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February 04, 2009


Virginia Levy

Little Women, Little Men......
From these Louisa May Alcott stories and my 1960's Scholastic Book Club addiction, I fell in love with classic stories of families and fiction set in historical times. Beginning in Mrs. Driscoll's fourth grade class at Franklin Elementary School in Burlingame, CA, I began acquiring books that slowly filled my childhood bedroom bookshelves, and today as a 52-year old, are slowly creeping from organzied shelf rows into stacks on every conceivable surface of my home. I cannot bear to part with any of them, and each and every one is a beloved memory of reading enjoyment.

Barbara Younginer

I'm currently reading classics that I probably cheated and read the Cliffs Notes on when I was younger! I just finished Jane Eyre--what a LOVELY book! Now I'm reading Steinbeck's East of Eden. Now that I'm older, I appreciate fine writing so much more and feel like I've discovered a buried treasure.

Adrienne Day

Ah, book love. My first book love was "My Side of the Mountain" by Jean Craighead George. I loved the story for similar reasons you adored "Island of the Blue Dolphins," the wild-tasting thrill of it all.

I lived vicariously through Sam. I wanted to be Sam. I wanted to run away and live in a hollowed out tree. I wanted to understand the animals and have them befriend me. The isolation and independence appealed to me so much as a young girl.

I worked for a large bookstore company for 5 years (right out of high school) and in 1998 was able to participate in the large Children's Book conference in Denver, Colorado. Ms. Craighead George was there. She was sitting all alone on a hard metal chair facing an empty stage. I instantly knew it was her. I was awestruck but brought myself to say hello.

She was an immeasurably friendly woman. She listened to me ramble on about the impact of her Mountain Series and the Julie of the Wolves series on my life. She was so excited to talk with me about the preservation of wolves in Colorado. She encouraged me to volunteer and told me to write to her. Both of which I did.

I suppose there were other books before "My Side of the Mountain" which I enjoyed and remember, but none so fondly as that fantastic story of Sam and Frightful living in the hollowed out tree on the side of the Catskill mountains.

Thank you for bringing these memories to the forefront of my mind. I believe I will locate a copy of "My Side of the Mountain" and fall in love all over again.

Adrienne Day


My primary school photographs from those days of Gemini and Apollo show a skinny young lad, barefoot in the Queensland summer. I was a great reader already, but my teacher made reading special. If we had finished our work early, he would walk to the cupboard, and, while we nudged each other with excitement, take out a copy of Tom Sawyer. Later on we moved on to Huckleberry Finn, and my dreams of floating a raft down the Mississippi are joined with the golden memories of Mr Hill reading aloud to a silent class.

Sweet days.


I really enjoyed reading many of my childhood favorites to my kids when they were younger. Johnny Tremain, the Little House on the Prairie series (I think I only read one as a kid but they heard them all!), Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, The Little Lame Prince, Heidi, The Jungle Book, Tom Sawyer... I also found some we all enjoyed that I missed when I was younger, Mama's Bank Account, The Elephant's Child...too many to mention! There are so many good stories out there.

Pam Newman

Love your e-mails and could not resist a comment on this fabulous book. I too had marvelous teachers and one in particular was Mrs. Bragg (sixth grade). She read us such greats as Tale of Two Cities, Count of Monte Cristo, and many others I love to this day and re-read still.

We had a TV in our classroom and we were privileged to watch a weekly show featuring an artist (wish I could remember the name of the show or his name). He would draw as he told us just enough of the storyline to get us enthralled to know what happened next. He would conclude with a statement that we could check out the book in our local library, which would lead to a mad dash to our school library to get the featured book. Island of the Blue Dolphins was one of my favorites, and I have a copy which I cherish. Another favorite from the show was A Wrinkle in Tim,e which I also have in my personal library.

Thanks so much for Well-Read Life. Look forward to the great e-mails. As someone who has always loved to read, there is nothing like the experience of being transported into a great story. Hope that others experience or will come to experience the joy of reading!!

Pam Newman


This treasure is one of my all-time favorite books! I read it again just last year and, like you, was swept up in it all over again. It was just as good as I remembered. Other titles that come to mind are "Hurry Home, Candy," which tells the tale of a lost dog (it's a real tear-jerker!) and "Trumpet of the Swan." Of course there are dozens of others (I was a voracious reader as a child). There are many books I would love to read again if I could recall their titles. I probably most remember hearing the story of "Hurry Home, Candy." My fifth grade teacher read it to the class. Like your class, we couldn't wait for the next chapter. I remember trying to hide my tears as the story unfolded. Wow! Thanks for sparking some great memories!

Tom P

Great story. I have a similar one. In high school my English teacher, Mr. William Kerrigan, read Poe's "A Tell Tale Heart.".He sat on top of his old metal desk and used his foot to bang on the vanity panel, growing louder and louder, simulating the heartbeat the main character hears. I still get chills when I think of it, and it set me on the road to realizing how good literature can evoke all sorts of emotions.

Jerome Eyer

Thanks Steve....you have a great thing going with Levenger et al...I hope that the business climate is sufficient for you to maintain...
Jerry Eyer

Diana Forsthoffer

Oh my gosh! It's so amazing that you should write about this book now. Just the other day, I was thinking about the book and how I, too, fell in love with it in the sixth grade. I don't know how many times I reread it that year, but last week I thought about checking it out of the library to see if it still holds up. Isn't it wonderful how written language provides intrinsic ties, binding people everywhere through the small world created between two book covers?

Betsy Eubanks

I read most of the books in the children's section of the library growing up, but as an adult would think back on one book in particular but could not recall the title. It was a fantasy book with giant insects, a trip along a river, and great adventure. One day I was sharing this recollection with my best friend, and amazingly enough, it was her favorite book and she knew the title. Knee Deep in Thunder by Sheila Moon never won an award, but is a story that stays with you similar to your Island of the Blue Dolphins experience. I never realized it was the first in a trilogy until I looked at the inside cover to write this note (I now have a copy), so time to go order the two other books!

Paul Strassels

Some things are timeless. 12-year olds still like to be read to by those who love them (the stories and the children). I read to my grandchildren whenever they visit us or we visit them. Talk about time well spent. Age-appropriate stories read aloud provide a bond that is recalled for generations.


This is a great column. My mother fostered my love of reading. I loved the books published by Whitman, in Racine, Wisconsin. The size and shiny covers were so appealing. Heidi was the first one I read. Followed by The Little Lame Prince and Treasure Island. Children's books are a favorite part of my wonderful book collection. Thank you, A Well Read Life.

Nancy Richardson

Swiss Family Robinson...the book and then the movie with Thomas Mitchell as the father. What a captivating story of independence and interdependence!
Started me on course to sail tall ships -and not get marooned on a distant island.
Kind of led up to my current favorite book...ENDURANCE by Lansing (non-fiction that reads like fiction), about the amazing real-life Antarctic adventurer, Ernest Shackleton.

Cynthia Kaelberer

I went to a little country school in Montana (grades 3 through 6) and our teacher also read to us after lunch every day. We too got to just lay our heads down and enjoy. I loved the books she read but I especially remember the sound of her voice and the way the words sounded coming off of her tongue - it was beautiful.

I guess I have always loved books and reading. My Mother tells a story of when I was very little, perhaps 3 years old, and she couldn't find me anywhere. After searching the house and neighborhood, for some reason she decided to look in the neighbor's house (they were not home) and she found me in their child's room. I had taken all of the books off of the shelves and was sitting on the floor surrounded by them, contentedly looking through each one. She confesses that she was mortified and had to tell the neighbors after they returned home that I had entered uninvited.

I can remember checking a book out of the school library over and over when in grade school. I don't remember the name of it but I can remember sitting on the couch at home looking at it. It was very tall and quite wide when opened. It was so easy to get lost in it because everything else in the room was blocked out.

One of the earliest books that I remember loving was "The Box Car Children". It too was a story of survival by young people, depending on each other and using whatever they found to survive. The setting was not primitive but still quite clever (or so I thought at the time).

Thanks for this inspiration to remember such a good thing.

Sabne Raznik

For me: "The Black Stallion" series by Walter Farley. That led to the classics- Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Eyre, Willa Cather, and on and on. These days I read mostly history or poetry or otherwise non-fiction, since most current fiction seems predictable to me. But every once in a while there is a book that will sparkle. :) Favorite children's books: "The Giving Tree" and "The Wing Shop" and "The Boy Who Thought He Was A Dog" and "The Big Snow".

Barbara McNicholas

Oak Park School in Brentwood, NY was the setting of some of my favorite read-aloud experiences. The fifteen minute snack time in 3rd grade was the first (and one of the only!) times I was ever admonished in class. You see, Miss Rakeman was reading "Charlotte's Web" each day at this time and I was so engrossed that I hadn't realized I was at the bottom of my half-pint, 3 cent carton of milk, when a loud slurp erupted, causing Miss Rakeman to stop reading mid-sentence to exclaim, "Barbara Bonner, I never thought I'd hear that from you!" Fern and Wilber would have understood.

In fourth grade I couldn't get enough of Lois Lenski's regional books with barefoot, sepia-colored and pencil-drawn children. My favorite was "Strawberry Girl." Library time was, of course, my favorite special and I remember blue cloth-covered junior biographies and reading about the lives of Clara Barton and Nathan Hale.

Unfortunately, fifth grade was not a year that a teacher read to me, but Miss Fitzgerald in sixth grade more than compensated for that lack by sharing with us the "Babar the Elephant" series of books. But, like a previous poster my favorite read-aloud book was "My Side of the Mountain." I know I and my friends were mesmerized by Sam and his wilderness adventures.

Thanks for providing a literary trip down memory lane.

Kathleen V. Crawford

I read your March comments on Cicero's views of growing older. I read them in the original Latin many years ago as a teenager. At the time I couldn't imagine growing older but I was struck by how modern his views were. He could be placed in this century and would still be the spokesperson for ethics when many others take the quick and popular way to achieve their goals. His speeches to his archenemy, Catullus, were memorable in their point/counterpoint format similar to some of the Tim Russert's et al. team of guests.
I am enjoying your columns very much and appreciate your taking the time to write them. As a former English teacher, Reading Specialist, elementary and middle-school teacher and current mother, it is refreshing to read thoughtful well-composed paragraphs.
Kathleen V. Crawford

Gynene Sullivan

I can remember being enraptured by the stories and the pictures in the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths in the second grade. So much that my school library had to purchase another copy because I kept checking it out again and again! When I finally moved on to middle school, the librarian presented me with my own copy. I don't know where it is today, but I can still see those illustrations.


Island of the Blue Dolphins was absolutely one of my favorites (still is), as are many on this list of comments already (like My Side of the Mountain, and I'd add The Black Stallion, Call It Courage, White Fang, and Julie of the Wolves to the list). But the one that I keep coming back to, keep re-reading, is Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. As a child, I saw in that book how it is possible to move from fear to bravery, that courage can be developed. It was a book that gave me confidence.

Now, as a writer, it shows me, too, how important rich inner lives are for all characters, regardless of "importance" in the context of the book. And I respect the Young Adult author who knows that young readers do not need to be talked down to, who knows that a book can teach the reader how to read it.

There are so many books that I loved as a young reader that I still love, but this one, this one has lodged itself beneath my ribcage for good.

Tina Wolfe

Horses have always been my love and I voraciously consumed every book about these majestic creatures I could get my hands on. Getting lost in these stories ignited a lifetime love of reading, the written word, and its power to move the human spirit. I suppose that's why I became a writer myself. Your tale is thoroughly enjoyable and so well written. Thank you for sharing!

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