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Prompted By What We Read

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I was an exuberant reader, often reading by flashlight under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping. I heard my 3rd grade teacher telling someone in the school hallway that I tested at a 10th grade level at that tender age. I loved “girl” books and there were plenty in my household, hand-me-downs from my mother, older cousins, even a neighbor, who I sought out when my older son attended Stanford. She had gone there ages ago. I still have a childhood book with her handwriting in it. I copied it and sent it to her (I got her address from her parents, now gone). She was truly touched and made her way from Berkeley to Palo Alto to say hello when we first visited David, more than a decade ago. So here are my favorite childhood books.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. My mother’s 1922 edition, a beloved birthday present from her brother. she wouldn’t part with her copy until after her death. I went through a phase where I wanted to be called Beth instead of Betsy (we are both Elizabeths) for the doomed sister. I now live about a half hour from Concord, MA, real home to the Alcotts. I can visit Orchard House, where the book was written. It is a museum, open to the public. I once took a visiting friend and was lucky enough to be there on a day when an actual dress worn by the oldest sister (Meg in the book) was out on display, as that was her wedding anniversary!

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell. My mother’s 1936 SECOND edition (one month too late…it would be worth a lot of money if she’d jumped on it a month earlier; also without the dust jacket). I began reading this on Yom Kippur in 8th grade, the first time I fasted on the holiest day of the Jewish year. I had all afternoon with nothing to do and the book consumed me. We were studying American History in class and this seemed like the perfect complement. It would be years before I’d see the movie, which, though great, paled in comparison to this florid epic.

Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers. The first four volumes. Two of them came from my oldest maternal first cousin. One states that printing was held up because of WWII. I discovered there were two more in the series and devoured them. I loved the whimsy and fantasy. I was quite young when I read them, long before the Disney movie. I only discovered that Travers wrote more than these four books after seeing the movie “Saving Mr. Banks”!

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White. This book was read aloud to us by Mrs. Zeve, my 2nd grade, and favorite teacher. She gave different voices to each character. She encouraged me to explore acting, which became my passion. Wearing glasses was OK because she wore them. I adored her and we stayed friends for the next 10 years. She came to see me in my high school plays, exchanged birthday cards (her’s was two days before mine), until my senior year in high school. It seemed odd that I hadn’t heard from her in December. My mother got a phone call two months later. My beloved Mrs. Zeve had died of stomach cancer at the age of 42. I still can’t watch any version of “Charlotte’s Web”, as I don’t want anything to interfere with hearing her character voices in my head.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. We read this in French class in its original language. We all loved the sweet message and I bought an English version, which I cherish. It resonated with us in the late 60s.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: girl books, advanced reader, mother
Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    I love the image of you reading under the covers—definitely been there! What (if anything) do you think binds these books together in your mind?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I hadn’t thought about a connection, John. Perhaps they all have a strong narrative, point of view and protagonist that I could (or wanted to) relate to. Though from different eras, and in some cases, quite fantastical, they took me on journeys that I loved to travel. Though they didn’t have happy endings, they were satisfying to my younger self, in search of some sort of adventure.

  2. Constance says:

    High five to a fellow member of the Reading with a Flashlight Club. Neato. I didn’t know there are more Mary Poppins books. Perhaps I should read Gone with the Wind as well.

  3. Yep. Member of the flashlight reading club. Also earphone Top-40 listening club, 45 minutes of dedication to hear Carl Perkins sing ‘Blue Suede Shoes.’ Great reading list, Betsy. Never got to Little Women because my sister was reading it and I wouldn’t read ANYthing my sister read. The Little Prince is on the bookshelf behind me, and someday, everyone please read St Exupery’s ‘Night Flight’ about the author’s life as a mail pilot between France and Morocco. ‘Night Flight’ is right up there with Casablanca for romance. I cried on cue every time Charlotte died. Some pig, people, some pig.

  4. Suzy says:

    Hi Betsy, I was in Spain the week this prompt dropped, and I seem to have missed it entirely. Just now happened upon your post, and found yet another proof that we are soul sisters! Flashlight under the covers – check. Passionate about all 5 of the books you list – check. Have my mother’s copy of GWTW, purchased just too late to be valuable – check – although I DO have the dust jacket. We really must meet!

  5. Betsy,
    Glad I caught up with this as a missed story. I love to learn about others’ reading lives!

    Keep up posted on Baby Pfau!

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