A hundred times may be an exaggeration, but as a child, I read many of my favorite books dozens of times and more. In the bookstore, I often hear parents bemoaning their children’s repeat reading. Adults sometimes worry when kids choose an old favorite over a new discovery, but both are signs of being healthy readers. While I understand that more media are competing for children’s time, and so picking up the entire Harry Potter series every summer might take a serious chunk of hours away from other books, I still think that avid re-readers tend to be avid readers, period. And that re-reading can be a very valuable endeavor.
People re-read books for all kinds of reasons: to catch things they missed, to revisit a favorite world, to find comfort in a familiar and much-loved story. We talk about “digesting” books, and I think re-reading is part of the total absorption in a fictional or nonfiction world.
I think I did the bulk of my re-reading between the ages of 8 and 14. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White probably tops my list, along with The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards, Mr. Pudgins by Ruth Carlsen, The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit, Half Magic and Magic or Not and the rest of the seven books by Edward Eager, Magic in the Park by Ruth Chew (now back in print, hooray!), Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright, The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (how did that not win a Newbery, by the way?!), The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken, The Saturdays and the others in the series by Elizabeth Enright, A Girl Called Al by Constance C. Green, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and so many more. I also used to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy every summer, about eight years in a row. (Oddly, I never felt the desire to return to The Hobbit after a reading or two.)
Oh, I know I’m forgetting a boatload of favorites!! I’m not counting books I read two or three or even four times, but books I read ten, twenty times and more. I think I read Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles 21 times. Clearly, there was something there that kept drawing me back: the imagination, the charm, the brightness, the magic, the humor. The bedroom slippers! Mumbleumbledum. (Ahem. I’ll continue.) And Charlotte’s Web! What an endless source of inspiration, simple and profound, funny and sad, full of characters and heart and suspense and lots of love. I read a passage from The Little Prince at my mother’s memorial service, and another from Charlotte’s Web at my grandmother’s. These books became part of the fabric of my being, beats in the rhythm of my heart. I knew lines by heart, maybe even sections. Re-reading didn’t detract from my development as an eclectic reader; it provided something different, a journey I knew I wanted to embark upon yet again.
So, while I happily help kids who are in fact stuck re-reading books because they just can’t find their next great read, I also try to reassure parents, letting them know that re-reading can, in fact, be one of the hallmarks of becoming a fluent lifelong reader.
What books did you read countless times? And do you know why, or is it a bit of a mystery?