March 24, 2015
Staff Picks: What Did You Read As a Child?
When we recently saw that Penguin Random House launched a new site, Brightly, to help parents raise life-long readers, it got us thinking about the books we read when we were little, and how that ongoing love of them has had a part in how we ended up here at 800-CEO-READ. Our paths through the literature of our youth are as unique as all of us who work here. Hope you enjoy!
I read tons as a kid, but one memory of the impact Harriet the Spy had on me lives larger than some others: I was so taken with Harriet’s gumption and resourcefulness that I too put on a tool belt loaded with improvised spying paraphernalia and set off around my neighborhood of Shorewood duplexes to see what I could discover. I don’t recall turning up much to remark about, but I felt even closer to my hero Harriet than ever!
My mother was a first-grade teacher, so we had so many books that my father custom-built shelves in the basement to hold them all. Dick and Jane books, books about lost dogs, earnest children, happy families, talking animals. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love books and, subsequently, the bookstores where my parents would drop me off while they completed errands in town. While neither of my parents were big readers, in that I rarely saw them reading much more than the newspaper, reading was highly regarded in my home. So highly regarded that, when I was a teenager, the only way I could get out of going to church with my father on Sunday mornings was to claim, quite truthfully, that I’d been up all night reading. I’d like to claim I read Dostoevsky until the sun came up, but no, I preferred lengthy historical romances about pirates with hidden hearts of gold. (It wasn’t until I went to college to study literature that I actually began to read it.) But maybe that’s why now I’m a rather “equal opportunity” reading advocate: as long as a person is reading, whether it be business books, Fifty Shades of Grey, or War and Peace, it’s all good.
I started reading when I was about three years old with Dick and Jane, Dr. Seuss & Beverly Cleary. A little after that I remember reading Encyclopedia Brown, The Hobbit and Murder on the Orient Express. I was put in an advanced reading class when I was in third grade, so at a young age I was introduced to Kipling, Dickens, Bradbury, Hawthorne, etc. What really helped is that my mom read to me as much as she could and one of her best friends at the time was a librarian.
I bought Roald Dahl Puffin paperbacks from my local Waldenbooks with stacks of quarters I saved from allowance. I also remember ordering Calvin & Hobbes volumes from the Scholastic book order brochures in elementary school. Beverly Cleary and Gertrude Chandler Warner were also a big part of my reading life as a child.
My dad worked at multiple bookbinding factories. I always remember him bringing books home from whatever project they were working on. A lot of them were ones that weren't suitable for sale--they had a page missing or bad binding, but also just extra brooks. They bound a lot of kids books for ages 5-12, and lots of educational books too, like English and math workbooks. So we had this huge library growing up and got exposed to a lot of different types of books, genres and subjects that we normally wouldn't have. Also, my mom is obsessed with reading, so I was around it my whole life and got to see the process of manufacturing books.
Like many people my age, my early years were filled with a steady diet of Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak and Shel Silverstein. I remembering so clearly wanting to be able to write and draw like Shel. But the books I treasured the most were a complete set of Beatrix Potter books that my Great Aunt Hazel gave me one at a time over the years for birthdays and Christmases. Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, and Jemima Puddleduck became some of my very best friends. Unfortunately, my entire collection was soaked in the basement of our home during the Flood of ‘97 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Most of the things I lost in that flood were just as well--I’m sure I wouldn’t have looked at them for years and years. But the loss of Peter and his friends still make my heart ache.
The very first non-picture book I read in full was Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I was in maybe third or fourth grade at the time. While I always read at school in the book corner of classrooms before then, I never, ever took books home with me until that one. It dug its hooks into my imagination so tightly that I took it home and didn’t put it down until I finished it later that night.
I remember my father telling me as I went to bed that he was really proud that I had just spent the entire evening with a book. That little bit of encouragement combined with the fact that I just really wanted to know more about this Ramona girl led me to the other books in the Ramona series, and onto other books meant for that age range.
The two other I remember most from that time are The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks and The Indian in the Cupboard series. Those got me venturing into the library more, where I found Shel Silverstein and some biographies on the athletes I revered growing up, which led me to other books which led me to other books, and led to a lifelong love of books, which eventually led me here.
About Blyth Meier
Blyth Meier joined us to lead our marketing department in 2015 after doing that work for the Milwaukee Film Festival for the previous five years. While she made good use her filmmaking degree at that job, here she returns to her first love—books. As an undergraduate English major at the University of North Dakota, Blyth’s favorite time of year was the annual Writers Conference, which brought many of her soon-to-be favorite authors to the remote Northern Prairie: Peter Matthiessen, August Wilson, Toi Derricotte, Mark Doty, Natasha Trethewey, and Terry Tempest Williams. Blyth lives in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee, where she gardens, cooks, takes photographs, makes films, and participates in a yearly 24-hour bike race. At 800-CEO-READ, she runs our social media accounts, writes for In the Books, and is the keeper of all our marketing spreadsheets.