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!
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 www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.