Carolyn Steele Agosta
Children's Book Series - The Gateway Drug
When I was a little girl, one shelf of our family’s bookcase was filled with ‘Honey Bunch’ books, which belonged to my mother when she was a little girl. She had the first ten books in the series, and I didn’t realize for a long time that there were more (something like 34 of them, written by various people under the Helen Louise Thorndyke pseudonym). I loved those books! I pictured the main character – a little girl about five years old – as looking like Shirley Temple and really enjoyed reading about her adventures. I was only about seven years old when I began reading these ‘chapter books’, and developed a lifelong enjoyment for book series.
Later, I think the first book series I devoured/read was the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I probably got these from the library, in the edition illustrated by Garth Williams. I loved his illustrations every bit as much as I loved the stories. My older sister, Lori, and I were allowed to go to the public library, about three blocks away, by ourselves. I was only around eight at the time, and she would have been ten, and I clearly remember riding our bikes down the alley (a nice, paved, clean alley) so that we could avoid traffic, and being able to check books out on our mother’s card. This was mostly a summer-time activity, and it was so much fun to go get books, and then come back to the house, and lay on a blanket in a patch of shade, reading outdoors.
One of the biggest all-time book series of the day were the Nancy Drew mysteries, and I read a few of those, but I just never was all that interested in mystery books. Even to this day, with a few exceptions (I have read all the Sue Grafton books and many of the Maisie Dobbs books), I don’t generally read mystery stories. Hmm – except, apparently, series mysteries. I also read all the Amelia Peabody mysteries, by Elizabeth Peters. I am consistently inconsistent.
I mostly enjoyed book series about families, especially large families such as mine. The All-of-a-Kind Family, Beany Malone, The Moffats, Beezus and Ramona and the other connected Beverly Cleary books. I especially enjoyed books that were a bit magical, such as The Borrowers series, and Edward Eager’s series of books including Half Magic, Seven-Day Magic, Knight’s Castle, and The Time Garden. I’ve recently reread Eager’s books and they still are enjoyable to me today.
There were many book series where I only had the chance to read the introductory book – The Bobbsey Twins, Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, Mary Poppins, Madeline, The Lonely Doll, Impunity Jane, B is for Betsy, The Five Little Peppers, Trixie Belden, and others. Strangely, perhaps, I never read any of the Wizard of Oz book series. I tried reading the first book once, but it compared badly with the movie, so I gave up on it. Same goes for Peter Pan.
When I was in fifth grade, my teacher introduced me to a series in our school library of biographies of women through history, and I read about Marie Antoinette, Jane Adams, Dolly Madison, Amelia Earhart, Juliette Low and others. Thus began my interest in history.
I can’t forget to mention Louisa May Alcott’s books, although they ran in duos rather than a series – Little Women and Little Men, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom – but I read all those plus Under the Lilacs.
Other books that ran in duos include Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright, George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblins, and The Princess and Curdie, and of course, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The Gone-Away Lake books were illustrated by Joe and Beth Krush, who were also the original illustrators of the Borrowers series. Let’s face it, I could write a whole series of blog posts about illustrators, but Joe and Beth Krush, Garth Williams, and Louis Darling, who illustrated Beezus and Ramona, are among my favorites.
I read some of the Dr Seuss books, but to me, those were just silly. Wasn’t that into them, nor the Beatrix Potter books other than Peter Rabbit. Didn’t read Dr Doolittle, nor any of Jules Verne, and I hadn’t even heard of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Don’t know why!
Somehow I also completely missed out on The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warren, and the E. Nesbit Psammead series (Five Children and It) and The Bastables series (The Treasure Seekers), and The Famous Five by Enid Blyton. I was, after all, under the limitations of our local library, and apparently they didn’t carry British book series. It wasn’t possible back then to have all books at my fingertips, the way it is now.
I also did not read The Hardy Boys or Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I tended to stick to stories that leaned heavily toward female main characters (although not always). And, of course, I read many stand-alone books, but having cut my teeth, so to speak, on the Honey Bunch books (I began reading them when I was seven), I learned to look for matching book spines on the library shelves. I guess I figured that if there were a lot of books by the same author, they must be pretty good writers. Not a bad rule of thumb. Stand-alone books will have to wait their turn to be in a later blog post. Too many to list here. And I’m not going to begin on the various book series my kids read, such as Harry Potter or The Babysitters Club. Even though I have read all the Harry Potters. More than once.
Okay, enough of THIS trip down Memory Lane. I’m sure my brain will be flooded with other titles I should have included (it seems to work on a time-delay these days). Maybe you’d like to leave a comment about other children’s book series you read as a kid. I still enjoy learning about new (to me) series and have no shame about reading kids’ books for myself.
Another time, I’ll write about other children’s books I loved (oh, the doll books…). May this blog post perhaps spark some happy memories of your own.