Growing up, I was involved in a number of activities: karate, flute practice, ballet, day camp, etc. And I loved all of it, but nothing ever brought me as much joy as curling up in my favorite blue chair and with a good book. I’ve always had pretty great concentration, and an ability to tune out the world. Anyone who knows me knows that I can fall asleep anytime, anywhere. Maybe that’s why I took to reading. I was naturally able to fully immerse myself in whatever I was reading, to the point that I actually felt I was part of that world.
I can’t even count all the book series I read as a child: May Bird and the Ever After, Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, The Lightning Thief, A Wrinkle in Time, City of Ember, The Uglies, … Not to mention the stand-alone books I reread hundreds of times: Holes, The Outsiders, A Face First, So B. It, Becoming Naomi Leon, Half Magic, Hatchet, The Secret Garden, Code Orange, The Power of Un… the list doesn’t end.
These are the stories that shaped the person I am today. Books are like friends. Sometimes you come across the right one at just the right time.
This book is truly a treasure. Matilda Wormwood is a little girl that is kind and gentle and brilliant beyond her years, but most people in her life see her as a useless waste of space. For all the neglect she feels at home and the abuse she endures at school, Matilda has only one escape that no one could take from her: books. Reading taught her how to cook, how to take care of herself, about math and geography and science, and how to expand her mind beyond all limitations. That’s what I keyed right on in: the pure joy she found in completely losing herself to a story. Matilda was my bibliophile inspiration. I was only reading children’s books when I first read this. But Matilda was reading Hemingway and Twain, Bronte and Austen. I decided that if she could challenge herself, so could I. Thanks to the her, I found my love of Dickens and Doyle quite early. She is the one who taught me the true power of books, and what they can do. Teach you, grow you, transport you, and change you. Matilda gave me my love of reading, and I’ll always be grateful.
Paint the Wind
I never used to understand what it was about this book I loved so much. It doesn’t have particularly top-notch writing, I never had a massive childhood obsession with horses, and I didn’t really relate to any of the familial problems that are explored. Nonetheless, this is easily one of my most read books. Maybe it was the underlying theme… Maya grew up under the strict thumb of her grandmother. She constantly heard all about the wonders of her deceased father, but was never allowed to even utter the name of her deceased mother. After her grandmother suddenly dies, she is sent to live with her mother’s family at their horse ranch in Wyoming, where she discovers a family and home she never knew she had. There is a strong theme of leaving behind what’s familiar and comfortable, and discovering something new. As demonstrated in this story, that can be terrifying. My general take away from this little book was that if you’re willing to take a risk in life, you may be surprised at where you wind up. I never went through anything like Maya, but I think I always came back to this book hoping I had it in me to be brave, too.
Because of Winn-Dixie
This one hits very close to home. After too much time feeling alone and crazy, Opal Buloni came into my life. Being raised by a single father, I didn’t have anyone to teach me about fashion or makeup. Neither did Opal. We both went everywhere in ugly faded T-shirts with our frizzy hair in a bun, wishing we could look as well-dressed and beautiful as everyone else. Opal also had to deal with missing her mom. She too was left with a father that, in many ways, she felt responsible for. She was trying to take care of her father’s feelings, and sort through her own confusion and sadness… Having all these things clearly articulated and dealt with was so important for me. I wasn’t sure if I was handling anything the way I should, because no one else I knew was going through any of the same things. Opal helped me see that what I was feeling was normal, and that there was a healthy way to move forward. Because of Winn-Dixie changed my young life by giving me the exact kind of friend I needed, the same way Opal had Winn Dixie.
For those of you who have read this, feel free to enjoy my pre-pubescent musings on the Litmus Lozenge, straight from my 10 year old diary.
Bridge to Terabithia
Creativity. Imagination. Bravery. Confidence. This book truly had it all. There are a lot of people that criticize it as subscribing to the manic pixie dream girl troupe, but (thankfully) that aspect is not what struck me when I read this in fifth grade. Jess Aarons, the protagonist, was a depressed young boy who struggled to see the beauty in life. That is, until he met Leslie, a smart, artistic, and athletic young girl that is basically everything Jess wants to be. They form a close friendship and build their own imaginary kingdom in the forest. For me, Jess was always the unnecessary window to see Leslie. I was as enamored with her as Jess was. She was witty and imaginative, created an entire imaginary world, brought out the best in everyone around her, and was unafraid to stand up for herself. The line I loved was “Close your eyes, but keep your mind wide open”. It may seem simple, but I have always tried to remember that in everything I do. Whether it’s going to a new place, or hearing a new idea or opinion. Even though I didn’t fully grasp this at the time, I really appreciated how “grown-up” the author, Katherine Paterson, treated her young readers. She didn’t dumb her story down to fantasy and color. She trusted that, when put in the right context, young readers could handle issues of life and death, heaven and hell, and morality. This book had me thinking about big concepts very early in life.
There are two book series that didn’t impact my life the way the others did, but I loved them so much they are worth mentioning.
Peter and the Starcatchers Series
My favorite Disney stories were always Peter Pan and Marry Poppins. When I found a trilogy that acts as a prequel to Peter Pan, I had to get my hands on it. Peter and the Starcatchers is easily one of the best-written series of children’s books I’ve ever read. Similar to Bridge to Terabithia, it doesn’t hold its young audience back from issues like abuse, neglect, and murder. It’s actually quite dark, and so perfectly pulls off being a prequel. The explanations and scenarios that led to the modern story we know are intricate, clever, never feel forced, and make you choose to accept that this is 100% canon how the story of Peter and Wendy came about. All the characters are so loveable and brave, and the villains are vile but excellent. The books are a bit long, but young kids with a passion for reading will get sucked into the epic tale and wish they were longer, like I did.
Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events
I have a really love/hate relationship with this series, but it is an undeniably genius body of work that I have to mention. In terms of teasing and long stories, this is almost the Pretty Little Liars of children’s books. It is 13 books long (not including spin-offs and companion books), and each story weaves a tale more and more complex. This is a series that sucks you in like almost none of other. The complicated and interweaving relationships between the characters, the narrator (Lemony Snicket himself) that may be good or evil, the mysteries of VFD and the sugar bowl, the secrets of the Baudelaire and Olaf families… the mysteries and hints and deductions could literally spin on forever. It is a children’s book, but it forces the reader to work as hard as plenty of “adult” books I’ve read. The main characters may be kids, but they are incredibly likeable. The villains are still pretty scary and no one could ever find the plot to be thin or childlike.
Plus, despite my frustrations with the, plot I adored the quirky and unique style of writing. Here are a few gems:
- At times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough. and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.
- If you are a student you should always get a good nights sleep unless you have come to the good part of your book, and then you should stay up all night and let your schoolwork fall by the wayside, a phrase which means ‘flunk’.
- Taking one’s chances is like taking a bath, because sometimes you end up feeling comfortable and warm, and sometimes there is something terrible lurking around that you cannot see until it is too late and you can do nothing else but scream and cling to a plastic duck.
- Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.
- If an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well this isn’t too bad, I don’t have a left arm anymore but at least nobody will ever ask me if I’m left-handed or right-handed,” but most of us would say something more along the lines of, “Aaaaaa! My arm! My arm!”
- People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.
Tell me about your favorite and most life-changing books of all time!