Reading for pleasure at a young age

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I'm often amazed (and pleased) at how children already in elementary school are reading big books for fun.  They can curl up for hours with the Harry Potter novels and read them all by the time they enter middle school, and while in middle school they finish off more challenging fantasy works like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  They become deeply absorbed in reading these thick volumes, and regard the experience as pure delight.

My siblings and I had all read Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson by the time we entered junior high school, and I still remember the intense enjoyment I derived from reading Don Quixote as a sophomore in high school (neglecting to do my regular class assignments while preoccupied with Cervantes' huge tome for a couple of weeks).

These thoughts were prompted by the following observations and comments put to me by Dave Cragin, who writes:

Two of my Chinese colleagues had some interesting insights.  They're moms with young kids living in the US.  They noted that kids in the US start reading for pleasure at a much younger age than in China.  My kids started reading relatively long books in ~3rd grade.  They began looking at simple books with just pictures at <1 yr.  As they learned to read, reading for pleasure was something we greatly encouraged.  When asked about kids doing so in China, my colleagues didn't really have an answer;  they said that kids mainly read for study purposes.

My Chinese colleagues also observed that a US tradition is for a parent to sit with their child and help them understand big words in a text they are reading.  They say this isn't done in China (obviously, they were speaking from their personal experience).

Dave wonders if this has been looked at from a scholarly perspective, i.e., at what ages does reading for pleasure typically begin in either country?  Naturally, there must be great diversity in this regard, with some kids starting very early/very late in both countries.  There is undoubtedly a body of research on the reading habits of children, both for English-speaking countries and for China, as well as for other countries.  But it would be interesting to hear from Language Log readers their own observations about reading for pleasure among children in their own languages.



29 Comments

  1. Stuart said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 10:07 pm

    My own experience is of reading larger books for pleasure from about seven years of age. I was in my eighth year when I read LOTR for the first time, and was a year or two older when I read Graves' works on Claudius, with Tolkien's Silmarillion at around 12. Those are the only works leisure reading I consider worthy of note, devouring my mother's stacks of Wilbur Smith and similar airport fiction doesn't count. Although my two siblings would report similarly, I don't know if our experience is illustrative of the 1970s norm for NZ or not.

  2. Rob said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 10:17 pm

    My wife moved to the U.S. from China for her graduate degrees, and we now have a one and a half year old daughter. We are both academics and our daughter has grown up surrounded by all kinds of books that she is free to 'read'. The only TV we watch is about 15 minutes of the morning and evening news, and before we put our daughter to bed we all sit on the floor against a pile of pillows and she chooses which books to read with me using English and her mother using mostly Chinese. Our daughter is bilingual and books and reading are a normal part of daily activity.
    On the other hand, many of my wife's friends and relatives in China who have children let them start watching tv from the time they're are born. In some cases the parents know better but either they or their parents, the grandparents, who live with them can't go without the TV, or the grandparents don't want to deny the child of the pleasure of watching tv. The result is that the children are not interested in books and it's only when they are forced to start studying for school that they need to read.
    These observations are only from my experience, but they point to the differences of educational purpose (learning for intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards) that have been fostered in the American and Chinese systems respectively over the past century in the U.S. and in the Confusian tradition in China.

  3. Bobbie said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 10:31 pm

    US here. My mom was a librarian and took me to the library when I was very little. I know I had several books before I was a year old, including "Pat the Bunny" I learned to read before I went to school. Not sure exactly when I started "chapter books."
    We read to my son when he was a few months old. He was a voracious reader of short books by the time he was 6. (He received a prize for reading the most books during the school year.)
    Now my son reads to his daughter who is 8. They share the reading of large books such as "Harry Potter" so that he can explain difficult passages to her.

  4. fs said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 10:58 pm

    I'll add another data point for China — I was born there and cared for by two sets of grandparents (occasionally my mother) until I came to the US at age four.

    I was newspaper-literate before I left, and while I don't know if I read for pleasure, my grandparents (primarily my paternal grandmother) definitely helped me to learn to read, starting with San Zi Jing. I remember my mother telling me to stop reading a history book before bed one night (Shang Xia Wu Qian Nian).

    In the early USA years, my parents were busy, but I continued to read Chinese books on my own: I probably ran out of things to read, since eventually I was reading Bao Bao Quan Shu, "The Parenting Encyclopedia," which was not really targeted towards me.

    In second grade an ESL teacher made me understand that English was basically pinyin (at which I was a champ, having parents with perfect newscaster pronunciation). I was instantly "reading above my grade level" in school but (sorry, grandma) near-illiterate in Chinese, for whatever reasons of disuse or discomfort with my racial identity.

    I "read" a lot of atlases during Sustained Silent Reading, trying to correlate toponyms with the bits of Spanish we were being taught. My mom had picked up a few English books from the library discard pile, including one tome about the solar system: these were among the few books I ever owned, and to this day I don't really "get" owning books (why own when you have libraries?).

    Schoolteachers valiantly found me immigrant fiction that I could relate to — Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear started off an entire chain of books about baseball: in the early 90s, there were precious few books about kids from Beijing, so you read about kids from Brooklyn whose parents also wanted them to study.

    One thing to note: by late elementary school, I was still reading a lot of books that people would mark as low-quality / too-easy: Sweet Valley Girls, Encyclopedia Brown, Little House series — I chalk this up to our perverse incentives, which rewarded pages read. The Battle of the Books program got me to read more broadly.

  5. mdhughes said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 11:17 pm

    I grew up in rural US with a small set of mostly older novels in the house, father almost never reads books and my mother read some spinner-rack romances & mysteries. I don't recall if my parents ever read to me. Maybe when I was very small? Certainly they'd stopped by pre-school.

    I was always allowed to watch as much TV as I wanted, and grew up in the first Sesame Street generation, I barely ever turned TV off. A lot of that was PBS, but enough cartoons and kung fu, monster movies, and reruns of westerns. Then family TV time during/after dinner. I had a black & white TV in my room when I was 7 or 8. And I'd turn it on late at night to fall asleep to.

    But I was also a constant reader from pre-school on, learned or reinforced my reading from Sesame Street, quickly found out about the library and read anything & everything, mostly SF, science, technology, and history—largely following up subjects I'd got interested in from the SF (and some fantasy, but that's sort of sub-TV level entertainment). Up through college, I easily read 3 or more books a week. Now it's down to 1 a week, and sometimes less if a book I start annoys me; discriminating tastes more than time or patience.

    The ideology that TV damages anyone or prevents anyone from reading is nonsense, they're totally different activities and even as a kid I'd do either or both at the same time depending on mood. Maybe there's a gradient where intelligence or difficulty of language skews that preference one way or another? Maybe the availability of libraries and children's books is different?

  6. Victor Mair said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 11:34 pm

    From anonymous:

    Victor, as if it needed any further proof, your note here is another demonstration of the universality of the classics:

    " I still remember the intense enjoyment I derived from reading Don Quixote as a sophomore in high school (neglecting to do my regular class assignments while preoccupied with Cervantes' huge tome for a couple of weeks)"

    I did the exact same thing, thousands of miles away in quiet old Canberra – although I think I was 16 at the time, not whatever sophomore highschool is (probably 14 or so). Same with Les Mis – which in fact I found even more engrossing, and actually, if I look back, was the first extremely emotional and intense encounter I had with literature, and awakened the sorts of thinking in me that set me off on a whole other range of things, (compassion for suffering -> politics -> realisation of their futility -> philosophy -> Christian mystics -> Buddhism -> and on) eventually to Falun Gong and China stuff. Imagine that! Don Quixote was to me at the time just a delightful romp. Full of profundity, but it was more sheer joy than deep emotion. I still haven't decided who I delight in more, Sancho or Don Quixote. I really look back fondly on those years, and wish I could have known how fleeting they were!!!!

  7. Tye said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 1:06 am

    Growing up in suburban US in the late 70s/early 80s…some of my earliest memories include my dad reading stories to me at bedtime: Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry. I don't remember reading independently at an early age, but I'm told that on the first day of kindergarten the teacher passed out a note about no school one day the following week. I read the note and told the class what it said. Apparently this was unusual enough that the teacher contacted my parents and told them about it.

    In my elementary years my parents encouraged me to read classics such as Tom Sawyer and Moby Dick, though they were neither intellectual/academic types nor voracious readers. Reflecting on it now, I suspect that since I did well in school my teachers prompted my parents to encourage me to read more challenging books.

    My wife grew up in East Texas at the same time. Her (single) mom had a very limited literary background but would often take her two daughters to the library and check out 50 books at a time. My wife also attributes her love of reading to her mom throwing out the TV one summer ("She said she was tired of having the devil in her living room.") This left the girls with no other entertainment options so they would spend entire summers on the couch reading.

    Between our upbringing and training as elementary school teachers, reading to children from birth and encouraging children to read for pleasure at an early age were just a given, as much a part of the fabric of daily life as eating breakfast and brushing your teeth.

  8. M said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 2:16 am

    I read constantly and voraciously as a child — I still remember how I used to exasperate my mum by attempting to read a book and get dressed for school at the same time. My interest in reading was shared by a fair number of girls at my (Australian) school, but not many boys, as I remember.

    In Thailand, where I'm teaching now, I'm a bit disconcerted to see how few children and teenagers read for pleasure (in Thai, I mean). Reading seems to be almost universally denounced as "boring", and even when children and teenagers do read, they mostly read cartoon books — heavy on pictures, light on text.

    A Thai friend of mine currently living in Australia, on the other hand, tells me how surprised and delighted she is to see so many children enjoying books. She's also charmed by the Australian custom of parents reading books together with children, and says it's something that very few Thai parents do.

  9. Lukas said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 3:10 am

    There's probably a much bigger difference between families than between countries. I remember in elementary school, when I was maybe 8, the teacher asked the kids how many books they had at home. Most of them replied with something between 5 and 20. We, on the other hand, had hundreds of books.

    My guess is that there's a huge variance in reading between families.

    I started reading early, and I remember checking out books from the library where the librarian wanted to refuse to give it to me because it was "too big" for me. I told her my dad read the books to me, and then read them myself.

    That's Switzerland, btw.

  10. Vilinthril said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 4:10 am

    In Austria, I'd say it's similar to the US experience you describe (I was also a voracious reader, finishing LotR somewhere in my early teens in the original English). Sadly, it's very clearly socially stratified – with people who don't like to read/can't read very well/never were shown that reading is an enjoyable activity passing on that worldview to their children, and schools not being able to do to much against that, it seems to me.

  11. Jacob Li said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 7:43 am

    Just anecdote. I was able to read the full Xi You Ji and San Guo Yan Yi (original versions, not translations to contemproary Chinese) at 8 or 9 yrs old — could not understand the sexual content of Xi You Ji back then though. And pupils are supposed to be able to use a Chinese dictionary since the 2nd or 3rd grade, so minimal parental help was needed. After all, learning to write Chinese is difficult but reading is easy.

    I guess the problem with the colleagues' kids is that Chinese schoolkids are so inundated with coursework nowadays after all the "education reforms" — from school classes and in various extracurricular classes — that they (and their parents) can no longer afford large trunks of time to read freely like I could 20+ years ago.

    This particulary true in large cities, where parents push kids to start very early in English as well as music/painting/dancing, so that they can, when they apply for admission to univs in the US, have nice TOEFL, SAT and extracurricular activities.

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 8:37 am

    There's no doubt a systematic variation with parental attitudes toward reading, which correlate partially (but not completely) with social-class factors, but library access is also very important and there are plenty of instances (even if a statistical minority) of US kids from poor and/or non-Anglophone family backgrounds who just got into the habit of going to the public library and finding books that interested them whether or not they were "age-appropriate" and no one stopping them.

    Schools may vary to what extent they require "free" reading (i.e. beyond the assigned books you have to pick one book of your choice from the library per week), but that can also get some kids in the habit of doing more than the minimum required even if from a family background unlikely to push it. Obviously elementary school libraries are often limited in their selection by what some boring adults think is age-appropriate. When I was in circa 4th grade I was living overseas in a non-Anglophone country so the public library wasn't a particularly helpful alternative, but then I discovered that if you went through a side door in the elementary school library (at the K-12 Anglophone private school I was attending) you were suddenly in the high school library, and no one was stopping you from reading any of those books.

  13. Julie said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 10:28 am

    Midwestern U.S. here — my parents both got a light book or two (Zane Grey for Dad and Silhouette romances for Mom) from the library every week, and I devoured everything I could get my hands on– we had to get special permission so I could check out more than the weekly limit of 10 in the summers. I don't recall learning to read or ever having my parents read to me, but I remember reading complete sentences in preschool at 3 or 4.

    On the other hand, I read to and with my older child from the time she was a couple of months old and of course, the younger child was incorporated into reading time even before he was born. Although they both read for pleasure now that they are in their late teens, pleasure reading in childhood was infrequent outside of me reading to them or encouraging them to read to me and neither reads nearly as voraciously as I do.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 10:44 am

    It would be useful to know if the "Chinese" pattern is true of Sinitic cultures as a whole, or specific to the PRC, perhaps because of factors more recent than Confucianism (e.g. circa 1966 having a house full of books your children were encouraged to explore on their own was probably a good way to attract the ire of the Red Guards). My wife (US-born to Taiwanese parents) was encouraged to read on her own from quite an early age and while she found most of her own reading material her not-very-assimilated-to-the-U.S. mother encouraged her by the time she was perhaps ten or twelve to read "classic" novels (maybe the Brontes, Alexander Dumas, stuff like that) that she (my mother-in-law) had herself read in Mandarin translation at not quite so young an age. But I don't know how much of this is Taiwan-v-Mainland versus old-country-v.-immigrant-experience versus family-specific idiosyncrasy.

  15. Eidolon said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 11:02 am

    One factor that hasn't yet been mentioned is the availability of popular literature appealing to those of a young age. Many English-language examples have already been mentioned, but Harry Potter especially stands out as a young readers' phenomenon. I have a hard time believing that kids would be equally enthused to read, say, Moby Dick, especially in this age of smartphones, tablets, and video games. I think Harry Potter stands out as an example of peer-initiated reading, rather than a parental effect, and the indeed the former is liable to be a lot more effective at getting kids to read for pleasure than the latter.

    I am not very in-tune with what goes on among China's young, but I think the Chinese classics are a poor example of what might appeal to kids. Literary Chinese is in general not easy to read and even less so for a young reader. That said, various modern adaptations of the "great novels," eg Journey to the West, might fit the bill, as would "wuxia," which is their version of fantasy literature. The Japanese have what they call "light novels," which are designed specifically for casual reading and I'm told are very popular among the younger audience, along with comic books. I imagine the Chinese have similar material though I have no idea what they are.

    In any case, I think cases such as Harry Potter are exceptional. From anecdotal experience, during the Harry Potter frenzy, family kids who'd have never picked up a book on their own were going to libraries and bookstores, solely off of peer pressure. It is the rare book indeed that'd get them off of their video games, phones, and television sets.

  16. J. Goard said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 12:03 pm

    "I'm often amazed (and pleased) at how children already in elementary school are reading big books for fun."

    That's an interesting placement of already there. It strikes me as ungrammatical with your intended reading.

  17. Michael said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 12:25 pm

    The literature on early literacy is vast, and if anyone here is really interested, a google scholar search with keywords "early literacy" and "China" and "USA" will turn up many studies to peruse. The article below, from the School Library Journal, gives a perspective almost 180 degrees off from Victor's colleagues' perceptions.
    http://www.slj.com/2014/01/literacy/a-literacy-lesson-from-china-what-an-exuberant-culture-of-reading-can-teach-us/#_

  18. Matt_M said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 1:08 pm

    @Michael: the article you linked to is fascinating, but the wonderfully progressive reading programme described in it is not really a contradiction of the point of view of Prof. Mair's colleagues, given that the programme is said to be "not typical of schools in China".

  19. julie lee said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 1:39 pm

    This was in San Jose, California:
    One day I found my six-year-old grandson J sitting on the toilet reading. It was a large picture book on snakes. Around him strewn on the floor were numerous other picture books–for children– on snakes, including picture dictionaries on snakes. There were snakes of all types from all over the world. J had been immersing himself on snakes for some time. "Do you like snakes, J?" I asked. "Yes," he replied, still immersed in his book. I have never liked snakes. But I thought then that if I had had as many children's picture books on snakes as my grandson J had taken out from the public library I probably would have gotten interested in snakes and even liked them too. Growing up in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore many decades ago, I only heard of a public library when I was 11. And after that, when I was shut up in a convent school, the only library I had during high school was a small cupboard of books in my classroom. Dreary, dusty, forgotten volumes. My parents, like other Chinese parents in China, never read books with us, never sat in bed with us to read, like American parents do. Nor did the nanny or governess do that. For me and my friends, parents were mostly distant figures, because servants or the governess or nanny took care of us. Now all that has changed.
    My grandson has moved on from his snake period. He has gone on to other subjects, also nurtured by books from the public library. This is a golden age of illustrated children's books in America. I never saw so many children's books in my childhood. We had very few books.

  20. Matt McIrvin said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

    The comparison is interesting, given the common American beliefs that American youth are shockingly ignorant compared to those of most other countries, that this is because of American cultural disdain for education compared to East Asian cultures in particular, and that early reading is a crucial component of being well-educated.

  21. Wentao said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 3:24 pm

    I resonate deeply with the comments above, since Harry Potter and Tolkien were also invaluable parts of my childhood. To be able to read the new Harry Potter book before everybody else (translation usually takes a couple of months) was surely a huge motivation for me to learn English, and finally finishing LotR (in original English) after nine months' struggle during junior high school was a proud moment that I would never forget.

    I'm fortunate to have grown up in a household like what Prof. Mair's friend describes. I remember my mom used to sit next to me read me bedtime books (as I found out this was not very common among my elementary school friends). The first long book we read was "The Wonderful Adventure of Nils", and the second was Xi You Ji. The latter was also the first literary book I read on my own, at around the age of ten. Despite the difficulty of semi-classical language, I managed to get through it, and I remember there were certain episodes I loved so much that I read them again and again. Coincidentally, like Anonymous, my first emotional encounter with serious literature was also Les Misérables (at that time I skipped over the parts on argot and history of monasteries). I also think that reading Victor Hugo at an early age shaped my worldview and fostered my interest in the humanities.

    I think the resources for children's reading in China is sadly scarce and unstructured compared to Western countries. The Confucian tradition and its emphasis on early literacy don't really help: it demands memory of an immense amount of classical texts reinforced by corporal punishment. Although I think memorizing Tang poems can be very beneficial from an educational standpoint, the traditional pedagogy is hardly effective in making children think reading is fun. Besides, the heavy workload and oppressive policies regarding "extracurricular reading" (读课外书) at many elementary schools also take away a lot of opportunities for children to enjoy reading. Chinese culture ostensibly encourages literacy and learning, but too many people see it just as a utilitarian way that leads to financial success and high social status.

  22. Alan Gunn said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 4:00 pm

    The public school I attended for first through fifth grade was remarkably liberal (or at least my teachers were, and I had the same teacher for third through fifth grade). They let me spend most of the school day reading. As long as I could do OK on arithmetic tests, I could read while arithmetic was being taught. The main exception was Palmer-method penmanship, which was painful. I have reasonably fond memories of grade school as a place where I spent most of the day reading books. Starting with sixth grade, they got more dictatorial, and school became mostly intensely boring. I'm sure parents matter a lot (my house was full of books), but schools matter, too, and many of them seem to squeeze the joy out of the things they are supposed to be encouraging.

  23. Dave Cragin said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 5:36 pm

    After sending Victor the note and reading the initial comments, I thought of another thing that could have impacted childhood reading for pleasure, i.e., whereas is China now a relatively wealthy country, Shanghainese friends in their 40s have talked about having ration cards while in college (i.e., not that long ago).

    In any country, when a parent's focus is putting food on the table, reading for pleasure would be less common, particularly if libraries were few and didn't have fun kids books (I will be asking my friends about the age they started using libraries for books for pleasure, a la Julie Lee's comment).

    My sense is that for many, Julie's description of her grandson is that of a classic American kid – a description that goes back many generations.

    It will be interesting to see if China's affluence changes the pleasure reading habits in kids or whether the challenges of school and learning English at the same time inhibit this (as noted by Jacob).

  24. Dave Cragin said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 5:44 pm

    @Matt McIrvin – yes, American kids rank poorly in standardized tests. However, a strength of American culture is that it promotes independent thinking and creativity, i.e., I doubt anyone told Julie's 6 yr old grandson "study snakes!", he just did for pleasure. As a result, he's probably the top 6 yr old snake expert in his school.

    A percentage of these kids that follow their passions go on to create new and valuable knowledge & ideas for the world – much more so than if they had been forced to study the "right" major. Now, China is doing what it can to foster creativity & innovation. This likely will be most effective if it starts at young ages.

  25. hector said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 6:11 pm

    When I was in grade three, the school librarian tried to talk me out of a book that she said was at grade seven level, but I insisted, and took it out. As a young reader primarily interested in story, I had come to the conclusion that what really mattered were the nouns and verbs, so I tended to skip over adverbs and adjectives that I wasn't familiar with. To this day, I feel I'm weak on the adjective/adverb front, and still skim through long-winded descriptive passages, which I still tend to find boring.

    I would heartily agree that the presence of a local library makes a huge difference. When I was seven or eight, the bookmobile started showing up once a week right across the street from where I lived. New worlds were opened to me.

    One thing I would add — most literature is to a greater or lesser degree escapist. An early love for books does not necessarily lead to worldly success. It may lead to a life of daydreaming. There's a reason bookish people are stereotyped as unworldly.

  26. julie lee said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 12:06 am

    Dave Craigin,

    I was interested to hear you say that my 6-yr-old grandson sounded like a "classic American kid". Yes, he learned a lot about snakes by following his own interest. On that same occasion I asked him: "How many kinds of snakes can you recognize and name, J?" He said "More than a hundred." I can only name about five. Before his snake period, he was engrossed, at 4, in being Freddy the Builder, a character on children's TV. His mom bought him a Freddy the Builder overalls and hat, and a belt with toy building tools, as well as books on Freddy the Builder. After his snake period, he became interested in boys' detective stories, and even wrote a few himself. The children's section of public libraries and children's TV programs in America are great. They are available to rich and poor and provide a lot of happiness.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 5:47 am

    Echoing some of the other commenters and adding a few new memories of my own, here are several additional thoughts about early reading experiences in my childhood and youth.

    One of the first recollections concerned with reading that I remember was when I was four years old and so impatient to go to school. I was jealous of my older brothers and sister because every day — except in summer and on weekends — they got on the yellow school bus and went to school where they could read more books than we had around home and learn all sorts of interesting things.

    We lived in rural Ohio and didn't have kindergarten or preschool. For us, the big treasure house of books was in our school, about four miles away from home.

    I was so happy to hear hector mention the bookmobile, because that was an important part of our lives too. It was a happy day when the bookmobile would come down the country road we lived on and pull up right in front of our house. That was a real feast, because the bookmobile came from the really big library in the county seat, which was an additional five miles away from our home, and it was stocked with an even greater variety than the little library in our school.

    Like anonymous, not only did I read Les Misérables around the same time I read Don Quixote (actually, I read it before the latter), but I then moved on to another Victor Hugo novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, which had a huge impact on me.

    I don't recall having book clubs, book reading contests, and what not when I was a kid (we certainly didn't need that kind of incentive to read as many books as we could), but those activities were very much in evidence when my son was a little boy in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

    My Mom (a housewife) and Dad (who worked in a factory near the county seat but also grew / raised things at home, so was working from before dawn to after sunset) never explicitly encouraged us to read, but they did so by example, because — whenever they had a quiet moment — they would read (my Dad especially the Reader's Digest, Organic Gardening, etc., and my Mom the Bible, but also Lin Yutang's works, the The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, and all manner of other interesting books).

    Starting around second grade, my favorite possession was the Merriam-Webster's desk dictionary that my Mom gave me. From about that time, I also recall that when people asked what I wanted to be, I would say proudly, "a professor", and that would always make the people of Osnaburg Township giggle, since they barely knew what a professor was. And if they asked, "professor of what", I would say "a professor of philosophy", because I imagined that professors of philosophy were always immersed in books, and that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

  28. julie lee said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 3:37 pm

    p.s. Correction:
    The TV character and program for children and pre-schoolers is called Bob the Builder, not Freddy the Builder. (see Wikipedia)

  29. Tim Sheehy said,

    June 29, 2015 @ 3:42 pm

    Born & bred in the UK but US citizen now, I don't remember myself but been told by the family that it was Deerfield (author) or something like that I absorbed on a beach holiday in south of France at about age 11 much to everyone's shock. (the thread prompted me to try and find the author bit I'm not remembering it closely enough, historical fiction circa 1st word war in English upper crust milieu )

    Just another not that the self selecting readership of this blog is not going to be at all representative of this question for entire populations as I'm sure is understood.

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