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Beloved books that transformed readers

Beth Scalise of Floral Park read

Beth Scalise of Floral Park read "The Shell Seekers" on the recommendation of her mother, Audrey McHale (pictured with grandkids). Scalise later shared "The World of Rosamunde Pilcher" with her mother. Credit: Audrey C. Tiernan

We called for readers to name a single book that's a clear favorite. There was no question it would be a difficult task for some, who love books the way they love children -- embracing and treasuring them no matter what their age or appearance.

Some readers did offer the name of just one book and often, it was a tome with sentimental roots from childhood, introduced by a loving mom, dad or influential teacher.

Some works, like the No. 1 choice of Massapequa Park's Jane Bavoso, provide a personal connection that no bookstore bestseller could impart.

From children's poems and stories with lessons, enchanting prose that transports us to far away places, or heart-tugging tales that keep us closer to home, books continue to have an impact on our lives.

Here, in letters edited for space, readers share the books so special to them.

-- Gwen Young, Act 2 Editor


I read "The Shell Seekers" by Rosamunde Pilcher many years ago. I love the story but remember it also for the beautiful description of the countryside. It was recommended to me by my mother. After we read it, we discussed it. I guess you could say it was my first book club.

Years later, I found "The World of Rosamunde Pilcher," an illustrated, full-color book of descriptions of the views and places in her books. I gave it to my mother with the inscription:

1996 Dear Mom, To thank you for giving me my love of reading, love of life and love of God. Love Beth.

Beth Scalise, Floral Park


When I was very young, I devoured the Nancy Drew books, trying my best to solve the mystery before Nancy did. Then I discovered "Gone With The Wind" and although I admired Scarlett for her heroism and courage, I also loathed her for her treatment of Rhett, my hero.

For the past 10 years I have been a member of a book club. It has given me the opportunity to discover books I would never have known about or attempted to read. It has really widened my field of literature.

But of all the books I have read and loved over my lifetime, my favorite is a little known coffee table book titled "Island Point of View," created and compiled by an unknown photographer, my late husband, Joe.

Joe taught me to see the beauty of nature through the lens of a camera. He filled his book with pictures he took, from Montauk Point to Brooklyn, and lots of places in between.

He was always amazed when people revealed that they had never been to the East End of Long Island, in his opinion one of the most beautiful spots on earth.

We traveled together, always with his camera in tow, to the lighthouses and to the vineyards. His close-up pictures of flowers we came across on our many journeys are amazing. He often captured the monarch butterfly landing gently, or the busy bee drinking nectar from a sunflower. He was able to see the grace of rolling waves along the beach, his lens finding a lone fisherman at dawn. The innocence of water bubbling over colored rocks caught his keen eye, and he waited patiently each day for the beauty of a sunrise and sunset on our trips out east.

His favorite bridge was in Brooklyn, where he was born. He made many trips to that venerable structure taking shots from all different angles.

The simplicity in his pictures make them almost extraordinary; from an American flag photo reflected through an old glass window on the North Fork; to a long wooden staircase surrounded by Montauk daisies leading down to the beach.

Joe thought we lived in the most amazing place. His intention was to get into his photography full swing after retirement from his real job. Joe was a marketing vice president and so "Island Point of View" came to be. He handed them out freely to friends and family and mailed many to various restaurants around the Island. His intention was to have pictures of Long Island hung on walls of restaurants -- especially the ones that were located on the water.

Joe never got to see his dream come true, but I and many others enjoy the beauty he saw every day in the world around us in his gift of this book. It tells its own story and reminds us to keep a keen eye out for the beauty that surrounds us every day. Especially on this island we call home.

Jane Bavoso, Massapequa Park


When I saw your call for submissions about one's favorite reading item, I knew I had to share my love of the childhood story, "Mary Lou Liked Coconut." with you. It comes from an obscure book housing a collection of short bedtime stories for young children, all written by Lillian Boyer Pennington.

With yellowed and cracked pages, the book is still a priceless gem to me, mostly because it recalls serene childhood memories of my mom sitting on the edge of the bed, reading to me before I fell asleep each night.

The story's plot is quite simple, but its lesson profound. The little girl, Mary Lou, likes coconut in any form and with any other food. After dreamily wishing for an endless supply of coconut, Mary Lou finally saves enough pennies to buy her own box of coconut. She hurries with her prized possession, finds a spot on the roadside curb, and devours the box's content in minutes. That's when the sweet indulgence turns into sour sickness.

Suddenly the coconut at the bottom of the box does not taste as good as the coconut at the top. Even Mary Lou realizes her ultimate greed and senseless need for excess. Like so many of us, she spoiled a good thing by wanting more than she needed. Her mom comes to the rescue. With a spoonful of awful tasting medicine, she washes away the now-dreadful taste of coconut. Soon, Mary Lou's taste buds return to normal, as does her consumption of coconut. In fact, she learns to eat coconut "just like a lady" -- with restraint and in moderation.

This worn and tattered book now sits among my collection of treasured literary works. It is the only book from my childhood that somehow remained with me after college, marriage, several moves, and four children -- none of whom find comfort in the story the way I do. The price on the cover says 79 cents with a markdown to 69 cents -- mere pennies for a priceless lifelong lesson in truly understanding that "less is always more."

Janine Logan, Babylon


The day of my 10th birthday, my father tiptoed into my bedroom and placed a gift-wrapped package at the foot of my bed, then turned and left the room. He didn't know that I was awake. In the wee hours of the morning, as the sun was just coming up, I lay on my stomach with my hands in my chin and began reading "Nobody's Boy," by Hector Malot.

I read, and I couldn't put it down. It was summer -- no school -- so I read until it was time for breakfast. "Nobody's Boy," translated from the French, is a classic in French literature, but no one I know has ever read it. The companion, "Nobody's Girl," is my other literary favorite. Both books are about children with no families and they tell of their trials, adventures and hardships growing up without parents who love them. The language is poetic, touching and visual. The endings still make me cry. They're out of print, and my worn, torn copies, 1929 and 1930 editions, are too battered to have worth for anyone other than for me. I just started "Nobody's Boy" again this morning after seeing Newsday's call for classic favorites. Thank you for the motivation to revisit my favorite books.

Sheila N. Eisinger, St. James


It only took three seconds for me to pick what I regard as my favorite book. It is a threadbare copy of "The Singing World" which I have kept since childhood and treasured all my life. I am 80, so that is a long time to hang on to one book. Louis Untermeyer collected a marvelous compilation of poems for children. I don't know where I got this wonderful book, but I've had it since I was about 7 or 8 years old. I particularly relished the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson, and memorized the shortest ones. Knowing that he had to get up by yellow candlelight, but go to bed while the birds still sang in the trees in summertime, seemed sad to me. He was the sick little boy confined to his bed, who played with his toys on his coverlet.

The idea of "the fog comes in on little cat feet," as described by Carl Sandburg, fascinated me. I was introduced to "Father William" by Lewis Carroll and memorized the charming "The Children's Hour" by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, a father who plainly delighted in his little girls.

Untermeyer himself wrote many poems, which he included, even as he collected the work of others. The list of poets in that book is amazing. I read Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Christopher Morley, Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, Mr. Anonymous and many others. None of the poems were too long for a young child to appreciate, and I had many favorites. There were fairies, animals, tall tales and ballads. Poems referred to fools, legends, lullabies and heroism. I read about fantasies, open roads, and common things. I was introduced to far off places and the world around us. My love for the written word was nourished and enhanced by my friendly book of poems. Returning after a long absence from my book in order to write about it, I made new discoveries and met old friends. I happily realized that I still had a young mind and an open heart.

Geraldine Ossana, Holbrook


A few books resonate for me. I have two copies of each, one for the house and one for the car.

Each has had multiple readings over the years and continues to make me smile.

"The Big Sleep," by Raymond Chandler. His use of language and imagery drips from the page. A single word can speak volumes, such as the use of durable to describe a woman. His prose concerning the orchid house reeks with imagery. The language leaps off the page. My copy has notes in several colors and the pages are worn.

"Fight Club," by Chuck Palahniuk. A modern work for modern times. I found many parallels to the book after superstorm Sandy ruined my house. "After the first month, I didn't miss television." I return to this book for its uplifting message and deviation from materialism. Palahniuk makes me laugh over and over with his astute observations and stinging wit. I have three copies of this one.

"The Maltese Falcon," by Dashiell Hammett. For many of the same reasons I enjoy Chandler's book, I return to this one. The language, the time forgotten, and the characters all come to life with each reading.

"Double Indemnity," by James M. Cain. Snappy dialogue. Sharp dressers. Bad people. I would like to get a drink with these people, but I would never want them to know where I live.

Brian McHale, Boston


The first time I read "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster, it was 2001 and I was in the fifth grade. I was immediately transported to the same strange lands that Milo (the main character) is sent to. His experiences became mine and his friends became my friends as well. As I have gotten older those experiences and friends have become a permanent part of me. Something about this book has stuck with me for the last 12 years. I have given copies to many friends, read it aloud to whomever will listen, and have purchased many replacement copies for myself. When the 50th anniversary came about I bought a paperback copy with a 50th anniversary seal, the annotated version and a companion book. At one point I wrote to Norton Juster to tell him about my experience with his book, and to my surprise and pleasure he wrote back to me.

"The Phantom Tollbooth" is also a family favorite. Our love for this book goes so far that we have inside jokes based on situations and quotes from the book. There is just something about this book that makes it timeless. There is at least one copy on every bookshelf I have, some well worn, some in mint condition. It is also the only book I have purchased in digital form. It's the perfect book to read at any stage in life; it will change you as a reader!

Leanne Calderone, Selden


My favorite book is "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." I was in the ninth grade, and my English teacher, Mr. Wasserman, assigned each student a different book to read.

There were two libraries in my area of Brooklyn, and after going to each to find the book, I was disappointed to find none available. My mother suggested I ask Mr. Wasserman to assign another book. However, he insisted that was the one I was to read, and I was very angry at him.

My mother then started calling every library in Brooklyn, One had a copy, but it was far, and we didn't have a car. She asked the librarian to hold the book. We had to take three buses to get there, which took about an hour.

After reading this wonderful book, I understood why Mr. Wasserman wouldn't change it. That book began my journey into the fabulous joy of reading, and I have never stopped. I read constantly and though the books are not always as good as "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", I love this teacher for inspiring me to develop this great hobby!

Anita Nowak, East Meadow


It was just before summer vacation at the end of third grade when my teacher distributed library discards to the students. My Italian immigrant family did not have many books at home, and I was overjoyed to have a book of my own -- albeit with frayed corners, smudged cover and a few torn pages. The book was "Tales from the Arabian Nights" and it was truly an "Open Sesame" for me to the world of books.

I treasured that old book as those tales from the Arabian Nights carried me to magical faraway lands of Persia, Arabia and Egypt. The characters with the unusual names of Aladdin, Sinbad and Ali Baba -- and even his 40 thieves -- became my fantasy best friends that summer. Most of the illustrations were pen and ink sketches with just a few colorful pages included to enhance my imagination.

Years later, as a university student, I was required to read other tales: Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" and Boccaccio's "The Decameron" (in Italian). Somehow those stories did not have the same impact on me as my beloved old book. That book is long gone but the memories are vivid.

I was determined to introduce my favorite characters to my children, grandchildren and my students and so I enjoyed those tales over and over again. The Genie in Aladdin's lamp surely did its magic for me and made me an avid reader. That discarded library book was really a prize and an unforgettable part of my childhood.

Florence Gatto, Bellmore


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