My good friend AlanDP over at The Blogonomicon (http://blogonomicon.blogspot.com/) lately had a post about the first thing he ever read. He recounted his early fascination with Peanuts that lead to him learning to read way before first grade.
I had a similar experience. My brothers and I pored over volumes of collected Peanuts long before we could read and wondered what they said, often making up stories of what we thought was going on. It was a great impetus to us to apply ourselves in school.
Anyway, it got me to thinking about our early reading resources, and prompts me to jot down a few notes and memories.
Pop would sometimes bring home paperbacks of collected comics to give to us after one of his long hauls at truck driving. There were volumes of Peanuts, of course, and some Don Martin collections, like the one above, where we were introduced to National Gorilla Suit Day(which has since become a real holiday; Jan. 31st, look it up!), Fester and Karbunkle, and Captain Klutz. Long before there was Gahan Wilson and Edward Gorey in our lives, there was Don Martin.
Now that I think about it, I bet Pop must have bought those books to read himself before passing them along to us. I don't think that he would ever have admitted to reading "funny books", as they were considered too childish for grown serious men.
But by far the biggest supplier of reading matter was Mom. There wasn't much money to go around in those days, with four kids and a truckdriver's pay, but she got us what she could. Gold Key Digests (both Disney and Ripley's Believe It or Not), Classics Illustrated, and the Whitman Classics that came as premiums with Folger's Coffee were all bought at the local supermarket, Baenziger's. The first copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz I ever got was with a can of coffee, and it's the first "chapter" book I remember reading on my own. Reproductions of copies appear above.
And of course there were Weekly Reader book orders, if you could pry the one or two dollars out of your parents to get a few precious volumes. Thus Harvey's Hideout, The Mystery In The Night Woods, 101 Dalmations, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks were obtained. And Homer Price books. Does anyone remember Homer Price? And The Man Who Lost His Head, and Ben and Me, and Georgie (the ghost), and Norman Bridwell books.
Of course, most of the books I read at the time were in the school library. I have always kept an eye out for favorite volumes since school days, with little success, until the internet time. I've been able to get The Visitors From Oz, Witches, Witches, Witches, Uncle Wiggly books, Thornton Burgess animal books, and Walt Disney's Toad of Toad Hall. Right now I have on order Donald Duck Visits South America, Thaddeus Jones and the Dragon, and The Nip and Tuck War. I remember The Nip and Tuck War fondly because when I read it in 4th Grade I performed my first act of literary criticism on it, as I demonstrated the parallels between it and The Jungle Book.
Then there are books that I remember much of the story of, but neither the title or author. When I was a kid the least important words in a book were the author's name. There was a book on sea serpents we all remember fondly, with wondrous black, white, and charcoal illustrations. It starts with an old sea serpent putting it's head on the boat of the artist/illustrators man and wife team, and telling them the story of various historical sightings. Then there's the story of a brother and sister who find George, a talking rabbit with glasses, who helps them and then leaves in best Mary Poppins' manner. And there's the book about Cinderella's footman (was he a rat? or a mouse?) who only half-way transforms back and is left a little ratty man with no history to deal with the ordinary world. I remember he helps Cinderella in some post-ball adventure having to do with the glass slipper. I believe Disney has since come up with a sequel to their Cinderella along the same lines.
Anyone who can help with finding these, please do.