As I was cleaning up the kids’ section of the bookstore I work at the other night, smiling at a few beloved, familiar novels, something that’s been on my mind a lot struck me.
I’ve been thinking about the way that some of the books you read as a kid stay with you, for years and years to come. Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but for the kids who read for hours and hours on hot summer days, the kids whose eyes light up when they skip into the library, the kids who walk out staggering under the weight of their treasured finds—the adults they become never truly forget the power, the magic, of stories.
Yeah, maybe now we’re too busy marathoning insert relevant show (and let’s be real: movies, comics, TV shows, video games, they’re all stories too, just in a different medium), going to work, or sleeping to find time to read books now, but we never forget the nostalgia of curling up with a good book.
I still remember the delightful weirdness of The Thorn Ogres of Hagwood by Robin Jarvis. I can barely recall the plot, but there was a certain, very distinct, very intense feeling that this book evoked in me, and I still vaguely remember something about hideous spider-like creatures, and violent battles. I don’t know if I’d have a similar experience rereading the book now, but my memory of this book sticks me in the chest like a pin when I think about how odd and funny and special it was.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis is another book that really struck me. The scene where the main character Bud has a pencil shoved up his nose, the scene where he backwashes half of his sandwich into a bottle of coke because he’s afraid his food will be taken away from him, the distinct and beautiful description of a woman humming…it was all so vivid to little me, and the unfairness of Bud’s experiences were difficult to stomach. I didn’t know how to respond except to keep reading, and hope that this little boy would find some ray of light at the conclusion of the story.
The first time I read Lois Lowry’s The Giver was one of the most intense reading experiences I can remember. My mom read it to me as she was putting me to bed, and I can remember just sobbing, inconsolable, when I learned the awful truth of what this society did to the elderly, the sick, and the unwanted. It was difficult for me, but it’s probably one of the most important stories I ever read as a kid, and I’ve reread it many times, as well as the later books in the series (but not the latest one yet! No spoilers!)
The Velveteen Rabbit is the very first book I can remember that had me in similar hysterics—my mom had to read it to me over and over to try to desensitize me before I went on a school fieldtrip to see it as a play in second grade. The awfulness of that little rabbit being taken away devastated me, and the bittersweet ending of the story barely soothed me.
The Word Eater was a fun read that made me consider big questions, questions that I still find myself asking as I fantasize about “easy-fix” solutions to the world’s major problems. The story is about a worm named Fip that eats words, and whatever thing that word symbolizes disappears, forever. It’s a deeply enticing concept, except of course everything in the story goes horribly wrong when kids start feeding words to the magical worm. The world falls into chaos when things start disappearing, and I think the book ends with Fip somehow un-eating the words, or losing its magic ability. Moral is: there are no easy solutions. It’s a tough lesson to swallow (ha). I still think about that worm, especially in these last two years.
Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series is very close to my heart, and I often find myself looking at her books on my bookshelf and wanting to reread from the beginning so I can finally get the latest additions to the series. These books are like a love letter to sci-fi and fantasy, written especially for kids who dream of finding some wonder in their world. I started these books in late elementary school, and reread the first few several times, so my memory of them is much clearer. The thing that strikes me most about these books is the utter depth of emotion and feeling—the incredible way Duane writes about life, love, and death with the highest stakes imaginable, with characters who are so painfully, perfectly human. And the world building? Marvelous, inventive, beyond belief. Gahhh, yeah, I need to get on rereading these books.
Out of guilt for leaving books out, I’ll just list a few more that were special to me: A Wrinkle in Time, Inkheart (which I read under my desk during fifth grade math lessons), Eragon, everything by Tamora Pierce, The Thief Lord, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, and one million more books that I will never have enough time or brainpower to remember and I’m so very terribly sorry.
As you have probably surmised by now, this post is a thinly-veiled excuse for me to gush about a small number of books that really stick in my memory whenever I think about the many, many, many books I read when I was younger. I wouldn’t be the writer I am, or the human I am, if not for my early love for reading.
I would love to hear what kids' books struck you in poignant ways—the scenes, characters, or just feelings from reading that you’ve carried with you through the years. Even if you don’t remember the title or author, I’m curious! How have these books helped define you as a person, or as a writer?
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.