Read a Childhood Favorite Through Grown-up Eyes

And you just might get a disappointing surprise. At least, that’s happened to me more than once as I grew up and reread books I’d enjoyed in childhood. (And the mark of a good book is Rereadability.)
Oh, not all the books I revisited lost their magic. Many even seem to improve with the maturity of the reader. The Little House on the Prairie series is a good example. When I read them as a child, I just enjoyed them for their storylines. As a teenager and adult, I was able to appreciate the very real people behind the stories, and to admire their resourcefulness, courage, good humor and abiding love for one another.
But what about the books that lost some of their magic as I grew up? Please understand, I don’t mean to say that they are not good books, or well-written books. They are. They just don’t happen to have a very long shelf life, you might say.

“Pippi Longstocking”: What kid wouldn’t want to have Pippi for a neighbor? And what grown-up neighbor wouldn’t want to have her banished from town? Pippi is definitely an adult’s worst nightmare: wild, smart-mouthed, reckless, you name it. She even has a whiny, manipulative side to her, as demonstrated by her stock response anytime she’s chastised for her bad behavior. This response can be boiled down to “I’m so sorry, but I’m a poor little orphan and I don’t know any better.” Tommy and Annika’s mother must be a candidate for sainthood for her tolerance of Pippi and her allowing her kids to play with her.
“Harriet the Spy”: This is a hilarious book, and the satirical aspects of its humor are even more apparent to an adult reader. But Harriet herself? Ugh. She’s a richer, smarter, more urbane version of Pippi Longstocking. Just as Pippi is the kind of playmate most children would love to have, Harriet is the type of friend nobody would wish for. All that sneaking around, spying on people, writing down everything they do, and also writing down her often quite nasty assessments of their character. No wonder all her friends were so angry when they got hold of her spy book.
And Harriet’s parents? Clueless, both of them. They fob Harriet off on a nanny for eleven years, the nanny leaves to get married (she’s cut from the same cloth as Tommy and Annika’s mom) and Harriet, quite predictably, begins acting up. Quite possibly it’s the first time the parents have actually had to deal with her on a day-to-day basis. So what’s the first thing they do when Harriet begins talking back and defying them? They send her to a child psychologist, of course! Continuing the pattern of paying somebody else to deal with the little darling.
The Encyclopedia Brown mysteries: Yes, the mysteries and their solutions are very clever (I was never able to beat Encyclopedia to the solution) but I find it a bit scary, and did even as a child, that Encyclopedia’s dad was the town’s police chief, yet his biggest cases had to be solved by his ten-year-old son. The poor man. Wonder if the office of police chief was an elected position in their town of Idaville. If so, I smell a massive political cover-up at work to keep the hapless chief in office.
Incidentally, Encyclopedia’s real first name is Leroy. Leroy Brown. Which inspired the song that Jim Croce almost recorded: “Bad Bad Leroy Brown, dumbest dad in the whole damn town!”
Most of the Judy Blume books: Judy was a big favorite among kids, especially girls, when I was in school. As I read more and more of her books, however, they took on a sameness that is rather creepy. She could probably consolidate a lot of her work into one big book titled “My Parents Divorced Because They Love My Little Brother/Sister More Than They Love Me, and Now I’ll Never Get My Period and What If the Kids At School Find Out?”
It came as something of a shock to me to learn that Judy Blume also wrote books for adults, including one racy selection about a suburban housewife eager for thrills, called “Wifey.”
The Betsy books by Carolyn Haywood: These are really old books, written in the 1930’s, I think. Which goes a little way, but not very far, toward explaining why Betsy and her friends had so little supervision. The kids, who were all less than eight or nine years old, just seemed to run loose all over town, organized events and outings, and brought home all manner of pets, with scarcely a mention of a parent. Weird.

Again, these are all good books, well-written, imaginative, and so on. And while their plots and characters may not resonate the same way with older children or adults, they still provide interesting food for thought. Look at me, I’ve just killed a good hour examining them from different angles. Now I’m going to go and read a book about the famous London cholera epidemic, or maybe one about the various misdeeds of Aileen Wuornos. Something I wouldn’t have cared much for as a child, in other words.

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2 Responses to “Read a Childhood Favorite Through Grown-up Eyes”

  1. Walt Says:

    Lost your website for a while. . . just read some of your stuff. . . did not read a lot of books when I was young. . . did watch a lot tv. . . funny how some of the old shows I used to like seem totally stupid now. Archie aint funny, Rose Anne is a loud mouth, Andy and Opie or boring. Gunsmoke. . . what self-respecting law man would chase Miss Kitty all those years. The coyote and roadrunner. . . . why not just order a sandwich from ACME widget. Funny how our taste and times change over time.

    • ghostscribe Says:

      And I don’t know if anybody really realized it at the time, but Miss Kitty was really a madam and the Long Branch wasn’t just a salon, it was a House of Ill Repute! Consorting with such as her would get a lawman investigated and probably debadged today. They didn’t call them the Good Old Days for nothing.

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