Favorite Nonfiction Titles from Childhood

The Guardian is asking its readers “What are your favourite non-fiction books from childhood?”  The answers, I notice, seem slanted more toward books of facts and information rather than the more narrative sort.  It got me thinking about what sort of nonfiction I enjoyed as a child (in the 1960s).

First of all, I too was a fan of fact books, especially the field guides listing all sorts of rocks, birds, or butterflies. They covered so much, were colorful, and spoke to my collecting instincts.  The size also mattered as I loved that they were so small and compact.

I then really enjoyed biographies and autobiographies.  Probably the most important for me was The Diary of Anne Frank, but I also was fascinated by Helen Keller and read a number of her autobiographical works (of which the most well known is The Story of My Life).   Albert Schweitzer was the Mother Teresa of my day and so I read about him (can’t recall if it was a biography or autobiography) with great interest.  Then there were animal books, say Joy Adamson’s Born Free about raising a lion and putting her back into the wild.

Lastly, while we now do not consider them nonfiction, since I did way back then I will mention The Childhood of Famous Americans books.  Can’t say I remember much about them other than their orange covers and being into reading as many as I could.

What about you? What were some of your childhood nonfiction favorites?

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8 responses to “Favorite Nonfiction Titles from Childhood

  1. My favorite was a biography of Juliette Gordon Low. I can not remember the name of it though. (This was in the 80’s.) I read it at least twice a year, because I was all about being the perfect Girl Scout. (That didn’t last through middle school.)

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  2. Monica, you have far more eloquently stated than I could my OWN story of a lifelong love of nonfiction. I still cherish and use my small bird book given to me by my grandparents…it is smoke stained from the Girl Scout campfire I used as light to identify birds seen during the day. Anne Frank’s diary was a favorite, and I was fascinated by Dr. Schweitzer, I so admired him then and now. And the ORANGE books…quite often I speak of them and my summer bike rides daily to retrieve more from the library. Thank you for a great memory evoking post.

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  3. I also loved the COFA series. My other favorite biographies were Listening to Crickets (Rachel Carson) by Candice Ransom and a collection of excerpts from Louisa May Alcotts diary. There was a book on Ancient Rome with tiny detailed illustrations (I think it was from Usborne) that I obsessed over and have never been able to find again.

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  4. The nonfiction books I remember best seem to be ones that blurred the lines between fiction and nonfiction — a series of biographies that read like fiction (and probably were more fictional narratives based on the lives of famous people than actual biographies) and memoirs like WREN and KAREN by Marie Killilea.

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  5. The Time-Life series of books, especially Ancient Civilizations and “The World of” art history series. I was silly enough to take the Michelangelo volume to my fifth grade class; ended up being surrounded by fellow students yelling “naked people”, sobbing hysterically, and being sent to the principle’s office. Such is the price we pay for learning!

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  6. Any archeology book…Also, a book about the coelacanth that I can still recall the cover of.

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  7. PJ

    I loved the Childhood of Famous Americans series, too!

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