Posted by: Lizzie Ross | October 6, 2010

Small is good

Art Dealer's Studio, EGR, 1998

Today’s question on the NAIWE Great Books Week Blogging Challenge has to do with memory and childhood: What childhood book captured my imagination?

How do I define “capture my imagination”? It’s the feeling I get when I’m pulled into the text. The characters and stories ring true, no matter how fanciful or other-worldly, and the world itself, built by the author, is so appealing that I want to live there. I want to be that main character (or at least her best friend) and continue the story after the last page. (This feeling is, no doubt, the impetus for fan fiction — we don’t want those books to end; we want those worlds to keep going, and we want to follow those characters through lives that are eternal.)

To answer today’s question, I ruled out books illustrated by my favorite classic kiddie-lit artists — Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, Kay Nielsen — since it’s the illustrations that stuck with me, more than the stories (although RL Stevenson’s Kidnapped is still a rousing tale).

I’ve also ruled out the classics — Peter Pan, Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz. All are comforting and comfortable, but they never had worlds I wanted to live in. I have strong memories of my siblings and me, crowded onto the couch around our father, as he read aloud to us. A chapter a night, before bedtime. Very Norman Rockwell and home-y, but not the stand-out response to the question.

So, as I think of all the books I devoured as a child, there were two series that held me then, and still do: Anne of Green Gables, and The Borrowers.

Yet Anne’s world, although lovely (PEI is a gorgeous island — everyone should go there before it becomes overly Anne-ish), is too prosaic. Romantic, but not enthralling.

But the world Mary Norton created for her Borrowers! (See an earlier post on my blog for more info about the series.) When I first read these books, I was convinced that Borrowers actually existed. Then I came to my senses and only wished with all my heart that they did. If I couldn’t be a Borrower myself, then I wanted to have a Borrower family living in my house.

This may account for my interest in miniatures. As I built and furnished tiny rooms, I imagined Pod, Homily and Arrietty exploring them and taking what they could use. That these characters thrived within my imagination for 4 decades puts them at the top of the list of books that answer today’s question.


  1. I love the details of your room-like the American Indian flute player on the left.
    So cute! Wish, I could work and paint there;-)

  2. That flautist is Kokopeli.

  3. Well, this got me thinking. Maybe Hobbits, maybe Anne McCaffrey’s books. Interesting. And were from the same family!

  4. Don’t know McCaffrey. Have I missed something important?

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