Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday Soliloquy-- Don't know much about history...

If you've been following along with this series of posts, you know that when I was a child, I loved to read animal stories and had gained a rudimentary appreciation of poetry. My mother the librarian wasn't about to stop there. She didn't want me to become like so many other patrons of the library who only preferred one genre of books and would never read outside it. One of the areas in the library she worked the hardest to "beef up" was the children's section. In one of the many book catalogs she searched through, she found a series of books called The Childhood of Famous Americans. Back when I began reading them, the series was published by Bobbs-Merrill. In doing a bit of research for this post, I was thrilled to discover that they are still being published today by Simon & Schuster.

Geared toward children in grade school, each book in this series tells about the childhood of a famous American, and there are lots to choose from: presidents, inventors, statesmen, humanitarians, athletes, Native Americans....

I started reading these books when I was about five or six, and I can't remember being bowled over by them, but I devoured each and every one. Reading about the childhoods of famous people humanized them. They, too, had been children who got in trouble--just like I did. They, too, had been children who liked to use their imaginations and have adventures--just like I did. These famous people came down off their pedestals and taught me about using intellect and imagination. They taught me that everyone should aspire to something; that everyone should have goals and work toward them. This series worked in tandem with my mother and grandparents in the lessons they were teaching me.

When I was a teenager, a phrase I heard over and over was, "That was before my time." It was a handy excuse for not knowing about anything that occurred before the speaker's birth. It's an excuse that I didn't accept then, and I don't accept it now.
It's odd how that one series of children's books sparked my interest in history and in biography.

I'm glad that my mother purchased it for our village library because, in my own strange way, I credit that series for helping to save my life. In my teens and all the way through my twenties and thirties, I suffered bouts of crushing depression. There were many times that I wanted nothing better than to kill myself and put an end to the pain. But some tiny eternal optimist within me refused to give up. At times when I needed them the most, biographies would cross my path. They showed me that other people had gone through many of the same things I was. If they hung in there and made it, so could I. Tiny little specks of serendipity can save lives.

I learned I wasn't alone; I kept reading; I hung in there. I'm happy, and have been for a long time. My personal library will always contain historical fiction, history and biography because I love learning, and I love reading about the common thread of humanity that has always bound us together throughout the centuries.

Wow! What a burden to put on the spines of a series of children's books!


  1. Cathy, the line that resonated with me most was "tiny little specks of serendipity can save lives".

    Sometimes, that is all it takes - a book, the bright memory of kindness, a line from a poem.

    For me, it was Hopkins' Carrion Comfort.

    "NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
    Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
    In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
    Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be."

    Somehow, the knowledge that it was my choice whether I lived or died has saved me from the oh so seductive temptation of stopping my life.

  2. I have not heard of this series before, but I can easily see how it would make a positive impression on a young child - that could easily carry them through the turbulent times. Thanks for sharing!

    I also wanted to let you know that I bestowed the "enchanted" award to your blog today.

    Have a great Saturday!

  3. Love this post for many reasons. My Boo, age 7, is into the Childhood of Famous Americans series, and we have a photo of him reading one of them (about JFK) on the porch of my aunt's beach house. You're so right when you say that this is a great series for kids to begin to learn about history and the people who shaped it. Great post!

  4. Great post. I wonder if I read these when I was young. I loved biographies and I bet I came across one or two in the series when I was at the library.

    I'm glad you were able to find a spark to nurture into flame and that you have found happiness.

  5. I have fond memories of that series of books too! I can picture the exact spot they were located in my school library.

  6. What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing a such an intimate part of your life. Even though I have never heard of these books I can attest to the power of the written word- and to the ability of it to let us escape or save us from what's happening in our lives at the moment.

  7. Susan--Thank you so much for your comment and the lines from Hopkins. I have a book of his poetry and will acquaint myself with that particular poem. The word that leaped out at me from your comment was "seduction". That's exactly what suicide is: a silken, bewitching seduction. And it's not worth it!

    Molly--thank you so much for the award! I'll post about it within the next day or so.

    B&B's Mommy--Thanks so much for telling me about Boo reading the same series. That thrills me to bits! I looked through all the books that had been pubished in the series since I'd read them, and I have to admit that there are several that I wouldn't mind reading today! LOL

    Beth--I'll bet you did read one or two! And thanks. Susan was spot on when she called suicide a seduction. If I'd listened, I would've missed out on many wonderful things these last (almost two) decades.

    Kathy--It thrills me to bits to hear of other bloggers who also loved this series as a child!

    Suzanne--I'm glad you liked my post. Although I don't talk about that period of my life very much, I do know that it's better to talk about it occasionally than to sweep it under the rug. If I can let one person know that he/she's not alone, it's worth it.


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