Saturday, February 18, 2012

Teach Your Children

I’m actually encouraged about the publishing business. I don’t know how the publishing industry, as it now exists, is going to do; my guess is that it will still be here when the dust settles and the smoke clears, though it’s probably going to be a somewhat leaner. But the publishing business will still be here, and still be strong: it will be because of the authors who are now writing books aimed at children and young adults.

Reading is something you learn to love when you are young. Either your parents read to you or you encounter a teacher who opens up the library to you but you get that jones while you are young. I have yet to meet anyone who turned 30 and suddenly decided that they had to start reading for pleasure. My mom read Rudy Kazootie books to me and my dad brought home a set of the hardbound “All About” books and that was that. I started reading comic books --- I got a Dick Tracy comic when I was four, somehow --- and that’s all she wrote. I saw a serial adaptation of a Hardy Boys’ book --- THE TOWER TREASURE --- on The Mickey Mouse Club and then discovered that there were twenty-odd books (at that point, which was 1959) in the series and read all of those, and went on to read Tom Swift, Rick Brant, and Tim Holt. In one summer. What next?

Well, a year or so later I discovered Shell Scott paperbacks but what really got me rolling were books by established authors of adult fiction who also wrote for the children and Young Adult markets. We’re talking Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and the like. There weren’t many, not like there are now, but there were some. I read them and then ventured into their adult work. I haven’t stopped reading for pleasure since. But it all started with children’s books and the Young Adult market, such as it was, way back when.

We can talk about changes in publishing and e-books and physical books all that we like but if we don’t have readers then writers will be relegated to the status of the appendix. And we won’t have readers unless we grow them early. Those authors who labor in the grammar mine of the Children and Young Adult markets, regardless of genre, are the most important link in the chain of which we are a part. I am not smart enough to understand the markets, but I know enough about it to understand that there are books that will interest anyone with who is fourteen and who has a pulse. Take them to a bookstore or put them on an online book site or yes, a library, and set them loose.

Just for curiosity’s sake: how old were you when you started reading? What was the book? And how did it influence your ultimate love of literature?


  1. I was 3. Considering the age, I think the influence is obvious.

    But since I don't actually remember that myself, I guess I'll have to go with age 5. My very earliest reading memory: 101 Dalmatians. (the Dodie Smith one, not the disney novelizations.)

    When you start that young, there's just no going back.

    (It doesn't help if you have a mother who can read a thousand page book in 2 days, and frequently does so.)

  2. It is alleged that I was reading at 4yrs old. My older brother crowed about that - I still have the book - a sweet little book about a horse named CLOPS.

    Then, Jenny Went To Sea, about a traveling cat who went to Zanzibar, and had grand adventures in Siam. I pick that one up from time-to-time, and it always makes me smile.

    Mama taught me to read early - it was something we shared together, something I miss now that she's gone. She never got the chance to read my novels - she would have freaked out - I dedicated Careful What You Wish For to her, because she nourished my vocabulary from Day 1.

    You're post speaks volumes, Joe. I understand people with broad vocabularies score highest on intelligence tests, and there's no better way to develop vocabulary skills than with reading at an early age. Woe to this generation of TEXTERS who take shortcuts with our language.

    In my medical practice I encourage parents at annual well-child-checks to take their children to our local library, and to read widely to them. It's the least I can do to open up the world of adventure to them through reading.


  3. For me it was The Hardy Boys and sports novels like The Jamesville Jets, and the Chip Hilton series.

    Thanks for reminding me. I hadn't thought about The Jamesville Jets in quite awhile but remember now how much I loved it as a kid.

  4. Like Jim, I started with The Hardy Boys. And I enjoyed the Tom Swift Jr. series. Read them all.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Dang typo . . .

    I was 4. My dad, normally not the model of involved parenthood, sat me down, grabbed the neared Little Golden book and kept at it until I could read it. That book was "The Gingerbread Man" (run run just as fast as you can . . . ).

    Don't remember the rest of the chew-the-corner books, but when I was old enough I developed an addiction to Nancy Drew. A charity gave the family a partial set of Young Readers classics (we were dirt poor) and I read Pinnochio, Wizard of OZ, Grimms Fairy Tales and The Peterkin Papers until the bindings wore thin. Big turning point in 6th grade when a teacher told me it was time to move past kid's books and handed me "Gone With The Wind."

    I was lucky. I always had someone hand me a book just when I needed it to grow.


  7. Morning, Joe. I don't remember my age or a specific book because my love for horses brought me to reading. I read EVERY book in my small elementary school library, anything that had a horse in it. Westerns mostly, some fantasy.

    If they had books geared for kids back then, like they do today for MG/YA, wow I would've been even more addicted to books--hard to imagine.

    After I figured out what appealed to me about Cowboy protags, I discovered espionage thrillers & Robert Ludlum--and I got hooked on crime fiction, my comfort read.

    I love reading YA now that I write it. The cross genre stories & the imaginative worldbuilding has really hooked me. Great post, Joe.

  8. Oh you bring up such fond memories of my early days as a reader. I don't remember how old I was, or what the first book was, but I started reading fairly young. What I do clearly remember is that my parents made sure I had plenty of books (which is interesting because I never saw them read much except for my dad religiously reading the paper).

    I can remember the shelves full of tall hard-cover books filled with various fairy tales, the Little Golden Books someone here already mentioned (my favorites were the Lassie ones). I also remember some small palm-sized books that had drawings in the upper right corner of the pages and when you flipped through them you had your very own animation strip.

    I adored (and still do adore) the Hardy Boys books (the original series). Read many of the classic horse stories, and of course discovered my all time favorite author Zane Grey and can remember coming home with stacks of his books from the library that were half as tall as I was.

    And you know what? This post is a reminder that I've never stopped to thank my parents for providing all those books--I think that'll be my first order of business today--writing a long overdue letter of thanks.

  9. Oh, and we should not fail to mention that many a girl grew up with Nancy Drew, and our own Kathryn Lilley was a latter day author in the guise of Caroyn Keene.

  10. I was read to from the time I can remember but reading on my own started with Beautiful Joe, Black Beauty and Little Women, then segued into Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden and so on. That set my mystery bent for life.

  11. I liked having stories read to me. I resisted reading books myself for pleasure until I was about 10. Then, I was hooked on Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Archie/Superman/Richie Rich comics. At around 12, I picked up a Taylor Caldwell novel my mother was reading. Can't remember, maybe, Dear and Glorious Physician. When my mother explained this was Caldwell's fictional version of St. Luke's life during the time of Christ, the lightbulb went off. A writer can do anything with an idea--even be serious. I devoured the book and every other Taylor Caldwell work. After that I discovered Mary Stewart's Merlin series and became hooked on fiction for good. I'd think new worlds, new worlds! Fantasy from reality. I want more!!

    So, here I am today. Still hungry for fiction from reality and sometimes I can't tell the difference between the two. :)

    Great post, Joe. It was fun remembering.

  12. My parents read from a big disney storybook with pictures from the time I was really young. By the time I was in grade school my dad was reading Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, and other sci-fi classics to me. So I've loved books and stories as long as I can remember. My first winner was an honorable mention in 3rd grade for the classic "My Five Motorcycles" (I've had three so far!) ;D

    I love sci-fi.
    I love reading.
    I was the only writer in the family, but it looks like one of my nieces is now joining the party.

    I started taking my writing seriously when I was in high school and won a writing award. I thought I sucked at English - sentence structure and all of that jazz wasn't something I enjoyed or felt comfortable with. I was stunned when I won the award.

  13. Corduroy by Don Freeman

    Chicken Soup with Rice and Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

    Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell

    I started young, but now I'm telling my age! lol

  14. The earliest I remember reading was 5ish, my mom says I started at 4 but she brags. The earliest books that stuck with me were my little blue Bible I got at 6 years old (still have it) and Johnny Tremaine that same year. Around 7 someone gave me a bunch of old "Classics Illustrated Comics" and I was hooked. You can read them at that link. I have since always preferred books to movies, often reading out loud to myself to characterize the stories as a kid. Still do it now, the reading out loud that is, 'cept folks pay me for it, so that's a really cool result of loving books as a kid.

  15. Sra and Paula, sounds like you had great upbringings. I remember my mother reading as well. John O'Hara and Thorton Wilder were two of her favorites. And Paula, bless you for including reading as part of your well-child checkup evaluation.

    I don't recall the Jamesville Jets, James, but I'll check them out based on your recommendation. But I'm jealous. I never had a children's series named after me!Oh, and James and Nancy Drew, what a wonderful series that was. BTW, National Lampoon in the 1970s did a spot-on parody of the series --- cover and all --- entitled (I believe) THE MYSTERY OF THE KIDNAPPED HEIRESS, wherein Nancy investigated the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. Hilarious.

    Kathleen, thanks so much for sharing that story. Your mom

    Joe, if you still have those Tom Swift Jr. books, go back and see how many of those inventions came to pass. It's amazing.

    Terri, your last sentence said it all. I read it and I thought of all the people who passed me a great book at just the right time and it brought tears to my eyes. Don't tell anybody, though.

    And good afternoon to you, Jordan! You reminded me --- and thank you for doing so --- that I went through a spell when I read every Walter Farley book the library had. I see that there's a Terrie Farley that writes horse books now as well.

    BK, I remember those flip books too...were they a series from the Big Little Books? Thanks for reminding me of those. You know, who needs a computer game when you have a flip book? I mean, seriously? I loved hearing about all of those books in your house as well.

    Kathleen, what a great story! You could have used that as a post. You still could! I'd love to hear more about that. Your mom sounds like a special lady.

    Chaco, I don't read as much science fiction as I used to but at one point I devoured the stuff. I still read and re-read everything Philip K. Dick wrote. Thanks for sharing.

    Diane, that's a great list to start with. And as far as showing your age...I used to wait patiently outside of the monastery, waiting for the monks to finish printing out my new books!

    Thanks so much, everyone!

    Basil, I don't know how I forgot to mention the Classics Illustrated Comics. When they reissued them in digest format I bought every one I could find. I still have them. Wonderful stuff.

  16. I don't remember being read to until a marvelous 3rd grade teacher enthralled the class with "little house on the Prairie" and Charlotte's Web". She read wonderfully. She could easily get the class to behave - simply mention that if we did X or Y orZ and behaved she would read to us later. Bingo - behavior was instantly perfect.

    The first book I remember reading (perhaps first grade) myselfauthor?). I opened it and found that I was able to read the whole thing. It was magical!

    Joe - you are so right1 If you don't get the gift of reading appreciation it doesn't happen. I feel sorry for those who miss the gift of reading.
    Fun memories - thanks

  17. tjc, the teacher who did it for me was Sister Teresa Mary, in fifth grade. She read Father Brown and Sherlock Holmes mysteries to us. She also got me started on Lord Peter Wimsey. I will never forget her.
    Thanks for sharing!

  18. Tee Hee...

    God Bless Mrs. Harrell in 4th grade at Pennsylvania Avenue Elementary for reading to her sleepy after-lunch crowd, Stuart Little, by E.B. White.

    I thought that Mouse could do anything!

    Bravo to anyone who reads to kids!
    Thanks, Joe!

  19. What I really love about that story, Paula, is that I believe in the ripple of good acts. Your fourth grade teacher read to you, and now you plant the seed of reading in your patients, who will go on to do great things as well. Perfect.

  20. OMG! We have one of the Caroline Keenes in our midst!

    Seriously, I passed an entire box of Nancy Drew books onto a niece that is having trouble containing her gigantic brain in her little head. Love that kid to pieces.

    These comments reminded me of some of the other books that kept me glued to the page: Little House (I ended up doing one of my college papers on the evolution of her writing style), Classic Comics, you name it.

    In high school I also developed a dreamy romantic devotion to Barbara Cartland. They were 75 cents, so they fit in my limited teen budget. As a writer, I revisited Ms. Cartland as an author who has over a BILLION books sold. Almost 40 years later, they still sell in used book stores for 75 cents each when you can find them. I broke a couple down and identified the three-act story arc formula. Consistent book after book. In her own way, she was brilliant.

    Great post!


  21. Thanks Terri, it was nice to hear about you passing those Nancy Drew books on to your niece. An action like that can make a huge difference in someone's world.

  22. I started being read to/reading young. Curious George, Babar, Richard Scarry, Clifford. Then on to the Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, and Jay Bennett. A few Nancy Drew and Dana Sisters. I still regret not reading all the Nancy Drews. I collected and read many comic books.

    Then I discovered Robert B. Parker, Alistair MacLean, Robert Ludlum, and Helen MacInnes. Mystery, crime, and thrillers were now in my blood.

    Now I try to balance out the mystery/crime with a large variety of non-fiction. I will love to read to the day I leave this earth.

  23. Tom, I could write an entire post around comic books. I read them religiously until I was 50 or so. I worry that the cost of them discourages newer and younger readers. They're a great way to learn how to read and love storytelling.