Summer, for me, has always been a time for reading (kind of like winter). When I was a kid, with a spring / summer birthday, I always got new books in time for summer (and had usually finished all the books from Christmas already). I thought I’d introduce you to some of the books I read as a child that I still remember fondly.
When I first lived abroad I was surprised that a lot of the books I was so familiar with and that virtually everyone I knew had read were completely new to most people I talked to in England and America. This may have changed for some of them, but I’m sure one or two of these may be unfamiliar to you, and hopefully open up new reading adventures for you or your child. I made a point of including the covers because for me, as a child, they were always very important (and they still are today).
I remember few picture books — this is the one I remember for sure. Astrid Lindgren’s Tommte Tummetott is a beautifully illustrated story about a Skandinavian mythical creature called a tomte or a nisse. Yes, he looks like a miniature Santa Claus. And the snow doesn’t help. But it’s not a Santa Claus story.
The good old story collection. I think every family must have one of these, or something like it. Every night, for the longest time, my parents would read us a good night story from this book. The stories in this collection covered lots of cultures and styles — there were the usual fairy tales (Hansel & Gretel, Princess & the Frog, etc) but also tales from Greek mythology (I remember being utterly fascinated with Medusa and how to trick her!), fairy tales from China and other countries, and Aesop’s fables. Once I was able to read, I had to read my own good night story, but I’d still go back to this book years later. It should still be in one of my boxes — with the covers come loose, and the inevitable crayon marks, but I do think I still have it.
The Pumuckl series by Ellis Kaut. I read about ten or twelve different ones before I moved on from these. I don’t remember if I came across Pumuckl on TV or in book-form first, but since our TV time was very limited, I’m guessing it was books. Pumuckl is a kobold, a mischievous sort of spirit who plays tricks on seafaring folk. And yes, there’s the connection between “kobold” and “cobalt” — I think originally, these little folks were blue. He obviously isn’t, and he’s very much not at sea, either. An elderly carpenter, Meister Eder, finds the kobold in his workshop one day and pretty much adopts him. He is the only person who can see him — as soon as anyone else enters the room, Pumuckl becomes invisible. And there’s no end to the mischief the little guy causes, though not always intentionally, as he learns about people.
The Little Vampire series. No literary masterpiece, I know, but it was entertaining. The little vampire is a little boy like any other, except that, well he’s a a vampire, he smells like mothballs, and he can fly. (And he sure as anything does NOT sparkle.) He makes friends with a mortal boy, and they have fun adventures together — but they must avoid the little vampire’s family, such as his grumpy, pimple-faced brother who is doomed to be forever a teenager. They must also avoid the vampire hunter. They have lots of fun scaring the babysitter though, and once the little vampire gives his friend a vampire cloak, both can fly, so there’s no limit to their adventures. Until the cloak gets put in the wash.
The next step up — The Nesthaekchen series by Else Ury (1877-1943). The idea, as with many other series for girls in particular, is that you read all the books in order and you grow up with the character. It starts out with Nesthaekchen (meaning “youngest child”) and her dolls, when she is nearing school age, and continues all the way to Nesthaekchen and her grandchildren. I never made it past her wedding, and I wasn’t nearly as impressed by that book as I was with the first few. I also never read (or was even aware of, until now) the volume of Nesthaekchen and the World War — it didn’t even show up in the list of titles in the front of the books I got, though they purported to be the full series.
I read a lot of Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002). Virtually all of her books, I think. At least, virtually all that were available in German at that time (and that’s quite a few!). While I loved Pippi Longstockings and The Six Bullerby Children as a very young reader, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter became a role model for me.
If I had a child, I would want her to read this book. In fact, I want to read this book again. Right now. It’s available in English, too, and if you have young readers, I’d recommend this as a summer read. Ronja is a brave, intelligent and stubborn girl, the daughter of the robber Matthies. Despite the fact that there’s a feud between his band of robbers and the other band of robbers, Ronja makes friends with the other band’s leader’s son, Birk. Ronja has to decide whether to do as she’s told (which is to hate Birk and stay away), or to trust her own instinct (which tells her that Birk is just like her and they can be friends).
…more Lindgren. Like Ronja, these are for slightly older readers than Pippi Longstockings. They are full of adventure and talk about friendship and courage. (Mio my Mio, The Brothers Lionheart)
A very strange book about a woman who gets a mail order delivery one day (which she can’t remember ordering) — a big tin can. When she opens it, there’s a boy inside. The perfect child. Too bad she herself is less than perfect and has no idea what to do with a perfect child.
I never read Are you There, God? It’s me, Margaret. However, I did read Mister God, this is Anna, and I felt like I was reading a grown-up book. Real life was entering my reading universe. If you’ve not read this one, while the title may seem similar to Blume’s book, this is very different in content. It’s about a young man (Fynn) who finds a four year old girl in the streets of London and takes her home to his mother to live with them. I remember thinking it was a strange story, but strange in a beautiful kind of way. Anna turns out to be quite the philosopher. She teaches him a lot of things. He records her insights, and the book is his account of their time together.
Anna has ideas about virtually anything, even relationships. One passage I remember most from the books is when Anna is playing with a broken balloon, and she stretches it and pokes a finger into the rubbery surface. I’m trying really hard to remember — I think she ends up telling Fynn that that’s what we’re like — we’re inside and outside at the same time. In any case, at the end of the book, I was crying. Anna dies, but she’s not scared or upset. She’s okay with it. It’s another book I kept going back to — I never read the whole thing twice, but I kept going back to passages I liked or that intrigued me — her observations and lessons and, of course, her death. Children are intrigued by death, I think.
This one’s a big one. This three-volume story by Alois Theodor Sonnleitner, in real life Alois Tluchor (1869-1939), is set after the 30 year war (so, 1600s) and follows the lives of the two orphans Eva and Peter who must learn to survive alone in a cave in the mountains. Since they have nothing and nobody but each other, their lives are much like those of the early humans.
This last one, I didn’t read as a child. I picked it up at a sale about fifteen years ago, so I was easily twenty-something. But I know I would have loved it as a young reader. The English title is Wise Child. Set in a small Scottish village, it’s about a girl who gets raised by a wise woman / witch / whatever you want to call her. The wise woman teaches the girl about healing with herbs, — good magic. The point comes where she has to choose between the wise woman and her mother, who turns out to be involved in a dark kind of magic.
What about you? What books do you remember enjoying as a young reader?