My Favorite Childhood Books and Why

I was a huuuuge bookworm as a kid. I literally would read a book as I walked down the halls at school, using my peripheral vision to avoid obstacles. At the height of my R.L. Stine faze, I was reading one Fear Street novel a day. I named my son after a character I have loved since childhood, and I have multiple tattoos celebrating the characters and creatures from books I have boxed up, carted across state lines, and unboxed more times than I can count – books I will NEVER part with EVER. Minimalism and Swedish Death Cleaning be damned! When my childhood seems so long ago, when all else in my life has changed or disappeared forever, I can always return to the exact same pages my 6-year old, 10-year old, 14-year old self touched and read. I am still her, and these books continue to stand the test of time. And so, in no particular order, here are my favorites:

All of the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary. Ramona is an ordinary little girl with an ordinary family, facing life’s ordinary problems. Isn’t that nice? When I was a kid, I was just happy to read about someone who was so similar to me, but now as an adult I am thankful for the simplicity of Ramona’s stories. I will never find a golden ticket, or receive an acceptance letter to a magical school, or be told by a mysterious stranger that I am The One, and that’s okay. An ordinary life is still a good life, as Ramona shows us.

Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy. Mysterious and clever, with a main character unlike any I’ve ever found in another novel. It was written for children, but I always felt like I needed to act more maturely while I was reading it – it’s what the author expected of me. Sort of a cross between The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn, this book follows a troubled orphan girl, Maggie, as she is sent to yet another boarding house. But this one is run by her very strict great aunts and holds many secrets behind its walls.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. This is a three-book collection by Alvin Schwartz, but the real hero of these stories is the illustrator, Stephen Gammell. Whoever hired Gammell is a genius. His artwork sold the books. A few years ago they re-released these books with different, cheerier artwork and, well, I can’t even find them on Amazon now. Most “scary stories” written for a younger audience are so lame – the ghost in the basement turns out to just be a lonely Casper-type. The zombie goes back to his grave once you feed him some spaghetti. Not in these books. There are few happy endings between these pages and as a morbid child, that was exactly what I was looking for.

Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar. This was the first book I can remember reading and feeling amazed and thankful that a grown-up (Sachar) finally understood what was funny to children. There are no lessons, no morals in the stories of the children who attend Wayside School. It’s pure joy and entertainment and with so many authors trying to do double-duty with their novels, teaching values such as honesty, fairness, self-reliability, social responsibility and everything else, it was a huge relief to just be able to laugh and laugh and not worry about the meaning behind it all.

The poetry of Shel Silverstein. Shel Silverstein is the only poet of whom I have the entire collected works available. (*note to self – read that last sentence aloud and make sure it makes sense before publishing.) His poems ranged from short and inane to long and thoughtful, but every single one of them felt like a secret. It’s like he wrote these poems just to amuse himself, but when he caught me reading through them, he just laughed and told me to read them aloud so he could enjoy them again, too. When I’m trying to write a goofy poem, I often will look to his works for inspiration.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Ok, so this is technically a comic strip and not a novel, but since by the time I started reading the newspaper everyday, Calvin and Hobbes had already ended, I only ever read them in a book format, so I’m counting it in. Calvin and Hobbes is THE best comic strip EVER. Don’t you dare come at me, Peanuts fans. When I was a kid I just thought Calvin was funny, but reading it as an adult now, I am in awe of its soft poignancy, Watterson’s gentle persuading of his readers to be more sympathetic and kind to each other. (And PSA – Watterson never agreed to license his characters, so every single C&H item you see out there on Etsy or wherever – stickers, T-shirts, nightlights, etc. – are all made without his permission or consent. Watterson never receives a penny off these purchases. The only people making money are the people who are ripping off his artwork.)

Ok, I think I’ll stop there for now. But there will definitely be a part two of this list. I love talking about my favorite books from childhood (actually, scratch that qualifier – these are STILL my favorite books), and I love connecting with people who love these books, as well. If you’re also a fan, let me know!

Published by Kate Landers

A writer, among other things. Former Texan now living in Tennessee.

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