Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Adult Writers, Child Readers?

For our next roundtable, let's look at being child readers and how, if at all, that influenced us as writers. 

Were you read to when you were a toddler/young child? Do you remember favorites that you continued to read alone once you learned how?

Ef Deal: I wasn't read to, but I learned to read very young, three years. I read in secret by the wedge of light from the bathroom after bedtime. Then I found the town library was on my street and ripped through the children's section in six months. Got a library card before I was five. My dad was a reader -- of trash. 

Elizabeth Donald: I learned to read when I was three (or so I am told), so I don’t have strong memories of being read to, but I know I was. My earliest associated memories are of reading to my parents. In fact, I recall sitting next to my mother reading her a Berenstein Bears book and she suddenly stopped me and summoned my father. I had no idea what was going on and wondered if I’d done it wrong. 

Instead, my mother asked my father to please get the box of Nancy Drew books from the attic. They were her books from her own childhood, those older 1950s blue tweed covers with the silhouette of Nancy and her magnifying glass (which I do not recall appearing in any of the books.) Mom realized at whatever age I was -- 6, perhaps? -- that I was ready for chapter books. I dove into Nancy Drew and never looked back. 

From there I discovered Judy Blume, Black Beauty and The Black Stallion, fought beside Johnny Tremain, explored the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, climbed My Side of the Mountain and attended Sweet Valley High. Then Lois Duncan introduced me to horror, which eventually led to swiping my mother’s Stephen King hardbacks which I wasn’t supposed to read but I left the dust jackets in their places so she wouldn’t realize they were missing. When Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered I was hooked into Trek, and started devouring every tie-in novel I could find. Then it was, “Hmm, I like this Peter David guy. I think I should see what else he’s written…”

Jen Mulvihill: Yes absolutely, my mother read all the horse books to me, International Velvet, Black Beauty, Little Nick, all of them. Then she read all the Laura Ingles books to me. When I got older I started reading L. Frank Baum, I still have not read them all yet.

Scott McCullar: I don’t remember my parents reading to me as a child. Perhaps my Mama did when I was a toddler, but I just do not remember it happening in my life. Instead, she would have conversations with me and would encourage me in my love for art. I know my Mama gave me the Little Golden Books before kindergarten. I think I was more infatuated with the illustrations. 

When I was a little older in kindergarten circa 1976, my Daddy started buying me comic books as an incentive to help me learn how to read. At that point, I was this little blonde-headed kid with freckles from Tennessee living in California who still retained his thick Southern accent. The school out in Fresno wanted to put me into speech therapy classes to lose the accent. The other kids in class made fun of me constantly with my Southern drawl – especially when it was time for me to read the “I See Sam” yellow children’s books. I was so infuriated at the time at the other kids that I refused to talk in class and it impeded my reading development at that time. With that, comic books solved the problem and I became a voracious reader. By second grade, I was reading biographies of historical figures like Babe Ruth, Davy Crockett, Abe Lincoln, and others. 

John Morgan Neal: I have no memory of being read to. First reads were Batman comics. And S.E. Hintons's The Outsiders.

Gordon Dymowski: My parents instilled a love of reading from an early age - according to family legend, my father purchased a copy of ONE FISH, TWO FISH, RED FISH, BLUE FISH the day I was born. Not only was I read to, but I was encouraged to head to the local library when I was a kid. Between Chicago Public Library and my Catholic school, I read several series multiple times: Alvin Fernald, Danny Dunn, Tom Swift Jr...and eventually, Sherlock Holmes.

Bobby Nash: I don’t remember being read to as a kid. I probably was, but don’t recall. My mom did like to read so that got me interested in reading. She used to get the Reader’s Digest collections. It was there I read my first novel, The Snowbound Six. I was hooked. From there I went to Han Solo’s Revenge and comic books. Plus, The Monster at the End of this Book with Grover was a favorite.

Brian K Morris: Yes, my mother read an assortment of Golden Books to me. My father tried to read some of my comics to me, but he grew bored with the task. I don't recall any of the books from back then, aside from The Night Before Christmas (which I own several editions of), but I loved them a lot.

Sean Taylor: Absolutely. Both my Mom and my MeMe (grandma) read to me. And they were both always buying my books. I was fortunate in that all my sets of parents and grandparents (as a child of divorce and remarriage I had "bonus" grands) supported me in being a reader from an early age. When I was able to read for myself, I always went back to the ones I remembered most and best -- The Pokey Little Puppy, Never Talk to Strangers, The Sailor Dog, and How to Make Flibbers, etc. : A Book of Things to Make and Do. I still own each of them, and they are still barely holding it together after all the years of love I gave them. I hope to pass them down to my own grandkids and build memories of reading them together. 

Susan Roddey: My mother read to me every day until I learned to read. It was always my favorite part of the day. My absolute favorite book was called "There are Rocks in my Socks," Said the Ox to the Fox. I bought a copy of it for my own kids... they were not impressed.

How often did you read as a child? Where were you on the spectrum that goes from "lock me in my room with my books" to "please don't make me read"?

Bobby Nash: I loved to read. Comic books became a huge favorite. Spider-Man, G.I. Joe, Space Family Robinson, Star Trek, and the big treasury editions of Captain America, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Wars were constant companions. I read novels. Those small paperbacks of the 70’s were a big influence on me.

I hated being told what to read. That’s probably because I don’t like being told what to do.

Brian K Morris: I grew up in the country, so books, comics, and TV were my real friends back then. I learned to read when I was three so throwing me into my room with my reading material proved to be no punishment for me.

John Morgan Neal: All I needed was to be in my room with my comics and my toys to reenact or create new stories from the characters I loved. School introduced me to The Outsiders, Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty Four, and such.

Gordon Dymowski: I read voraciously as a child, and my parents encouraged this habit. I read everything from catalogs and newspapers to books and comics. If there's a statement that describes my youthful reading, it would be "Go find a book and entertain yourself." (Keep your minds out of the gutter, people)

Susan Roddey: I started reading early, and have been a voracious reader ever since. I was the kid they punished by telling me I wasn't allowed to read.

Scott McCullar: After discovering comic books in kindergarten where I learned to read and moved on to other “real” books, I became a lifelong reader. I didn’t have to be “locked in a room”, I just instead took books with me wherever I went. To the living room on the couch. Outside under a tree. On the bus with me to school. Wherever I walked.

Jen Mulvihill: I read all the time. I would sneak books in school instead of doing my school work. I didn’t have many friends so I would almost always be reading. You could usually find me in an apple tree eating green apples and reading.

Elizabeth Donald: So I was the bookworm, the kid who had a book hidden in her lap for those long stretches of math class (and got yelled at by my third-grade teacher in front of the whole class for READING when I’d finished the math assignment. “You spend your whole day with your nose in a book!” It did not occur to me for years to question her priorities.) My parents gave up grounding me, as I didn’t watch much television and ordering me to stay inside and not go out to play? Gee darn. Being a shy bookworm with unruly hair and thick glasses, naturally I was a target for bullies (mostly male, the girls just ignored me). So hiding in the storage closet during recess (with a book) or staying inside instead of going to the park (with a book) was definitely me. Instead, if my parents needed to ground me, they grounded me from my books, which got my attention. 

Sean Taylor: I read every time I could. I would spend hours in my MeMe's front bedroom (we spent a lot of time with her) reading. The books got more complex and longer and I branched out more in non-fiction too. I would read every book I could get my hands on about sharks, snakes, spiders, or dinosaurs, and I devoured my set of Childcraft Encyclopedias too. And I went from re-reading the children's books to reading the illustration and abridged versions of classics (not to be confused with the Classics Illustrated comic book though I read those too) with an illustration every other page. I particularly enjoyed the Verne and Wells abridgments. That's also when I found my favorite book that I probably read at least 200 times between the time I was 7 and 15 -- The Adventures of Monkey by Arthur Waley. I was very much into adventure stories at the time. 

Mari Hersh-Tudor: We had a big family so we got sent to the library a lot to keep us out of mom’s hair. Alone with a book was infinitely preferable to getting bullied by sibs. I was reading Asimov and Tolkien by age eight. 

Did those early experiences help to instill in you a love of stories, and how did that reading stories bug transform into a telling stories and writing stories bug?

Susan Roddey: I've always loved everything about the written word. Even before I understood how to write stories, I would pretend to be a writer. It's always been a part of me.

John Morgan Neal: Not sure instill is the most accurate word. Awoked. Revealed. Because I think it was always there.

Brian K Morris: Being in the country, the only companions I had were imaginary. That's who I read to when I was younger. And the storytelling bug is still strong in me.

Mari Hersh-Tudor: Dr. Seuss first showed me what imagination can do. My imagination always took anything I read and made whole universes out of it. And never stopped.

Scott McCullar: By fourth grade, I was writing my own stories. I won a “Young Author’s” contest at school for my first story “Mice Wars” which was loosely based on the historical story of The Alamo with a cast of characters that were all mice. I would continue to write stories here or there in my spiral notebooks, but my other interest wanting to illustrate also pushed me in the direction of wanting to be a comic book creator who handled both the writing and art chores in his own work. 

I just loved storytelling in all forms. Whether it was books, comic books, illustrations, television, film, or even audio-only sources such as radio dramas, records, or listening to someone speak in a lecture, interview, or tell a tale around a campfire, etc.

Elizabeth Donald: I have always been a storyteller, in any form. From my very early childhood I was writing, way back to early-80s Smurf fanfic. I was never going to BE a writer, mind you -- you needed Dumbo’s magic feather and to live in New York for that, or so I believed. But books were absolutely integral to my childhood, developing my imagination, and entry drug after entry drug kept me in fictional magic. I wrote my first novel in high school and it was terrible, as most first novels are. And I rewrote it a couple of times in college, and it was still terrible. I wrote plays as a theater major and they were terrible. But that’s the gig, isn’t it? The more you write, the less terrible your writing. Every word you write -- and every word you read -- makes you a better writer, in tiny increments. Those baby steps start with the Berenstein Bears and Nancy Drew and end up with your name on the cover displayed in the front window at Borders. 

Jen Mulvihill: I really think it did have an impact on me. Especially when I became a teenager and started reading Science Fiction, I could not get enough. But now I see in my writing a little bit of influence of a mix of Baum and Heinlein. As a child and teenager, I used to make up all kinds of stories in my head, sometimes I wrote them down and sometimes I didn’t. I still have an old suitcase full of old short stories, songs, and poetry.

Bobby Nash: Oh, yeah. I started thinking of ways to do my own stories. I studied the books and taught myself how to write, how to create stories and characters, etc. That urge has not diminished over the decades.

Ef Deal: I couldn't separate reading from imagining, so I began writing early, and yes, because I was an avid reader.

Gordon Dymowski: Since I grew up as an only child, I relied on my imagination and curiosity to provide entertainment. One method was drawing stories on scrap paper my mother brought home from work. I think that experience shaped my ability to tell stories since I knew I could take characters from comics and translate them into rough narratives. It wasn't until college that I started writing short stories...and developed a large collection of rejection slips.

Fortunately, the past eleven years as an author helped me realize I have a knack for this whole writing thing. It's still a learning process., but I feel more confident in my abilities now than I ever did in the past.

Sean Taylor: I don't think there's any denying how important the stories I read were to making me want to tell my own stories. I did it with everything from paper to pencil to playing with my action figures. I never played with them correctly. Luke and Leia were never Luke and Leia. Nope, Luke was a swashbuckling hero while Walrus Man wore the Jawa's cloak and became an evil wizard who captured Leia (I was a kid. I hadn't learned yet women didn't need us men to save them.) and foiled Luke's plans with his giant robot (Mazinga) while keeping hidden in my Fisher Price castle with the secret trapdoor. That play became stories that still influence me to this day, hence my love of adventurous tales of heroes and heroines in outlandish situations. 

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