What Draws Children to Certain Books?

flicka, ricka, and dicka

During much of my childhood, the public library in our little town was housed in a small area adjacent to the fire station. Each time I arrived at the library with my family, I worried that the fire alarm might sound during our visit. However, I remember a span of several years when I would hurry immediately to a certain shelf where the books by Maj Lindman were lined up, and I soon forgot all my worries.

This author/illustrator from Sweden produced several series of picture books from the 1920s through the 1960s, including those featuring the triplet boys, “Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr,” and also the set of titles built around triplet girls, “Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.” I’m happy to say that I’ve collected one from each series, which are library editions published in 1960. I see that Albert Whitman & Company has reissued many of these books (some with paper dolls, no less!); but, for me, those actually printed during my childhood mean so much more.

While looking my copies over, recently, I considered what it was that I had liked so much about them as a child. Possibly I can put some of my discoveries to use when fashioning my own books for young readers. I came up with the following factors:

  • Settings – The country’s name, “Sweden,” is stated in two out of the three books that I own in these series. Even when not mentioned outright, the setting depicted in the book feels very different from my neighborhood that was in the midst of a small town in Michigan.
  • Freedom  – Since many of the stories take place on farms or in other rural areas, the children often seem quite free to roam as they please and have many adventures that often involve animals, as well.
  • Names – Beyond the triplets’ monikers, many of the other characters have names that were also unfamiliar and interesting to me.
  • Family structure – Until I was somewhat older and a nearby neighbor gave birth to triplets, I had never known any such families. (Imagine my surprise when that trio was made up of one boy and two girls!).
  • Visually appealing – The lovely, full-page illustrations are so pleasing to the eyes, and many of the editions use a somewhat enlarged and easy-to-see font.
  • Simple stories that often involve extended families – This serves as a vehicle to get the children away from their homes and broadens the story options.
  • Surprise endings or subtle lessons to be learned – As I remember, the resolutions seemed satisfying to me as a child.

All that being said, it appears that some of the books are rather long and run over 1200 words. My mother preferred to read shorter books for story time, especially since I also had an even younger brother. My father usually chose to tell us stories that he made up, on the rare evenings when he arrived home early enough from work. My older sister was always eager to read to me, though, for which I am forever grateful.

snipp, snapp, snurr

Although the type of stories that appeals to today’s children has evolved, I’m sure, I believe that there are still some nuggets of basic childhood yearnings to be found in the pages from our youth. I’d love to hear about your favorite childhood books and what it was that drew you to them!





18 thoughts on “What Draws Children to Certain Books?

  1. I also loved the books by Maj Lindman, and another favorite series of mine was Boxcar Children. When I analyze those books using your criteria above, I see that they definitely meet most of them – especially freedom to wander! At that time, I thought it sounded like a lot of fun to live in a train car and do whatever I wanted. I also liked the books by Lucy Fitch-Perkins about sets of twins (Eskimo Twins, The Cave Twins etc.). I can’t even imagine how stereotypical those books would seem now, but when I was young I especially liked the clothing and settings that were so different from my own.

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  2. I had a writing teacher who once told me that writing for children is so much harder than writing for adults, because children see through the BS. And I think she was right. But there is also no greater reward than writing for children!

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  3. Enid Blyton with the Secret Seven and Famous Five, Anne of Greengables, The Wind in the Willows , Winnie the Pooh and the Secret Garden all made up my childhood reading but the book I loved the most and would get the identical copy if I could (apparently now selling for a couple of thousand dollars) is Eloise in Moscow by Kay Thompson. Like your books Eloise visited Moscow, a strange place in those days, speaking the only Russian words I know to this day, with the most wonderful illustrations by Hilary Knight and the story was told with great humour. A book that I hold dear over all those other wonderful titles I read or someone read to me.

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    1. That’s a lovely list of books! I didn’t read them as a child, but tried a few by Enid Blyton as an adult because I had heard so much about them. I really missed out on those as a kid! I’ve never heard of Eloise In Moscow by Kay Thompson, but it sounds quite intriguing. It reminds me of the first non-series mystery that I ever read called Mystery of the Golden Horn by Phyllis A. Whitney, in which the main character, a young girl, goes to Turkey. I still have an old library copy of that one!

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  4. I have a few favourites, all very popular: where the wild things are, possum magic, where the sidewalk ends, the tiger who came to tea, the gruffalo …. i think it is the simplicity and poetry of the words, the illustrations and the narrative. I have tried writing children’s books. they are darn hard!

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