The Start

comments: 294


Books were my earliest friends. My mother read to me early and constantly. I had a huge set of Little Golden Books with records and a little turquoise-blue 7" record player and I played the records constantly. I picture this in my grandparents' apartment building, so I must have been less than three years old. I knew many of the recordings by heart and would just recite them over and over (including the "Ding! Turn the page!") holding the book on my lap. My mom made a few recordings of me "reading" in this way. I haven't listened to those tapes in decades — they used to be around the house, and we'd listen to them every once in a while, and I remember once hearing the tapes as a teenager bursting into tears at the sound of my little long-ago voice, reading Cindy-Cinderella, went to the ball. . . .

My father was a voracious reader, and he read at the dinner table every night, so I was allowed to read at the dinner table. When he came home from work, he needed to eat dinner, and he also needed reading time. So for years and years I remember our family eating dinner at the dining room table with the MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour on, and my dad was reading and eating, and I was reading and eating, and I can only assume my mom and my sisters were talking? I actually have no idea what they were doing or talking about. I was so like my dad in this way. We'd sit across the table from each other with our left hands holding books and our right hands holding forks, oblivious. It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I knew you were supposed to keep your left hand in your lap while you were eating. But then how could you hold your book? And . . . conversation? Then how could you read? I can't read and talk at the same time. I can read and eat at the same time, but I can't read and talk. In fact, Shhhhh. Reading here. Can you pass me the meatballs.

My dad read so much, and so fast. He could finish huge books in days. He read a lot of non-fiction, a lot of history, a lot of books about vikings, and Romans, and generals. World War II. Wolves, food, Theseus. Sugar Blues. Square-Foot Gardening. Histories of the Roman Empire. Mary Renault. Big piles of books were everywhere in the house. I had mine, too. Mine were English and horsey and filled with animals, or they were about girls from New York City. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. Me and the Terrible Two. A Horse of Her Own. Mother Wants a Horse. The Year of the Horse. Chloris and the Creeps. Harriet the Spy. Deenie. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. So many more. I can't remember them. I wish I had a list of everything I've read. I wish I had a list of everything my dad read. I would give anything for that. Sometimes I think that my love of books was the only thing that it was easy for him to understand about me. I sat on my next-door neighbor's porch swing and read, the slats of the swing digging into my back, for hours. Years. I did it for years. They never seemed to mind that I was pretty much constantly on their porch. One time the neighbor kids, who were much older than me, came out and said, "Alicia, our mom says you have to go home now because our grandma is coming over for her birthday, and we're going to sit on the porch." And I remember thinking, "But that's okay — I'l be very quiet — you won't even know I'm here, and you won't bother me — and I love parties!" But instead I went back to my yard and watched as people streamed up the front stairs into the May family porch-party. I waited and waited. Would they ever leave? The Mays. The best neighbors in the world. We loved them so much. I still write to them occasionally. They still live there, in that lovely green house with the big wide porch and the white wicker furniture and the bridal veil bushes that dropped a confetti of tiny petals and yellow dust. It was so humid. I used to bring a cold bottle of Diet Rite, kick off my Dr. Scholls, and stay all day. I wonder if any of their granddaughters sit on the swing and read.

Little by little, I'm building (and reading through) a new collection of books for our future little girl. I was going to tell you about these, the first group (I stuck Howards End in there, though obviously it's not a kids' book; I just happened to be reading them all at the same time and I wanted to remember to talk about it), but then I got off track. Next time.


Oh - How about The Secret Garden? That was the most magical book. I can't remember reading anything that conjured up my imagination like that one. I've saved my copy for years and years, hoping some day I'd have a little one to read it to. Now I've got two girls, 4 and 6, and a 1 1/2 year old boy. I haven't thought about that book in the longest time, but your post today instantly reminded me of it. I think this might be the summer to read it with the girls. Piled in the hammock under the shade of the trees during our lazy days...I can't wait!

I only read in spurts as a child. My daughter changed all that. She would love nothing more than to read all day, every day - still probably would and she's 24. I came to love reading because of her, another gift of being a mother. I think my favorite was "A Wrinkle in Time".

This made me laugh as I just reread (at 34) The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler's fantastic! Today I've moved on to The Teddy Bear Habit (or How I Became a Winner) (1967). These just never get old for me...forever rereading!

I just love the pictures you paint with words ; ) p.

I was not allowed to read at the dinner table but I would have if I could. I grew up in a home without a television and spent my many hours reading. I remember as a teenager walking down the street to a friends house or to the mall with a book in hand. Walking and reading. I still love to read although my pace has slowed way did it to me. My kids love to tread too...constantly reading. We just put a hammock up under a big redwood tree in our backyard and every day my kids race to the hammock, book in hand to read & swing.

A couple of recent ones to consider, along with those childhood beloveds, might be The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy ( and The Tale of Depereaux.(

I've read both to my boys, and they filled me up with happy, and somehow have the flavor of those endless days of sprawled summer reading.

I'm doing the same thing for my girls. They're not old enough for chapter books yet, but when they are, I already have quite a collection. I've started rereading books (& discovering new books) in the children's section of the library. I feel like I'm reaquanting myself with old friends... it's been wonderful!

Mrs. Twiggly's Tree was my favorite book as a girl. It's about an eccentric old lady who lives in the COOLEST tree house and ends up saving the town during a flood. That's how I remember it anyways .... I alway dream of living in a cozy little treehouse.

I am uncomfortable eating a meal if I don't have reading material in front of me. My poor dad hated this habit that my 3 sisters and I developed--I suppose from our mom--but we were unable to shake it and that's where I get most of my reading done these days.

My mom was a Teacher-Librarian for many years (now an education consultant for Learning Resources) and we ALWAYS had books around. My parents still have a house FULL of children's books. There's a room in the basement with 7 bookcases and counting.

Needless to say, I read A LOT as a kid. On the bus. In the car. At lunch. While walking to school.

We would move out to our lake cottage for the summer and I would take the row boat out to the marsh or middle of the lake with some chips and a pop and read away the afternoons.

Ohhhh...Anne of Green Gables. How I love thee. We're getting ready to up the bedtime reading to chapter books. Will start with Little House, and Anne is on my list, too.

Sarah E says: May 11, 2010 at 09:35 AM

I wasn't allowed to read at dinner unless we were at a restaurant - I was too shy to speak up in a loud place, so my parents let me entertain myself. Early on I liked Beatrix Potter, then The Secret Garden, then The Hundred Dresses (still a top 5 all-time favorite), then Little Women. What fun, to collect children's books! I have recently seen fancy pop-up books that would have absolutely delighted little me, do you care for those?

I've been reading Beverly Cleary's Ramona books to my four year old and it has been really wonderful for me. I'll be half way through a chapter and suddenly remember what happens next, all the details. And I'll remember the room I was in, so long ago, when I first read the same words. Beverly Cleary was a hero of mine and I'd completely forgotten. It's all coming back now and I'm inspired all over again. It's a wonderful comforting feeling!

Laura A. says: May 11, 2010 at 09:42 AM

Books and reading. How they shaped my life. I keep meaning to suggest that you read either FRECKLES or A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST (or both actually) by Gene Stratton Porter. Perfect for reading under the apple tree--and set in the midwest. Also, if you haven't read other Lucy Maud Montgomery books (like Emily or Pat) I highly recommend those. It seems that most of my American friends stop with Anne of GG.

can i move in and be your daughter?! love, love, love what you are doing to prepare :)

Did you ever read Betsy-Tacy books? My cousins and I loved them (in part because they had lovely illustrations that we would copy and color in)growing up. They start with the girls very young (I think that the first book has Betsy's 5th birthday party) and go well into adulthood. I also recommend the All of a Kind Family books. As a girl who grew up with a house full of brothers I loved these stories of a big family of girls. While I don't remember reading at the dinner table I was home schooled and reading was a mayor part of our days. Plus we lived down town so we were only a few blocks away from the Library.

My husband can't eat his breakfast without a book in hand. I always laugh at his poise as he eats cereal with one hand and holds his book with the other. He too has done this since he was quite young.

I've always been a reader as well, and wish I'd kept lists. I have been able to remember some of the lovely books I read, and can't wait to share them with my own girls.

Elizabeth says: May 11, 2010 at 09:49 AM

I can tell you that one of the dearest pleasures for me is looking for books and reading with my daughter. Sometimes it's the thrift store (and that is an awesome place to find books that you probably read long ago but forgot about) and sometimes it's B&N (her favorite because there is a STAGE and you can put on a play - if no one else is trying to read). Though she is 10, I still read to her almost every night. We just finished Anne of Green Gables - it was so wonderful, to share that book. Next up is 8 Cousins. Oh and a book that I found in college which I just love, love is "The Animal Family" - Randall Jarret, wood cuts by Maurice Sendak - such a beautiful, special book. I was stunned that somehow I had been a child and not read that book or had it read to me. The story was meant to be a part of me.

I'm also from a big family of readers. We grew up without TV so this was our entertainent. And with a big family also competition. If you didn't want someone to steal your book half way through a REALLY good hiding spot was in order. I just asked my younger sister, with her nose in her book, how many books she reads a week, "probably 10" she says!

Caddie Woodlawn, The Four-Story Mistake, Charlotte's Web, The Trumpeter Swan, My Side of the Mountain, Island of the Blue Dolphins, the Betsy-Tacy series, Richard Scarry books... all bring up nice memories. I and my two sisters and brother would go to the library each Saturday with our red wagon... we would stock up on our books for the week and take turns pulling them home in the wagon.

I loved reading as a kid and still do. It seems Enid Blyton's classics didn't make it in popularity here in the US as they did in Australia and the UK which is a shame. Lately I've been loving the children's book illustrations by Elsa Beskow and other Scandinavian artists. I just bought a book on Amazon that, if you don't already own it, you must buy. It's the Robert Frost poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, illustrated. Its beauty is heartbreaking.

Delilah says: May 11, 2010 at 10:02 AM

The books of my childhood: The Diary of Anne Frank, Our Town by Thornton Wilder, When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide and many that have been mentioned above.

The love of reading is my earliest and happiest memory. Saturday morning my Mom would take me, my sisters and brothers to the library, where we would spend hours picking out our books, and so many times I would check out the same book.

Julie G. in Iowa says: May 11, 2010 at 10:09 AM

Growing up as an only child, books were my friends and playmates. I would spend hours reading in my room or on an old quilt under a tree in the backyard. *Sigh* good memories!

I just posted some book reviews to my blog: Just finished Roald Dahl's biography called Boy and loved it! Also on a graphic novel/memoir kick.

Ah, Watership Down, That was a favorite of mine in Middle School. I too was a ferocious reader, I can remember reading the Three Musketeers by a pool side when I was 11. Books are such a wonderful gift, I find it hard to believe it when people say they "don't like to read" I think what they're really saying is that they haven't found their genre yet.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at