I was one of those kids. You know the ones - who sit in the shade with their noses buried in books, when they're "supposed to be" racing their bikes up and down the street with the other neighbor kids. Or the ones who take books along with them to slumber parties. Or snuck one under the table when it was supposed to be family dinner time.
Pretty much nothing could yank my nose out of a book once I'd started reading. I was about eight or nine when I first remember becoming completely obsessed. It was via a copy of Little Women. I don't know if it was the whining little sister I identified with, or the dashing Laurie I already swooned over, but I have vivid memories of sitting in a corner and dropping tears on the pages of my mother's copy when Beth died.
Even as a child, I was a voracious reader, and so I needed more books - LOTS more books. At nine, Ramona was already a bit young for me, but I read all those. Then I plowed through Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret? But after that, for some reason, all I really remember reading was The Babysitter's Club (ad nauseum) and Sweet Valley High (though I never did like those girls.)
For a couple of years, for some reason, that was pretty much all I found. One bright shining spot was A Wrinkle in Time - oh, goodness, I think ten-year-old-me still has a girl crush on Meg Murry - and another less sparkly one is The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
By the fifth grade, I was getting pretty tired of EVEN MORE Babysitter's Club (obviously, I was never that fond of children.) But still, every once in awhile a book would come along, now for class reading, that would make me re-obsessed with reading. The Devil's Arithmetic and The Giver ignited my love for dystopian (yes, I know The Devil's Arithmetic is Holocaust, but still dystopian, no? Not trying to diminish it, obviously.), but when no more of those books for children could be dug up for me in the library, it was a huge bummer. I remember being so frustrated about having to pick up those serials again.
But somehow, just at the right moment, my fifth grade teacher got it. She knew I had to read and she knew it had to be something good. I'll never forget the day she handed me a copy of Jane Eyre.
I. Was. In. Love.
And it was about more than Jane and Mr. Rochester, although they remain my absolute favorites to this day. I could read grown-up books! And, even better, my teacher thought I was smart enough to read grown-up books! I read Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. I read Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion (oh, Captain Wentworth!) I tackled A Tale of Two Cities and The Count of Monte Cristo.
I was reading about love! And horror! And social politics! And corrupt government! And starcrossed love! And war! And revenge! It was absolutely amazing. (I thank God every day for that teacher) And even though it was all in grown-up books, I understood everything. I loved it. And I wanted more.
This experience of being a mildly precocious reader has left me with a couple of realizations as an adult:
Kids can read books written for adults, and they should be able to,
They shouldn't HAVE to.
When I look at my kids, I want them to be able to get their hands on books that are written for them, that feature protagonists with whom they can identify, but that are smart enough to challenge their hungry little minds. I want the books to take them to new worlds, make them believe in impossible things, and tug at their heartstrings. I want the books to acquaint them with sadness and fear, and tough situations. I want them to drop tears on the pages of a paperback (or reader screen) because the words on the page are so powerful that they've just had their little hearts broken.
In the book-publishing biz, we hear a lot of talk about what will sell. I guess that I wish, twenty years ago, there had been a lot less talk about what would sell and a lot more talk about what would do all that stuff I just said above. Maybe then there would have been more Middle Grade Count of Monte Cristo on the shelves in front of me, to balance out all the Babysitter's Club.
So. Today, I thought we'd do a bit of cheerleading.
Or, you know, copious cheerleading. I love cheerleading.
I, for one, am looking forward to hoarding some of my YA favorites for my kids to read. Here are my top three loves for that particular purpose right now:
Break by Hannah Moskowitz
Possession by Elana Johnson
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
All very different - Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Dystopian, Fantasy. Wildly divergent protagonists on all levels. Some have swearing, some have sex, all have kissing. All are multi-layered and ripe for wonder, excitement, discussion, and obsession. There's something about Hannah's books in particular that are dear to my mother's heart, because I can shove them in my kids' faces and say, "See? Teenagers can write important things, too."
Here's where my CPs come in. (of course!) We're all on the tough road to publishing, and some of us know that the books we're querying now might not make it (chv'sh ptuh ptuh ptuh). But I'll be darned if my kids aren't going to have the chance to read about conflicted Kelsey, spitfire Maggie (and dreamy Tommy,) brave Grey, smart Avery, stubborn Tam and Izuko, and schizophrenic Alex.
It is at this point that I take a moment to reflect on my gratitude for e-readers.
At the end of the day, I really don't care what sells. I want to pass stories about bravery, hope, and believing in oneself to my kids and all their cutie friends. Because even if they never get published by a Big Sixer, they're the stories I wish I could have had twenty years ago. Maybe, just maybe, one of them will make one of my kids fall in love with reading.
And I'm sure they'll never, ever forget it.
Your turn, sweet readers! What books made you fall in love with reading? Which ones do you wish were around when you were a young reader? And which ones are you looking forward to passing on to kids you know?