Favorite Books from My Childhood

Classics That Your Child Will Love Too

A post by Gail Martin’s daughter
Virginia Allain profile image
Virginia Allain

Some of the vintage children’s books that were on our bookshelves at home (photo by Virginia Allain)

Recommended Children’s Books from a Real Bookworm

Mom would call me to help with some chore, but I’d pretend not to hear. As usual, I had my nose buried in a book. Reading was a favorite activity of mine and a visit to the local library was like having unlimited access to a candy store. The library only allowed children to check out three books, but that was a totally inadequate amount to last two weeks until the next visit. Fortunately, I had a brother and four sisters, so combined we could take eighteen books.

We would swap our books around so everyone got to read them. If several were eager to read the same book, it was necessary to hide it between reading sessions to keep possession of it.

We owned some books from birthday and Christmas gifts and being voracious readers, we would reread those when our supply of fresh reading material became depleted.

Books for the Very Young

A Is for Annabelle – I have a page about Tasha Tudor’s book, A Is For Annabelle. It is such a marvelous ABC book about a vintage doll and her wardrobe. When Mom made Gone with the Wind style dresses for my sister’s doll, it reminded me of Annabelle with her delightful wardrobe and the trunk to put them in.

Of course, I this list would have to include Curious George. Mom took us to storytime at the public library, an old Carnegie library. I would go down the stairs to the children’s room in the basement. We sat on wooden chairs in stiff rows while the librarian read stories to us. One was Curious George. Years later, as a children’s librarian, I read Curious George to a new generation of children.

Cat Tales Family Album

Cat Tales Family Album

I loved these books with the pictures of cats dressed in complete outfits and posed in little scenes. The stories weren’t memorable, but the photos were adorable. My sister recently found a vintage copy of this on eBay.

Andrew Lang’s Fairy Book Series  – There was the Red Fairy Book, the Olive Fairy Book, the Blue Fairy Book, and so on. Each was packed with the best classic fairy tales. There are more, many more stories to stretch your child’s imagination than just Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella. With these books, they will learn about Snow White and Red Rose, Jack the Giant Killer, Thumbelina, The Tinderbox and folklore from all around the world that was collected by Andrew Lang into the twelve book in the series.
Vintage Marriage of Thumbelina and Prince Postcard
Vintage Marriage of Thumbelina and Prince Postcard

Encourage Your Children to Read – Reading is so important for children’s development

There’s a teensy bit of advertising in this video, but the overall message is really good. Never mind about subscribing to their program, just go to the public library and get a free library card for yourself and for each child.

Favorites for Older Children

Black Beauty was a favorite of mine – A lovely classic story.  Children learn a lot about being kind to animals from a story like this. I shed many tears for the mistreatment of this horse.

Please, parents, give your children unabridged editions of classics. Look for the original author’s name and then check the title page to make sure it is unabridged. If the child is too young to read the long version, read it aloud to them. Abridged versions often truncate the book too much and remove the wonderful flow of words that made the book a classic.

Don’t miss the classic Robin Hood – No, watching the movie is not the same. My book had the Wyeth illustrations. I loved them. This one is even available now on a mousepad.

Ah, Maid Marion, Friar Tuck and the Duke of Nottingham. These great stories have broad appeal and are a great way to introduce children to English history.

I loved books about orphans – classic stories about orphans. It seems that a lot of books that were special to me are pretty old-fashioned. They were even old-fashioned back in the fifties when I was reading them. Actually old-fashioned could just be another term for classics. Books that have stood the test of time.

Elsie Dinsmore really touched me. Actually, Elsie had a father, but he was away on business so she was left in the care of hard-hearted relatives. There’s a whole series of these.

Heidi

Heidi

Heidi was left in the care of her gruff grandfather. She reveled in the freedom of following the goats with goat herder Peter.

Pollyanna

Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter

Pollyanna had a profound effect on me. Fifty years later and I’m still trying to play the “glad game.” Yes, I know Pollyanna was a bit smarmy, but she had pluck and kept trying to do the right thing. She helped many people live a better life in her small village.

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, Fiction, Action & Adventure

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-Legs was the mysterious benefactor that sent a young orphan to college. Later on, it was made into a movie with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron.

Large families intrigued me, since I was one of six.

Bobbsey Twins 03: The Secret at the Seashore

Bobbsey Twins 

These were old-fashioned stories even when I read them back in the 1950s. There were Burt and Nan and Flossie and Freddy, two sets of twins in one family. Freddy was always getting into trouble.

Little Women, with eBook

Little Women,

What a wonderful book. With four sisters, I could really identify with this family. We all wanted to be Jo, the independent one who wrote stories.

The Five Little Peppers –  There was a whole series of these. They lived an impoverished life but Polly Pepper was my favorite for the way she solved problems and looked after her brothers and sisters.

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

This vintage family story shows Polly’s heroic efforts to help her mother.

Books in Series for Children – Get them hooked, then read the whole series

I couldn’t wait to get the next book once I’d started reading a series.
The Borrowers are a race of tiny people who live under the floorboards and behind the walls of old houses deep in the English countryside. They borrow bits of food and other things from the “human beans” who live in the house and try to make their homes as comfortable as possible without being discovered.
A story guaranteed to explode a child’s imagination! They will never look at the nooks and crannies around the house in the same way again!

 

The Rescuers (New York Review Books Children's Collection)

The Rescuers

I loved all the adventures the intrepid Miss Bianca had with trusty Bernard by her side.

The Little House Collection (Little House Books)

The Little House Collection

These almost need no introduction. Through the television series, they live on, but it is still a treat to read the originals. Having grown up in Kansas, these resonated with me.

The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion

I read the whole series. They did a wonderful job later making this into a movie. I was crazy about horses as a kid.

More Classics for Your Child to Read

The Wind in the Willows (Sterling Unabridged Classics)

The Wind in the Willows 

Enjoy the very British lives of Mole and Rat. I’ve always been an Anglophile.

Lassie Come-Home

Lassie Come-Home

This was the original Lassie, not the television one. What a brave dog!

Misty of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteague In the 1970s, I visited Chincoteague Islands and saw the wild horses there. Before that, I read every one of Margarite Henry’s horse books.

This could have been me. I had reddish highlights in my blonde hair and I read anywhere, anytime.

The Secret Garden (HarperClassics)

The Secret Garden

Actually, this one qualifies as an orphan book too. I thought it was fabulous that whiney Mary was rehabilitated by learning to garden and learned to care about other people like the crippled Colin.

Alice In Wonderland

Alice In Wonderland

If your children have seen the movie, then it’s time to read the book too. A complex read, but part of our cultural literacy.

Little Lord Fauntleroy, with eBook (Tantor Unabridged Classics)

Little Lord Fauntleroy went from living in genteel poverty to being discovered as the heir to a fabulous estate in England. He has a hard time winning the heart of his crusty grandfather though.

Louisa May Alcott Books – When I first started going to the public library, I wanted to read every book starting with “A” and follow around until I got to “Z.” This was a rather ambitious plan, and I did make it through all the books by Alcott and then by Aldrich. After that, I decided to read more randomly as there were authors I wanted to sample and they were way down the alphabet.

I read all of Thomas C. Hinkle’s dog and horse stories – More wonderful animal stories for your child.

Black Storm was one of my favorites. Some of these might be found in public libraries. Also, check on eBay for Hinkle’s vintage dog and horse stories.

So — were some of my favorites your favorites too? Tell me which ones I missed.

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Kansas Memoirs of the 1930s

Post by Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain

Since helping my 85-year-old mother put her memories into a book, I’ve been fascinated by Kansas biographies of the Great Depression. The era of the 1930s was a tough one and there is much we can learn from how people survived the economic hardships of the Dust Bowl era.

 

dorothy rose and edna mae laird

Gail’s school pals, Dorothy Rose and Edna Mae Laird.

Join me in reading the best of the Kansas biographies from the Depression Era. While others may take light fiction for their summer beach reading, I’ll be reading memoirs written by Kansans who lived through the Dirty Thirties.

My mother was fortunate that her father had a job all through that decade. Her childhood memories show a simple life on the Kansas prairies, yet a happy time for her.

Here are some titles to get you started:

Ducks Across the Moon

My Flint Hills Childhood

As I Remember It by Esther Imhof

The Other End of the String

Addie of the Flint Hills

Sod and Stubble

Here’s a short video to give you a glimpse into the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.

Writing Family Histories (a BlogTalkRadio Interview)

Back in 2012, Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain, had the opportunity to go on BlogTalkRadio for an interview. The topic was Writing Family Histories.

It was a good opportunity to talk up Gail’s memoir, My Flint Hills Childhood.  You can hear the interview by clicking on the arrow below. It’s 13 minutes long, then they take a break for reading a poem, before getting back to the interview at the 16-minute point.

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Unfortunately, due to a technical issue, the interview cut off the last 15 minutes. The host was quite apologetic, but at least it did get a little air time promoting the book.

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Virginia Allain, Gail and Clyde’s daughter.

Develop Your Own Personal Library

I’ve rescued another of Gail Lee Martin’s early articles that she wrote for the eHow site back in 2009.

How to Develop a Personal Library

Reading is an important part of our lives for information and entertainment. Filling our home with books that have special meaning to us seems so natural. Here’s how to develop your own personal library.

ALLOW TIME FOR YOUR PERSONAL LIBRARY TO DEVELOP.
Our library of books that take up a whole wall in our home Is the result of a lifetime with my reading family. My parents and sisters read whenever we had some spare time. Then I married Clyde, who came from a big family of readers. Together we raised six children who mostly took to reading like ducks to water.

LOOK FOR BOOKS THAT YOU WILL READ AGAIN AND AGAIN.
During more than fifty years of married life, we gathered and saved books like jewels. In the seventies, Clyde built an eight-foot long bookshelf almost ceiling high to hold the many books we thought too precious to get let go. We read them over and over again.

Paul_Calhoun___age_6

Paul Calhoun standing by the bookshelves his grandfather, Clyde Martin, made. 1973

LEARN WAYS TO ADD TO YOUR BOOK COLLECTION WITHOUT SPENDING TOO MUCH.
Collecting books of our favorite authors made garage sales an enjoyable pastime. We watch for early Kansas school books and books written about Abraham Lincoln, Clyde’s favorite since his early years when Grandma Joy would read aloud to him from the well-used book, “Stories and Yarns of the Immortal Abe,” that is a highlight of our wall of books.

Library book sales are good places to find books at bargain prices. Also, check yard sales and flea markets. For hard-to-find books, check antique stores and online.

FIND AUTHORS WITH SPECIAL MEANING FOR YOU AND COLLECT ALL OF THEIR BOOKS. LOOK FOR ONES THAT YOU’LL WANT TO REREAD.
Authors we love and save their books to read time and time again are Harold Bell Wright, B. M. Bower, Jackson Gregory, James Oliver Curwood, William Allen White and Peter B. Kyne. My mother must have been reading Kyne’s book, “The Enchanted Hill” when she was expecting me in 1924, as she named me Gail Lee after the heroine, Gail and the hero, Lee. How could I not become a writer after that honor?

The collection of Margaret Hill McCarter books began with the book “The Price of the Prairie.” that my mother-in-law gave her husband in 1915. These books led me to research this author’s life and finally performing at elementary schools and clubs in my community as Margaret.  IMG_7188_edited

FIND GENRES OF FICTION OR NONFICTION THAT YOU ENJOY READING.
Our book collecting has outgrown our original wall of books, creating the need for bookshelves in the master bedroom, for mostly western, mysteries, intrigue, and historical paperbacks, again we save series of books by our favorites authors. Dick Francis, Jean Auel, Tony Hillerman, James Herriot, and Sandra Detrix of the Kansas Author Club writing as Cassandra Austin are just a few.

FIND BOOKS THAT MATCH YOUR HOBBIES AND INTERESTS.
We have many books about Will Rogers, Charles Lindbergh, oil fields, old Model A cars, Norman Rockwell, Frankoma Pottery and Currier and Ives.
One long shelf contains books on gardening, fences, composting, flowers, insects, trees and some “Foxfire” books about the mountaineer people of the Appalachian Mountain. I have added books about learning to survive by eating from the wilds. Including many by Euell Gibbons. We take pleasure from hunting the countryside for wild foods like poke, morel mushrooms, and paw paws to bring home and savor a bit of nature’s bounty.

FIND BOOKS THAT YOU’LL REFER TO FOR INFORMATION.
Two long shelves on the back porch are for the recipe books. These are used for new and old ideas for cooking meals from the produce we grow in our own garden each year. I also use them and the Kansas history books for my research for stories.

CREATE YOUR OWN BOOKS OR NOTEBOOKS OF ORIGINAL MATERIAL TOO.
Book shelves are currently taking shape all around in my writing room to shelter books containing research for all kind of articles I plan on writing; for our family history memoirs and extensive files of everything our family is interested in. I have added notebooks where I save written material by others in our family. My Mother’s stories that she wrote in the early twenties, our daughter, Shannon’s “Martin News”; my sister, Carol’s “Living on the Bay” her monthly newsletter from Seadrift, Texas and our daughter, Cindy’s “Birdwoman programs” that need a special shelf.

Winning the Ferguson Kansas History Book Award

Gail Lee Martin Received an Award in 2010 for Her Childhood Memories

Each fall, the Kansas Authors Club announces winners for various book awards at their annual convention. One of the awards given is the Ferguson Kansas History Book Award.

Gail wrote about it:

I usually attend with my daughter, Cynthia Ross, but not this year. At 86, I felt the trip and activities would be too wearing for me. I missed out on the thrill of a lifetime, and so it was my daughter who walked down the aisle to accept for me the Ferguson Kansas History Award for My Flint Hills Childhood.

Another daughter, Virginia Allain worked closely with me on the editing, selection of photos and arranging the essays. She said it was a thrill, not just for the author, but also for her when the memoir won the award.

The selection of My Flint Hills Childhood: Growing up in 1930s Kansas validated all the hard work that the two of us put into the book. The writing was all Gail Lee Martin, but the packaging of those essays into a book was my daughter’s project. I’m still beaming with pride over this award and my daughter says she is as well.

What the Ferguson Book Award Judges Are Looking for…

 A book by a Kansas resident (KAC members and non-members) on the subject of Kansas History. It can be a history of the state, a county, a city, church, school, institution, an industry, a way of life or a factual account of any phase of Kansas history. NO FICTION. NOT A GENEALOGY.

The entry must have been published within the two years prior to June 1 of the current year. The book may be either privately or commercially published. It must be the original work of the entrant, a minimum of 5,000 words, and must make a significant contribution to Kansas history.

Read the official rules for the Book Award at the Kansas Author Club website.

Some Background on the Award

The Ferguson Award was created in 2000 by KAC member Patricia Ferguson. Ferguson was the President of the Kansas Authors Club from 2002-2003 and Vice President from 2000-2001. The Award was intended to fill the gap created when the Lyons History Book Award ended with the death of founder Ruth Lyons. Ferguson administered another history contest for KAC, The Coffin Book Award, and thought the new Award should focus on Kansas history.

The winners of the original Lyons History Book Award and the Ferguson Kansas History Book Award are archived in the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. As of 2017, only 9 of the awards have been given.

 

2008-08-17 gail and ks photos 159

Gail’s daughter, Cynthia Ross at the KAC convention

 

 

Comments from other writers:

Lolly J. of Kansas –What a joy to work as a team to create a book, and to share the thrill of winning a book award!!
Congrats to all concerned. I’m always so happy when histories and memories are recorded for future generations.

Granny Sage – This is awesome for several reasons. First of all to be able to share your writing with your family and have books published together. Secondly, to keep a record of the history of the area you grew up in. I know the work that must have gone into that. And third, but not least, winning an award for your writing. A long time ago I won first prize in the Kansas Authors Club writing contest for an article I wrote on Mother Teresa. I know the thrill of walking up to get your award and the humble feeling that someone actually read and liked what you wrote.

Personalize Your Bookshelf

In 2008, Gail Martin wrote the following article for the eHow website.

Bookshelves take on their owner’s personality. Besides the range of titles and the way you organize it, express your personality in the choice of bookends. Here are ideas to personalize a bookshelf.

Instructions

  1. I like my books separated by authors, rather than all huddled together. So through the 60 plus years of saving books, I have found some unique bookends to do the job of keeping our favorite author’s writings together.

    The old time Kansas school books that I discovered mostly at estate sales, I group together with bookends that are replicas of the school desks like my husband used in the one-room school he attended. They even have two miniature school books with each of them.

  2. On the long top shelf where my husband’s books about Abraham Lincoln fill the whole shelf, I added a pair of heavy bookends depicting the Lincoln Memorial. Between some of the different Lincoln biographers, I added a gold bust of ‘Abe’ sold by Avon and a small, square bottle, decorated with a black silhouette of Lincoln and capped with a gold eagle, separates another group of his books.
  3. I found miniature birdhouses that hold our nature books together. This section includes bird guides and insect books. Also in that section, I placed several Foxfire books that feature the lives of the Appalachian Mountain people and Euell Gibbons book, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus.” What fun we had hunting edible food along the back roads after we retired.
  4. I selected a couple of large pieces of petrified wood that we found on 4-H geology field trips. By adding felt to the bottoms so they don’t scratch the wooden shelves, they make attractive bookends and are certainly heavy enough to hold many books together.

  5. I even use the mantel clock that my sister and her husband made for us one Christmas to separate sections of books. It’s made of local black walnut wood.
  6. On one bookshelf, I use old blue-green canning jars to hold categories of cookbooks apart. In one jar, I collect buttons; in another I drop marbles when I find them and in some I put sand to make them heavier. I like to separate all the canning books in one place and cookbooks published by churches and families in another.

 Tips & Warnings

  • Heavy objects make good bookends.
  •  Lighter items can separate subjects or authors in a row of books.
  •  Open items can be filled with something weighty like sand to make it heavy enough to serve as a bookend.
  •  Put felt on the bottom of anything that might scratch the bookshelf.

Promoting Mom’s Books

When I helped my 86 year old mom self-publish her childhood memories, I also took on the job as PR person for the book. I posted blurbs all over the Internet, sent postcards to libraries and helped arrange author talks and book signings.

We sent this postcard to libraries in Kansas to promote my mother's memoir.

We sent this postcard to libraries in Kansas to promote my mother’s memoir.

One fun way to promote the book was with a t-shirt. You can get these printed up locally or use a site like Zazzle or Vistaprint. Get everyone in the family to wear the shirts. Have them prepped to talk enthusiastically about the book when someone asks them.

A sunflower seemed like a good match for a Kansas memoir. I ordered this t-shirt from x to promote My Flint Hills Childhood.

A sunflower seemed like a good match for a Kansas memoir. I ordered this t-shirt from Vistaprint to promote My Flint Hills Childhood.

Make sure they know where people can buy the book too. With the t-shirts, friends and family can become walking billboards promoting the book. Besides being available online (see below), we made the books available at the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado, Kansas and at the Greenwood County Historical Museum in Eureka, Kansas.

Have you written a book? If so, then you know that promoting the book is a lot of work.

Here’s my mother’s memoir. It won the 2010 Ferguson Kansas History Book award.

Gail Lee Martin's memoir is available from Blurb.com

Gail Lee Martin’s memoir is available from Blurb.com

Mom’s stories plus some of mine and my sisters were compiled in this book about my dad.

The book about Dad is also available from Blurb.

The book about Dad is also available from Blurb.