My middle school library had a large collection of “Childhood of Famous Americans” books that I couldn’t read fast enough. Even way back then, they were already ancient. The bright orange covers had faded to a light shade of Georgia clay. The pages had turned a yellowish hue and smelled like a granny’s attic. About a million other moody little 13 year old hands had already touched these tired volumes by the time I got to them, but the stories inside remained powerful.
I started my own collection of these books years ago, when I first saw one at an antiques market. I spotted the familiar orange cover, and caught my breath as if I had run into my dearest old friend. Over the years, my collection has grown, and I’ve enjoyed reading these stories to my children. The books are old, the characters are historical, but the themes are timeless.
The series of fiction books are based on factual events of famous American’s childhoods. They are the story behind what made these individuals so great. My favorite in the series is George Washington Carver. When I attended the exhibit on Carver at the History Museum of Mobile
a few years ago, I already knew so much about him from reading this simple story. I guess reading really is good for you.
My latest purchase last week was “Betsy Ross, Girl of Old Philadelphia,” by Ann Weil and published in 1954. I discovered it in an Antique Store in Downtown Fairhope, pushed behind some other old books on a shelf. I think that brings my collection up to somewhere around 29, but there are still hundreds out there.
One of my favorite authors, Andy Andrews, credits the Will Rogers edition for inspiring him to move from being homeless and sleeping underneath the pier in Gulf Shores, to becoming a wildly successful author and motivational speaker.
Things we see, hear and do as children really do make a difference. That’s why I’m convinced the current generation will grow up to be vampires.
There’s something about the older books that I love. The stories are simple, sweet, and patriotic. The lessons they teach are basic American values. Hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance create success.
“The boy was only ten years old . . . Worse still, he didn’t know how he’d get food or where he would sleep. He had no money and he had no work. But there was something he did have, and plenty of it too – courage. He didn’t even think of turning back.”
– George Carver, Boy Scientist, 1944.
Let’s see Harry Potter or some vampire kid do that.
“Childhood of Famous Americans” has been acquired by Simon and Schuster.