What childhood books changed your life?

Please use the comments section to answer this question:

What books from your childhood changed your life?

I already have a few answers from last week’s Children’s Book Week Giveaway and will add them to what you share here for a post later this week. Below are also some thoughts on this topic, slightly updated, that I wrote almost four years ago.

How Reading Changed Saved My Life

When I first saw Anna Quindlen’s slim book (an extended essay, really) in the library, I misread the title as How Reading Saved My Life. After reading the book, I believe that either title works, and I strongly recommend the book for all whose love of reading has sustained them or even perhaps saved them.

The most powerful parts of the book for me were the discussions of childhood reading. When her mother prodded her to go outside to play with her friends, Anna felt “the lure of what I knew instinctively was normal childhood… the promise of being what I knew instinctively was a normal child, one who lived, raucous, in the world.”

How many of us now adult writers felt, or were told explicitly, that “normal” children didn’t live with their heads in a book? Those other, less embarrassing children preferred to go outside, to play in the beautiful sunshine (or the snow or even the mud). They preferred to be around people who were real.

What Quindlen does so well is to redeem the lure of that comfy reading chair or floor or bed, the pleasure of the printed word. She suggests that readers stop feeling guilty for preferring, in the words of Laurie Helgoe, author of “The Revenge of the Introvert,” “the inner world of their own mind rather than the outer world of sociability.” Helgoe writes that introverts (and I suspect that most obsessive young readers are introverts, at least in part) would “rather find meaning than bliss.” Perhaps more to the point, they find their bliss in meaning through reading.

My Incomplete List

Quindlen gave me the precious gift of remembering the books from my own childhood that I devoured, books that were sweeter than the sticky candy my grandfather kept in his pocket and more eagerly anticipated than my mother’s most delicious dinners:

  • The Little House on the Prairie Series
  • The Hardy Boys Series
  • Anything by Stephen King, but especially his collection of short stories Night Shift, which I read and re-read late at night, purposefully scaring myself silly
  • Pippy Longstocking
  • Heidi
  • Little Women (what female writer didn’t identify with Jo?!)
  • A paperback titled The High House (or maybe just High House) that I remember adoring and re-reading several times, but that I can’t seem to find a copy of, nor can I remember the author
  • Star Trek fan fiction and episode adaptations
  • Not a book, but Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

Little HouseThose are only the titles that come immediately to mind; I could go on and on, as I’m sure you all could, too. Before reading How Reading Changed my Life, I may have been reluctant to share such a low-brow list, but Quindlen reminds us, “Show me a writer who says she was inspired by the great masters, and I’ll show you someone who is remembering it wrong, or the way she thinks the world wants it remembered.”

A Far, Far Better Thing

As I adult, of course, I have grown to enjoy many of the great masters. Reading A Tale of Two Cities in London a few summers ago, only blocks from one of Dickens’s residences, I felt a sense of community with the book’s world and characters and themes, a oneness that can be so frustratingly elusive in the here and now. Lest we think the experience is solipsistic, science now suggests that we may carry this socialization and empathy with us to the world outside the printed page.

Quindlen explains how reading makes us “less lonely” by offering a kind of comforting consistency and continuity, through “words that would always be the same, only the reader different each time, so that today, or next year, or a hundred years from now, someone could pick up A Tale of Two Cities, turn to the last page, and see that same final sentence, that coda that Dickens first offered readers in 1859: ‘It is a far, far better thing…’”

Book Love

I leave you with one last passage from How Reading Changed My Life that, I hope, will help you to put away any lingering doubts or shame you may still have about all those beautiful days “wasted” with your nose in a book:

“Reading has always been my home, my sustenance, my great invisible companion. ‘Book love,’ Trollope called it. ‘It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live.’ Yet of all the many things in which we recognize some universal comfort—God, sex, food, family, friends—reading seems to be the one in which the comfort is most undersung, at least publicly, although it was really all I thought of, or felt, when I was eating up book after book, running away from home while sitting in that chair, traveling around the world and yet never leaving the room. I did not read from a sense of superiority, or advancement, or even learning. I read because I loved it more than any other activity on earth.”

What books from your childhood changed (or even saved) your life?

7 thoughts on “What childhood books changed your life?

  1. I was a child reader, also. I had a supportive mom. She was glad to see me reading. I read that classic, Little Women. and Gone with the Wind, which was so long that I thought I’d never get through it. I saw the movie of Gone with the Wind a few years after. I like seeing movies after reading the books first. Blessings to you, Lisa…

  2. At first, I read to memorize and loved rhyming picture books like Dr. Seuss and Bill Peet. I can still recite some favorite passages, and I treasure those. Then came reading for information… inhaling whatever was at hand. I was not much drawn to literature, but in fifth grade I created my own quest: I would make a list of all the words that sound alike but are spelled differently. This quest led me to open unfamiliar books in search of new words. What I discovered were rich imaginary worlds and a tapestry of human emotion and motivation that made little sense to me in real life. I had found a key that unlocked yet another quest to understand others and their motivations. Some of the books that made an impression on me were: Watership Down, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, The Lord of the Rings

  3. Oh, A Wrinkle in Time! I loved that “love” was the one thing that could conquer IT. Other books . . . .

    All of the Walter Farley horse novels, of course. All of the “Little House” novels. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Jack London’s books. Black Beauty.

    Once I discovered Treasure Island and realized that classics could actually be fun to read, I started working my way through all of the authors and books in my “Authors” card game. Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, etc., etc.

    Oh, and just to finish out this trip down memory lane (thank you for the prompting!), I’d have to add all of the Nancy Drew novels and Bobbsey Twins novels (my grandfather had original editions published in the 1910s) and Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm tales.

    Sigh. Now I want to go read them all again. So many books, so little time 🙂

  4. I forgot The Swiss Family Robinson! I don’t know why that book so appealed to me. For partly the same reasons as the “Little House” books, I guess. I liked the resourceful, pioneering spirit of a family shipwrecked on an island. There was both adventure/danger and domesticity, as they had to create a home for themselves. And what a cool house it was! A multi-room tree house! The scariest part I can recall was when a boa constrictor ate the family’s donkey, squeezing it to death and swallowing it whole. (~shivers~)

  5. Those are all terrific additions! I asked the same question on Twitter and Facebook, and the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew came up there, too. I’m looking forward to posting the full list of responses. So many good reading memories…

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