A Middle Grade Time Machine

I’ve been staying with my husband’s mother for several weeks. As we go through some of her things for a move, she has been sharing childhood stories with me. I’m hearing about her Dad’s bakery, about pets, about antics she and her siblings got up to. As I was going through a bookcase, I found some middle grade treasures.

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The copy of Peter Pan was my mother-in-law’s, made obvious by the inscription inside, which shows her name, and “My Book,” in very neat large script. As one of seven kids, it was probably quite important to make these distinctions of ownership known!


These books and the stories she told made me think about the young people we write for today, and I marveled at how books have touched us all over the years.

Thinking back to my Dad’s favorite books as a middle grade reader, some, like my mother-in-law’s Peter Pan, are still popular today.



Treasure Island and Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as the Jules Verne stories, always came up when we talked favorite books.


The Call of the Wild was another which brought a light of memory to Dad’s eyes when he remembered it. My husband and I discovered very early in our dating days that we had grown up with the same wonderful illustrated edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, which our parents all loved growing up and shared with their children. These were the stories which shaped them as young readers, our own parents, children born in 1923 and 1934.

Other books they enjoyed might not be so familiar to us today, but I remember them all, as my parents passed them on to me.  Goops and How to Be Them, by Gelett Burgess, The Tanglewood Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and  The Burgess Animal Book for Children, by Thornton W. Burgess , were favorites my Dad shared.

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A Girl of the Limberlost. by Gene Stratton-Porter, and Daddy Longlegs, by Jean Webster, were some of Mom’s favorites.

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Also wonderful to read aloud, which both my parents loved,  are the poems of James Whitcomb Riley. and Brett Harte’s tales of the California gold fields, especially “The Luck of Roaring Camp”. 


More recently, my mother-in-law introduced our family to Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit., when our own daughter was a youngster. I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on this hilarious author.


Oh, what a time machine we can travel, experiencing what our parents and grandparents read! I learn something new about a generation each time I open up a book from the past, don’t you?

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Valerie Stein
In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, THE BEST OF IT: A JOURNAL OF LIFE, LOVE AND DYING, was published in 2009. Her current work focuses on historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is proprietor of Homeostasis Press, and blogs at The Best of It. She manages Gather Here, an online history site for middle grade readers and teachers.
  1. Great post! My dad gave us his childhood book before he died and it is so wonderful to have them! I even have a couple of my grandfather’s – Horatio Alger Jr. The Burgess Books were favourites of mine when I was very young – still have them! The Peter Pan is lovely!

  2. It’s always fun to go through another person’s books and photos, you learn so much about their interests and get a glimpse of a different era.

  3. A lot of great books on this list and a few I’ve never heard of. I will be checking some of these out. Thanks for the post.