Blog of green gables?

early days of reading

I’m not a children’s writer, but I am a writer and the mother of a small child, and so my world has been filled with children’s books for the last many years. From the beginning, I’ve loved reading with my daughter – because of the intimacy, because of how much she enjoys it, because of my interest in stories in general. But also because the books open a window on to childhood, and give me new ways of considering my own work. Though written for adults, each of my novels has featured children among the main characters, and I am always intrigued by the child as narrator, protagonist, and, of course, listener.

I’m not always the reader in this house. Sometimes I eavesdrop when my husband reads aloud, and increasingly, the smallest among us can figure out the words on her own. Sometimes we even sit side by side with our individual books open, together but separate, too, as we turn the pages.

I’ve often thought that if I could take time away to study anything, it would be children’s literature. And in a sense I guess I am studying it, as my daughter moves through the years reading new books and classics alike. I can see how the stories help broaden her perspective, and give her new puzzles to solve, or at least contemplate, about the real world. And I remember my own early days of reading — the small green stools at the library, placed around child-sized tables. Shelf after shelf of books, about endless numbers of things. I loved the way the children’s section looked down on the wide open main floor, where grown-ups sat on couches reading newspapers and magazines, close by but a world away.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, of Secret fame

Frances Hodgson Burnett, of Secret fame

The stories we read together at our house have come up now and again on this blog – Frog and Toad, The BFG, The Secret Garden – and it always occurs to me that there is so much more to say about these books and the people who created them — Roald Dahl was a Wing Commander in WW2,  learned Norwegian myths from his mother, and wrote macabre short stories for adults as well as his kids’ books; Frances Hodgson Burnett grew up in a Manchester slum — she later supported her siblings with her writing income, and divorced two husbands in a span of four years.

I’ve decided to make a shift in the next while, and start a series of meandering posts on children’s books and their authors, and the kinds of things that come up when we share stories in our house. (For instance “Pooh,” here, is pronounced “Poo-huh,” by someone who is busy discovering the many surprises of the English language.) I hope this series will still give me the freedom to muse about Vincent van Gogh and Charles Darwin, or maybe A. A. Milne and L. M. Montgomery. However things unfold, I’m looking forward to charting our progress through stories, and to hearing what others think about the many subjects we’ll touch on.

So if you know some fans of great children’s literature, or parents who might like to follow along on our journey, please pass on the link. And think back on your own childhood – what were your favourite books, and why?

The BFG catching dreams

The BFG catching dreams

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Blog of green gables?

  1. Lenny

    Well, I for one look forward to walking through the land of children’s stories with you.

    I’ve been trying to remember all the books that I loved as a child. What a pleasure to think about these old friends. I know they had a profound influence and the really good ones contained the kind of wisdom that echos even now.

    • kristendenhartog

      Great to hear! Right now we are immersed in Return to Hundred Acre Wood, the continuation of the Pooh stories by David Benedictus.

      • kristendenhartog

        Nice coincidence! I was just talking with a friend whose son is reading Enid Blyton at her urging — at first he was not interested, but she encouraged him, and says he’s really been enjoying them. Let me know what you think when you revisit!

  2. Julie

    Terrific idea! i look forward to reading (tho suspect you might find ways to sneak in some Darwin, etc – I hope!) Lovely picture of you with tiny N.

  3. Tracy

    I loved the Anne series, and dabbled for a while with Trixie Belden mysteries and Nancy Drew, and even read a few Hardy Boys in my day, but when I read your invitation to think back, the first books that came to mind were the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. They seemed both exotic and familiar to me; exotic because they used words like torch for flashlight, and the children explored smugglers’ caves in Cornwall and secret passages in old English homes, familiar because the uncle and dad was a scientist, and the setting was rural even if it was in England. These days, of course, as with The Secret Garden which I also read, the books by Enid Blyton are considered sexist and full of stereotypes, but they were written in the 40s and 50s, a very different time and place. Hmm, I think I might visit my local library to see if the books are still on their shelves, and if so I may borrow one or two and see what happens when I read them now, decades on. Thanks for planting the idea!

  4. Marilyn

    What a beautiful picture. The books I remember reading as a child were called “The Bobbsey Twins” which, I think, is an American series, but these twins travelled all over and had great adventures. I remember going to the big Public Library in London and choosing from all the books. A Canadian series called Maggie Muggins (and her friend Mr. McGarrity) was really fun. These stories were also broadcast on CBC radio in the 1940s and on TV in the 1950s. Later I also enjoyed the Anne books which my mother herself read over and over even late in life.

    • kristendenhartog

      I remember those books as well, so they were still going strong in the 60s. It would be nice to find some old radio clips of Maggie Muggins from the forties….

  5. jim

    Did you know that the National Geo published a great section on Charles in 2009 and one on Wallace as well?

    • kristendenhartog

      We have a copy here of “The Man Who Wasn’t Darwin” from Dec. 08. Apparently he was “a man of crotchety independence and lurching enthusiasms. If he hadn’t existed, it would have taken a very peculiar Victorian novelist to create him.”

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