What Do You Remember About Your Childhood Reading?

Or, The Power of Enchantment

How much do you remember about reading in early childhood? I ask because I’m always bemused when I see other peoples’ statements about learning to read at age 3 or 4 and remembering the very moment they realized they could make sense of the squiggles on the page.

I ask because I have no such memories. 

I know what my mother told me about my early childhood reading: that as soon as I could sit up in my crib (which would have been about age 6 months), she’d come in after my nap and find me sitting in the crib, with a Little Golden Book on my lap, babbling as if I were reading; that as I got older I’d know if she tried to skip pages because I had all the books memorized. I even remember my favorite Little Golden Books: 

Three Little Golden Books: Doctor Dan the Bandage Man, The Poky Little Puppy, Tawny Scrawny Lion

But I have no memory of being read to.

At some point I learned to read, though I don’t remember when that magical moment occurred. My mother also told me that, as a kid, I always had my nose in a book. Getting my hands on books as a child was easy. I grew up in a rural small town. The town library, which had originally been a one-room school, was in a field on the hill below the former farm house where we lived. I could get to it without even having to cross a road. I remember how welcoming the library felt on a winter day when I opened the door and was greeted by the warmth of the wood fire in the big potbellied stove. 

But the only book I remember getting from that library is Flibbity Jibbitt. I know I took it home several times, but, other than the title, I remember nothing about it.

I have to take my mother’s word for my early childhood reading because I have very few memories of my own about it. But memory is a funny thing. Although I know I read the entire Little House series of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I didn’t remember doing so until I read one of the books to my young daughter, a surreal experience that I’ve described here (item #3). And I know I also read Caddie Woodlawn as a child, even though I had to read it again as an adult to remember the story.

Kid reading in front of two high stacks of books

Other than these books, though, I draw a blank when someone asks what books meant the most to me when I read them as a child. Not only do I not remember when I learned to read, I also don’t remember how the experience of reading particular books affected me. Wouldn’t you expect a child who always had her nose in a book—and who spent the subsequent 65+ years studying literature—to remember more about those early books?

I was in eighth or ninth grade when I came upon the novel All the King’s Men (item #2) by Robert Penn Warren. Reading that book allowed me to see how well written fiction works. I appreciated the first-person point of view and the coming-of-age plot, and recognized the symbolism (including the significance of the narrator’s name, Jack Burden) and imagery. I consider this novel my introduction to adult reading.

Book cover: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Recently, when I opened The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, I immediately fell into a story that scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. Perhaps I should call this experience enchantment. And it made me imagine that this is how I must have felt reading as a child, when the whole world was new and every book provided the opportunity to learn a little bit more about it. Another recent book that made me feel the same way was 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

Memory works differently for each of us. These are my recollections of reading. I’d be interested in hearing yours, especially about childhood reading. Do you know at what age you learned to read? Do you personally remember that moment, or, like me, do you have to rely on what other people have told you? Do you remember particular books from your childhood? 

Please comment.

© 2023 by Mary Daniels Brown

3 thoughts on “What Do You Remember About Your Childhood Reading?”

  1. I remember learning to read in first grade; the pace of the lessons was way too slow, and I hated the insipid Dick, Jane, and Sally. I went from there to the original Winnie the Pooh books. I love dear, sweet Pooh Bear to this day.

  2. What an interesting discussion question. I remember reading Dr. Suess books with my mom as a kid, eventually learning to read them myself. But I don’t have memories of the learning itself, just one day I was reading and then I kept reading.

    1. I don’t remember the transition from not being able to read to being able to, though apparently my parents (being big Scrabble fans) got me onto the alphabet pretty early.

      I do remember quite a few books from when I was maybe 3-5 years old, too many to list. Me and my mum went through her whole collection of Janet and John books she’d kept from when she was little, but at school it was Roger Red Hat, Billy Blue Hat, Jennifer Yellow Hat etc. But I preferred my dad reading to me because he did the voices 😄

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