Each note felt like meeting a new friend.
The responses to my previous column about how February is Library Lovers month proved once again that book people are my tribe. I asked readers to share their favorite books from childhood, ones they enjoy revisiting. The replies served as a reminder of how important it is to introduce our children to books and to cultivate an appreciation of the value and importance of public libraries.
For example, Ginny Lathem started reading at 5 and said it remains her best form of escape. She had many childhood books she adored, but her favorite was one she received from folks on her 6th birthday–“Mother West Wind Stories” By Thornton E. Burgess.
“I remember the inscription my Dad wrote to me inside. I remembered that book opened up a portal of wonder, amazement, and comfort to me,” she wrote. “I’m 69 and have a rather extensive library even after donating 13 boxes of books. Even now, opening up a new book brings me joy.”
However, one memory doesn’t bring joy.
“When I was in college my Dad remarried. He and his new wife built a home and they decided to give all my books away,” Lathem recalled. “I’ll always remember his response when I asked why they didn’t save them for me or even ask if I wanted them. ‘Why Gin, they were just old books.’ ”
It seems her dad wasn’t a reader.
Tricia Stone had a similar experience. Growing up in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, her love of books overrode everything else and libraries offered peaceful reading escapes. Her favorite book was “Strawberry Girl” by Lois Lenski.
“I regret that when we moved to Burbank, CA, books were NOT thought ‘barrel worthy’ and left behind for other cousins,” she said.
Janice Verdugo wrote that her favorite book was “Half Magic” by Edward Eager.
“I’m 70, so it may be out of print!” she said.
And Margo Buckles grew up in a family that like mine cherished public libraries. When she left home her father told her to get a library card because it would save her countless dollars over the years.
“Books were always gifts at our house. Everyone in my family read constantly, she said. “My mother read in the bathroom to avoid children and housework. My father read and reread Patrick O’Brian’s books about Jack Aubrey and the British Navy. I think that reading kept him sane after a debilitating stroke in his late 60s.”
Her aunt’s traditional birthday gifts were books.
“I eagerly awaited the package and was rewarded with books like “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” Buckles recalled.
But her favorite is also one of mine.
“My favorite childhood book is “The Secret Garden,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story of two unpleasant children – a spoiled girl and a sickly boy – who find a secret garden where they learn to love nature, themselves and others, speaks to me to this day,” she said. “I read it as a child and have reread it as an adult. It is magical.”
Magic. That’s the essential essence of stories that take us out of our everyday lives and into the realm of pretend and possibilities. So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that other readers enjoyed “The Velvet Room” as much as I did.
“I could not believe you talked about ‘The Velvet Room’ in today’s paper!” wrote Mary Fisher. “My best friend and I read that book at around the age of 10, as well. I became a part of that book, it was the very first book I read that drew me in and made me a reader for life.”
Debbi Irvine-Collins agreed.
“I about fell out of my chair while reading your article today. I was also around 10 years old when in the mid-’60s, I found ‘The Velvet Room’ at the library and fell in love with the story. I wanted to find my own turret library to read in and escape to.”
She discovered a 1975 seventh-edition paperback for $10 on Craigslist.
“I keep it in my nightstand so I’ll never lose it. Thank you for bringing back such a great memory. I’ll read it again.”
The book she found was the same as the copy I’d purchased at the Scholastic Book Fair in 1975.
Imagine my delight when last week, the day before my birthday, I received a well-read book fair copy of “The Velvet Room” in the mail!
Becky Luther from St. Maries said her sister had stored her copy for years and she was happy to send it on to me.
Tears filled my eyes when I opened the envelope and found my favorite childhood book. It felt like my long-lost best friend had returned.
If you’re a reader, you know exactly what I mean. And honestly, shouldn’t every month be Library Lovers Month?
Cindy Hval can be reached at email@example.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available at Auntie’s Bookstore and bookstores nationwide.