published Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Cleaveland: Recalling favorite childhood books

Books provide special landmarks for our childhoods. We recall a title, a setting, the comfort of a warm bed or the lap of a parent or grandparent. Sometimes, the reader might try a different voice for each character. Some of those books we eventually learn by heart so that we can correct a careless narrator. After the first time thorough, we often say, "Read it again."

I polled friends and relatives for books from early childhood that are welded into their memories.

Robin Posey recalls "Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw. "I remember my Mother would sing each time we reached the part which said, 'I'll love you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be.' The part of the book that stuck with me was the end where the little boy, now a grown man holds his elderly mother and says the words to her that she had said to him so many times before."

First-grader Zoe Soteres and her mother, Desiree, share a fondness for "Barbapapa's Ark" by Annette Tison and Talus Taylor. "It's about the world being polluted and about how to save the earth," said Zoe. Though out of print, it can be found in used bookshops and online. Father Kip Soteres has enjoyed reading "A Child's Book of Myths and Enchanting Tales," illustrated by Margaret Evans Price. "I loved mythology at that age. This book that I read to Zoe sometimes is as good as any. I wish they used the Greek names rather than the Roman, but I just replace them as I read them."

Bob Berz recalls "Manners Can be Fun" by Munro Leaf. "I can still see almost every sketch drawn to illustrate each of the important manners for kids to remember, especially the one where you are not supposed to drink anything or talk when you have a mouthful of food," he said.

"To this day, I think of that precaution. My mother's advice that went along with the book was that people would think very well of you if you had good manners."

Nick Skonberg, 7, nominates "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" by Eileen Christelow "because it rhymes and is funny." His favorite line is "NO MORE monkeys jumping on the bed."

Nora Bernhardt's favorite book was "Bongo the Wonder Bear." The story was written by Sinclair Lewis and later became part of the Disney movie "Fun and Fancy Free."

"Bongo was a popular little circus bear who rode his unicycle on a high tight-wire ... but after his act he was very lonely in his cage," Ms. Bernhardt said. "One day, Bongo escaped from the circus, and eventually found happiness with other bear friends in the forest. Looking back on it now, I think that the book was particularly appealing because as an only child, I dreamed of being friends with all the animals in the forest too."

Alison and Alan Lebovitz and their three sons nominate "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" by Judy Blume. The book is one of a series of four. Seven-year-old Abe said, "We really like the characters and the stories."

"The books are just really good," said 5-year-old Levi. Young children never tire of their favorites.

Pris Siskin reports, "As all doting grandmothers, I am thrilled to read to our granddaughters books that I enjoyed as a child: Kay Thompson's "Eloise" and Jean de Drunhoff's "The Story of Babar."

Right now their favorites, which of course become mine too through their laughter and delight, are Fancy Nancy's "Bonjour Butterfly," by Jane O'Connor, and "If You Give a Pig a Party," by Laura Numeroff.

Karin Glendenning recalls "Miss Minerva" and "William Green Hill" by Frances Boyd Calhoun. "Recently I came across a copy and have begun to reread it," she said. "... It is full of delightful escapades that today might seem rather mild and silly, but since my grandmother loved it and read it to us in such an animated voice, we learned to love it, too."

My first grade teacher read "Lassie Come Home," by Eric Knight, to my class, a chapter each day after lunch. I was so moved by the story that it became the first "real" book that I read on my own. A superb, film adaptation that featured Elizabeth Taylor completed the magical experience. I was a confirmed reader.

Send me titles of memorable books from your own early reading life. Better yet, read one of your favorites to a favorite little person.

E-mail Clif Cleaveland at cleaveland1000@comcast.net

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