Eight Things Guaranteed to Make Readers Nostalgic

There are lots of great conversations you can have with readers, but some of my favorites are about what makes us nostalgic. Whether it’s a childhood picture book memory or the bookstore that got away (aka isn’t in your hometown), I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane.

One: Book-It

If you weren’t one of the millions of kids who got a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut for completing a reading goal, starting in 1984, I’m sorry for your joy-bereft childhood. You should sit down right now, make a monthly goal, and reward yourself with a greasy, cheesy, don’t-have-to-share-with-my-sister little slice of glory if you make it. Because this was the best reward program ever. Plus, the badges, am I right? So good.

Two: The First Read of Your Favorite Book/Series

Sure, you’ve re-read it, recommended it to friends, maybe seen the movie version a dozen times, and so on, but nothing beats the excitement of the first time you read a favorite book. Before you knew what would happen to the characters, back when every cliffhanger left you agonized (especially if there were years between releases in a series), to all the late nights reading “one more chapter.” Ah yes. If only we could time travel and re-experience that wonder. Sigh.

Three: Reading Contests

Whether it was run by your library over the summer to keep you off the streets or some elementary school achievement bribe, there’s something about checklists and competition that warms a reader’s heart. Like, okay, I can still read a stack of books now, but I won’t be able to put snobby Susie Accelerated Reader Queen in her place, edging her out in the last few days by binging a bunch of Nancy Drew mysteries. It’s just not the same level of satisfaction. Besides that, remember the prizes? Those multi-colored clicky pens, slap bracelets, yo-yos, erasers shaped like small animals, and all manner of plastic toys that broke the first recess you took them out. Real treasures, for sure.

Four: Beloved Original Copies

I’m not talking fancy first editions here, just the battered-and-scarred books that have seen a lot of love in their day and hold a place of honor on the bookshelf. Even if newer, cooler covers have come out, there’s something sentimental about the originals, even if the originals are falling apart at the spine. Like, okay, I know the words inside are the same and it shouldn’t make a difference, but seriously, what nonsense are the new cheap-animation-knockoff Boxcar Children covers? Heresy.

Five: PBS Book Programming

Whether you still have a hard time remembering that the main characters of all classic novels aren’t Jack Russell terriers or now have the Reading Rainbow theme song stuck in your head, PBS had some delightful book-themed shows. (Reading Rainbow retweeted one of the flowcharts I made for Bethany House about getting people books for Christmas, and it was one of the happier moments of my life.) If none of that resonates with you, just accept the fact that in Wishbone, a dog stars in reimagined classics with so many canine puns (Ivanhound, Frankenbone, Bone of Arc) and that LeVar Burton is the actual best. That’s all you need to know.

Six: Scholastic Book Fairs

Picture tables of books with shiny, colorful covers, all within arm’s reach, with the visual appeal of a candy store window full of those giant lollipops that no one can actual eat. There was the avenue of horse and puppy books with big round eyes begging you to adopt them. There were displays of absurdly gender-specific reads, including super gross potty humor titles and books about princesses with embossing or glitter. There were rows and rows of chapter books that made you feel like the Awesome Big Kid you totally were, because look, there’s only one black-and-white picture per chapter now! My school cleverly paired the book fair with Grandparent’s Day, because what grandma is not going to buy their precious angel a stack of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure survival books? (She was not, for the record, thrilled about the Captain Underpants trend.) Man. Those were the days.

Seven: Vacation Bookstore Visits

It seems like everyone has been on a trip where they find The Bookstore of Their Dreams. Whether it’s elegant and rambling with every book you could ever imagine or cozy and cramped with hilarious signs in the stacks, something about it makes you want to move in. Like, permanently. (And if you never visit bookstores on vacation, build it into your schedule, it’s the best.) Unfortunately, this near-mythical bookstore is too far away for regular visits, so you can only think wistfully of how much of your budget you’d spend on books if it was across the street instead of across the country, or even the world.

Eight: Iconic Children’s Book Characters

Bonus points if said character had a weird name, because let’s face it, you don’t get characters like Amelia Bedelia, Yertle the Turtle, Pippi Longstocking, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in grown-up literature, which is a real shame. But seriously, forget the Internet fandoms over TV shows and such, I want to get into a hearty debate over whether the ending to Charlotte’s Web is more or less tragic than Where the Red Fern Grows. Or is Willy Wonka even a reasonable protagonist, or a thinly-veiled sociopath? And why is Goodnight, Moon a kids’ book when it is so deeply eerie? These are the real questions, guys.

Which of these makes you feel the most nostalgic? Tell us about it in the comments!

18 thoughts on “Eight Things Guaranteed to Make Readers Nostalgic

  1. Besides the book fairs and my single source of pizza that didn’t have to be shared, there was also my possibly favorite of all: Scholastic book orders! Mini catalogs of books for a fraction of the bookstore price! Calvin and Hobbes for $4?! Ella Enchanted for $3? The latest Boxcar Children book? Must get them all! And then the day the book orders come in and the teacher hands them out, to be one of the Chosen (or rather, one with parents who willingly chipped in a couple bucks each month in anticipation of a few hours of quiet) . . . ahh, bliss.

  2. The scholastic book club flyers that came home each month were like Christmas! I remember taking the flyer home and carefully reading it, circling all the books I wanted, and begging my parents to give me money lol! I wish this was available now for adults!

  3. Yes! Yes! Yes! to the comments above about the Scholastic Book Orders! Those tissue paper thin pages held treasure galore! And narrowing down my list to what I was allowed to spend? Impossible! On another note, I rocked that Book-it challenge! Pretty sure my family got tired of hauling me to Pizza Hut to collect my prize! (I’ll allow for the fact that the closest Pizza Hut was 30 miles away… but totally worth it!)

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