The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

10 July 2013

The books of childhood

A book just crossed my desk that made me think of 'Where the red fern grows'. Have you read it? It remains on my list of books that had a powerful impact on me as a child.

We read it as a class in grade 8 (eighth grade if you're American), one chapter per week. The story was compelling - a boy and his dogs, full of adventure - so I read ahead. It was one of those situations where you can't help yourself so you zoom through the book, but you really don't want it to end so you lament seeing the last page approaching. I remember finishing the book so clearly. It was early evening, my parents were in the living room, and I was sitting on my sister's bed. She was playing legos or something. My heart broke. It really and truly felt as though it broke in my chest. The ending was so sad, so gripping, I didn't think I'd ever get over it. I cried so hard my dad come in the room t find out what was wrong.

There were other books in childhood that linger to this day: The Little white horse, The Little princess, Anne of Green Gables - all for their hint of fantasy and magic (not spells and potions, but wonder and delight). They fed my imagination and my desire to create stories that could bring the same experience to others.

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as well as Jane Eyre were important reading moments because they were my first foray into 'grown up' books. Oh, how Mr. Rochester infuriated and beguiled me! LOTR blew my mind wide open - the vastness of Tolkien's creation still astounds me.

When I was very wee, I had a set of books in Dutch about a little man who lived in a tree - a hole in the bottom of a tree trunk, not up in a tree house in the boughs. I love the woods to this day because of those books. I'd dearly love to track them down. I wonder what a Google search of "Dutch books about a man in a tree" would bring up?

We talk about books a lot here, but do tell me what are your strongest memories of childhood reading?

The little man in a tree is named Okkie Pepernoot. He's a one hundred year old elf (brownie? dwarf? Not sure on the translation). I found the series of books on the National library of the Netherlands' website, here
Somewhere there is a picture of me, about 3 years old, sitting in a little wooden chair in a courderoy jumper, white tights and knitted slippers, reading one of these books (I remember a white cover with red lettering) and a very serious scowl of concentration on my face.


  1. I read a lot as a child (surprise, surprise) but what really stands out are the Nancy Drew books. My uncle gave me my first for Christmas in Grade 2 (second grade) and I never looked back.

    I can still remember how the porch felt under my bum, and the smell of fresh cut grass, while reading with my best friend, trying to see who would finish the book first. Then we'd swap, 'natch.

  2. A set of books about a little man who lived in a tree? I this where Gamel came from? (My Google search didn't find anything useful.)

    I was never much into fiction - other than science fiction - when I was young, but I do remember a few of the books I read.

    The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek - I liked this book, but I'm not sure why other than it was fun to read. The stegosaurus was named George, so I ended up naming all my pet turtles George.

    Shadow of a Bull - Didn't like this one - had to read it for school, but I think I was too young for it at the time.

    I read a number of early Robert Heinlein books, like Rocket Ship Galileo, and I can still remember some of the feelings I had about flying through space and being on other worlds. Perhaps not the best source of inspiration, but it did have a lasting effect.

    But I have to say the strongest memory I have of reading in my childhood was reading the encyclopedias - we had a couple of multi-volume sets - and my father's books on electronics and mathematics. Even at a very young age I knew the difference between a diode and a triode, and was fascinated by math (I'm not saying I was good at it!). I think I got as much of an education with that as I did at school.

  3. Carly! How could I have overlooked Nancy Drew? Definitely a classic among the classics. I have a strong memory of laying on the living room floor of my Opa's house one summer, deep in... I think it was The Mystery in the old clock, writing a list for my dad of the titles I had so he could pick up a few more as he was on his way out to the store. Ms. Keene planted the seeds for my ongoing appreciation for a well crafted mystery.

    K - I believe the best education comes from following your passions and interests and reading as much about them as you can. You got a good start in life!
    I have an untested theory that while there are women who like SciFi, the admiring audience is predominantly men (much like those who like Rush) (the rock group).
    What is it about Science Fiction that draws you?

  4. I have so many childhood favorites that a list would make an entire post. But there was one book that left a lifelong impression. I have never been able to track down a title or author for my sketchy memories, which were surely instrumental in the birth of my own desire to write. The book was about a family whose last name was something like "Queue," (?) and they had homey adventures that I thought marvelous. When I had to return them to the library, in my misery I began making up my own stories involving the very same family. They had, after all, become part of me. Now I have murky memories of "the Qs" swimming in creeks and picnicking by riverbanks, and I don't know whether the snippets I remember were ones written by the original author, or were my own desperate attempts at "sequels!"

  5. I was ever so disillusioned when I found out that there wasn't an actual Carolyn Keene, but that the books were written by multiple authors using "Carolyn Keene" as a pseudonym.

    It did, however, explain a number of inconsistencies I picked up on when rereading the series as an adult (I still have all 56 books from the original series in hardcover).

  6. What is it about Science Fiction that draws you?

    It was more of a draw when I was younger - I've branched out a bit since then.

    Much of the early science fiction was built around technology and hardware, and like many men, that interested me. Fewer women have that interest it seems, but some do - my wife loves to run her diesel-powered 4-wheel drive tractor and drive her manual-shift car - so I know first-hand this is true. But I spent much of my youth rebuilding engines, then got into electronics, finally migrating to computers in the early 1980's (Yes, I had an Apple II), so technology of some sort was always around. Also, my father worked for a company involved in building some of the first space rockets - though many of the launches did not go well... but again, the influence was there.

    Thinking back, I also liked mysteries, but I've never come up with a good idea for writing one.

  7. Carly, I don't like to think about the deceit of CK not REALLY being CK. It's akin to Santa Claus, really.
    I can't believe you have the books still! Where do you keep them? You must have a worm hole in the basement. It would be fun to read them again. Once I catch up on all the other books I want to read.

    KR - I can see the appeal of SF to a logical brain. Have you read CS Lewis' trilogy? I'm sure I've read something by Orson Scott Card, but can't remember what it was.
    It sounds as though you have a good match in your wife. I wish you many happy years!