I was challenged by a couple of friends on Facebook to post 10 books that have stayed with me long after I put them down. Of course, I am entirely too wordy for Facebook as I feel the need to explain why these books are the ones that stayed with me over time. I also realize that this list is not just about books, it is about the people who introduced me to the worlds books create inside my head, and even about the authors who created those worlds in the first place.
You will notice that while many of these books are often read by adults and go far beyond their intended children’s lit or YA audience, they are all, in fact, books for kids. There is a line in “You’ve Got Mail” where Kathleen says, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” Agreed. I do read books for grownups, and I love many of them. But these … they have never left me. They have taught me that being brave and kind are probably the two most important things you can be, and that we are all ultimately flawed and all ultimately worth fighting for.
In no particular order, my 10 books are:
“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” – C.S. Lewis taught me that magic and entire worlds can exist in ordinary objects like wardrobes. He also helped me understand the sacrifice of Jesus, not always an easy thing for kids to grasp, through Aslan.
All of the Harry Potter books – I was a Harry Potter holdout for a long time. I didn’t care about the hype and didn’t read them or even watch any of the movies until a couple of years ago. Y’all … those were wasted years. Wasted, I tell you. J.K. Rowling is a genius storyteller and weaves plot details in that you don’t even notice until you pick the books again. And again. And maybe one more time. I love these books so much, I have a Gryffindor shirt and seriously considered buying a Marauder’s Map until I saw the price. (I am a fan, but I am not an idiot.) I also might just know which house I would be sorted into on Pottermore (Ravenclaw). The obsession. It is real.
The Percy Jackson series – I read this series when I was pregnant with my son and remember thinking that I wanted my son to be just like Percy. So far, so good. Here’s hoping. The books are fun and funny and, much like Harry Potter, teach lessons about bravery and friendship. THEN you read the author – Rick Riordan’s – story about how these books came about and you fall even harder for them. (link)
“The Giving Tree” – I have been a regular reader of the great Amalah for many years and, a few years before I had my own child, I remember reading this post and being amazed. Wait … what?! She is totally right, the tree IS the parent. As a child, of course I didn’t realize this fine detail; I just loved the book, even though I thought the boy was kind of a jerk. Then I read Amalah’s post and got it, then I had a child of my own and holy tree leaves, I really got it. I am the tree. I AM THE TREE! WAAHHHHH! For those who feel similarly about this book, this year is the 50th anniversary of “The Giving Tree” and the Shel Silverstein website has some really cool activities and lessons based around the book.
“From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” – E.L. Konigsburg’s story about a little girl who loves complications and runs away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her little brother, the tightwad. Hilarity, and a fantastic story, ensue.
“Scorpio Races” – Maggie Stiefvater is amazing. I love her words. I am consumed by them when I read them. She can say more about who a character is in one sentence than most people convey in hundreds of pages. She makes me want to write, more than anything.
From “Scorpio Races”
“This time of year, I live and breathe the beach. My cheeks feel raw with the wind throwing sand against them. My thighs sting from the friction of the saddle. My arms ache from holding up two thousand pounds of horse. I have forgotten what it is like to be warm and what a full night’s sleep feels like and what my name sounds like spoken instead of shouted across yards of sand.
I am so, so alive.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird” – This is possibly the only book I read in high school that I was supposed to read. I’ve always loved to read and have always hated being told what to do, so there you are. I missed out on a lot of classics because I was too stubborn. Harper Lee (or Truman Capote, depending on what story you believe) broke through my rebellion of classic literature by force and I love her for introducing me to the Tom Robinsons and Boo Radleys of the world. And the Atticus Finches, of course.
“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” – I found this book on an old bookcase on my grandparents’ screened-in porch, along with many other old hardbacks that belonged to my granddaddy. We read Tom Sawyer on the front porch swing together. We would sit and rock and shell peas fresh from his garden and laugh until we cried. That copy, which he got for Christmas in 1926, is my most prized possession and still has dried up pea hulls in its yellowed pages.
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” – Mark Twin is one of my literary and life heroes. He was smart, funny and just a little wicked. I want to be just like him when I grow up. Oh, and he was brave. So brave. THIS passage from Huck Finn …
“I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time; in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him agin in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell”- and tore it up.”
“Looking for Alaska” – Trying to choose my favorite John Green book is like asking me to choose between chocolate and peanut butter. I just don’t think I can do it. I chose this one because it was the first of his books that I read, and I If we are voting for class favorites like we did in high school, John Green gets my vote for the male favorite, with Maggie Stiefvater coming in as my favorite female. They are a somewhat unlikely pair, but both are equal parts nerdy and bad ass and way too cool for me to hang out with, not that they would ever make me feel that way. That’s just how they are. (I am assuming.) John Green writes about kids who are figuring out who they are and who they will become in the most real, thoughtful way. I want him to write more and more so I can read more and more of his words. Now I just have to decide if I want a Nerdfighter or Deathly Hallows tattoo, because my love for John Green rivals my love for Harry Potter. Maybe.
Honorable mentions go to all of the books read to me on the laps of my mother and granny, those read to me by my granddaddy while we paused during our walks in the woods, and those read to me by my father with his deep, rumbling voice. (I bet he doesn’t even know his voice rumbles. It does. I have been blessed to be raised by people with good reading voices.)
I just know that I will soon be adding another book to this list, and that is “The Envelope,” written by my friend John. It is a book written for grown-up type people, but I have a good feeling about it anyway. You should just go ahead and buy a copy, and also read his blog.
So, there is my list. I read like a 16-year-old girl. Or possibly a 10-year-old boy. I probably always will, and that is okay with me, because as much of a cynical adult I can be, those are the books that make me believe in magic.