As part of the fifth annual Dominican University Caritas Veritas Symposium the Butler Center staged a Book Identity Project through which we solicited from members of the university community a book (or six) from childhood that contributed to their identity. Participants were given an old-school check-out card asking for the book and we lined the front door and window of the center with old-school check-out card pockets to receive them. We had a tremendous response, with 101 books listed on 86 different cards.
The submissions are fascinating, with a surprising variety. To be sure, the collection includes some well-loved, to be expected titles. Where the Wild Things Are gets three mentions, and Dr. Seuss shows up six times, twice for The Cat in the Hat, twice for Green Eggs and Ham, and once each for Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I’m not surprised to see Louisa May Alcott or A.A. Milne, C.S. Lewis or Lewis Carroll (or Robert Louis Stevenson) in the mix. The single most-cited title is Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, with four mentions, which is something of a surprise, not because it’s a book I don’t care for (indeed, I don’t care for it) but because it seems to have the sort of nostalgic perspective that I never thought spoke strongly to children. Consider me schooled. I was somewhat surprised, too, to find books outside the children’s canon, by the likes of Hemingway and Steinbeck and Dwight D. Eisenhower. We didn’t specify that the book needed to be a book written expressly for children, just that it resonated in the participant’s childhood, so it makes perfect sense that books like these would show up. It’s a great reminder of my own myopia, that I automatically understand young people’s reading through my deep engagement with the body of literature I study. Schooled again!
Quite a few series made the cut, including Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, The Chronicles of Narnia, and, of course, Harry Potter (I was 32 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published, and it’s just a little sobering to realize how many of our students read it as children). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day got two mentions (I wonder if those folks saw the movie) as did The Runaway Bunny. Andrew Clements’ Things Not Seen, published in 2004, is the youngest book mentioned, and the oldest is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha, first published in 1855.
Here’s the complete list. Check it out. Are you surprised by what you see? And while you’re at it, let us know if you can identify the authors of any of the first few books listed, unfamiliar to us.
Oh, and for the record, my choice was Spectacles, by Ellen Raskin. It’s a great book. You should check it out.