Wednesday, February 6, 2013

People ask me: What's your favorite book?

To tell you about my favorite book, I have to tell you about when I was five or six.  We had moved from a small country town to a townhouse (row house) in the city of Philadelphia.  It was a new world for me and my brothers.  I was sent to Kindergarten where I contracted every disease known to children in quick succession.  It's no wonder I have few memories of that time.

My favorite book was given to me by a man, a bachelor, who was interning with my father.  I called him Uncle Bert.  He just heard I was sick and brought me this book, A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and illustrated by Fern Bisel Peat.  I still treasure this battered book .

This is the back of the book.  The front is long gone.

I read it and read it and memorized the poems and tried to visualize what the poems were about.  One was about being sick and I imagined his (Robert Louis Stevenson's) toy soldiers marching up and down my counterpane.  (A word I learned from the book.)

I could imagine myself as Mary Jane leading this parade.  She looked about my age and had my blonde hair and blue eyes - and brothers.

Marching Song
Bring the comb and play upon it!
Marching here we come!
Willie cocks his highland bonnet,
Johnnie beats the drum.

Mary Jane commands the party,
Peter leads the rear;
Feet in time, alert and hearty,
Each a Grenadier!
(there's more)

That's another new word:  Grenadier.

Time went by and I named all the children in the photos and made a long list of names in the back of the book.  I fully intended to name my children from that list.  Kathleen and Cynthia are on that list, but my middle child, Lisa, is not.  I think I hadn't heard that name until I was much older.

I also colored in the black and white pictures with my colors.  This one looks like colored pencil.  It was done with love.  I wasn't defacing the book, I was loving it with my own additions.  I loved the illustrations of Fern Bisel Peat as much as I loved the poetry.

Time passed and I grew up and when I became a mother I shared my treasured book with them.  They weren't allowed to write in it, but somehow a page was torn and the cover lost.  I don't blame them.  They were children and they loved this book too.

By the time the grandchildren came along, the book was too battered and fragile to share.  Nevertheless, I still love the book and even now I read through it now and then.

I still am amazed that a sickly little boy who grew up to be a sickly man could bring me and so many other children such a beautiful view of childhood.  How did he know those things?



  1. I have a copy of this same book from my childhood! I love the way you colored yours in.

    As for Robert Louis Stevenson, I think where he lived had a lot to do with it. He lived in Edinburgh, across the street from the beautiful Queen Street Gardens, so even if he was ill he could see other children playing. You can learn more about his childhood home here:

    1. With the same illustrations? I love the illustrations as much as the poetry.

      I hadn't read that about RLS, thanks for letting me know.

  2. Oh, that is such a sweet story! It's nice that you still have the book. I'm sure your children have fond memories of that book too.

    1. I don't know how much I stormed about that torn page. They might remember only that.

  3. I love the way you colored it in, too! I think most writers have been inspired by something they read as kids that made them want to write. For me, although I have fond memories of the children's books I read, my strongest memories are of the books I read off my mom's nightstand. Like Acorna by Anne McCaffrey. I was way too young probably to understand everything, but it was books like that that made me want to start writing, too. :)

  4. Wish I was a Writer, known to me as Brynne, I think a lot of imagination was lost in children's books once they began to worry about what was appropriate for children to read. I read Moby Dick at a very young age. Thankfully, I didn't understand it all and just read on.

    My kids were encouraged to talk to me when they read something they didn't understand. They flat out loved "Hey God, it's me Margaret." Some of their friends weren't allowed to read it.


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