Susan Vaughan here. Wednesday, March 2, was Read Across America Day in honor of the birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. The school where I taught as a reading specialist usually stretched related activities into an entire week and one parent-child evening to celebrate Dr. Seuss and his books and reading in general. Now that I’m no longer teaching, I thought I’d discuss the books that were my childhood favorites.

I loved books from the very beginning, and once I learned to read, I devoured books. I don’t recall reading Dr. Seuss books, I’m afraid, although his first, And to Think That I saw it on Mulberry Street, was published before I was born.

Mulberry St

As an author, I found it interesting how the book got published. Geisel was about to give up after rejection by twenty publishers when he met a friend on a New York street. The friend worked for Vanguard Press, and the rest is history. Geisel said afterward that if he’d been walking on the other side of the street, he’d have given up and gone into the dry cleaning business.

When I was young, most of the books my family read came from the library, but the ones that were my favorites, to be read and reread were purchased and given to me. The bookshelf in my bedroom contained series as well as stand-alone novels. My very favorite stand-alone novel is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published in 1911.


I read it over and over. As I reflect on it now, part of the reason was that I related to Mary, not because she’s a neglected wealthy child, but because she’s an only child, like me, who had to amuse herself. I was and still am intrigued, like Mary, with the boy Colin hidden away in a secret room and the secret garden, where the two children heal each other. Yes, secrets and a mystery. Apparently the author was inspired by Christian Science theories and used the garden motif to explore the healing power in living things. The Secret Garden is beautifully written, emotional, and uplifting. No wonder it has stood the test of time.

I wasn’t a fan of fantasy usually, but loved the Oz series. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W.W. Denslow, was first published in 1900.


The movie version, retitled The Wizard of Oz, was released before I was born and wasn’t a television staple until the 1960’s, so my love of the stories was due to the books. The Library of Congress declared The Wonderful Wizard of Oz “America’s greatest and best-loved fairy tale.” Its success led Baum to publish thirteen sequels. I remember reading the first and a few others—Ozma of Oz, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, and The Emerald City of Oz. My bookshelf held at least three more, but the titles are lost to me, and the books disappeared on one of my family’s moves.

Another series I loved wasn’t great literature, but my first introduction to mystery novels (You knew this was coming, didn’t you?). Yes, Nancy Drew. I believe this is the cover on the book I had.


As a child and preteen, I believed there was a Carolyn Keene who wrote all the books. In fact, the series concept was created by publisher Edward Stratemeyer, who had previously created the Hardy Boys series. From the first book, The Secret of the Old Clock in 1930 onward, the books were a hit. For the uninitiated, Nancy Drew is a teenage amateur sleuth, often assisted in solving mysteries by her closest girlfriends, Bess and George, and her boyfriend Ned.

Stratemeyer created the character and many of the book outlines. He hired Mildred Wirt Benson to ghostwrite the first volumes in the series—The Secret in the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, The Bungalow Mystery, The Mystery at Lilac Inn, and The Secret of Shadow Ranch.

As an adult author, I found Mildred Benson as fascinating as I’d found her stories. Not only was she a ghostwriter, she was a reporter, even until she died at age 96. She earned a pilot’s license and went to the Amazon on an archeological expedition that became lost for a time. In my novel Primal Obsession, Mildred Benson is an inspiration to my heroine Annie. Others joined Benson in ghostwriting as Carolyn Keene after 1932, possibly because it was hard to keep up with the eager readers wanting more of Nancy Drew.

Over the decades, the character has evolved in response to changes in U.S. culture and tastes, and the original books were revised and shortened both to lower printing costs and to eliminate racist stereotypes. Given the films, TV shows, and new book series, Nancy Drew has enduring appeal.

In case you need a book for a child or grandchild, you can find online several lists of the best. The National Education Association list is here.

Would anyone else like to share a memory of a favorite childhood book?

About susanvaughan

Susan Vaughan loves writing romantic suspense because it throws the hero and heroine together under extraordinary circumstances and pits them against a clever villain. Her books have won the Golden Leaf, More Than Magic, and Write Touch Readers’ Award and been a finalist for the Booksellers’ Best and Daphne du Maurier awards. A former teacher, she’s a West Virginia native, but she and her husband have lived in the Mid-Coast area of Maine for many years. Her latest release is GENUINE FAKE, a stand-alone book in the Devlin Security Force series. Find her at or on Facebook as Susan H. Vaughan or on Twitter @SHVaughan.
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  1. Gram says:

    One of my favorite childhood books is/was The Land of the Lost. I still have it. Another that I still have is The Twenty-one Balloons by Wm. P. DuBois.

  2. So many books! Here are a few of my faves. Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg, most of which I can still recite from memory, taught me about the rewards of steadfastness and love. The Golden Book of Wildflowers opened my eyes to the details of the natural world. The Black Stallion fed my love of horses and adventure. In my teens I devoured Ray Bradbury and Agatha Christie. In general, I despised anything written for girls–Nancy Drew was okay, when she wasn’t with that stupid boy Ned–except for the Girl Scout manual. So much self-reliance there that I still depend on.

    • Nikki,
      After Nancy Drew (I didn’t care for Ned either), I went on to Agatha Christie too. I don’t remember reading any Dr. Seuss, but they were certainly around when I was a kid. No idea why.
      Thanks for sharing your books.

  3. Gayle Lynds says:

    What a wonderful column. You brought back many wonderful memories!

  4. Thanks, Gayle!

  5. Lea Wait says:

    Little Women — and the whole Orchard house series. I also loved the Walter Farley books. And, when I was a little older — Betty Cavanna’s “teen” books (which I read in abut 5th grade.)

  6. Barb Ross says:

    Hi Susan-

    Have you read Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak? It was in my Malice bag in 2012 and it was a terrific double biography of Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams. I really enjoyed it. I blogged about it here.

  7. Nancy Miller says:

    That was so interesting. It’s always nice to hear about the books that other people enjoyed as children. My favorite was Little Women (same as Lea) and I still have my copy which my grandmother gave me. She sewed a paper cover on it which is getting a little the worse for wear …but still hanging in there. (Sixty years maybe?)

  8. Vida Antolin-Jenkins says:

    My list would be incomplete without Trixie Beldon! We fought over who got to read the book first. Initially, my two sisters and I would sit in a big armchair together and read, but I read faster, and was impatient at the end of every page. Another favorite was The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald. We also read Kipling’s The Jungle Book and collections of his short stories. Cherry Ames was another favorite. Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time, and its sequels, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Most importantly, my parents read to us in the evening. My father read us the Illiad and the Odessey, Dr. Zhivago, and Ben Hur, among other books.

  9. I was a voracious reader as a child, (still am) and the highlight of my young life was when the bookmobile parked at the school at the top of the street. An old converted school bus, with wooden shelves crammed in, and a tiny circulation desk, it shifted and rocked as the patrons moved around.

    I had a subscription to a book club and every month a new, hardcover, picture book would arrive in the mail. I still have a few of my favourites, like Tikki Tikki Tembo, and Miss Wrigley’s Tree. My favourite novel to re-read was Little Women.

    I didn’t read Dr. Seuss until I became a mum. I had Fox in Sox memorized at one point, LOL.

  10. Interesting post, Susan. My parents read The Bobsey Twins to me and then I read them. While I read a couple of Nancy Drew books, I mostly read The Dana Girls series. Two twins (there seems to be a theme here, perhaps because I was an only child.) And they solved mysteries. And then I read about a “stewardess” Vicki someone. I really wanted to grow up to do that job. Back in the day, they had a height requirement and I wasn’t tall enough. Thanks for stirring these memories. 🙂

  11. As a ecologist, my favorite Dr. Seuss is “The Lorax” called the “Silent Spring” for kiddies. The Lorax “speaks for the trees” and is shortish, oldish, brownish, and bossy (parody on ecologists). The Lorax fails to persuade greedy Once-ler not to ravage the Truffula forest for his factory. Ecologically, the story doesn’t end well. Said to be Seuss’s personal favorite, the book was adapted as a movie (perfectly cast with Danny DeVito as the Lorax!). It’s been number 14 on the National Education Association top 100 books list for children.

  12. Amber Foxx says:

    We’ re kindred spirits. Dr. Seuss (my favorite was the 5,000 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins–I think there were that many hats), Nancy Drew, and the whole series of Oz books. Ozma of Oz, all of them. I don’t read fantasy at all now, so that didn’t last as a taste, but I do like a touch of the mystical in mysteries, so maybe it did influence me in a remote way.

  13. León Flint says:

    I still have my Nancy Drew books – the first six of the series, the original editions with the blue covers. I read them over and over as a girl and still revisit them occasionally. A side note: When my daughter (a child of the 70’s) read them, she was quite puzzled over the “colored” housekeeper and pictured a rainbow-hued person! I adored The Secret Garden, which felt magical to me then and still does. I also loved Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, especially the one about how we got the alphabet. I remember sitting on my Daddy’s lap as we read it together. I still have that book, too, sixty-plus years later.

    • Leon, your story about the “colored” housekeeper is one reason why later editions were edited. Still, it’s very sweet that your daughter pictured a rainbow-hued woman. Thanks for writing.

  14. dragons3 says:

    I remember being obsessed with Peter Rabbit when I was little. I couldn’t get to sleep at night unless Mom or Dad read it to me. Loved Dr. Seuss and a lot of the “traditional” children’s books like “Black Beauty” and “Heidi” and “Beautiful Joe”. Some of my favorites were the Live Doll series by Josephine Scribner Gates. What little girl doesn’t dream of her dolls coming to life at some point in her childhood? I got interested in mysteries early and read Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Vickie Barr, The Dana Girls, The Hardy Boys and a lot of other series, but my favorites were the Trixie Belden books. I so wanted to belong to the BWGs. One book that really had an impact on me was Marie Killilea’s “Wren”, the children’s version of “Karen”. When I was in 6th grade my teacher would give us extra credit for each book we read. We had to bring the book in to show him and then answer a few questions about it. I don’t remember how many I read that year, but I set a record for his class that lasted for over 30 years.

    • Wow, you’re as avid a reader and was, like me, back in the day. I remember Peter Rabbit and the other books in that series, but they weren’t favorites like the Winnie the Pooh books were. Thanks for commenting.

  15. Kait Carson says:

    You hit two of my favorites, The Secret Garden, and Nancy Drew. I owned the same edition cover, but some of mine also came from my mother, they had blue cloth covers (or were the Nancy Drews green and the Bobbsey Twins blue?). They may have had dust jackets at one time, but not in my lifetime. Did anyone read Emily’s Runaway Imagination? I loved the book as a child. I remember recommending it to the librarian!

  16. Karen says:

    Wish I could remember them all!! Little House on the Prairie series (so happy my daughters all loved them as well), The Boxcar Children, Little Women, and a series I can’t remember that I think took place in the Sierra Nevadas. If anyone knows those books I’d love to hear the author is. We always lived in small houses (in Bangor–moving to NH when I was 14) and I would snuggle up in the car and read whenever possible. Oh I can’t forget the Velveteen Rabbit….

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