Characters and books I enjoyed as a child
By Jeff Salter
This week, we revisit characters and books which captured our imaginations when we were kids. I had many characters I adored — some real people and some fictional.
It would be difficult to leave out Superman, whom I watched religiously on TV and whom I emulated by tying a towel around my neck and leaping from the swing set. And of course I read about my hero in his numerous comic book adventures.
Tarzan was another early hero. And, yes, I swung on “vines” and pretended to have a pet chimp (our dog) whom we called Cheetah. If I told you I also auditioned a loin cloth, that would be “too much information”… so I won’t mention it.
Certainly Davy Crockett was a biggie. The Walt Disney empire had launched Fess Parker as the embodiment of that real-life, larger-than-life individual… and I ate it all up. I had a coonskin cap, my big brother had a DC rifle, and we each had a “buckskin” costume (cloth) replete with vinyl fringe. Disney ran TV-movies in 3 part episodes on his Sunday night show and I watched them all. Some were released to theaters and I viewed those. And, of course, a feature film was made of Fess Parker fighting the battle of the Alamo… and I was there for the whole shebang.
Superman, Tarzan, and Davy C. were chiefly products of the mid-50s but I stuck with then as long as they were available. They were accompanied by nearly any strong, silent, shooting, horse-riding hero of the movie and TV westerns.
Though I never lost my affinity for these characters, I found myself in a subtle shift as I was in fourth and fifth grades. I started reading biographies of real-life historical folks. I referred to that biographical series as the “cloud” books.
Beginning in the 1940s (before my time), the Bobbs-Merrill Company published a series called Childhood of Famous Americans. They were biographical treatments, but instead of focusing on the subjects’ notable adult achievements and providing brief back-story of their younger years, these books merely mentioned their mature accomplishments and spent probably 80% of the pages detailing their childhoods. [Similar to Paul Harvey’s “the rest of the story” radio series — we learn which childhood experiences shaped a famous person’s later years.]
Were these treatments 100% fact? Uh, no. Some built on unsubstantiated legends and nearly all the youthful dialog was likely fabricated. But these books did capture the essence of those young people… and that’s what I enjoyed reading. Some of those pre-fame kids seemed a lot like ME.
There were probably about 250 titles in the series at the time I was immersed… and I read nearly every one in our school and public libraries. Just now looking over an updated list of titles, I recognized nearly six dozen that I read… mainly in 4th and 5th grades.
I called them cloud books because of their distinctive covers. In later years, the covers changed, of course, but the inspiring content was the same.
It was fascinating to see the world (those very different time periods) through the young eyes of people who later became famous. The realization that nearly all of those celebrated individuals were born / raised in very ordinary circumstances affirmed a sense that I, too, could achieve wonderful things. If I put my mind to it and invested the requisite time and labor, I could be an inventor, athlete, statesman, explorer, or… yes, even a writer!
What books and/or characters made a big impact on YOU, as a child?
Those “cloud” books sound like something my middle child would love. He is finally finding his holding in the reading world and tends to lean toward fiction based on fact. He loves reading about historical events but the characters are fictional. I am sure he would love to read these books to learn more about these famous people. I’ll have to look into some for him.
the covers have been redesigned several times since these classic covers I read. But I believe the content is the same. It would be difficult for me to overstate how important these books were to me.
I remember those biographies! I got hooked on them in about fifth of sixth grade as well, and I tried to make my way through all the 920’s on the school library shelves – I don’t think I made it all the way through, but I sure learned a lot about people I never would have heard of otherwise!
you’re one of the few people who have told me they also read them. I thought maybe I was alone. That’s awesome.
I think those biographies influenced me so much I ended up getting a minor in history. I actually taught high school history for a year, too. Loved it.
I minored in History also. Majored in English with minors in Hist. and Speech.
Those were good wholesome inspirations for boys, Jeff; my brother is about a year older than you are and he absorbed all of those things at that time. We had a Roy Rodgers wall “telephone’ that you cranked and it spoke to us…but I don’t remember what it said.He and my sister had western o outfits but for some reason, they put me in an Indian skirt.I was very happy with it but thinking of it now, I wonder why I was odd-man-out?
Anyway, THOSE heroes, even Superman, were more fitting than whatever they have on TV these days. My head spins with what my grandson TRIES to watch around me.
The choices worked well on you,my Friend.
I never would’ve made it as Tarzan, though — never cared for going barefoot. too many stickers.
Yeah…and I can’t really see Denise as Jane.
Sadly, I didn’t read much as a youngster. It was too much work for me with my comprehension problem. But I do remember that when I got to choose the books I had to read in school, I always gravitated to mysteries or scary stories. As an adult, I still enjoy mysteries, scary stories, and lots of paranormal.
Inspirational characters? Does Daisy Duke, Samantha from Bewitched, or Sandy from Grease count? LOL!
Daisy Duke and Samantha DEFINITELY count, Jenn.
I never cared for Sandy, though.
Sandy AFTER her transformation. At 6 or 7, in some weird way, I understood her power over Danny. And I liked it. 🙂
lol … sorta like the power of a pirate captain over the lovely, wealthy wench who’s a temporary hostage
Oh I loved those biographies and I read even the ones geared more towards boy readers than girl readers. I bet I read every one in my school library. They all had subtitles too, like “Phyllis Wheatley: Colonial Poet” or something like that. I loved the Dr. Seuss books when I was a kid and I also had a LOT of the Little Golden Books because my mom would buy them for me. My favorite was Mister Dog and to tell you the truth, I STILL love that story. Later on I read a ton of the Doubleday Junior Deluxe Editions books, and went on to read Reader’s Digest Condensed books. I was always reading something.
I read everyone I could get my hands on. Some I enjoyed more than others. I mean, obviously “Francis Marion, Swamp Fox” had more to intrigue me than “Betsy Ross, young Seamstress”.
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