Favorite Children’s Books for Baby Boomers

For many of us, reading was a big part of our childhoods -- from fairy tales to teen-reads, we lived in a fantasy of words. Tastes in materials may have changed over the years but our “kid” books live on, if only in our own memories. Some books in their original forms may be out-of-print and off the library shelves, but many old favorites can still be found in used bookstores, antique and resale stores, garage sales, attics and basements and from online distributors. And, because many of our favorite old books from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s are being printed again, they may be easily found; just ask a librarian or inquire at your favorite bookstore.

I bet that you probably have a few of your favorite old children’s books stashed away somewhere! What books did you like to read when you were a kid? Here are some of my favorites:

Sawdust in his Shoes: New York: Junior Literary Guild: Coward-McCann, © [1950]
Sawdust in his Shoes: New York: Junior Literary Guild: Coward-McCann, © [1950]

Sawdust in His Shoes by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Published in 1950, Sawdust in His Shoes is Eloise Jarvis McGraw's story about a 15-year-old boy who is taken away from everyone and everything he loves … the circus. After Joe Lang’s lion-tamer father is killed in an accident, the boy is sent to an orphanage while a judge decides if Moe Shapely, a clown and longtime family friend, is a suitable choice to be Joe’s guardian. Joe runs away from the orphanage and injures his leg on a barbed-wire fence that surrounds a nearby farmhouse. Fred Dawson, his wife, Hester, and children, Henry, Ann and Shelley, do not ask any questions about Joe’s background but take the boy in and give him a job. In the meantime, Joe learns that there are good people in the world outside of a circus.

My Friend Flicka: Philadelphia: Lippincott ©[1941]; Thunderhead: Philadelphia: Lippincott, ©[1943]; and Green Grass of Wyoming: Philadelphia: Lippincott © [1946]
My Friend Flicka: Philadelphia: Lippincott ©[1941]; Thunderhead: Philadelphia: Lippincott, ©[1943]; and Green Grass of Wyoming: Philadelphia: Lippincott © [1946]

My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming

My Friend Flicka, first published in 1941, was written by Mary O'Hara, a silent film era screenwriter-turned-sheep and horse rancher-turned-author. My Friend Flicka is the story of Wyoming rancher Rob McLaughlin, his wife, Nell, and sons Howard and Ken. Hoping that Ken will stop daydreaming and pay more attention to schoolwork and chores, Rob gives his ten-year old son what the boy yearns for … a colt of his own. Much to Rob’s consternation, Ken chooses a beautiful sorrel filly whose dam (mother), Rocket, came from a blood strain of wild mustangs; Rob is afraid that Flicka will share that wild streak. When Flicka becomes injured, Ken must win her love and trust, in addition to (and in his own mind) the love and trust of his own father.

Thunderhead was first published in 1943. Thunderhead is the son of Flicka and Banner, the sorrel-colored stud stallion of the Goose Bar Ranch. Thunderhead is a beautiful, snow-white “throwback” to his wild-blooded grandfather, the Albino; the family fears that the colt has inherited the wild blood of the Albino and Rocket. Ken refuses to geld Thunderhead; he wants to train him to be a racehorse. The colt grows into a powerful stallion; proving to be quite a handful for the McLaughlin family.

Green Grass of Wyoming was first published in 1946. Ken is now 16 years old when he meets Carey, a teenage girl whose prized filly was one of many mares that were “stolen;” presumably by a wild stallion … Thunderhead. Ken sets out to bring Thunderhead and the mares back to their owners and become a hero in Carey’s eyes.

Note: The My Friend Flicka trilogy is not just for kids; it contains more mature themes such as love of God and one’s religious path, marital strife and the hardships of the ranching business in Wyoming during and following The Great Depression.

The Best-Loved Doll: New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston © [1962]
The Best-Loved Doll: New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston © [1962]

The Best Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill

First published in 1962, Rebecca Caudill's The Best Loved Doll is the story four dolls; Belinda, Melissa, Mary Jane and Jennifer. Betsy is the little girl who owns these dolls; she is excited to be invited to a party where each child is asked to bring a doll. Prizes will be given for the best-dressed, oldest and one that can do the most things. Which doll should to accompany Betsy to the party? Belinda is a beautifully-dressed doll with a trunk full of clothes. Melissa is over 100 years old and made of wood; she belonged to Betsy’s great-great grandmother. Mary Jane can sew a fine seam on a sewing machine. All three of these dolls can win a prize. But Jennifer is streaked with dirt. She has tangled hair, a rumpled dress and patches on her cheek. Her nose is cracked, her feet are worn and her shoes and stockings were lost long ago. Jennifer can't sew a fine seam on a sewing machine, she isn't very old and she doesn't wear beautiful clothes, but she wears a smile that never goes away.

Bonus Kid: Philadelphia: Macrae Smith  ©[1959]
Bonus Kid: Philadelphia: Macrae Smith ©[1959]

Bonus Kid by Joe Archibald

In addition to other genres, Joe Archibald wrote a series of sports books; more than 50 titles over the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s ... football, basketball, baseball and others. Bonus Kid is the story of Ray Cantrell; a college pitcher with a strong arm and a chip on his shoulder. Ray’s father, Sam Cantrell, was a powerhouse pitcher whose baseball career ended after he was hit with an elbow-shattering pitch. When Ray was very young, Sam took a job as a truck driver and later died in a traffic accident. Ray grew up believing that his father’s injury was the work of the Kel Mangrum, the opposing manager who, according to Ray, told his player to hit Sam Cantrell with a pitch, in order to get him out of the game. When Ray is pitching in the minor leagues, Kel Mangrum becomes his manager.

Note: What I love about Bonus Kid (and the other baseball, basketball and football books written by Joe Archibald) is the simplicity of the slang language (for each particular sport) and how events measure up to the way things were done "back then." Ray signs a contract for a “standard” salary in addition to finagling a $20,000 bonus. A bonus! Twenty-thousand dollars! That amount wouldn’t even pay the commission for most sports agents, nowadays. Joe Archibald’s many baseball, basketball and football titles include Right Field Runt, Three-Point Hero, The Fifth Base, Payoff Pitch, Backcourt Commando, Centerfield Rival, Shortstop on Wheels and Southpaw Speed.

Little House in the Big Woods: New York, NY: Harper and Brothers © [1932]
Little House in the Big Woods: New York, NY: Harper and Brothers © [1932]

"Little House" Book Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The classic LIttle House books are a fun re-read and a trip back in time for adults and children alike. Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing the Little House series when she was 60-years-old; the stories are loosely based on Laura’s childhood, but they describe life in the late 1800s, growing up on the Midwestern frontier. Check these out: Little House in the Big Woods (1932), Farmer Boy (1933), Little House on the Prairie (1935), On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937), By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939), The Long Winter (1940), Little Town on the Prairie (1941), These Happy Golden Years (1943, and four titles published after Laura’s death: On the Way Home (1962), The First Four Years (1971),West from Home (1974) and The Road Back (2006). These titles are drawn from her unedited notes and (unfinished) manuscripts. Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957).

The Hidden Staircase: New York: Grosset & Dunlap, ©1930
The Hidden Staircase: New York: Grosset & Dunlap, ©1930

Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene

The character of Nancy Drew, an 18-year-old amateur detective, was developed by Edward Stratemeyer, who founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate (creator of the 1926 Hardy Boys series). In order to tap into the young female readers market, the first four Nancy Drew titles were published in 1930. Nancy Drew mystery stories were (and continue to be) written by “ghostwriters” under the name of Carolyn Keene. Mildred Wirt Benson and a few other contract writers wrote the bulk of the earlier Nancy Drew titles in the series. Stratemeyer’s daughters, Harriet Adams and Edna Stratemeyer Squier, wrote plot outlines and stories from the late 1950s through the early 1980s. The Nancy Drew stories have gone several updates and revisions over the series’ long history.

Note: Chalk it up to nostalgia, but I prefer the Nancy Drew mystery stories as they were written prior to 1960. I have several copies of the earlier printings and like the “old-fashioned” method of Nancy’s character development. I don’t know if the earlier renditions of titles such as Secret of the Old Clock and Hidden Staircase would appeal to today's readers, but older versions of these books are amusing and have a certain charm. While the stories and character description have definitely changed, Nancy Drew has been favorite read from mother to daughter for more than 80 years.

Other Favorite Childhood Books ...

Do you remember ...

Wednesday Witch (Ruth Chew); Striped Ice Cream (Joan M. Lexau); Bettina’s Secret (Brit G. Hallqvist); A Room for Cathy (Catherine Woolley); It Could Happen to Anyone (Margaret Craig): The Black Stallion (Walter Farley); A Girl Called Al (Constance C. Greene); Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren); Homer Price (Robert McCloskey); The Outsiders and That Was Then, This is Now (S. E. Hinton) and oh, so many more. The Scholastic Book Club -- Remember those order sheets that your teacher gave you, bringing in your money and waiting ... waiting ... until the books arrived? Remember school book fairs? What did you buy and what is still in your attic?

We loved our old books then and we love them now. A great story in a great book lasts forever!

© 2014 TeriSilver

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