Old Favorites

Old Favorites

The sight of my daughter in a new pink sweater the other morning nagged at me. It wasn't that she didn't look fine, but something about her reminded me of something. What was it? I searched my mind, and finally hit upon the answer: in her long braids and vaguely 1950's-style cardigan, my child captured the essence of a character in something I'd read at about age six, a long out-of-print picture book called The Shy Little Girl, by Phyllis Krasilovsky, and the character was not the shy little girl herself, but her eventual best friend, Claudia, as depicted by the illustrator, the late, great Trina Schart Hyman. That book stayed with me so powerfully that the image of the sweatered, braided child, lo these 35 years later, still resonates.

My stepsister rhapsodized for years about a book that she remembered as "Jacqueline, Jacqueline, and Jacqueline." All she recalled about the plot was that all the characters were named Jacqueline, and that it was sort of strange and surreal.  In those days before the Internet and online used booksellers, it was hard to find out more, but when one day at an antiquarian book fair I happened across a book called Story Number One, by the absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco, I had a feeling I'd found it. I gave it to her for her next birthday, and from the look on her face, it might have been a treasure trove of gold and jewels. And, in a way, it was: it was the key to a formerly lost part of her childhood.

My stepsister and I aren't alone: the books we encounter in childhood have that kind of power for lots of people. They can become part of the sensory, primitive memory that we carry through the rest of our lives, often retaining only a hazy but strong sense of the book or maybe just a single image. Many people have this feeling about popular children's classics like Goodnight Moon or Where the Wild Things Are,  but when the book is obscure and not likely to be found again, it can take on an almost mythical quality in the rememberer's mind.

library children's departments are popular haunts for adults tracking down the half-remembered books of their childhoods, and requests for help with old book"stumpers" appear regularly on librarians' listservs. If you're looking for a long-lost childhood favorite, one resource is the Internet Public Library's Half-Remembered Children's Books Search Strategies, which outlines some search methods and linkes to three different websites devoted to helping people track down those books they loved but can't quite remember.

Do you have any long-loved, long-lost childhood favorites? Did you ever manage to find them again in adulthood?

April 25, 2008

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Comments

What a sensitive depiction of the childhood memories of lost books! I think I have many--some in the grade school years,many from earlier childhood, and even quite a few from my parents' bookshelves and the public library. One in particular made a lasting impression on me--I don't know why, since I am not a middle child, and this book was about the psychosocial predicaments of a middle child. It was called, "The Middle Moffat". I could search for it in the ways you suggest, but I am curious to know if you ever came across it. Again, I am puzzled about the personal draw of this character for me---since I am the oldest of two kids. Maybe I felt like a middle child; or maybe it was the first sign of an interest in the psychology of empathy or both.

All the best,

Adele

My childhood favourite was Moon Man, by Tomi Ungerer. Very 1960's, both in the lovely illustrations and in the anti-military peacenik message. I had a poster of the cover in my room, so that every night the Moon Man sniffing roses in the night garden watched over me.

My favorite book when I was little was Fourteen Bears In Summer and Winter. I looked and looked all over for this book. I found out that it had been out of print for years and just a few months after I started looking for it, I found it. I ordered 6 copies. One for my son, my nieces and our local library. I hope that other children love this book as much as I did, that's why I donated one.

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