Don’t worry. Ulysses is hidden among stacks of books in my bookcase, and I have no intention of pulling it out. Instead, I want to take a moment to look a bit closer at two of my very favorite childhood stories – The Nuns Go West by Jonathan Routh and The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer.

I had already dabbled a bit in this exercise before, attempting to gain some insight about overarching themes that might have been shaping my life from its very beginnings – especially as I look ahead and attempt to make decisions that are true to myself.

I had hoped that looking into selections I made and stories I loved before I became conscious of words like “potential, “career,” or even the more terrifying “will of God” (that is so often used as an admonition/threat/justification around these parts) would help me reach into that sort of primal self and reveal something I had forgotten or overlooked. I won’t go into all that here, but some of the insight I gained, I think, is relevant to my exploration on this blog.

The Nuns Go West is a story I checked out of the library so many times it might as well have been mine.

The gist of the story is that a fun-loving group of seven nuns head out West on the back of an elephant and have adventures: including meeting Eskimos who play pianos, dancing in saloons (scandalous!), and dancing around a totem pole with a group of Indians they meet on their journey.

One curious detail is that the nuns do not have facial features. I remember there being a reason for this, outlined by the author in one of those superfluous pages at the beginning or the end, but I don’t remember what the reason was.

My other favorite is The Three Robbers. Basically, three robbers live their lives pillaging and terrorizing villagers with their three weapons of choice: a blunderbuss, a pepper blower and a huge red axe. As a result of their dark exploits, they manage to gather a large fortune’s worth of loot.

One night, they intercept a carriage in which the young orphan Tiffany is on her way to live with a wicked aunt. They kidnap her and take her back to their lair, much to the delight of Tiffany.

When Tiffany discovers the large fortune amassed by the three robbers, she asks a simple question – “What are you going to do with this?” to which the robbers had no answer. In the end, because they have grown to love Tiffany as a daughter, they purchase a castle with their gold and open a foster home for young children.

In the beginning, I had not looked into these stories with the hope of discovering anything about the female aspect of my identity; however, it was in regards to the female aspect that I gained the most insight. The deeper I peer into the many questions I have, the clearer it becomes to me that many of them originate in this attempt to reconcile this aspect of my identity with my comprehensive self.

Anyhow, I discovered in these books two sets of really inspiring female characters – the adventurous nuns who seem to act in sheer opposition to convention and the inquisitive Tiffany who, with a single question and her absolute fearlessness, manages to change evil into good.

What are your favorite childhood story books? Looking back at them as an adult, have you gained any interesting insights into what inspires or motivates you?

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