Remembering Childhood Favorites

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today waxing nostalgic about some of the books that were influential in my early years as a reader. Like the writing I’ve done as an adult, it’s a mixed bag.

Starting at the earliest, I remember my father reading to me from a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Looking back, I can only say that the idea of reading scary stories to kids at bedtime is right up there with teaching them to recite a prayer that includes the words “if I should die before I wake.” I mean, think about that for a minute!

I also read comic books

My overactive imagination having survived until I could read for myself, I devoured books. I still have some of the Little Golden Books I was given, and I loved my heavily illustrated oversize copy of Disney’s Peter Pan. It will come as no surprise that I was an early collector of girls’ mystery series, and not just the Nancy Drews, either. My two favorites among the girl sleuths were Beverly Gray (I still have those) and Judy Bolton.

At the same time, or perhaps a bit earlier, I was also reading juvenile biographies—very sanitized for young readers but accurate enough to awaken a lifelong interest in women’s history. The subjects that interested me were as varied as Jenny Lind, Clara Barton, Nellie Bly, and Elizabeth the First. Nellie Bly was the subject of my fourth published book. Later I dipped into the many volumes of Readers’ Digest Condensed Books that lived on a shelf in our stairwell (I remember reading what must have been Margaret Irwin’s Young Bess in that format) and by the time I was in my teens I was borrowing my father’s historical novels—books by Margaret Campbell Barnes, Frank Yerby, and Thomas B. Costain that featured lots of adventure along with the history. The sixteenth-century fascinated me early on and still does.

In among the books mentioned above were several others that stand out in my memory—not books I kept, but books that nevertheless made a deep impression on me. There was Edgar Eager’s Half Magic, for example, which defies easy description. And Little Maid of Old New York by Alice Turner Curtis, which takes place in the part of the world I lived in as a child. I may have sent her a fan letter. I say may because until I started Googling, I was sure it was Alice Curtis Desmond, who lived not far from me, to whom I wrote. I remember receiving a reply, but it has long since disappeared. It’s also possible that my correspondence was with neither of them, but  instead with Anne Terry White. I was younger than ten at the time—that’s over sixty years ago, so it’s no wonder my memory is a little hazy. White’s book, Lost Worlds: The Romance of Archaeology, definitely made an impression on me. Unlike the edition shown here, my copy had a bright pink cover. I remember sitting on my porch steps with a neighbor, a boy I’d been friends with for ages (we’d earlier founded the Mighty Mouse Fan Club with his cousin Cheryl) and planning our future as archaeologists. That was before I realized how hard the work is, and that it involves copious sweating, but my love of reading about archaeologists, real and fictional, continues to this day.

What about you, dear readers? Do you still remember books that made an impression on you when you were a child? I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you do.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at and A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.


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10 Responses to Remembering Childhood Favorites

  1. Pingback: Remembering Childhood Favorites | Maine Crime Writers – Maine Reportings

  2. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    We are reading twins. Judy Bolton. The Eager books, which I read to my granddaughter a few years ago and loved the cleverness just as much now as then. I remember buying a bunch of cardboard-covered classics, like Little Women and Black Beauty, for 59 cents. My dad scoured the Salvation Army and came home with Readers’ Digest books and adventures illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. I too had the grimmest of fairy tales. Loved this post!

  3. susanvaughan says:

    Kathy, you mention some of my childhood favorites and some titles and authors I’ve never heard of. I love that you’ve been able to keep some of those early books. As my parents moved a bit, my mother ditched all those as well as some beloved dolls.

    • Anonymous says:

      I used to have a lot more but in my 20s it didn’t seem worth keeping most of them (dolls and books). I regret that now. iPad is still calling me anonymous, even though it says I’m commenting as kaitlynkathy. Aarggh!

  4. Priscilla Rundin says:

    Funny, moving to Maine from Liberty, NY must have had a greater influence on me than I realize. The books I remember most are by Kenneth Roberts, The Lively Lady, Arundel, Rabble In Arms and Lydia Bailey. Only now do I realize I was getting a history lesson at the same time! Another of my favorites was The Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone. I did a book report on this in school and the teacher said to me it sounds like you really read the book… I still remember that!

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Hi Priscilla. It definitely makes a difference where you went to school, too. I’m pretty sure that’s where I read the “Little Maid” books. Oddly, I don’t think I’ve ever read any of Kenneth Roberts’ novels.

      • Priscilla Rundin says:

        Hi, Kenneth Roberts books are still in print and available. You may really like Arundel even now. it is about Benedict Arnold’s doomed march on Quebec. It goes right up the Kennebec River, past the Bigelow’s and through Chain of Ponds and on through Lake Megantic. Kinda in your neck of the woods. Hope you try it!

  5. kaitcarson says:

    Oh, yes. Judy Boulton, Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, The Motor Girls (my mother had kept them from her childhood), Honey Bunch (same), Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Little Women, the Yerby novels, and as I got older, I began taking books from my parents’ shelves. The standout were Costain and Irving books. Wow, I haven’t thought of most of these in years.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Sounds like our parents had the same tastes. I remember doing a report on Costain’s novels in 10th grade. I had to get the teacher’s permission because he wasn’t on the list of authors she handed out. I don’t remember now what writers were, but I’m guessing it was a list of “great American novelists” or some such–no popular fiction need apply. Of course, Costain was an outlier anyway, since he was Canadian. He also wrote a four volume popular history of the Plantagenets.

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