question. Books I remember reading over and over again — all the E.B. White’s, especially Charlotte’s Web; The Secret Garden; the orginal Bambi by Felix Salten; Little House Series; and The Phantom Tollbooth, I discovered as an adult, but loved it! GREAT question!

  17. Most of the ones I liked are already listed, except Skating Shoes, which is sadly out of print. And Mandy by Julie Edwards. No one read to me after I was in first grade, but I kept reading on my own. (My parents are not big on reading books–my dad reads at least 3 newspapers online daily, though.)

    I have a smile pasted on my face reading this today–I do a Mother Daughter Book Club at our library and my attendance is pretty low, but for me it is so worth it to see the mother and daughter interacting over a book in a way that they are learning new things about each other as we talk about the book. We just did View from Saturday. I may do a post on this.

  18. …and totally love the quote from YGM–that is one of my favorite movies, having worked in a bookstore (the size of Fox, unfortunately) seven years, five of which I worked mainly with kids books.

  19. The first book I remember was about a little girl who had a pink birthday cake – that’s all I remember. I LOVED that book. The first one with no pictures that captured me was Black Beauty. I cried so hard when his mother died. My favorite book of all time is The Blue Castle by
    L.M. Montgomery. I have plans to build that place someday. As for the sugar snow, I’ll get back to you. Soon.

  20. Though my mom & I spent many nights together curled up watching girlie-movies and our favorite TV show together, I can’t really recall us reading a specific book together. That might sound sad to most of you, but I don’t feel like I missed out on a whole lot! My memories of my mother are very sweet & dear – today marks 5 years since she passed away – so this post is especially sweet for me. I was an avid reader and I remember tearing through Encyclopedia Brown and The Anne of Green Gables series faster than all get out! I don’t think she enjoyed reading like I did, so she just sort of left it to me as to what I wanted to read and when. I recall reading some of the Little House series, but it never really kept me ‘hooked’. – maybe I just got too old for them?

    As a mother, I do my best to spend time reading to/with my kiddos (Alex prefers to read to me), and some of our current favorites are the Junie B. Jones books (of which he received 5 for Christmas) and the Berenstein Bears. But I find that just about any time we can spend right before bed is precious and will build special memories for them – some of our favorite times are when the tickle monster shows up 🙂

    You all have given me lots of new books to add to our ever-growing library! Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Katrina 🙂

  21. I could talk about this topic all day long! My mom read to us out loud every night. We read the Little House series, Anne of Green Gables, Wild Violets by Phyllis Green, James and Giant Peach, Stone Fox (this is a serious tear-jerker!), and many of the titles already commented on. My mom let my sisters and I comb, play, and “fix” her hair while we listened. Wonderful memories and wonderful books! I had a teacher who read The Westing Game to us–I highly recommend this one, as well.
    Many of the titles my mom chose to read to us came from The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. The book itself talked about the benefits of reading aloud, the do’s and don’ts, etc. The real treasure, in my opinion is the book list in the back.
    This post has really gotten me thinking about favorite books! Thanks!

  22. AS Raymond Pert said, this was the sibling writing assignment this week. Check mine out on my site. It may be a book that will be better when she is older. When I taught elementary students these were some of my favorite read alouds:
    Bunnicula James Howe
    The BFG, Witches,Danny Champion of the World, and Matilda by R. Dahl
    Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and the rest in the series.
    Hotel for Dogs by Lois Duncan
    Loser by Jerry Spinelli
    Bridge to Teribithia by K. Paterson
    Fudge series by Judy Blume.
    I have found after working with every age group of students, they all beg to be read to!!!!

  23. Books were my childhood. If my Mom didn’t read it to me, I read it. My summers were filled with the local library summer reading program. To pick just one or two is almost impossible…but here a few…

    A forgotten book, but it was about a witch who made pancakes..and there was a recipe on the back cover for “Bewitchingly Blueberry Pancakes” – which my Mom and I made frequently.

    “Jellybeans for Breakfast” – Miriam Young – I wish I still had this book…it’s selling online for hundreds of dollars

    “Charlotte’s Web” – the original hardback, and it still has that book smell. Complete with my name handwritten by my Mom in the front of my book…like oh so many of my books…

    …my favorite line from YGM…”My Mother…oh how I miss her…”

  24. Ooh! Ooh! I have to add the whole Narnia series to the list, and anything by Beaverly Cleary (I especially liked “A Mouse and His Motorcycle” and “Ramona the Pest”)

  25. My mom read us the Narnia series, but what also really left an impression on me are the book smy 4th grade teacher read. Where the Red Fern Grows and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Another household staple that I have always loved is The Giving Tree.

  26. My favorite book that my mom read to me as a child was “Charlotte’s Web”. I loved hearing about Wilbur and Charlotte and their growing friendship. Such good memories! Andrew and I read the boxcar children (just the first one so far) and we also read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (before the movie came out!). Your post has inspired me to read to him more often. Thanks 🙂

  27. I just came across your blog during my research and wanted to add: ‘The Folk of the faraway Tree’ and the other “Enchanted Wood” books as well as the ‘Five Find-Outers and Dog’ series by Enid Blyton

    I thought Enid needed a mention.

    ‘James and the giant peach,’ ‘George’s marvelous medicine’ and ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ all of which my Grade 1 teacher read to our class during the course of 1 year. This was the only time anyone ever read to me and these books have had such a immense impact on me.

    I attribute these books to my imagination, my creativity, and the keen interest in film and fantasy that I have today as a university design student.

    • Thanks, Tiffany, for sharing your memories. I haven’t heard of a lot of these, and I’m always excited to find new books!

      It sounds like you’re well on your way to enjoying your career in the creative arts. 🙂

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