My Favorite Childhood Book

A few days ago I was going through some old photos when I came across this image of my mother and me taken in our apartment in Kyiv. I must have been 5-6 years old and I still remember this photo session. My father’s friend Petya, a professional photographer, came over to take photos of our family and had us pose in different ways. For some reason, I didn’t like posing the way Petya suggested, so my mother gave me a book and the result was this photograph.

The moment I picked up the photo, I could imagine the heft of that book, its shiny green cover and the colorful drawings of plants. I recalled that it was a book of medicinal plants. It used to be one of my favorite books to leaf through, and  when I learned to read, to lose myself in its descriptions of plants, their aromas and healing properties. The more I thought about the book, the more my later fascination with flowers and fragrances made sense.

Yet, what was this volume? The photograph was too blurry to make out the authors’ names, but a Google search “Soviet medicinal plants book” came up with an answer–The Atlas of Medicinal Plants by Ya. Matsku and I. Kreicha, [in Russian], Izd. Siovatskoi Akad. Nauk (1981). It was a Slovak publication translated into Russian and published in Moscow.

The book has long been out of print, although in Ukraine one can still find a number of used copies. So far I haven’t been successful in obtaining one, the wartime situation and international shipping being problematic, but the search led me down other paths to find an antique book shop in Estonia where I discovered a vintage gem called Essay About The Life of Plants by O. Shmel. Published in 1909, the book contains stories about different medicinal and decorative plants. Reading it reminded me why I have always found botany to be interesting and why I even contemplated a career in the field. It also made me realize how strongly our childhood predilections shape us and our choices.

What books did you enjoy as a child?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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23 Comments

  • Hélène: Dear Victoria,

    How beautifully said and how true. It was such a pleausure to read these lines.

    Thank you🌷

    Hélène May 16, 2023 at 10:09am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Hélène. May 16, 2023 at 2:53pm Reply

  • joan ramirez: Adorable photo and a good choice. My beloved WWII hero uncle was a chemist and he instilled in me a love of discovery regarding all things to do with scents, formulas, and medicines that heal. May 16, 2023 at 10:35am Reply

    • Victoria: We are definitely shaped a lot by what we experience as children. May 16, 2023 at 2:53pm Reply

  • Gabriela: What a beautiful moment. You must treasure it. I do not remember a specific book but I do remember my parents library at home. I found treasures from my revolutionary father: Che Guevara’s diaries, Lawrence De Arabia and many more. Aa for love of scents, it wasn’t in a book. It was my grandmother who loved perfume and always had a cotton ball filled with perfume under her bra. Happy memories. May 16, 2023 at 10:57am Reply

    • Victoria: They are, aren’t they. May 16, 2023 at 2:53pm Reply

  • Ann: What a beautiful recollection, Victoria. So very true about our childhood predilections. I’m reminded of a lyric from a Disney Princess Movie of all places, “when you find out who you are, you’ll find out what you need”. May 16, 2023 at 12:41pm Reply

  • Bruno: Such a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing this memory. May 16, 2023 at 1:02pm Reply

  • Michele O. Brown: Michele: What a beautiful picture of you and your Mom. You were both so gorgeous in that pic. I have one of my Mom and me similar to that but no book. She was a prolific reader, as am I. Plant books came later when I began my own home. My all time favorite book was Walter Farley’s book “The Black Stallion” w/illustrations. I still have my copy from childhood. I was and am still a lover of horses…all breeds and especially the mustangs of the American west. Wish they made a perfume that gave the image of riding with the scent of the wind and wildflowers, plants and the horse. What an experience that would be. Thank you for reminding us of our childhood pleasures and memories. Stay well. Always prayers for Ukraine 🙏🌻 May 16, 2023 at 2:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: This is such a lovely memory. Thank you for sharing, Michele.

      I know many horse-lovers who wish that there were a perfume reminiscent of horses. While there are a few scents that claim to evoke horse riding, I don’t think that they even come close. May 16, 2023 at 2:52pm Reply

      • Meredith A Russell: My scent memory of looking for sheep or cows on my family ranch in mid June- Riding horses across a high rocky ridge, odors of sage brush, juniper trees and petrichor after a brief thundershower, dropping down to a grassy meadow with phlox and wild roses blooming, splashing through the boggy little stream lined on both sides with wild mint, then climbing up again, through wild raspberry bushes into the lodge pole pine forest, where the resin of individual trees has the scent of vanilla, chocolate, or, sometimes, regular old piney resin. With the well oiled leather heating up in the sunshine, the sweet horsey sweat smell, as well as human sunscreen, and the foreign plant scents that repell mosquitoes in the Rockies, the mentholated resin of lemon eucalyptus and the tangy, bitter geraniol from geranium leaves as a base to all of it! Seems like someone could do something with that list of notes… May 17, 2023 at 10:09am Reply

  • Marty M: I have such strong memories of reading Ivanhoe when I was a child. The story of the knights I found really captivating. I also rememeber Billy Bunter and the Famous Five books. I devoured a childrens encyclopedia too! Thanks for your memories. May 16, 2023 at 6:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: Such nice memories. I still love encyclopedias. May 17, 2023 at 4:37am Reply

  • Kimberly: What a lovely picture of you, Victoria. I’m sure it is a special memory. I liked reading the Black Stallion series and Misty of Chincoteague. Also my Grandfather was a painter and he had several wallpaper books. I loved looking through those and seeing all the different beautiful patterns and feeling the textures. May 16, 2023 at 6:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: How nice! My grandmother had a book of knitting patterns and I remember enjoying browsing through it. May 17, 2023 at 4:37am Reply

  • Maria: One Thousand Beautiful Things: a grown-up book I pulled down from the bookshelf when I was about 9 years old. Published in the 1940s: quotes, essays, poems, meanderings about beauty, life, art. And yes! That book and I are still together, and both of us old and tattered now. I instantly bonded with that book: the stories, the use of language, the thoughts. May 17, 2023 at 4:34am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s so wonderful that you still have this book. May 17, 2023 at 4:38am Reply

  • Maria: Also the books about collies by Albert Payson Terhune from the mid 1900s. I just remembered that both these books and One Thousand Beautiful Things were my sister’s. I can “see” her name written in them. She was 13 years older than I. Love of art/literature and dogs! We shared this. She died too young 30 years ago. I see now what we had in common and how lucky I was to have that big sister. Thank you for setting the landscape that lead me to these memories and discoveries. May 17, 2023 at 4:42am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m sorry that you lost your sister. It’s even more precious that you have these mementos of her. May 17, 2023 at 6:34am Reply

      • Maria: I think you are one of the kindest and most thoughtful humans on this beautiful earth.
        Thank you,
        Maria May 19, 2023 at 9:36am Reply

  • carole: I share Maria’s thoughts-thank you for this corner of the internet.

    I loved reading books as a child. I’d read almost anything. A teacher recommnded Are You There God-It’s me, Margaret. I loathed it! SO I read what ever was on the bookshelf at home-so the next novel was Graham Green’s The comedianslol. I was eight. Recently I re read Heidi, which I loved as a child. Little Women. Little Men, and Jo’s Boys-loved all of those. It’s the act of reading, for me-doesn’t matter if I love it or not-it has the effect of smoothing out my thoughts. I’m re reading The Untouchable, by John Banville-I read it annually and enjoy it more and more as I get older.

    Best regards,

    Carole May 26, 2023 at 1:30pm Reply

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