Daily Prompt Bedtime Stories What was your favorite book as a child? Did it influence the person you are now?
I didn’t read children’s books long in my life. By third grade I read at a 12th grade level. At that point, my favorite book was a shortened version of Little Women and of course I identified with Jo and of course it influenced who I became as an adult. I didn’t realize that Jo was Louisa May Alcott and that she was better drawn and more compelling than her sisters because of that. I didn’t realize I was responding to the full dimensionality of her character as much as I was responding to Louisa May Alcott’s creation. I agreed with her that boys had more interesting lives than girls and I imbibed the idea that I would have to fight the status quo if I were to live an exciting life. I was lost in a story for the first time in my life. I even remember the act of reading it.
I think that Little Women might have made me want to become a writer. I know it awakened a long-term interest in Victorian fiction and it was the starting point for my degree in American literature and fascination with Transcendentalism. Of course, at 8 I wasn’t aware of the underlying message in the book or Louisa May Alcott’s father. The moral “top-notes,” however, of leading a life of conscious moral and spiritual self-improvement (the chapters are named after the chapters in A Pilgrim’s Progress) come through loud and clear. One of Alcott’s goals was to teach her readers to take responsibility for making something noble of their lives according to their own natures.
Of the works my parents read to me, I most loved the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley. There were two in particular, both anthologized in the book of poetry for kids my parents bought me. “Little Orphan Annie” was great on its own but improved by my dad reading it dramatically. I liked “The Raggedy Man” which my mom read, not my dad. These poems introduced me (though I wasn’t aware) to dialogue, dialect and humor in poetry. I also loved Robert Service’ “The Cremation of Sam McGee” which my dad read, often laughing at the end, to a joke I didn’t get for a while. “The Ice Worm Cocktail” was over my head but my dad read it to me anyway. I didn’t know it, but these poems were setting me up to enjoy reading Homer and giving me a love of language.
They were also didactic poems — well, not Robert Service so much, but even his work to some extent. James Whitcomb Riley’s poem “Little Orphan Annie” definitely carries the moral, “Obey your parents or else,” but also to be grateful for what you have because some children don’t even have a mom and dad. “The Raggedy Man” teaches compassion and respect for others regardless of their status in life. It also teaches that goodness is to be prized more highly than prosperity. The power to awaken the imagination is poetry’s great gift and why, I think, it should be part of every kid’s world.
I hope these stories influenced me. It seems they are all a force for good.