10 books like An American Childhood

By Annie Dillard,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like An American Childhood. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

By Bill Bryson,

Book cover of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

The title might sound like fiction, but the Thunderbolt Kid is simply an imaginary superhero version of himself that Bryson created as a child. Mostly, this trope is used sparingly throughout the book, which is a memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s. Bryson brings plenty of humor to the work, as well as a wistful nostalgia for the era. He is roughly a decade older than me, but I identified greatly with his descriptions of the time period. Plus, he and I were both fans of The Roy Rogers Show on TV, though Bryson seems a little more put off than I was about how the show couldn’t seem to decide which century the characters were living in.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

By Bill Bryson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of our most beloved and bestselling authors, a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the 1950s.

Born in 1951 in the middle of the United States, Des Moines, Iowa, Bill Bryson is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24 carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generation, Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around the house wearing a jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel round his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings…


Eastern Sun, Winter Moon

By Gary Paulsen,

Book cover of Eastern Sun, Winter Moon: An Autobiographical Odyssey

Gary Paulsen is best known for his novels for young people, such as the popular Hatchet, but this R-rated memoir is aimed at an adult audience. Of my five recommendations, this one is far and away the most representative of the miseries of a dysfunctional childhood. Paulsen’s parents were both alcoholics, and his mother had affairs that she could have done a much better job of hiding from her young son. Somehow, despite the trauma (or maybe because of it), Paulsen emerged as a successful and extraordinarily prolific writer. For those of us with wonderful childhood memories, this book serves as a reminder that not everyone is so lucky.

Eastern Sun, Winter Moon

By Gary Paulsen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eastern Sun, Winter Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work describes the author's experiences as a child during World War II. Along with his mother, who is alternatively protective and selfishly neglectful, Paulsen travelled to the Philippines to live with his father, a distant and imperious army officer.


Morningstar

By Ann Hood,

Book cover of Morningstar: Growing Up with Books

I was a huge bookworm as a boy, so I identified greatly with Ann Hood’s memoir that focuses on her own love of reading, which she developed as a child growing up in Rhode Island. While I still enjoy reading as an adult, nothing matches the way I could lose myself in a Hardy Boys adventure or a Doctor Dolittle tale as a youngster. Hood captures this total-book-immersion experience as she recalls reading Little Women, one of the first books to whisk her away to a different world. The title of this memoir refers to another of Hood’s beloved books, Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk.

Morningstar

By Ann Hood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Morningstar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In her admired works of fiction, Ann Hood explores the transformative power of literature. Now, with warmth and honesty, Hood reveals the personal story behind these works of fiction.

Growing up in a household that didn't foster the love of literature, Hood channelled her imagination and curiosity by devouring The Bell Jar, Marjorie Morningstar, The Harrad Experiment and other works. These titles introduced her to topics that could not be discussed at home: desire, fear, sexuality and madness. Later, Johnny Got His Gun and The Grapes of Wrath influenced her political thinking and Dr. Zhivago and Les Miserables stoked her…


The Yearling

By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings,

Book cover of The Yearling

My only fiction pick, this classic novel set in Florida in the 1870s is about 12-year-old Jody Baxter and his friendship with a fawn. I became familiar with this coming-of-age tale in an unusual way. In seventh grade, I was on a school speech team, and one of the other kids competed in the storytelling competition using an excerpt from The Yearling. That excerpt included the moment when Jody’s father talks to him about becoming a man: “What’s he to do when he gits knocked down? Why, take it for his share and go on.” That phrase stuck with me, and was even more powerful years later when I read the novel in its entirety and learned all that Jody had gone through by the time he and his father reached that moment.

The Yearling

By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Yearling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Yearling is a novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings published in March 1938. It has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, French, Japanese, German, Italian, Russian and 22 other languages. It won the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel.
Rawlings's editor was Maxwell Perkins, who also worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and other literary luminaries. She had submitted several projects to Perkins for his review, and he rejected them all. He advised her to write about what she knew from her own life, and The Yearling was the result.


Lincoln in New Orleans

By Richard Campanella,

Book cover of Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History

As a teenager, Abraham Lincoln built a flatboat and floated down the Mississippi to New Orleans to sell the produce his family and neighbors had grown. This and a similar trip three years later were his only exposure to the Deep South. They immersed him in a culture of riverboat men that was archetypical of the era and included events that became part of the mythology surrounding him, an attack by runaway slaves that could have killed him, and his rescue of fellow boatman from drowning. Campanella is a university professor, tireless researcher, and excellent writer.

Lincoln in New Orleans

By Richard Campanella,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lincoln in New Orleans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1828, a teenaged Abraham Lincoln guided a flatboat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. The adventure marked his first visit to a major city and exposed him to the nation's largest slave marketplace. It also nearly cost him his life, in a nighttime attack in the Louisiana plantation country. That trip, and a second one in 1831, would form the two longest journeys of Lincoln's life, his only visits to the Deep South, and his foremost experience in a racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse urban environment.

Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in…


The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin,

Book cover of The Westing Game

The oldest book on my list, The Westing Game is a classic murder-mystery puzzle set just outside of the author’s hometown of Milwaukee. The story centers around the mysterious and eccentric Westing, who is found dead in his mansion. His will challenges sixteen locals to determine who caused his death to inherit his fortune. The contrast between the enticing Sunset Towers, where the characters stay, and the vacant and eerie Westing Estate next door provides a unique setting for this classic midwestern whodunnit.

The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Westing Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Newbery Medal Winner

"A supersharp mystery...confoundingly clever, and very funny." —Booklist, starred review

 

A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, on things for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

Winner of the Newbery Medal
Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award
An ALA Notable Book
 

 

"Great fun for those who enjoy illusion, word play, or sleight…


Negroland

By Margo Jefferson,

Book cover of Negroland: A Memoir

Margo Jefferson is one of the smartest humans on the planet and her memoir reflects that. She tells her story as intertwined with the story of her first cultural context—the Black elite of the 1950s, and the crisis of identity she experienced with the rise of the Black Power movement of the 1960s. She brings her critic’s sharp intelligence and wit to bear in every paragraph, but doesn’t hold back any of her heart. It’s a terrifically moving book and a masterpiece of personal/cultural criticism, full of elegance and nuance. 

Negroland

By Margo Jefferson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Negroland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The daughter of a successful paediatrician and a fashionable socialite, Margo Jefferson spent her childhood among Chicago's black elite. She calls this society 'Negroland': 'a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty'. With privilege came expectation. Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments - the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of post-racial America - Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions.


There Are No Children Here

By Alex Kotlowitz,

Book cover of There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America

Having lived in Chicago for more than a decade, this first-hand glimpse of two young boys growing up in the inner city changed my perspective and understanding of the realities of domestic urban poverty. A moving and powerful read, you can follow the journey after There are No Children Here in Kotlowitz’s follow-up story, An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago.

There Are No Children Here

By Alex Kotlowitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked There Are No Children Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A moving and powerful account by an acclaimed journalist that "informs the heart. [This] meticulous portrait of two boys in a Chicago housing project shows how much heroism is required to survive, let alone escape" (The New York Times).

"Alex Kotlowitz  joins the ranks of the important few writers on the  subiect of urban poverty."—Chicago Tribune

The story of two remarkable boys struggling to survive in Chicago's  Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex disfigured by crime and neglect.


Borrowed Finery

By Paula Fox,

Book cover of Borrowed Finery: A Memoir

Paula Fox, the late great novelist and revered children’s book author, wrote a wonderful memoir of effectively not having parents. Oh, Fox’s parents were around, but they were drunk, careless, and inattentive, often shuffling young Paula to and from locales as varied as Hollywood and pre-Revolutionary Cuba. Her parents are depicted in this memoir as both monstrous and sympathetic, providing aspiring memoirists with a model of artful ambivalence. The book is also filled with extraordinary walk-ons by Orson Welles, James Cagney, Stella Adler, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a beautiful book by one of the most effortlessly commanding writers this country has ever produced. (Full disclosure: As a twenty-eight-year-old greenhorn editor, I had the pleasure of line-editing this book, which wasn’t editing so much as polishing silver.)

Borrowed Finery

By Paula Fox,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Borrowed Finery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An astonishing, devastating memoir of a 1930s American childhood. A New York Times Best Book of 2001

Born in the 1920s to young, bohemian parents, Paula Fox was left at birth in a Manhattan orphanage. Rescued by her grandmother, Fox eventually landed with a gentle, poor minister in upstate New York. Uncle Elwood, as he came to be known, gave Paula a secure and loving home for many years, but her parents constantly re-surface. Her father is a good-looking, hard-drinking Hollywood screenwriter (among his credits is The Last Train to Madrid, which Graham Greene declared was 'the worst movie I…


The Disappearance of Childhood

By Neil Postman,

Book cover of The Disappearance of Childhood

Postman was a hugely erudite and witty writer. When I discovered this book in the 1990s, I was immediately convinced by his argument that our modern conception of ‘childhood’ is connected with the invention of the printing press … and with human progress over succeeding centuries. I was just as convinced by his concern that the recent explosion of screen-based culture would have profound effects on childhood and, indeed, on the quality of human thought. I’m therefore deeply honoured that Toxic Childhood is now on an ‘A’ Level Sociology syllabus alongside The Disappearance of Childhood – can’t believe that we’re sitting on the same shelf!   

The Disappearance of Childhood

By Neil Postman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Disappearance of Childhood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the vogue for nubile models to the explosion in the juvenile crime rate, this modern classic of social history and media traces the precipitous decline of childhood in America today−and the corresponding threat to the notion of adulthood.

Deftly marshaling a vast array of historical and demographic research, Neil Postman, author of Technopoly, suggests that childhood is a relatively recent invention, which came into being as the new medium of print imposed divisions between children and adults. But now these divisions are eroding under the barrage of television, which turns the adult secrets of sex and violence into popular…


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