Several years ago, when my oldest son, now 26, was a toddler, I read to him nightly. Usually, the books were my old favorites, books like Ferdinand the Bull or Doctor Doolittle or Winnie the Pooh. One day, I took out my childhood copy, unearthed from my parents’ basement when they moved from the Boston area to South Florida, of one of the Bobbsey Twin books. I adored the Bobbsey Twins as a child and read them all. Bert and Nan and Freddie and Flossie were my friends. I opened the book with great anticipation of sharing it with my son, so imagine my dismay when I couldn’t get beyond the first half page. The family’s maid was written as a stereotypical Stephen Fetchet character, complete with misspelled words to represent her mangling of the English language. It doesn’t bother me when I read the dialect in a classic like Huckleberry Finn, maybe because I don’t read it aloud, but I could not continue with the Bobbsey Twins.
More recently, I was on a panel at a local library, and we were asked to share our favorite or most influential book. I had no problem choosing one: Eloise was the book that introduced me to the wonders of libraries. I went to the local Barnes and Noble, took the book from the shelf, got an overly-caloric drink, and sat down to read it. I fully expected to purchase the book so I could savor the antics of the high-spirited, independent, mischievous Eloise whenever I wanted. The book is still on the store’s shelf, not mine.
I was appalled by the book. Eloise is not high-spirited, independent, or mischievous, at least not in a positive way. She is spoiled, disrespectful, disruptive, nasty, and a vandal. Her mother is almost completely absent. All we know is she travels and has credit cards. Eloise always keeps a bag packed in case her mother calls at the last minute for her to join her in an exotic locale with a warm climate, but the impression I got is that her mother has yet to do so. The father is never mentioned. The only men, besides the hotel employees, are her mother’s lawyer and a tutor, hired because no school would accept Eloise. A nanny is supposedly in charge of Eloise’s care, but does not seem to give any supervision at all. Basically, the nanny sleeps late, smokes, drinks, and watches boxing on TV.
The main feelings I had after re-reading this book as an adult were sadness, pity, and anger at the neglect of this young, intelligent child. During the many years that had lapsed between readings, I had learned that the author, Kay Thompson, who lived at the Plaza, most likely based Eloise on her goddaughter Liza Minnelli. What a lonely child Eloise must have been.
I am a bit worried now about revisiting some other old favorites, many of which are in public domain and free on Kindle. I’ve downloaded quite a few, and so far have not been at all disappointed by Pride and Prejudice or Sherlock Holmes or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Jane Eyre. Of course, those are not children’s books, although I read them originally a long time ago. Next up on my classics-to-be-reread is Little Women. I read it obsessively and frequently as a young teen. I really, really hope it’s as good as I remember.
Comments on: "“DANGERS” OF RE-READING OLD FAVORITES" (5)
I have found when I tried to reread favorites over the years that they often had introduced me to a concept that left an impression. Then along came other writers who built on and went beyond the ideas in the original book. When I re-read the original book, the ideas seemed stale and paltry. That’s when I began to realize that my reaction to books was not based merely on the books themselves, but on me, my own experiences and readiness for the books’ concepts, how I related to the books’ characters, and on whatever else was happening in my life right at that time. Now, I take it as a gift when I reread an author with much enjoyment.
I agree. When I was 8 and first read Eloise, I loved her impishness and envied her freedom. It’s only as an adult – and parent and educator – that I view her differently.
I also thought of another book I used to love, but could not read again 45 years later: The Hobbit. It’s not that there’s anything “wrong” with the book; it’s just that my tastes have changed and I no longer enjoy Medieval fantasy written for young adults (which I was when I first read it).
Well put, Carol! One author I used to read with my daughter when she was little, nearly 20 years ago, was Patricia Polacco. Still excellent. “Pink and Say” still makes me cry.
My favorites were Heidi byJohanna Spyri (read it over and over, because I could identify with the misunderstood “loner” child); and Hitty, by Rachel Field. I’ve been reluctant for some time (well before your perceptive post, Ilene) to reread either one and possibly destroy what to me is a more valuable memory of what I derived from those old pages — specifically, companionship and empathy. Both books have recently been rewritten, so I’m sure I could recommend them both to new readers, but as for me, I’ll treasure the warm, nourishing memories I have, which are really the best memories.
I loved Heidi, too, but haven’t re-read it in years. OTOH, I’ve yet to see the movie “Frozen,” despite the rave reviews (from all ages and sexes), mainly because I disliked the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Snow Queen,” on which it’s based. I do still have my childhood copy of Anderson’s collected fairy tales, and need to try the story again.
(It was probably in the same box in my parent’s basement as the Bobbsey Twins.)