July 30, 2005

The children's book that reached you.

RLC is asking his readers what their favorite book was when they were a kid. Richard describes loving the Rick Brant Science Adventure series, which I'd never heard of. In the future, when someone asks this question, maybe everyone will say Harry Potter.

But let me say that I loved the All-of-a-Kind Family series of books. Here's the School Library Journal description of the books:
Five young sisters experience life in New York's Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century in this reading of Sydney Taylor's story (Follett, 1951). The close-knit group encounters everyday realities such as boring chores, missing library books, and trips to the Rivington Street market, as well as those details which bring the early 1900's to life--scarlet fever, peddlers, and bathing at Coney Island. Woven into the story are the traditions and holidays of the Jewish religion. The girls celebrate the Sabbath with Hebrew prayers, and dress up for Purim so they can deliver baskets to friends and relatives.
I read a description like that years after I read and loved the books, and I was surprised to see that the family was Jewish. Somehow, reading those books when I was very young, I had formed no idea of the characters as being Jewish. But apparently the books are loaded with descriptions of Jewish rituals. Yet I'm sure I read every word. How could I have missed that?

When I was very young, as I remember, I felt that the world was full of things I didn't understand. I allowed all this mysterious information to flow around me, and I was quite reticent about asking any adults to explain anything. It's not that I thought the adults didn't know the answers, but that I thought they'd scoff of me for not knowing such a thing already. Getting older, instead of causing me to realize that I really should ask for answers, increased my feeling that it was embarrassing not to know already, and at that point I put more effort into trying to find out answers for myself.

But back in my youngest days, I appreciated the aspects of things I could understand and let many things go right past me. So I had no idea the All-of-a-Kind Family followed a different religion from mine. The details of the rituals were different, but so was life at the turn-of-the-century and in the Lower East Side of New York City. (I lived in suburbia, in Delaware.) What I loved was the eventful life of a beautiful family with five daughters and good parents.

UPDATE: Actually the title in the series I remember the most is "All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown," in which, I see, the family moves to the Bronx. Don't you think it's a little strange that I went on to marry a Jewish boy from the Bronx (that is, RLC, my ex-husband)?


SippicanCottage said...
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Ann Althouse said...

Well, Sippican, I did go to school and I did hear people speak. The phenomenon you're describing only occurs when people are also isolated from other educated persons. Most words I read I also heard spoken, and I was surrounded by educated persons who spoke well. But if I didn't know how to pronounce a word, I wouldn't assume I knew. Remember, I was very wary of being embarrassed. I would look up the pronunciation before attempting a makeshift one. As to Indians/Naitve Americans and so on -- that assumes that one only reads old books. If you read the newspaper, you're aware of all the issues about changing terminology. And it's also something one hears people talk about all the time (unless you live in an isolated environment). Anyway, I do think this attitude I've always had has made me observant and reasonably perceptive.

purple_kangaroo said...

I loved the all-of-a-kind family, too! My favorite scene is in one of the books where Charlie, the little brother, wants to talk to his mom and she's busy.

That "Momma don't smile on me" story is so heart-wrenching. It stuck with me and has affected the way I interact with my own kids.

Steel Turman said...

I especially liked the 'All About' series. I draw upon knowledge found there still.

k said...

Ann - Your experience sounds so much like mine! I loved to read and read and read. I steered clear of a lot of kiddie books, and - as RLC relates - ended up reading quite a few classics. An oddity at the time (early '70s). And, like you, I tried never to speak a new word I learned until someone else spoke it first. Sippican has some truth in his/her statements, but I don't think I was an autodidact, and age has more to do with the word usage (Indian-Native American)described in those comments than your education or mode of learning. EVen now, though, I can still just become totally lost in a book, oblivious to the "humdrum" world around me. But yet, when you emerge back into your humdrum existence, haven't you simultaneously enriched it? It's still a really cool feeling; you know something and have felt something or learnt something that, right then, NO ONE else knows! I still get it.

Right now, I am rereading the Chronicles of Narnia. Try that! It is so strange to reexperience a favorite book, with the added perspective of about 40 years of living!

Steel Turman said...

I especially liked the 'All About' series. I draw upon knowledge found there still.

Agent95 said...

As an adult I'm still reading kids' books -- LIZARD MUSIC by Daniel Pinkwater is next on my list, I've heard it's great. And of course Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy: the first volume, THE GOLDEN COMPASS, is simply the most enjoyable, thrilling book I've ever read. I'm sure I'd like to read the ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY books. I never heard of them as a child -- presumably they were kept away from Jewish kids in the Bronx, who might protest at not having families as nice as in the book. I also devoured the ALL ABOUT books and their sibling series, the LANDMARK books And the GOLDEN BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA and, later, the WORLD BOOK.

All of the Indians I've known have called themselves Indians, not Native Americans. "Native American" is for white liberals or for Indians targeting a white liberal audience. And "impact" is the last English noun I will ever admit as a verb.

Thanks for the link, Ann!

SippicanCottage said...
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Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, "Agent 95."

Ann Althouse said...

Sorry, Sippican, please don't leave us.

And Richard -- "Agent 95" -- there weren't families that nice in Newark, Delaware either.

SippicanCottage said...
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Bruce Hayden said...

For me, I think it was Hardy Boys and biographies. There was some book club we belong to or something, so we ended up with a lot of them. Can't stand them any more.

For my daughter, it is clearly Harry Potter. She was a good but not great reader when the first one came out. She sat down and read it in less than two days. As each one has come out, she has devoured it even more quickly, despite their increasing length. She has read all except the latest multiple times. As for it, I promised it to her for her Birthday, but she went off to camp a couple of days before it came out. So, I had to ship it up to her when it did come out. Oh, and I gave her a Spanish language copy of the first one. Good practice, but very hard for a kid entering high school.

To this day, she pretty much prefers sci-fi/fantasy as her reading material. Wonder where she got that? (I have thousands of paperbacks, sorted by author, running around the walls of one bedroom).

SippicanCottage said...
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Bruce Hayden said...

Talking about understanding. I first read Michener's Hawaii when I was 13. I then went back and reread it at 18. What was amazing to me was how much I had missed the first time around - due to my age and maturity. At 18 I understood that when they went into their cottage together, and a family emerged later, that they were going to have sex. Missed all that at 13.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Darn that Agent 95, he's always sneaking onto my computer.

Sissy Willis said...

Nancy Drew was the Harry Potter of my girlie day. But as far as getting totally into another world through reading, I myself became enthralled with Charles Dickens, never "identifying" with his loopy female characters but instead always seeing things through his first-person heroes'eyes, their sex be damned.

Steve Minor said...

Now, I'm wondering what I missed from "Frog and Toad Together."

Randy said...

It was a toss-up between The Secret Garden and Clarence the TV Dog.

(What can I say? Saying nothing might have been a better choice.)

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

"Go Away Dog", various "Curious George" titles, and all the Narnia stories by C.S. Lewis.

(Actually, my sister read all the Narnia stories, and then she or my mom read them to me. As for Curious George, he seemed like the type of man I wanted to be, even though he was a monkey. He had a jaunty free spirit).

Rick Lee said...

For me it was The Twenty-One Balloons. A wonderful book which won the 1948 Newbery Award. I read it in the 6th Grade in about 1967 or so. I was assigned to read a book and write a report but somehow I just didn't do it. I was surprised on a certain Friday when everyone had their report but I didn't have one. My teacher told me to get it done by Monday. I thought it would be impossible to read a "real" book (no pictures) over the weekend. But of course, the book drew me in and I devoured it. What a story. I learned that reading serious books was something that I would actually ENJOY... it was not a chore.

vbspurs said...


It must be something in the air, because I too am in a nostalgic mood today, and my blogpost of Saturday is named Nostalgia, which references my bedtime reading as a kid.

Having been born somewhat of a queer sort of cove, whenever I put my hands on a book to read, age 8-13, I didn't go to the wonderful Narnia series, the Hardy Boys, Little House, or my mother's favourite book, LMA's Little Women.

No, I had to go and read James Thurber, Edna Ferber, Ring Lardner Jr. and Saki short stories, didn't I.

And I must've been the only kid for miles around who got Troilus and Cressida read to her just before sleeping. Lucky me.

Fortunately, though I don't read children's books like Agent95 does, I do watch children's programming on PBS if I get a chance.

Arthur, The Berenstayn Bears, Liberty Kids.

I think that's an even more embarrassing admission than some random 45-year old who still reads Winnie the Pooh.

Actually, strike that -- one is never too old to read Winnie The Pooh.


EddieP said...

As a youngster, my favorite books were Richard Halliburton's two volume Book of Marvels. How I fantasized about seeing the places he wrote about. I could be an adventurer watching ceremonial sacrifices at Chichen-Itza; scale the Matterhorn; gaze on the twin volcanoes of Mexico City; stand at the base of Corcovado. Later in my life, I was fortunate to visit many of those same places I could only dream about as a child. Thank you Richard.

amba said...

1.) I've heard that most Indians prefer to call themselves "Indians." They think "Native Americans" is PC bullcrap.

2.) You don't have to be an autodidact to mispronounce a word (often well into adulthood), you just have to be bookish. For many years I thought "misled" was pronounced "my-zled," on the analogy of "chiseled" and "swindled." I also thought "succumb" was pronounced "suc-kewm." It comes of having read many more words than you've ever heard spoken out loud.

SippicanCottage said...
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SippicanCottage said...
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Pat Patterson said...

Anything by Beverly Cleary, the Tom Swift series by Victor Appleton, the Bronc Burnett series by Wilfred McCormick, the Lensmen series by E.E. Doc Smith and finally The Illiad which meant all my old favorite books became childish.

cbi said...
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cbi said...

Ann of Green Gables Series...I wanted that red hair and her ability to talk her way of out of trouble with Marilla.

Also the Cherry Ames, RN mystery series was excellent. The thing I remember most of the series was that she was interested in exploring where her own fortitude would lead her. That's not a bad lesson for any kid to learn.

Hmmm...I'm only 31 and yet all my favorites are atleast 60 years old. I wonder what that means?

pk said...

"Snow Treasure" by Marie Mcswiggan was my favorite for years. It is back in print now I think.

and for what it's worth 'the dark compass' by pullmann is a vile book with no redeeming themes for children, despite it's backing from the ALA.

Bruce Hayden said...


The redeeming virtue of "Dark Compass" et al. is that it is a fun read for kids, providing a lot of adventure. Ditto, of course, for Harry Potter.

Which gets me into my theory on children reading, and that is that it is most important to make it fun and interesting for them. The more fun they have reading, the more they will read, and the better the reader they will become.

Which is why about half of the Newberry Award books are, essentially, worthless. Some of them make all sorts of social statements that the reviewers seem to like. But a lot of them are just not that much fun to read.

We went through this because I have a brother who took a lot of lit in college and has bought a lot of books for my daughter, invariably Newberry Award or equivalent. And she has, almost uniformly, not enjoyed them. So, a thank you note that skirts this.

Most, she can just put down after awhile. But back in lower school, she committed to reading "How Now Miguel" for class. It was, simply, the worst "kids" book she had ever read. but she had to finish it for class.

Getting back to my point, I would suggest that late middle school or high school is soon enough to be pushing your kids to read this or that book, or not to read this or that for some personal, religious, or political reason. Before that, I think that you should be working on building up speed and comprehension, and that comes for many kids from reading what they want to read, not what they have to read.

Dwight said...

In addition to others mentioned, I loved a series of biographies that was in elementary school's library. Maybe someone else read them as well. They had hideous orange (think in a 1960's way)covers. They focused a lot on the person's childhood and teen years (probably about 2/3's of the book) with only a little about their mature accomplishments. (But if something clicked in me about their younger years I would read more about that person's accomplishments.)

Two I remember being intrigued by (in third grade) were Nathaniel Greene and Jim Thorpe.

pk said...


The idea that anything is okay for kids as long as they read is absurd. In 'the dark compass' the bad guys are the little girl's divorced parents. The parents are into wholesome activities like kidnapping and child sacrifice. Her mom is part of a group that is kidnapping the girl's friends and running creepy scientific experiments on them that read a lot like vivisection. There are no clear moral lines just a lot of anti catholic bigotry and poor writing. I can't see that any of that would be worthwhile reading for kids in their formative years. There is no comparison with Harry Potter where good and evil are clearly defined and the good guys win at the end of each book.

I agree with you that "classics" are rarely appropriate for younger readers who don't have the life experience to appreciate what the author is trying to say. Also the newberry awards have indeed been hijacked by a group who value their political view of the world above good literature, with two exceptions.

'Holes' is brilliant, and 'A year down yonder' is laugh out loud funny as well as being well written.

Sam Chevre said...

My favorite books as a child:

Cherokee Red (a story about the Russian Mennonites who brought Russian wheat to Kansas)
Coals of Fire (another Mennonite book)
Stand By, Boys (the 1953 floods in Holland)
Ralph Moody's series of books starting with "Little Britches"

I'm not sure that being around educated people and being an autodidact are incompatible. "Misled" is a great example; both my girlfriend and I were in our teens until we connected "misled" and miss-led--we both thought that the written word was "missld" until then.

Sean E said...

As a small child I loved Where the Wild Things Are and Richard Scarry's books, mostly for the illustrations.

As I got older it was more sci-fi and fantasy: The Hobbit, Asimov's Foundation series. Kipling's Mowgli stories.

As for mispronouncing words, I can never read "seque" or "slough" with out intitially mispronouncing them in my head. And if anyone can tell me how to pronounce Roger Zelazny's last name I will be in your debt.