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Old, but not forgotten.

There’ve been a whole lot of nostalgic lists and posts floating around the internet lately, particularly geared towards those that grew up in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s gotten almost ridiculous—there are only so many times you can get excited reminiscing about Gushers, Legends of the Hidden Temple, super soakers, Dunkaroos and Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

That’s not to say the lists aren’t fun—they are—but they can get a little tired and repetitive after a while. I remember in college, if you ever were at a loss of what to talk about with a group of people you didn’t really know (that happens a lot in college), the go-to was just to bring up old Nickelodeon TV shows. The conversation was ever and always the same, but for some reason, it got everyone interested and vying to put in their two cents about Clarissa Explains it All and Are You Afraid of the Dark?

I always pretended to contribute to these conversations, but the truth is, I wasn’t allowed to watch any television growing up outside of PBS. I was one of “those kids.” I’m sure it helped a little to shape me into who I am today, but I’m not here to wax poetic about the values of a childhood not in front of screens, nor about the evils of too much TV* (‘cause I sure did get my fill of Arthur, The Magic School Bus and Zoom until my eyes near fell out). What I’m getting at here, is that the best “remember that” conversations I ever had always had to do with books.

As with television shows, there’s a commonality in the books we all read growing up. As kids and young adults, there were only so many options. Talking about favorite snacks, toys, games and television shows can only get you so far. The experiences with each of those had to have been fairly similar. With books though, as ever, there’s a real individuality for every reader. I re-read books so much more as a kid than I do now, and my connection with my favorite protagonists was fervently strong. Because it’s a subject talked about less frequently, it’s much more exciting when someone casually mentions a favorite book or character from their childhood and there’s a sudden explosive “YOU READ THAT, TOO?!?!” that comes from whomever is in earshot. The conversation, then, can be different and valuable every time.

The other weekend, a friend and I took the trip down to South Jersey, where I grew up, to spend the weekend (not exactly beach weather, but nice nonetheless). She was staying in the guest room where many of my books have been relegated over the years. As a child of an Irish mother, we spent a lot of time overseas in the summer, and it was a special treat for me to bring home books every August that I couldn’t buy in the States. Additionally, my dad would order me Irish-published books from a catalogue one or two times a year (I thought this very cool). Though many of these books became favorites as well, they’re never part of the conversation when reminiscing about old literary friends, as no one had even heard of most of the authors, let alone individual titles.

I had completely forgotten about all of this until my friend, who I should mention now is from Ireland as well, started gushing over my bookshelf. It seems that there was a commonality in the books Irish children read amongst themselves, too! “Your shelf almost exactly matches mine at home!” My friend has been in America for several years now and has surely not had anyone to talk about her favorite characters with for some time. It was a fun trip down memory lane for the both of us, and I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I’d thought of some of those titles.

While I’m sure the readers of this blog have all grown up in different eras, I’d love to know what some of your favorites were as a kid—what characters you wanted to befriend and what stories you read over and over. Unlike Froot by the Foot and Don’t Wake Daddy, I bet there’s a lot more to talk about here.

*That was definitely a Berenstein Bears book, though.

2 Responses to Old, but not forgotten.

  1. Elsa Valmidiano says:

    I went to a strict archaic Catholic school where the nuns relegated and banned certain books during our daily 30-minute reading time. This is not to say that I didn’t get to read the books I really wanted to, but the nuns made it pretty difficult and sometimes impossible since they would decide which books were banned from ordering off the monthly book club list, even if our parents thought the books were harmless. Mind you, this was 1989. One book I love and have re-read countless times is “The Ordinary Princess” by M. M. Kaye, which originally had been banned by my teacher because of its cover displaying a woman who had a rip in her gown exposing her bare leg. My sixth grade teacher, Sister Emma Luz, had considered the cover too provocative and therefore thought the book was unsuitable for our sixth grade eyes and banned us from ordering it. Owe it to my courageous best friend, Eliza, who raised her hand defiantly that day and said, “I own that book and my mom does not think it is a bad book for us to read. It tells a really good story for girls to just be themselves.” That is just one example of many of how certain YA/MG books were hard to come by. As I look at the MG and YA books that are published today with sometimes heavy and controversial subject matter, I’m wondering if the nuns at my old Catholic school have become more stringent on book banning.

    I wish my trip down memory lane regarding children’s books could be looked upon fondly, but for me, the subject of MG and YA books only make me reminiscent of the long, hard battle it was to fight for the books we really wanted to read.

    To this day, I keep all the MG and YA books I read as a kid – what I still call, “my secret stash.”

  2. Growing up in the hills of Pennsylvania one of my fondest memories was the noise of the loud and rickety old Bookmobile driven by a woman who volunteered to drive it, and to be the librarian. It was inside that big old step van where we could borrow a book, until the next time she came around, then trade it off for another. On the shelves staring back at me was adventure. It was in a copy of one of Jack London’s books where I first read the short story, “To Build A Fire.”

    It was also when I discovered that as hot as the summer nights were, reading that story could make me shiver as if I was in the Arctic cold. The Bookmobile was an escape to other places, and times, and something, I will not forget.

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