What We Learned From Children's Books
In conjunction with 2010's Community Read, Residents of Hamilton and Wenham share what THEY learned from children's books. Here are all of the responses we have had so far!
Responses are provided in the order that we received them. Scroll down to see the most recent responses. The most recent responses also appear on the Treasure of Books for Two Towns main page and stay there until we receive more.
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"I discovered this copy of Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher on my family’s bookshelf. It was a gift to my mother in 1931 by her great aunt Mary and soon became one of the treasured books that I read repeatedly while I was in elementary school.
"Betsy was a timid, frail and coddled child who was being brought up by her well-meaning aunts. When the aunts could no longer care for her, she was sent to live with her cousins on their Vermont farm and Aunt Frances was horrified to think of Betsy being raised by that dreadful Putney family. But the Putneys encouraged Betsy to stretch her wings and try new things. Betsy discovered her own resiliency and learned to be an independent thinker. She found herself in many situations that required compassionate, practical, and complex thought. I respected Betsy’s growth as a problem solver and resolved to follow her example."
~ Jan Dempsey, Library Director
"One of my first favorite children's books was The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I was deeply touched by the connection between the growing boy and tree from the forest. The self-sacrifice of the tree, and love between them both was a story that I have connected with through the different stages of my life. Also when I was young I had a tree in the forest behind my grandmother's house which my cousin and I named "Mother Tree" that we would play on and around...our own little giving tree."
~ Cindy Grove, Librarian
"When I was 11 years old, my mother gave me a copy of HER favorite
book, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was the book
that changed my view of how people talked and spurred my interest in
language and dialects. I loved it!
Many years later I heard the Yorkshire dialect myself and remembered so well how Dickon
spoke and how much fun it was to read about his adventures with Mary
Lennox and how they drew Colin into the garden with them.
I am planning to give this (rather tattered) book to Tianna, my great granddaughter, who is now also 11, and a great reader. I know she will love it, too."
~ Jean Buckley, Library Trustee
"The book I remember best from my childhood is Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe. This is a story about a dog, a cat, and the unexpected adoption of bunny that begins a mystery that no human could solve. Through some careful feline literary research and reluctant canine team work, a grand confrontation occurs resulting in laugh out loud hilarity. Bunnicula captured my imagination in a new way. I forgot I was reading, and disappeared into the world inside the pages. This wildly imaginative book sparked a love for reading that has lasted throughout my life. It inspires me to help readers find the book that becomes more than just a book."
~ Tara Mansfield, Head of Circulation
"In Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child two clockwork mice are broken and thrown out in the trash, but a tramp repairs them and sends them on their way. Out in the world they make surprising allies and an implacable enemy: Manny Rat, a brutal dump yard despot with a slave army of wind-up toys. The characters seem innocuous – animals and toys – but the book is rife with instances of violence and sudden death. It is also often funny, always weird, and beautifully written: a story that offers fresh meaning on each rereading. When I was younger I admired the mouse child’s boundless hope, but I could also relate to his father’s caution. Both qualities are essential and temper one another. You must accept the risks if you want to reach your own "last visible dog." Look if you like, but you will have to leap!"
~ Sarah Lauderdale, Head of Reference
Hamilton Town Administrator Candace Wheeler chose Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt as one of her most treasured children’s books. Candace says, "This is one of the best books I’ve ever read and it is meaningful to readers of all ages. I read it to my two daughters and I appreciate the way Babbitt handles mortality and expresses the importance of living each day to the fullest."
~ Candace Wheeler, Hamilton Town Administrator
"Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends taught me that things don't always have to make sense to be awesome, and I have never forgotten that."
~ Anonymous, 23
"My favorite children's book is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett because I was in awe of the character, Dickon who could talk to and nurse injured wild animals and knew how to care for plants so that they can grow strong and bloom. When Mary tells Dickon a robin showed her where the door to a secret garden is, he figures Mary is okay since the robin likes her and is her friend. In fact, the robin was the first friend Mary had ever had and Dickon is her first human friend. I'm not sure I understood as a child that Mary was like a frightened and hurt animal, like the others Dickon cared for, or that the people in the story blossomed like Dickon showed Mary that the seemingly dead plants could do in the neglected garden, but I did want to be like him and hoped I could be such a good friend to animals that they would talk to me! I recommend adults read it for the first time or again through adult's eyes as it is such a nice reminder to be kind to people and animals and to the natural world for the good of all."
~ Charity Cullen, Library Assistant
Library Trustee Janice Pappas chose 365 Bedtime Stories by Nan Gilbert as one of her most treasured children’s books. Janice says, "When I was 7 years old, my family moved from Marblehead, MA to Ormond Beach, FL. They bought a home in a retirement community that was far from the
school that we attended. Because there were no kids with which to play in
the neighborhood, I became a voracious reader. I read everything from
biographies, to The Bobbsey Twins series, Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew, and much,
much more. My most memorable book, however, was 365 Bedtime Stories: A
Story for Every Day of the Year about the Children on What-a-Jolly Street by Nan Gilbert.
"What-a-Jolly Street was a magical place for a child who lived on a street in Florida that had no children. What-a-Jolly Street - a cul-de-sac - had kids, and colorful leaves in the fall, and snow in the winter, and tulips in the spring. Mrs. Apricot, an elderly widow who lived at the end of the street always welcomed the children in the neighborhood with cookies, milk, kittens, and lots of attention. The kids in the neighborhood went to school together and played together. I loved that book because, to me, it represented the ideal place to live. Though I lost track of the book, I never forgot it.
"After college, I moved back to Marblehead. Years later, as a relatively young widow with no children, I moved from Marblehead to Hamilton. The street - a cul-de-sac with eight houses - had quite a few kids who congregated at my house because I had kittens, dogs, cookies and milk, and lots of time for them. One day, while antiquing with a friend, I found a copy of 365 Bedtime Stories and I purchased it. As I re-read the book I realized that I had moved to a neighborhood that was so very much like my idea of the ideal place to live, What-a-Jolly Street. That street is Bittersweet Lane. And while I didn't live at the end of the street as Mrs. Apricot did, I had become her in being a place for the neighborhood kids to congregate.
"Was my love for this book prescient? Did I somehow I know that it predicted a future phase in my life or did I subconsciously look for a situation that resembled an ideal? I have no idea. All I know is that I loved that book as I love my life here on Bittersweet Lane."
~ Janice Pappas, Library Trustee
"As a Children’s Librarian, it is supremely difficult to narrow the vast array of wonderful stories into one favorite selection, but I was asked to choose one title from childhood that left an impression, and Puss in Boots fits that category. I recall that the version I owned had wonderful illustrations, similar to the Fred Marcellino edition that won a Caldecott honor in 1991. I have a great love for animals in general and cats specifically, and was intrigued with, well, a talking cat, as well as one so clever as Puss. I longed to be Puss’s “master” or friend, because really children are masters of very little, and Puss was both intelligent and a loyal friend to the “Marquis of Carabas” (and who doesn’t love to say Marquis of Carabas?)."
~ Lorraine Der, Children's Librarian
Wenham Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren chose Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern as one of his most treasured children’s books. Jeff says, "I remember my mother reading the book to me when I was young and she would always put such great enthusiasm into the sound effects. Now that I have had the pleasure of passing on this tradition to the younger members of my family and friends, I have carried on this tradition and I really believe it is just as much fun to read it as it is to hear it read."
~ Jeff Chelgren, Wenham Town Administrator
Rather than a most treasured children's book, Young Adult Librarian Kim Claire selected a treasured author: Andre Norton! Kim says, "There are so many favorites from my childhood that the task of choosing “most treasured” is an impossible assignment for me. I could pick the Oz books by Frank Baum, or the Chronicles of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, Heidi by Johanna Spyri, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, or Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - all greatly treasured and all read more than once.
"However, since I am the Young Adult Librarian, it seems appropriate to choose something from my teen years. Again, there is no one book, but there is one particular author that captivated me, during my 7th grade year - Andre Norton (1912-2005), who wrote over 150 books during her life. In middle school I read every book by Ms. Norton that was in Oahu’s, Robert Louis Stevenson Junior High School Library. Though I cannot pick just one title, I do recommend any of the The Witch World series, the Hosteen Storm aka Beast Master series or Dipple series.
"Many of Andre Norton’s books are science fiction and fantasy combined. Her books introduced me to science fiction, and made me a life long fan of the genre. Because of her books, after that 7th grade year, I went looking, and found Asimov, Ellison, Heinlein, and Pohl. Norton’s books captured my attention with the heroic characters (male and female) and the imaginatively rendered, far away (in space and/or time), worlds they lived in. Usually there is space flight or a gate into another world, telepathy, and intelligent animals in her books. Futuristic science, psychic abilities, and magic, is intertwined with a large amount of adventure, and a dash of romance. There are always surprising twists, with characters that must find their way through difficult situations. From the age of 5 to 14 I lived on the island of Oahu. An exotic place to live, so one might not think alien adventures particularly desirable, yet Norton’s books provided just the escape, hope, and wonder that I needed at the time.
"Ms. Norton, born Alice Mary Norton, was the first woman to receive the Gandalf Grand Master Award from the World Science Fiction Society in 1977. After her death in 2005, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America created the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy in her honor."
~ Kim Claire, Young Adult Librarian
"My parents introduced me to Roald Dahl (he of Charlie & Willie Wonka fame) by including Danny, the Champion of the World in my birthday gifts when I turned eight or nine. Growing up the fifth of seven children, the first thing that I fell in love with in the story was the fact Danny was an only child! But as I read on and re-read the book time and time again, I found myself drawn to Danny's widowed father. Each night, while Danny slept, his father went out in secret poaching pheasants in the English countryside until Danny discovers him missing one night. His father invites him into the fraternity of poaching and they share several hair-raising episodes. The book is worth reading if only for what Dahl writes on the last page:
A Message to Children Who Have Read This Book - When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important: a stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.
"My three sons clapped with delight when we arrived at this final page one night. They still remind me when I need to be sparky."
~ Stephen Leonard, Adjunct Professor in English, Gordon College
"Without a doubt, the books that most influenced my childhood were the Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. Alanna, a small, scrappy redhead, disguises herself as a boy, risking ostracism and death to become a knight of the realm. Along the way, she makes friends, stands up to bullies, and struggles to balance her male persona with her secret female identity. Alanna works day and night to become the best page at court, but still worries about what her friends will think when they find out who she really is. Alanna’s story taught me that your sex doesn’t need to determine your future, and that a true friend will never abandon you for being honest about who you are."
~ Kate Jovin, Children's Library Assistant
Friends Volunteer Barbara Broff chose Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder as one of her most treasured children’s books. Barbara says: "Called 'that miracle book that no Depression could stop,' Laura Ingalls Wilder’s saga about her life on the American Prairie reminded its readers in 1932 that times could be hard but we could still get through them. I read it in the 1950s when Garth Williams re-illustrated the series. The stories fascinated young readers, now living in cities, who had never know what it was like to be part of a small community.
"I read the plain account given by Eden Ross Lipson, New York Times book critic, in Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, and how she was guided by the wisdom of the series since childhood. I agree with her life-long lessons that are summed up with her discovery that 'There is dignity, honor, and pleasure in work well done.'
"I also loved Everything I Needed to Know… and have told many friends to get it and find how their favorite children's book influenced a noteworthy contributor."
~ Barbara Broff, Friends of the Hamilton-Wenham Public Library Volunteer, Old and Rare Books Internet Sales
"The book I remember most from my childhood is Sam the Minuteman by Nathaniel Benchley. The story follows a boy and his father in rural Massachusetts on the day the British marched on Lexington and Concord. The boy and his father take up arms and join the other Minutemen on the Lexington Green and resist the British in an attempt to stop their advancement on Concord. I credit this book with instilling in me a lifelong love of history. I have recently started to read this book to my two sons. They both love the book as much as I did, and now we can not wait until Patriot's Day when we will travel to Lexington and observe the historic re-enactment for the first time in person."
~ Ken Nagy, Hamilton Police Department
NOBLE Network Librarian Elizabeth Thomsen writes about two treasured children's books by Beverly Cleary: Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford. Her original blog entry is mirrored here with permission. "I was a good reader in first grade, and read lots of picture books, fairy tales and the whole Thornton W. Burgess series about Old Mother West Wind, Reddy Fox, Poor Mrs. Quack and the others.
"But then in the second grade, I took Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary out of the library, and found it the most shocking, amazing book in the world. It wasn’t about a princess or an animal, it was about an ordinary girl. And it didn’t just tell you what Ellen did, it told you what she thought, and how she felt! And Ellen’s thoughts and feelings were full of contradictions, and her life was full of misunderstandings, and things that didn’t always quite work out the way she thought they would. Confusion, sadness, regret, joy, it’s all in there.
"Ellen Tebbits is probably best known for the underwear scene, where Ellen is at a dance class, wearing an awful union suit under her ballet costume, rolled to the waist. As she is doing her ballet moves, she can feel the underwear start to slip, and — horrors! — the ballet teacher’s son Otis Spofford, the worst boy in her class, can see it, too! He’s observing and mocking her from a spot where she can see him, but his mother can’t. Ellen’s acute embarrassment, in a scene that goes on and on, was painful to me. Poor Ellen! I knew just how she felt, and I wished I could be her friend. I felt like I was her friend, her secret friend who really understood her. But not a jealous friend — I was happy when she and Austine became friends over a shared secret, sad when they almost lost that friendship, and relieved when they worked things out. I read that book with an intensity that was like nothing I had known from any other book.
"Until that time, I had no idea that all those feelings could be written down, and put in a book, and that you could know a character like this. I’m not sure that I even knew that other people had all these feelings like I did.
"And then I read Otis Spofford, the sequel to Ellen Tebbits. I thought I knew all about Otis, but I was wrong. He was such an awful boy in the first book, but in the second one, I saw that he had his own thoughts and feelings, and his own reasons for doing the things. He’s not bad, he’s just a boy looking for a little excitement.
"These two books made me think that maybe everyone could be in a book with their name as the title, and if only you could read that book, you’d understand that person. It’s important to try to see other people’s point of view — this was an important life lesson to learn, something I still struggle with at times!"
~ Elizabeth Thomsen, NOBLE Network Librarian, Member Services Manager
Head of Technical Services Nancy Day chose Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh as one of her most treasured children’s books. Nancy says: "11-year-old Harriet is a spy and plans to be an author, so she keeps a secret notebook. She fills it with thoughts and notes on classmates and people she observes. When some of her classmates read the notebook, they seek revenge. I remember reading this when I was young. It has stuck with me and I credit it with the fact that I am such a mystery reader now as an adult."
~ Nancy Day, Head of Technical Services
Circulation Librarian Dede McManus chose These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder as one of her most treasured children’s books. Dede says: "I remember my third grade teacher reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilders, starting with Little House in the Big Woods and ending with These Happy Golden Years. My teacher would read to us right after recess to settle us down. I can remember the hush in the room and dazed expressions as everyone listened intently to the stories. The Little House books are great stories about the American frontier and still an American classic."
~ Dede McManus, Circulation Librarian
Library Trustee Annette Janes chose the Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers as some of her most treasured children’s books. Annette says: "When I was six years old my father brought me to sign up for a library card at the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers. The librarians were Miss Day and Miss Putnam. To this day I can remember how astonished I was that I could borrow any book in the children’s area.
"Brought up on an isolated farm during the austere years of the Great Depression and WWII, books were read with speed and gratitude after chores. There were so many favorites, but the Mary Poppins’ series were astonishing to me. To think anyone had a Nanny (who always smelled of toast) who could settle arguments and take you places was beyond belief. In the series, the competent Mary Poppins leaves and come back several times but she is smart, knows everyone and even travels to visit the sun one night; with the children in tow. When the sun kisses her and calls her child, and she has a burn on her cheek the next day of a kiss he put there it seemed so wondrous I never forgot it.
"Other wonderful books were the Twins series by Lucy Fitch Perkins. In these books there is a boy and girl twin in each book and they take place in every country such as The Dutch Twins, The French Twins, The Swiss Twins, etc. The twins had many adventures and you learned about each country at the same time; subtle but fun geography and cultural lessons."
~ Annette Janes, Library Trustee
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Sponsored by The Friends of the Hamilton-Wenham Public Library and a Mother Goose on the Loose Grant. These federal funds are provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.