>Today my youngest daughter (sick home from school) snuggled up on the couch to read Ruth McNally Barshaw’s Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen Will Travel for about the millionth time. I had the thought that when she is an adult, that book, and its follow-up Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School which she has read just as many times, will definitely be on the list of books she remembers as influencing her life. It made me think about my own long list of influential books – not the books that are toted on listservs and in children’s lit classes as the ‘classics’ (although many of mine may very well be on those lists too) – but the books that I remember so vividly it could have been yesterday that I read them.
Here’s my list in a timeline of sorts:
My earliest memories of books include Julius Lester’s retelling of the Uncle Remus’/Adventures of Brer Rabbit, Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, and a book with squirrels in a tree that I can’t remember the title of, but can still see the illustrations in my mind.
As I moved into being a reader, I enjoyed books like E. L. Konigsburg’s From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (which I also couldn’t remember the title of for the longest time, but the images I had created in my mind when reading this were so vivid; when I described to a friend a few years ago how I’d read this book about running away and hiding out in a museum, she knew exactly what book I was referring too!), Betty MacDonald’s Miss Piggle Wiggle books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House Books, Hitchcock’s Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Series, Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew Mysteries, Frank Dixon’s Hardy Boys Mysteries ( and the TV show too; who couldn’t resist Shaun Cassidy as Joe Hardy?) and Eleanor Cameron’s Mushroom Planet series. The Mushroom Planet books introduced me to sci-fi fantasy and I remember reading Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time soon afterwards, followed by A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
The first ‘big’ novel I read was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women when I was in fourth grade. My mom had a bookshelf full of classics and I still remember the beautiful binding on this book. It was around this time that I also started pilfering my grandparents’ bookshelf when we’d spend summers at their house on Hoods Canal in Union, WA. My grandma read mysteries and gothics and I think I read every single Dorothy Daniels book and Phyllis A Whitney book out there.
As a teen, YA wasn’t real marketable like it is now, so I had few teen books to choose from. I read some Judy Blume and stuff like Goodbye Paper Doll by Anne Snyder and Blind Sunday by Jessica Evans, but mostly I was reading ‘adult’ books by now. I remember Christmas in fifth grade we were at my aunt’s house in Arcadia, CA. She gave me a Stephen King box set with Night Shift, The Shining, Salem’s Lot and I think Carrie. I of course started with Salem’s Lot late one night while sleeping on her couch in the living room. Her radiator hissed like a vampire every time it came on, freaked me out so bad I could not sleep, but I didn’t put that book down. I finished it by the next night and started right in on The Shining!
Around seventh grade, I began reading classics like George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’urbervilles and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Around the same time I discovered Jane Austen, reading everything she wrote over and over (still do!), and Mark Twain, as well as Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and Knowles’ A Separate Peace.
This list could go on forever – I read non-stop growing up, and there are thousands of authors and probably a million books and short stories I’ve left out. But what I have listed represents what always comes to mind first when I think about growing up. I can’t wait to fast-forward twenty years and hear what my kids list off as their literary repertoire.
In the meantime, what’s yours?