The Books We Loved

We asked local authors, and our own editors, to name a book they couldn’t put down as a child, and why:

AUTHORS • Miss Spider creator, David Kirk:

"My best experiences with children's books came from reading to my daughter, Violet, when she was little. We read hundreds of good books, but my very favorite was The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. I found myself completely immersed in its fantasy world, and though it's been years since we read that book, I still remember Lyra, her allies, and her enemies as if they were people I really knew."

• Mo Willems, Brooklyn author of Leonardo the Terrible Monster (Hyperion):

THE BOOK I COULDN'T PUT DOWN AS A KID” The Book of Glue WHY I COULDN'T PUT IT DOWN: "It was actually made of glue..."

• Patricia Ryan Lampl is the author of My Blankie, published this spring by Little Simon. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Mark, and daughter, Sophie. “When I was 6 years old, a family friend gave me a beautifully illustrated book of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. I fell in love with The Tinderbox – the story of a magical box filled with gold and guarded by dogs with ‘eyes as big as teacups’. The illustration of the dogs was so vividly drawn that it haunted and delighted me all at once. It still does.”

• LEO AND DIANE DILLON, illustrators of “Earth Mother” (Bloomsbury USA Children's Books):

Leo: “I was fascinated by the exotic stories of The Arabian Nights. Shahrazad told stories to the Sultan for a thousand and one nights. Each story was different and I couldn't wait to start the next one.

Diane: “I loved the Nancy Drew mysteries. I would never cheat to find out the ending because I didn't want to spoil the surprise — but my curiosity kept me reading. Even better, there were more books in the series when I finished the one I was reading.”

• Michele Sobel Spirn, Park Slope author of over 70 books, including the I Can Read Books about the Know-Nothings (HarperCollins):

“I read everything as a child, from books to the backs of cereal boxes. I loved to read. Probably my earliest favorite books were about girls, preferably ones whose lives were vastly different from mine. I was fascinated by Heidi, who lived in the Alps. Her life seemed a lot batter than living in New Jersey and going to school. I loved orphans like Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Many years later, it was a bonus to find out that Rebecca was Jack Kerouac's favorite childhood book.”

• Maya Gold

“Harriet the Spy”

“I loved many books as a child, including Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library (books just my size!), and Louise Fitzhugh's marvelous Harriet the Spy. I admired Harriet's independence and fierce passion for writing, and got a special thrill from the fact that her East 87th Street townhouse was on the same block as my father's medical office, so that I knew all the landmarks by heart — Carl Schurz Park, the German restaurants, and mom-and-pop grocers. But the book I held dearest was Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain. I reread this boy-meets-falcon survivalist epic so many times that its covers fell off, and I dreamed about leaving the New Jersey suburbs forever and learning to live off the land.”

• Susanna Reich of Ossining, author of the recently released Jose! Born to Dance: The Story of Jose Limon (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster):

”I had so many favorite books as a child: Winnie the Pooh, The Cat in the Hat, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Goodnight Moon, The Little Red Lighthouse, The Story of Ferdinand, A Wrinkle in Time, The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings. It's really hard to choose a favorite! One that I couldn't put down was When We Were Very Young, by A.A. Milne. I adored the rhyme and rhythm of these wonderful poems, many of which I can still recite from memory.”

• Vicki Cobb, White Plains author of the recently released Harry Houdini: A Photographic Story of a Life (DK Publishing):

“Perhaps the most important book of my childhood was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My father started reading it aloud to me when I was 8. But I made him stop because I was terrified that Mary, the heroine, would be caught and punished for trespassing in the garden. When I was 10, I decided to face my fears and read the book myself. Besides thoroughly enjoying the story, it came to represent a personal triumph. Upon rereading the book as an adult, I was astounded to discover that so much of the dialogue was in a Yorkshire dialect. As a child I never noticed, I was so thoroughly transported to that world.”

• Ona Gritz, author of Tangerines and Tea, My Grandparents and Me (Harry N. Abrams). Gritz is a children’s librarian in N.J.:

“One book I couldn't put down when I was a kid was Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume. It wasn't the subject matter as much as it was the narrator's voice. At the age of 10, it felt to me that it matched the voice in my head. This was how I learned that books could be a kind of mirror; that in them, I could find some of my own feelings articulated, including feelings I didn't realize anyone else had. This was very reassuring and affirming to me. It is what turned me into a reader.”


EDITORS We wouldn’t be editors without a shared love of language and reading. Here’s what our staffers said of their favorite childhood books:

Helen Rosengren Freedman Editor-in-Chief/Founding Editor

“The Folk of the Faraway Tree, by Enid Blyton. I love it to this day. It’s about a group of children who climb a tree and discover a whole world of eccentric fairy people living in the clouds above. I also loved the Golden Book, Scuffy the Tugboat; whenever I see a tugboat now on the river, it brings back such sweet memories. I don’t see the tugboat — I see Scuffy.”

RENEE CHO Editor, Westchester Parent

“Charlotte's Web, because it was the first time I truly cried from a story. My second favorite was 101 Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith, because I loved vicariously living the journey the dogs went on.”

Judy Antell Editor, Big Apple Parent/Brooklyn Parent/Queens Parent

“I was a Nancy Drew fiend; she was smart, strong and independent. One summer at sleepaway camp, my nickname was Nancy Drew. I was a chain reader — as soon as I finished one book, I picked up another. As a teen, I entered a dark Sigmund Freud/Sylvia Plath stage, which explains a lot.”

Susan Hodara Consulting Editor

“I would read any biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt because I was fascinated by the part when he got polio. Winnie the Pooh was another favorite. I just loved following all the different characters.”

Cynthia Tavlin Associate Editor

“I think I was 8 when I read the first Betsy-Tacy book by Maud Hart Lovelace and loved every moment of it — how Betsy and Tacy met, became inseparable friends, made a playhouse out of piano box, and became a threesome when Tib came along. I read and re-read every book in the series, even when I was too old for the books. There was something very comforting about these very simple adventures set at the turn-of-the-century, and the way they transported you back in time. I think it was Betsy who kept a writing tablet in a cigar box nailed to the tree she’d climb in her backyard. I remember wanting to do the same thing with the big willow tree in our backyard, only I kept a shoebox, which promptly disintegrated after a rainstorm.”

Danielle Sullivan Directories Editor

“I was obsessed with Judy Blume, and the first book I read by Blume when I was 8, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, got me hooked. I loved the way the characters were regular kids with problems like I had. Today, books like Junie B. Jones always remind me of how much I loved reading Judy Blume.”

Rebecca Stolcz Editorial Assistant

“A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, became a favorite book of mine growing up. What made this book so special to me was the sentiment behind it. I read it in Junior High School, a time in your life where you feel awkward and all you want to do is fit in, but you don’t really know how or where you do — much like the characters in the story. They were starting a new private school, and even though they were a few years older than I was, I still couldn’t help but sympathize with their fears and insecurities. Feeling in constant competition with their peers and unsure of themselves was almost a comforting feeling. What really stood out to me was that only through tragedy was the truth of one’s character shown. It taught me that you are unable to run from who you are and that you should embrace it.”


THE READING EXPERT Susan Straub, director, The Read To Me Program, Inc., and winner of Child Care, Inc.’s 2005 Champions for Children Innovative Program Award:

“Books requested repeatedly by very young children often resonate at deep levels of meaning and probably coincide with developmental milestones.

My 2-year-old son made me read him The Story of Ferdinand repeatedly for weeks on end. One passage meant a lot. It's where Ferdinand’s mother shows her concern about his un-bullish ways, but is reassured by Ferdinand's happiness. ‘His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.’ Every time I read this to Ben, he would remove his thumb from his mouth and say firmly ‘Good!’ I think he identified with Ferdinand, and was doing his best to get me to be as understanding as Mrs. Cow.”