MarySmith’sPlace – What Katy Did was mine – what was yours? #children’sbooks

Who doesn’t love finding some new books under the Christmas tree? This year I gave my book wish list to my son – then the latest Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t meet up after all so I’ll have to wait until – well who knows when?

For some reason, thoughts about the books I’m looking forward to receiving triggered memories of books I loved as a child.

Amongst my favourites was What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. I also loved What Katy Did at School – remember the game of rivers in the schoolroom? – though What Katy Did Next didn’t capture my imagination in the same way. I remember once snapping shut What Katy Did saying, “Thank goodness, I’ve finished.”

My mother asked if I hadn’t enjoyed it. And when I assured her I had, asked, “So why are you pleased you’ve finished it?”

“So I can read it again,” I said. And I did, many times. The number 23 resonates but I couldn’t have read it 23 times, could I?

What was the allure of What Katy Did and what she did at school? I decided to find out by re-reading. It was like bumping into an old, much-loved friend. As soon as I began I remembered everything, could almost recite parts of it. While there are some things with which my adult self takes issue – the message that disabled people should be good and kind and sweet-natured – I understand why as a child I loved Katy so much. She was real. She tried to be good but, like most children, she usually failed. She wrote stories, she and her brothers and sisters played daft games and wreaked havoc.

And the narrator took Katy’s side most of the time, which I suspect was unusual in those days. When Katy disobeyed Aunt Lizzie and used the swing in the barn the narrator points out although she was wrong to ignore her aunt, it was also wrong of the aunt to expect unquestioning obedience. I must have relished a grown up person (as the narrator is) taking the child’s side – perhaps that when my need for explanations was born! 

I was a voracious reader throughout my childhood – unlike my younger sister who, having read a Hardy Boys novel declared it was the best book she’d ever read and refused to read another book for several years because, she insisted, “It won’t be as good as that one.” I’m pleased to say she did return to reading and enjoyed many other books just as much.

Johanna Spyri’s Heidi was a great favourite; though I have a feeling re-reading it now would probably tarnish my glowing memory of it – another of those ‘disabled people are good and sweet’ books. And I now know from experience I do not like goat’s milk.

Found my copy in the attic.

I’m sure I’m not alone in listing Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series and The Famous Five as well-loved, often-read books. More and more memories of happy reading flooded back: the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton or The Chalet School series by Elinor Brent-Dyer let me enter a different world of boarding school, tuck boxes and midnight feasts in the dorm. The nearest I came to a midnight feast was when my friend who was visiting her grandparents next door agreed to meet in my garden shed at midnight. We climbed out of our respective windows but when she cut her finger trying to open a tin of corned beef she ran home, blood dripping down her granny’s nightdress.

The Pullein-Thompson sisters allowed me to live in a world of ponies and I loved Pat Smythe’s Three Jays series.

When I was older, and still pony less (my parents said we couldn’t afford one as they cost a lot to feed – although Dad was always complaining about having to cut the grass) my absolute heroine was Pat Smythe. I was so shocked when I learned Pat’s horses were chosen for the Olympics but she wasn’t allowed to ride them because women weren’t allowed to compete against men until 1956 (I was only two then. I read about it later). For a while, I became a horse, jumping clear rounds at White City: a series of homemade jumps around the garden. Played havoc with Dad’s grass cutting.

I’ve missed out so many: The Secret Garden – and a very odd book called The Nabob’s Garden – The Borrowers, my list of well-remembered and much loved books could be endless!

Little Women – who didn’t want Jo March for a best friend?

What were your favourite childhood books?

115 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace – What Katy Did was mine – what was yours? #children’sbooks

  1. Well, we seem to have lived the same life – including setting up showjumping courses in the garden made from things found in the shed…. And I realise I may have mixed up Little Women with What Katy Did. No wonder people talking about the film haven’t quite matched my memories – although I know I liked Jo best.
    I did reread Heidi a little while ago, but not the two sequels (too twee?) – I’ve been carrying them around my homes along with six Jill books by Ruby Ferguson. I had a couple of Three Jays books and one Chalet school (…and the Island) but I preferred Malory Towers 🙂 Oh and loads of the Pullein Thompson books – most people have never heard of them, but they were so prolific. And, er… I’m two years older than you 🙂
    Yours in ponymadness
    Jemima

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    • Ooh, I’d forgotten the Jill books – need to add them to the list. Jo March was the writer in Little Women and was published – made me think it was possible. I can just imagine the two of us going over those jumps in the garden 🙂

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  2. I borrowed Little Women from the Ewart and loved it. Others were Black Beauty, Heidi, and Enid Blyton, and a host of Ladybird books. Your post makes me want to read Heidi and Black Beauty again Mary. I don’t ever recall my Dad reading any book, and my Mum read quite a lot but only non-fiction. Thinking back, what a great thing to have a library on hand. I love how you often see these days, phone boxes turned into libraries in rural communities. Not that they’d be Covid-secure in these times though. x

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    • Oh, Black Beauty made me cry, Janette. I gave a copy to David and told him he’d have to read it by himself – he did and was very upset with me for giving him a book which made him cry! I went to the library in Castle Douglas every week to take out four books, finished long before the following week. Both parents read a lot – Mum read detective novels but never went tot he library herself and expected Dad to remember which ones she’d read. he resorted to putting a pencil tick mark inside the back cover 🙂

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  3. Do you still have your childhood books? That is amazing, given how widely you have traveled. Years ago, I sought out some of my old favorites once Amazon provided many used books at my fingertips. I loved Virginia Lee Burton’s ‘Calico, the Wonder Horse’ (I think I wore out our town’s library copy). ‘Miss Hickory’ by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey about a little nut doll that comes to life. George Seldon’s ‘The Cricket in Times Square’ and EB White’s ‘Stuart Little’ and ‘Charlotte’s Web’ I enjoyed multiple times. Later, I adored Jack O’Brien’s ‘Silver Chief, Dog of the North’ and ‘Silver Chief Returns’. Sheila Burnford’s ‘Homeward Bound’ was another good one. It seems I loved the outdoorsy and animal books the best. Fun to reread and a few sit on my shelves today.

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    • I have a few, Eliza, which were stored in my dad’s loft for many, many years. I was disappointed to find all the covers missing. Some of the books you mention are new to me – love the sound of Miss Hickory. It was horsey books I was particularly fond of.

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  4. Oh Mary, we read exactly the same books. I even have the same golden treasury edition of Heidi. I also adored What Katy Did & then What Katy did at school even more but was disappointed with What Katy Did Next. I have fond memories of Little Women and the Chalet School Books. I enjoyed Pullein-Thompson and K M Peyton though I never rode a horse. I quite liked The Secret Garden but preferred The Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy. My absolute favourites were The Anne of Green Gables books and I’d love to visit Prince Edward Island.

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    • Somehow that doesn’t surprise me, Liz. If you’ve recommended a title on your blog I can be fairly sure I’ll enjoy it 🙂 I enjoyed Anne of Green Gables and the following one, Anne of Avonlea (?) but don’t remember reading the others in the series. I loved all horsey books but didn’t actually ride a horse until I was in Afghanistan – when it seemed to be an awfully big animal!

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  5. When I was a kid and learned to read, I found myself gravitating to adult age books. I remember giving a book report in school and the teacher sending a note home suggesting that I didn’t read the book since it was too old for me. My mom came off-hook cause she knew I read it.

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  6. Late starter due to dyslexia, I only remember my mum reading The Secret Garden to me and stories from a bound set of Victorian magazines for girls. At 12 I started to read fluently – The girl of the Limberlost a story of a girl living with her nasty mother and becoming a resourceful, independent woman in the swamplands of Indiana. I learnt the song ‘On the banks of the Wabash far away’ from the name of the big river in the story and still find myself singing it from time to time. Then there was Heidi, and like you What Katy did, Little women, then HE Bates’ Love for Lydia and a host of others but my real passion was Elizabeth Gouges, The Little White Horse, then The Elliots of Damerosehays followed by all her other books. Looking back I think I missed out on a whole tranch of children’s books. But I did know Hiawatha, The Lady of Shallot, and Kipling’s BarrackRoom Ballads and Allinghams The Fairies etc etc off by heart as I made my mum read them again and again. Thank you, wonderful memories.

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    • Your amazing reading list doesn’t sound like you missed out at all, Steph. I’ve never heard of The Girl of the Limberlost but it sounds fascinating (I just googled it). Glad you enjoyed the post and it brought back wonderful memories. Books do that for us 🙂

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  7. My mother had a set of fairy tales — not the sanitized ones, but cautionary tales parents used in the middle ages to keep children from being eaten by wolves or abducted by crazy people. One tale was from China, about a child who is lost and finds shelter in a temple. He remembers his father’s words, “Avoid large places, keep to the small.” He does so and the monster rat doesn’t eat him. Little Red Riding Hood is eaten (no woodsman in the original version). Hanzel and Gretal are witch food. Why I loved these stories, I cannot tell you, but I used to read them over and over again.

    I gave the book set to my son and I believe it’s still in his garage.

    The first book I remember was about a blonde haired boy named Dougie and his adventures. The only thing I can still remember about it is the cover.

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    • Oh, yes, I’d forgotten about some of the fairy tales – which were pretty gruesome and didn’t usually end well for anyone. I wonder if any children today read them or have them read to them? Disney has a lot to answer for!
      Your blonde haired boy named Dougie doesn’t ring any bells with me but someone might recognise it. I would love to know the name of a book I partly remember – it had two stories in it and one was about some children and a horrible woman who turned into an octopus – the other story was about children (same ones?) and a yak.

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  8. Mine are very non-PC now – things like Coral Island and Robinson Crusoe made me want to travel. Narnia books – other worlds again. Billy Bunter and Just William because I liked naughty children. The Madeline books which I can still recite ‘In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived 12 little girls in 2 straight lines. ‘ My daughter owes her name to that series. Little Women is on the list as well. So many books.

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    • Oh, yes, I should have included the Just William books – loved them. Wasn’t so keen on Billy Bunter. I think I was a bit older when I read Robinson Crusoe – also Treasure Island and Kidnapped (described as ‘boys books’). You introduced to me to the Madeline books! The lists could go on forever and there’s something special about all those books being part of us.

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  9. I started with A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner (not the Disneyized version, which I abhorred!!) I loved the Wind in the Willows, Blueberries for Sal, The Boxcar Children, Little Women, the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales (very bloody), my book of Russian Fairy Tales, A Child’s Garden of Verses. Those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

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  10. Memories of my youth also include the Secret Seven and Famous Five. I had a copy of The Odyssey that fascinated me, and a ‘grown up book’ that I loved, ‘The Red Badge of Courage’. But my favourite book for most of my youth was an expensive all-colour World Atlas, and that taught me so much about other countries, and their cultures.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Enid Blyton really tapped into what children wanted to read, didn’t she? I didn’t much like Noddy but loved all the adventure stories. I don’t remember Hilda but, like you, I’d have been envious about her riding her horse to school.

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  11. Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner were early favourites as well as the poems – When We Were Very Young and Now we Are Six. But I soon graduated to HG Wells and all the Sherlock Holmes stories. There were a lot of books in the house and I was allowed free rein on the principle that I would be bored with anything ‘unsuitable’. I read Rudyard Kipling and Black Beauty and The Water Babies. I think my all time favourite after Winniie the Pooh was all HG Wells’ stories (exccept The Island of Dr Moreau which is just too horrible).

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    • I’m not sure how old I was before I read HG Wells and the Sherlock Holmes stories. I’d forgotten about The Water Babies, which has now reminded me of Peter Pan. Once you start remembering, the lists could be endless. I like the thinking that you’d be bored with anything ‘unsuitable’.

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  12. Katy and the March sisters are still on my bookshelves, along with The Land of Green Ginger, the Narnia books, and so many others…
    I never really took to the Famous Five or Secret Seven types… I suppose even then I was leaning towards magical landscapes and creatures…which my mother and grandfather wrote for me too 🙂

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  13. I WAS Jo March’s best friend. I was sure of it, and read that book many times. When my niece turned 10 (15 years ago!) I gave her a brand new copy of Little Women, but she admitted it was difficult for her to read. So I tried and found it a bit difficult as well. Not when I was 10. Shows how much the language has changed in books over the past 50 years, though. I live just a few miles from Louisa May Alcott’s house where she wrote Little Women and lived with her family and I have taken tours there (for my guests, but really, for me) at least a dozen times. Each time, I’m enthralled, and I hope to receive some of Louisa’s writing spirit into my own. xo

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  14. I loved seeing and hearing about these old books! My favorites were Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. A favorite non-series title that I remember is “Mystery of the Golden Horn” by Phyllis Whitney. In fact, I clearly remember finishing my first reading of that book in bed late on a Christmas Eve:)

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    • Thank you, I’m so pleased you enjoyed this post. It seems many of us enjoy a wallow remembering what we read as children 🙂 I’ve not heard of Trixie Belden but I did enjoy reading some Nancy Drew stories. Mystery of the Golden Horn is a new one to me but it clearly made a big impression on you when you can remember finishing it on Christmas Eve – and I assume you re-read it several times? I suppose that’s why our favourites have stayed in our memories.

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  15. I don´t recall reading What Katy Did, but I know of the story. I loved Heidi and Little Women and have both of them still on my bookshelves. But, my most favourite was Anne of Green Gables, a story about a feisty young girl with a positive attitude who always made the best of whatever was thrown at her. She also messed up from time to time but managed through it all. These childhood books are like old friends, aren´t they?

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  16. Mary, I did not grow up with a love of reading. My mother, my sisters, and my grandparents and cousins were all avid readers which left me with a great feeling of loneliness. I was always in competition with a book for my mother’s attention. That carried on into high school. I first fell in love with Charlotte’s Web, then all the Nancy Drew adventures. I felt I could have been a sleuth. The Secret Garden, Heidi, Pippi Longstocking, and of course Anne of Green Gables.

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  17. For me, Little Women and An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott, definitely. I also enjoyed quite a few of Enid Blyton’s books, although my favourites were the Adventure Series (we had budgies at home at some point, and always one of them had to be called Kiki), and there was also a series called Puck (Danish) quite popular here, where the main protagonist gets into all kinds of adventures most of them related to school (in this case there are boys as well, not like in Mallory Towers. As I always went to mixed-gender schools, I guess this one felt more familiar).
    Mind you, I remember reading quite a few classics like Robinson Crusoe and The Adventures of Tom Swayer, and when we were 12 or 13 we started exchanging grown-up books (I guess), like Jaws… We were a group of avid readers at school and would exchange books and read whole series that way, so we would have our own borrowing system.
    What memories!
    Thanks, Mary. ♥

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    • Glad you enjoyed the post and the memories of favourite books it prompted, Olga. It is amazing how so many of the old classics like Little Women have been enjoyed by readers (most of whom are now bloggers/writers) all over the world. I’d love to know what ten-year-olds today will remember as their favourite books in 50 to 60 years time.

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  18. Rupert the Bear is my earliest reading memory. That and Girls Own Omnibus stories that my parents ordered from England once a year in time for Christmas. (I was born in England, grew up in Australia, and now live in Canada)
    What Katy Did, et al, of course, … Little Women … Ballantine Classics … and as I grew older the rocket ships and ray-guns style of science fiction.

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  19. Every Christmas I received a Rupert Bear Annual…I was telling Lily about that the other day…then pretty much the same as you Mary I also loved Oliver twist I was a big fan of all the Charles Dickens books and like many of you I took as many books as I was allowed out of the library each week and my reading was never censored by my parents at all…and then I gravitated into black magic stories and Flowers in the attic series which I loved…x

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  20. Hi Mary, I also loved What Katy Did as well as What Katy did at School and What Katy Did Next. I still have my original copies. I also loved Pollyanna, The Land of Far Beyond, Little Women, The Snow Queen, all the Anne of Green Gable series, all the Little House series, all The Borrowers series, all the Emily of New Moon series. Hmmm, that is already quite a long list and there are so many more I loved and many I still have from my old library I made when I was 12 years old.

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    • It really is amazing we all read the same books – with a few variations thrown in. The lists tend to grow longer as we remember more of the books we enjoyed when we were young. I didn’t much care for Polyanna but loved Anne of Green Gables. Do your boys enjoy any of those books or are they too old fashioned for their tastes – possibly too girlie?

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  21. Pingback: What Katy Did was mine – what was yours? #children’sbooks ~ Mary Smith | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  22. I loved Enid Blyton’s books as well as others set in English boarding schools. They seemed so exotic to a kid growing up in Prince George, British Columbia. I also loved Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden (American), and Anne of Green Gables (Canadian). It makes me smile to think of all of us who were born in the 50s and 60s enjoying the same books.

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    • Oh, I have a cousin in Prince George 🙂 I enjoyed Nancy Drew but hadn’t heard of Trixie Belden until someone else mentioned her on here. It’s quite amazing how many of us, in all different parts of the world, enjoyed those same books – and still remember them!

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  23. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – January 1st 2021 – #Books and more Books – Amy M. Reade, Jessica Norrie, Mary Smith | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  24. Snap! I read pretty much all the books you mention and was a member of a library where I could take out three books at a time – heaven! My first pony book was Jill and the Perfect Pony and shortly afterwards began to nag for a pony of my own. My mother pointed out, completely unreasonably, that living in a basement maisonette wasn’t an ideal habitat for one. I cycled four miles to the nearest riding stables once a week, had a 30 minute lesson, and then cycled the four miles back. I only read Black Beauty once because it was so sad, and someone gave me a copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince which so traumatised me I had to hide the book away because just seeing the cover made me weep.

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    • It really is amazing how many of us read the same books! I wept buckets over Black Beauty. I couldn’t bring myself to read it to my son because I knew I’d cry. I gave him the book and he returned it afterwards demanding to know why I’d given him such a sad book. I didn’t read The Happy Prince as a child.
      Parents were so unreasonable about our need for a pony 🙂

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