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.


I still think my head permanently leans to the left due to the many hours I spent looking through the titles at the library during my formative years. It was a small town so I read many of the books again and again. Some more magical books to find are anything by Edgar Eager; "Aggie, Maggie and Tish" by Betty K. Erwin; "The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)" by Ellen Raskin; and "The Secret of the Seven Crows" by Wylly Folk St. John. I obviously loved stories where magical things happened to ordinary children.

I really enjoyed your storytelling today, Alicia. Don't forget to add The Princess Bride, Black Beauty and Water Babies to your "little girl's" list!
Can't wait to hear about the other books you put on that shelf. Hugs for now.

Vicki K says: May 11, 2010 at 10:24 AM

Alicia - several things popped out of your post at me - Sugar Blues, Harriet the Spy, Dr. Scholl's, Mixed Up Files...

But I know what you mean about reading lists! When I started homeschooling my children, I got each of us a cool journal-type book and every time we finished a book, I had each of us write down the title and author and date. We would also start a new page with the start of the New Year.

They have rolled their eyes at me a few times but just like seat belts, it is required. I know they will treasure it someday. Already I love mine - started it in 1997. Wish I had all the books I ever read listed!

Heidi was always a favorite of mine.

And the Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye.

You're off to a great start already! I loved this post!

I've always loved children's books and I still do! Some of my favorites are The Little Fur Family (I heart all illustrations by Garth Williams), The Corgiville Fair by Tasha Tudor, and Papa's Lemonade by Eve Rice.

Oh, me too, Alicia. I didn't have the porch swing or the humidity, but so much is the same. My parents were both big readers, mostly of detective series and romance (for my mom), but they also read the "big" novels of their era.

I've enjoyed so much bringing my daughter to some of my favorites. She is a bookworm too, but I can't seem to ignite my deep love for the Bobbsey Twin series in her. Damn. Maybe Trixie Belden?

And the "girls in NYC," books -- yes, I devoured them. All those by Norma Fox Mazer and Judy Blume -- they were my earliest inklings of east-coast culture. And boarding school/summer camp books. I was OBSESSED with those.

Lauren (in PA) says: May 11, 2010 at 10:37 AM

Did you ever read the All Of A Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor? They were this wonderful series of books about a turn of the century Jewish family living on the Lower East Side? They are my favorites...right up there with the Little House books. I wanted to change my name to Ella because of these books! My mom said no. She also said no when I asked if I could call her and my dad Ma and Pa. She's such a party pooper!

The Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren are great fun as are the Nurse Mathilda books (on which the Nanny McPhee films are based). We loved them as we were growing up for all their fun and mischief and my boys love them now for the same reason. There is something magical about sharing a book you loved as a child with your own child and seeing the magic work again.

Lauren (in PA) says: May 11, 2010 at 10:40 AM

Oh yeah, and The Borrowers. I loved The Borrowers

I was allowed to read at the table during lunch but not dinner. My earliest memories of my mother are her sitting on the sofa reading Agatha Christie. Some things really never change! Now we share mysteries... You've got a very good collection started -- you'll have so much fun adding to it over the years!

...oh, what wonderful memories this post conjured up for me! How about Harriet the Spy, or Ramona and Beezus?? The Boxcar Children, Misty of Chincoteague, The Island Stallion, Trixie Belden- I always wanted a horse, too, I guess! (and to belong to a secret club, and to solve mysteries...) I still love the musty smell of an old book-- every Saturday morning my mom would take me to our local library (a very small and historic-looking brick Andrew Carnegie library), where I would pick out a huge stack of books for the week. After the library, we'd go to the grocery store, then head back home, where I would spend the entire afternoon curled up in Dad's recliner with my "library loot" on the floor next to me.

oh, I totally agree about Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost!! Gene Stratton Porter has such a descriptive way of writing about the beauty of nature, it almost hurts to read it, if you know what I mean.

Two Words: Amelia Bedelia

I just love your writing. Diet Rite and Dr. Scholls! The way you describe the porch. I can just picture it. Can't wait to hear more. So glad you started collecting books for your little girl, too.

My childhood books are in a cabinet at the foot of our stairs which also holds many of my favorite little toys and a candy box full of Buried Treasure sticks, gumball machine loot and Cracker Jack and cereal Trix watch, rat fink ring, Batman cards and Dark Shadows cards.....Does Baby Live Here was a favorite book...My Dolly and Me and When I grow Up, too.I had my own Spy Notebook just like Harriet. I am not a lender. I learned the hard way as a child, that I took good care of my books. Little Women and Alice in Wonderland came back with loose,scuffed bindings, pen marks and wobbly pages. I'll never forget how sad that made me.I resolved to keep my books to myself. That is until I had my own little girls. We made blanket tents and would pile books all around and read for hours.Inside...outside...on the the grass. The library was a favorite outing. Pig William and the oh so lovable Arthur. Clifford and Max and Ruby. Fifty Famous Fairy Tales, A Story A Day. Thanks for nudging my memory today.

And I almost forgot...Little House on the Prairie, The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore and Eight Cousins!

Oh my - I grew up reading at the dinner table too! My dad had the paper, his health was awful and he couldn't concentrate on a book - my mom had an Agatha Christie and I had something from the library.
I was reading at two, and my mom couldn't keep up with me. Every Christmas I would get six new Nancy Drews and they'd be read by nightfall. My favorite books from childhood were by Elizabeth Enright, about the Melendy family - The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two. Also, Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away. I still re-read all of those. I can get totally lost in her writing, you can smell and see and feel the places she describes.
My boys are teens now, and they're avid readers. I let them read at the table as well. I read aloud to them every night, in addition to what they were reading, until 5 years ago.

I love the chocolate bunny on the shelf.

How I love your stories about your childhood. They remind me so much of myself and my own little world that I lived in with all of its idiosynchresis and delightful details. You are a fabulous story teller and it always, always brightens my days to read your blog.

I agree with Elizabeth - the Betsy-Tacy books by Maude Hart Lovelace are just the sweetest. And they take place in Mankato, Minnesota, where I live! So when your little girl is old enough, you can come to visit me and we'll do the Betsy-Tacy tour and then I'll take you to Plum Creek (just a drive down the highway) so we can dip our toes in the water and dream pioneer-girl dreams!

Oh yeah, and I second reading while eating. In fact, I hate eating without it. It's kinda like a spice is missing or something...

I was like you, Alicia. I read all the time. By the pool in the summer, by the fireplace in the winter, and at dinner time year round. On the school bus. In the car, even for a 2-minute ride. At my grandma's house. I always had a book with me.

My 10 year old daughter is just like me, and it fills me with indescribable joy to watch her eat up the same books I ate up. Literally the very same books, as I kept all of them from my childhood. She just finished Daddy-Long-Legs and jumped immediately into Heidi. Can you stand it? Oh, to be 10 again.

Oh, I wanted to add that you should look for the Teddy Robinson stories, by Joan G. Robinson. I don't think they were very popular in the U.S., but I was introduced to them through the Chinaberry catalog about 10 years ago when my first born was a tot. Utterly charming! They seem very "Alicia-like" to me.

And you must look for the loveliest "Alicia-like" picture book, called The Cottage at the End of the Lane, about a peg doll searching for the perfect home. You would love it.

reading is one of life's best luxuries, isn't it?!
my childhood favorites were island of the blue dolphins and the education of little tree.
my mom read them to me first, a chapter a night and i still think about the sound of her voice and how her clothes still held the smell of the dinner she had cooked.
i re and re and re-read them both every few years.

oh, and anne. how i wished i was anne of green gables best friend!

you are so lucky to have a little one to look forward to reading to... and she is so lucky to have someone who is looking forward to reading to her!

We discovered a new set this year- the Viking Quest Series (5 books) by Lois Walfrid Johnson. My son and daughter both enjoyed them, and so did I. Also, Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter. And, A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park.

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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