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As a solitary child, books were my best friends. I loved their friendship because they were quiet, fascinating, non-judgmental, and, as companions, they were always available. So I decided to honor my memories of my childhood books.
Money was tight in our household, so except for a tiny allowance, I rarely asked for spending money. To keep my reading habit alive, my mother would take us weekly to the Garden Grove Library, in those days a tiny building with a charming children’s book section. We were allowed to check out seven books at a time, which I easily finished before the week was out. At the library, I discovered that many books were written in series. Thus, I began my love affair with L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (which I wrote about here a couple of years ago). As an adult, I have only a fragmented recollection of the stories (although I remember many of the characters); instead, I loved the artist of many of the later books, John R. Neill, and have a small collection of those books.
I was a huge fan of books that ran in series, because launching into each book was like continuing on a delightful journey, especially those that were mystery stories: The Happy Hollisters and Nancy Drew mysteries. I adored fairy tales, too, like Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I didn’t realize how popular several of the Grimm brothers’ stories were until I discovered in my research that they wrote Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstilskin, and Snow White.
As I was putting this piece together, however, I had a sudden memory of a set of books that were central to my childhood. My father used to work for Encyclopedia Americana and we ended up getting a set of encyclopedias. I don’t know if we’d have been able to afford them without his working there. We also received an “Annual” which we always raced to unpack for the latest updates.
But my favorite set of books was the Children’s series (pictured here). They were beautifully bound books, with brownish-red covers, and gold lettering. They were some of the children’s classics, including Hans Christian Anderson tales, Black Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Arabian Nights, Heidi, and Robin Hood. In studying a photo of the set, I was surprised to see Tales from Shakespeare! That was not in my set, although I wish it had been. They must have included it in early versions of the collection and removed it at the behest of customers (Shakespeare for children?) or upgraded the set with that volume after my parents bought ours.
Most of my books were checked out from the library, and on rare occasions, my folks would buy us books. The only book I remember buying on my own when I was quite young, though, was a real thrill.
My school held a book fair and, of course, I was in my glory, roaming through the many tables of books. It was, in fact, book heaven for me. My mother had given me a small amount of money to buy a book and it would only be enough money for one. I don’t remember the reason, but after much deliberation, I settled on Marmaduke the Magician. It probably wasn’t a blockbuster (since it’s not in print or available anywhere), but it was about a little boy who wanted to become a magician. Since I was entranced by anything magical, it was the perfect buy.
I’ve not kept any of those books, except some Oz books which I purchased as an adult. Those other books disappeared or were given away.
But I still have treasures to keep: my memories of my childhood books and the way they fed my imagination.