On children’s books and growing a reader

Growing a reader starts at birth. Kim Kautzer shares favorite childhood & family books and how they helped shape her and her children as readers.

“Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.” ~Author Unknown

A Friendship with Books

Affiliate links in this post are for books I loved as a child or read with my own children. I’m confident you’ll love them too!

I can’t remember my life without books, but this much I do know: my love for reading started young. My parents often told me they could hear me turning pages in the dark as I sat in my crib as a baby.

As for actually learning to read, I don’t remember a process. One day, it seemed, it just … happened. I was reading.

Children of Foreign Lands | Out of PrintI must have been five or six, shortly before we moved back to the States from our four years in Mexico City.

Back when Hawaii was still a U.S. territory and Thailand was called Siam, I would curl up on my bed to learn about Wilhelmina of Holland, Kala of Hawaii, Ching Ling and Ting Ling of China, and other Children of Foreign Lands.

Mother Goose was a dear companion, and I read my book of nursery rhymes till it fell apart. But my earliest reading memory finds me sitting on my bedroom floor in the company of Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats, with its red and yellow cover, hand-lettered text, folk-art illustrations, and familiar refrain:

Millions of Cats | Favorite Children's BooksCats here, cats there,
Cats and kittens everywhere,
Hundreds of cats,
Thousands of cats,
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.

To this day, it remains my very favorite picture book.

That was merely the beginning. From there, I solved mysteries with The Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, enjoyed the innocent charms of small-town childhood with Carolyn Haywood’s Betsy, and ventured into the world of trolls and princesses in The Blue Fairy Book.

Charlotte's Web | Favorite Children's BooksI traveled with the Ingalls family in covered wagons, floated on pink feather-clouds with Betsy and Tacy, and learned about regional America through Lois Lenski’s charming stories.

Always eager to re-read old favorites, I fairly wore out my copies of Heidi, Caddie Woodlawn, Charlotte’s Web, and Black Beauty. My open-minded (but non-religious) parents even bought me a Children’s Bible, my first introduction to Jesus, with his kind eyes and flowing blue robe.

Passing the Torch

Growing a reader starts at birth. Kim Kautzer shares her favorite childhood and family books and how they helped shape her and her children as readers.The librarian and I were fast friends, and nothing gave me more pleasure than strolling my young babysitting charges to that wonderful place for their first library card.

As a young mom, I enrolled my toddler in a monthly book club, which exposed us to new favorites such as The Story About Ping and The Year At Maple Hill Farm.

Reading was a huge part of our homeschooling, too. My girls followed immediately in my footsteps, becoming voracious readers early on. Spurred on by our unit studies, we would check out dozens of library books at a time. I loved introducing them to many of my old friends, even as together we discovered a wealth of books I’d never read before.

Books have never been far from my children’s reach! Our son, a late bloomer, began to enjoy reading upon discovering Nate the Great. Eventually, he came to count The Great Brain and Chronicles of Narnia series among his own favorites.

One of my fondest memories is of my middle daughter perched high in the branches of our white alder, engrossed in Little Women.

And when our eldest suffered a serious leg fracture at age 11—and middle-of-the-night pain woke her in tears—her daddy would read The Call of the Wild to her on her makeshift bed downstairs till she would once again drift off to sleep.

I’m so glad their early reading roots pushed deep into the fertile soil of excellent children’s literature. Today, their adult reading tastes vary widely from classical to contemporary, but readers they remain. It’s fun to watch my grandchildren enjoying that fruit, too.

As Charles W. Eliot once wrote:

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

This week marks Children’s Book Week. I hope you’ll take time in your homes to celebrate by reading favorite children’s books—together and individually, and this list of the Top 100 Children’s Picture Books of All Time a great place to start!

Your Turn

Share a childhood memory about books and reading. Or, list a few of your own favorite children’s books!

Photos: a4gpa (fountain), and Andre Mourauux (three girls), courtesy of Creative Commons

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7 comments ↓

#1 Mary on 05.08.12 at 4:43 am

I have so many wonderful memories of reading… I think A Christmas Carol, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Charlotte’s Web are the favorites I can remember. Now I love reading aloud to my children each day – it’s one of my favorite things to do!

#2 Maggie hogan on 05.08.12 at 5:51 am

Beautiful post! My mom wasn’t a reader and my dad (who was) had no concept of appropriate childhood reading…hence Lord of the Flies at nine. {{shudder}} But I did manage to read all of my older brother’s Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and Boy Scout Magazines as well as my older sister’s extensive collection of horse books. Thank God for the school library where I discovered a Wrinkle in Time, Charlotte’s Web, and other treasures! And very thankful our sons love the written word as much as I do.

#3 Belinda on 05.08.12 at 6:52 am

Excellent as well as timely. With summer (and summer heat) coming, I’m looking forward to curling up with some good books with the kids. I require an hour of reading a day, but mostly, I’m looking forward to setting an example myself and picking up something! Thanks!

#4 Kim on 05.08.12 at 7:36 am

Mary: Read-aloud time is priceless! So glad you make that part of each day.

Maggie: I don’t think anything can thwart a reader from her destiny. You cut your teeth on boys’ literature and magazines, but look where you ended up. Bravo!

Belinda: I often tell parents they need to model writing by letting their children see them writing. Same goes for reading. How wonderful that you’re setting an example in your own home as well.

#5 Kim on 05.08.12 at 7:38 am

To me, a good book is still a good book, whether it’s written for children or adults. I took a children’s literature class in college, where I was introduced to a number of wonderful children’s books I’d either missed as a child or discovered afresh because they had been written during my teen years.

I loved reading those books as an adult, including A Wrinkle in Time, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and My Side of the Mountain, and was delighted to share those discoveries with my own children as they grew.

#6 Karen @ Scobberlotch on 05.08.12 at 8:45 am

Excellent post. I am at that stage in my own parenting journey where I’m revisiting books of my youth. We are reading the Ingalls series (and watching Little House on TV) and reading Wizard of Oz and The Black Stallion. Oh, and we watched the old, old, old version of Where The Red Fern Grows recently. My girls said, “Momma, are you crying?” Yes, I sobbed like a baby, just as I did when I first read that book.

#7 Kim on 05.08.12 at 9:54 am

Oh, Where the Red Fern Grows! A fantastic family read. I’m such a blubberer, so it was hard for me to get through certain passages in books we read aloud!

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