Few things are more important to us – as people and as writers – than the books we read as children. Below, some of bookclique’s bloggers offer personal anecdotes about childhood, winter time, holidays, and reading. We hope you will enjoy, and thanks for being part of our clique!
The Baby-Sitters Club – Ari Pinkus
I sometimes dreamed of having adventures with the seven tight-knit friends.It’s partly why I wrote my first novel manuscript with a 30-year-old main character leaning on her female friends from childhood while pursuing an innovative career and embarking on romances with different men. A subplot revolves around the complexity of the friends’ relationship. In my writing, I was hoping to revive a touch of the magic I felt while reading the once-popular series.
I remember winter nights curled up with The Baby-Sitters Club series when I was a tween. Easy reads before bed, they made me feel hopeful – about having friends as family, generating creative ideas, building a successful business, and taking care of good kids. But things weren’t always warm and sweet. Conflict came over handling troublesome babysitting charges, dealing with out-of-touch parents, fitting into blended families, getting along in school, navigating first loves, infighting among club friends. All was resolved, however, when each book wrapped.
A Little Princess – Laura Dickerman
What could be more delightful than lounging inside by the roaring fire on holidays in Vermont reading about freezing cold characters? Amy falling through the ice in Little Women, Bonnie and Sylvia skating for miles in TheWolves of Willoughby Chase; oh no, Caddie falling through the ice in CaddieWoodlawn: everyone was wearing sodden icy mittens and thin shoes and fat snowflakes were falling thick and fast on lots of dark lashes.
Which brings me to my favorite holiday book of my childhood (and one Ire-read every time I came home from college): A Little Princess byFrances Hodgson Burnett, in which the brave and beautiful Sara Crewe (not a well-fed blonde but a black-haired waif with hungry gray-green eyes), unjustly demoted to starving servant, must venture out into the gray English winter with her shopping basket and frost-bitten feet, and gaze up into the well-lit windows of the jolly “large family” next door as they radiate holiday cheer. Sara (a true princess!) even gives her hot cross bun to the colder, hungrier, poorer, and obviously lower-class Anne; often I would sniff back happy tears as I crammed a gingerbread cookie into my mouth and re-adjusted a blanket over my toasty slippered feet.
I never quite mastered the selfless-grace-in-face-of-tragic-circumstance that Sara radiated, nor did I think I could make friends with a rat in a barren attic, but I felt very keenly how fortunate I was, safe from dead fathers and cruel headmistresses and thin socks while luxuriously warm by the fire, the familiar beloved book in my hand, the snow outside brushing against the dark window panes as I read.
The Night Before Christmas – Stacey Loscalzo
Each Christmas Eve, we would drive the short distance to my grandparents’ house to share dinner with my small, extended family. My cousin and I were allowed to open one present – always pajamas and slippers, before going home, where I would change in to my new pajamas and head downstairs to set out cookies for Santa. The best part of the night would then arrive. An only child,I would settle between my parents and my dad would read The Night Before Christmas aloud. We had two copies – a fun, colorful version and a subtler one, illustrated by Tasha Tudor. These are the same copies my husband and I now read to our girls, now fifteen and twelve, each year. As each Christmas season approaches, I wonder if they will still ask to hear the story and each year, thank goodness, they do.
The Snow Goose – Ann Klotz
Curiously, the single book that signals the holiday season for me is Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose, about Fritha, a young girl, and the friendship she offers to a reclusive artist, Philip. Fritha brings a wounded snow goose to the lighthouse where the artist lives and they nurse it back to health. During the Battle of Dunkirk, Philip, in his rowboat, is shot while rescuing British soldiers. The snow goose circles above his boat, unwilling to leave him. Love, friendship, redemption, loss – it’s a sad tale that Mrs. Poor read aloud to us in the sixth grade. It doesn’t have to do with the holidays at all, but each December, I feel a pull to find it and re-read it. We are hosting an exchange student this year – what a great opportunity to read The SnowGoose aloud again.
Jumanji, The Polar Express, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick – Jessica Flaxman
Never a snow-lover or a fan of the cold, I typically chose reading as my primary winter activity. My mother always gave me books for Hannukah – a different book each night – and even when I was arguably too old for picture books, I still looked forward to the children’s prize winners that Mom would give to me. My favorites were by Chris Van Allsburg and for a few years in a row, his drawings and mysterious stories had me rapt. Jumanji (1981) and The Polar Express (1985) fed my imagination of magical boardgames, trains, and unexpected intersections between ordinary children like myself with adventurous explorers, ferocious animals, and Santa himself. As an adult, I rediscovered a Van Allsburg book I had completely forgotten about, TheMysteries of Harris Burdick (1984), which I have used many times in English class to prompt college-bound students to remember their inner child and to reignite their imagination.
Anne of Green Gables – Samantha Simpson
Winter is the actual worst, and there are not enough holiday pop classics or mugs of hot chocolate to mitigate the bluster and sting of the snow, the residue of grief. Winters were still the actual worst when I was a girl living in Goldsboro, NC, especially with that horror, Santa Claus, running loose on Christmas Eve. I took solace and joy in the fact that I always unwrapped novels on Christmas morning.
One Christmas morning, my mother gave me a green paperback copy of Anne of Green Gables. That red-headed orphan grinned at me from the back of a wagon, and I carried her with me everywhere – all over the house, all overBerkeley Mall, all the way to my grandma’s house in Tarboro. I marveled at how my mama had found the perfect book with the most relatable heroine to get me to the other end of winter break.
Five years ago, a day before Christmas, I buried my mother. After the funeral, I trudged through the piles of snow outside of my apartment inMassachusetts, weary and bereft. Once we were inside, I told my boyfriend I was fine, over it, and then I wrapped myself in a blanket and gobbled up Ernessa T.Carter’s 32 Candles in one sitting. I remember that book being soapy and corny and scary and sweet. I remember the guilt I felt over not properly honoring my mother with candles and eulogies. That guilt then gave way to the realization that there was no better way to honor my mother, the woman who taught me how to read (and annotate), than with the book cocoon I’d made.Winter may be the actual worst, but with enough books and blankets, I can take it.
Little House in the Big Woods – Karen Derby
When I was little, like many others, I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. In LittleHouse in the Big Woods, there is a scene where the girls anticipateChristmas by watching Pa carve a display shelf for Ma, and he shows them how to make candy out of hot molasses, sugar and snow. When their relatives arrive in a big sleigh, the narrator recalls the bells jingling and the piled-high buffalo skins keeping their aunt and uncle warm. When Laura receives a doll in the morning named Charlotte, she can’t keep her eyes from it.
Reading these stories as a child always conjured in my imagination that I was Laura, and I felt that it would be such fun to play in the snow with only a cape and some mittens on my hands. Curled up in our family room, which would soon be outfitted by Santa’s gifts and the stockings filled, I would read for hours on end. Reading about others’ lives who, despite their hardship, found joy in the beauty of the season, always made me feel warm and loved by the universe.