Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Childhood Book Nostalgia Project

Earlier this year I read Little Women for the umpteenth time. I love this book. The first time I read it, I was in third or maybe fourth grade. Although much of it seemed quaint and old-fashioned to me, that was part of its charm. Jo March instantly became my heroine. A tomboy writer who frequently felt socially awkward and never seemed to say the right things or wear the proper clothes? I found my soulmate in the pages of Louisa May Alcott's story.

Well, reading Little Women got me thinking about other books I loved as a child - some that I still pick up and enjoy every few years, others that I hadn't seen in ages, still others that I could barely remember except for a few characters, a snatch of plot, or an author's name. I started to list the ones I could recall, and to search for those that existed on the edge of my memory, sometimes going on nothing more than a mental image of the book's cover. It's been a rewarding, exhausting, and at times frustrating exercise.

Along the way, I discovered a wonderful resource that helped me not only recall some of the more obscure titles I was looking for, but also fritter away many pleasant hours that I might otherwise have spent working or cleaning house. Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, Ohio has a feature on its website called "Stump the Bookseller." For a nominal fee (two dollars), readers can submit descriptions of favorite children's books whose titles have been lost in the dim corridors of memory. The Loganberry folks, with help from other site visitors, try to come up with the title and author of the remembered stories. They'll even try to track down a copy of the book to purchase. The entries and suggested solutions are great fun to read, and on more than one occasion they sparked my own memories.

But the very first book on my list needed no such help. Ed Emberley's The Wizard of Op was one of my very favorite stories, a slim illustrated book consisting entirely of black and white drawings and hand-printed text. I used to borrow it regularly from the Tippecanoe Library in Milwaukee, but I hadn't seen it since I was a kid. After a good bit of research, I discovered that it's been out of print for years and is quite the collectible. So I was overjoyed to discover the entire book reproduced on this website, and with the permission of Mr. Emberley, to boot. (The website itself is an interesting story - it was created by a young man named Maurice David Wagschal, who died in 1997 at the age of 22). If you've never experienced The Wizard of Op, go read it right now - you'll love it.

Many of the other books on my list aren't nearly as obscure. They include the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, Ellen Tebbets by Beverly Cleary, The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, and The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White. You can still find them in any good bookstore or public library. But others required a real mental workout on my part to string together fragments of remembered titles, plots, and characters and match them to actual books. I'll list some of them in a future post. Maybe I'll even find that they're cherished memories of some other dedicated reader.

But until then, read The Wizard of Op. Right now. You'll love it.

1 comment:

  1. I love children's books, too! Maybe I can help you remember some of the ones you can't put your finger on.


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