A brief reflection about “Goosebumps,” “Captain Underpants” and heredity.
My earliest childhood memory will forever be ingrained in the archives of my mind’s “history” files: it involves me as a toddler at the age of either four or five sitting on my mother’s lap on our couch as she had me read along with her to one of the many children’s books she bought for me (I believe it was a Nickelodeon book featuring CatDog).
I remember her gently guiding my index finger letter by letter, word by word, and sentence by sentence as she proudly praised me when I’d correctly pronounce a word or sentence.
Before video games, before even cartoons, my first trip into the world of fiction came in the form of a good old-fashioned book.
My love of books and reading in general seems to be a genetic trait passed down from my mother. I’ve never failed to find her engaged in some kind of reading material, be it a true-crime novel by one of her favorite authors, a magazine, or reading the news online every day.
Prior to me even stepping foot in a kindergarten class, my mother ensured that I knew how to read by the age of five, opting to not rely on daycare teachers and instead read to me every day at home.
In addition to the many books she bought for me and the consistent reading time she set aside for us, I firmly believe it was the book selection she chose that aided me enormously.
Scattered about my bedroom— in contrast to the Dr. Seuss and colorful pop-up books that targeted kids my age— resided a collection of books geared towards children around first and third grade.
Although we’ve never discussed it, a part of me believes that this was a deliberate decision on her part because A. The higher reading level quickly boosted my comprehension skills, and B. Most of the books involving my favorite cartoon characters (which she probably knew I’d be more excited to read) just so happened to entail an uptick in difficulty.
I remember it like it was yesterday. My mom and I were shopping at Kroger’s and I had ran off to the book and magazine aisle because something caught my eye— a large cardboard display with about two dozen copies of books featuring a cartoon illustration of a bald, portly man wearing nothing but briefs and blanket fashioned as a cape.
Intrigued, I picked up one of the books and scanned the title, which read ” Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets.” After reading no more than the first paragraph I immediately ran back to my mother and begged her to buy it for me. She decided to shell out the seven or eight bucks that it was being sold for.
“At least it’s not candy or a toy this time,” is the thought I’m sure she had.
As soon as we got home I instantly fished the book from the grocery bags and devoured the first-ever novel that I—at six years old—picked out myself.
I sprawled out on the living room carpet and read the entire 144-page book in roughly two hours, deeply entranced by a silly, goofy, and looking back on it, pretty well-written story.
I was even introduced to a few new words I had never seen before. I remember briefly stopping mid-sentence and asking my mother how to pronounce an exotic sounding five-letter word I had come across. The word was “rabbi.”
Around a year or two later I came across one of the books in the “Goosebumps” series by R.L. Stine (another fellow Ohioan) at my school’s library and loved every bit of it. The creepy stories he wrote managed to both captivate and unnerve me as I’d lay under the covers and read with a flashlight in the dark to heighten the mood.
I—like I’m sure many of you also do—have always regarded R.L. Stine to be the Stephen King of children’s novels, the former acting as a sort of primer or appetizer for the latter in a sense.
As the years have gone by, I’ve encountered many more authors and books (which I’ll be discussing, analyzing, and critiquing in future posts), but few have had more of an impact on me than those goofy, silly, creepy, and sharply written children’s novels that I read in my youth.
Those books laid the foundation for a little kid who although was obsessed with pro wrestling and all things Nintendo, loved nothing more than to read a good story. The basic, simple, “Green Eggs and Ham”-esque drivel could take a backseat as far as this young bookworm was concerned.
Fluffy animals and anthropomorphized kitchen appliances be damned.