The death of Beverly Clearly last month immediately brought me back to the Evanston Public Library cerca 1966. I saw my 8-year-old self scouring the shelves for every book I could find about Ramona, Ribsy, or Henry Huggins. I limited myself to 5 books per check-out. But I loved that I could come back for more.
My heart beat fast every time I returned to the library for another fix. It beat even faster when I carried my cache home and dove into the stories. My goal was to read Cleary’s entire oeuvre.
A Serie-ous Habit
I was only busy clearing out the Cleary collection because I had read my way through every one of Carolyn Haywood‘s series.
That habit had started the day I discovered Betsy’s Little Star on the shelves of the Washington School library. And when I finished reading all of the books about Betsy, her little sister Star, and, later, Eddie, I moved on to Cleary.
My 8-year-old self found the depictions of middle-class childhood in these series both instructive and comforting. Both Cleary and Haywood captured the lives and emotions of everyday middle-class children, something that for some reason I desperately felt I was not–and for equally unclear reasons desperately desired to be.
I had a sort of palate cleansing from between Cleary and Haywood when I discovered a series of biographies written for children. I read them all, including Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, Babe Ruth, Thomas Edison, and even Zebulon Pike. But then it was back to the suburbs. And for quite a bit of my 2nd and 3rd grade years, these series captivated me.
Beyond Beverly Cleary
As I got older I grew more adventurous. I became drawn to other times, places, and ways of life. But I still gravitated to series. I became enamored of Madeline L’Engel. I started with A Wrinkle in Time and moving through every book of hers I could find.
My friend and reading buddy Gail introduced me to Noel Streatfeild‘s “shoes” series about families with performance-inclined children: Dancing Shoes, Skating Shoes, Ballet Shoes, Circus Shoes, and Theater Shoes come to mind. My mother introduced me to Sydney Taylor‘s All of a Kind Family and the many other books in the series about a family of Jewish immigrants growing up on the Lower East Side.
I loved each of these books in itself. Even more so I loved the idea that there were others like it to come. Sometimes that meant recurring characters, but there was rarely an deep interconnection between books as in the Harry Potter series. More often it was the larger world of each author that was unique. I loved knowing that I could return to these worlds even after closig the covers of any individual book.
Both Cleary and Haywood captured the lives and emotions of everyday middle-class children, something that for some reason I desperately felt I was not–and for equally unclear reasons desperately desired to be.
These series for children, laid out on library shelves, kicked off a lifetime love of books for me. They also kicked off a dream of becoming an author who could not only write so prolifically about worlds people wanted to visit again and again.
Did You Have a Favorite Series of Books as a Child?
If you loved these or some others series as a young reader, please let me know via the comments section below, the contact form on my website, my Twitter account (@terraziporyn), or the Late Last Night Books Facebook page.
I’ll share the results in next month’s blog!