Childhood’s Books

Posted on May 11, 2011 by


Hey all! I’m The Oogle or Oogs, sometimes “Writing Machine”—whatever. I’m a friend of Alice’s from our writing group, and she’s kindly invited me to be a guest contributor here, talking about…whatever it is I have to say, I guess. And I don’t promise it’ll be interesting.

Anyway. Today I’m going to talk about the books I liked when I was a kid (technically speaking, I still am a kid, but we’ll roll with it).

When I was around ten years old, my two favourite books were Johnny Tremain (JT) by Esther Forbes and Carry On, Mr Bowditch (COMB) by Jean Lee Latham, with Moccasin Trail (MT) by Eloise Jarvis McGraw trailing not too far behind. The first two were Newberry Medal winners, and Moccasin Trail was a Newberry Honor Book. Certainly, they are good books, but what made me like them, all other claims aside?

For one, all three are historical fiction, my genre of choice when I was younger. JT and COMB are set around the inception of America as a nation, a time period I was very drawn to at the time. (I’ve since gotten over the infatuation.) And MT deals with cultural clashes, a theme I’ve always liked, more and more increasingly over the years.

But while those things added to my liking, they weren’t the main reason. Looking back, I see that the protagonists themselves drew me to the books. Lately, I’ve come to realise that I’m a very character-driven reader, and the main characters (Johnny Tremain, Nat Bowditch, and Jim Keath) in these three novels are just the sort I enjoyed, and still do, in a small way.

First, all three of these characters are boys on the cusp of adulthood (these books are all bildungsromane) when the story opens. COMB does cover the entire course of Nat’s life, however, but the teenage years/early twenties are the majority of the novel. But anyway, at the time I was reading these books, characters who went through a process of discovering themselves were most interesting, or at least more interesting than static Nancy Drew type characters. (Nothing wrong with Nancy Drew—I’m a definite fan.) Yet all the same, I’m not the kind of reader who identifies or sympathises with a character; really, it was just a matter of taste. And when I was ten, I had a taste for self-discovering characters.

Also, these protagonists all share a certain social ineptitude, from Jim’s uncivilised and ‘heathen’ behaviour to Johnny’s willful conceit to Nat’s single-minded conversation skills. I haven’t found that type of personality to be common in children’s literature, though my experience is fairly limited. And in spite of their failings, all three boys were undoubtedly accomplished in one thing. With Johnny it was silversmithing (which I realise is not a word); with Nat, mathematics; with Jim, hunting and trapping. Whatever their area of expertise, the protagonists were the undisputed masters. Perhaps that appealed to my child-self’s idea that everyone had a ‘calling’.

It should also be noted that all three of these books were written by women, and though I’ve never been inside a teenage boy’s head, they seemed at least moderately realistic (more so than S.E. Hinton’s portrayal of Ponyboy and his buddies, which an entire post in and of itself). Realistic or no, my ten-year-old sensibilities were very fond of the teenaged boys in these books, particularly Jim in MT.

And I still read these books, COMB at least once a year—maybe more often, depending on my time. I still like them, maybe more than I did when I first read them. They are, to me, solid pieces of children’s literature. Maybe not the most brilliantly written, but entertaining nonetheless.