Thursday, August 9, 2012

National Book Lovers' Day-- Most Influential Books of my Childhood

Happy National Book Lovers' Day!

I have recently been doing a lot of reflecting over what books have been most influential in my life.  Naturally, for someone who has a book addiction, this is quite a difficult task.

Recently as NPR held their survey for readers to vote on their top ten young adult books of all time, I found myself overwhelmed by the choices and went back to the list multiple times before voting.  NPR narrowed the list down to the top 100 teen books of all time.  Find the results of that vote here.

Although I am planning to use that list in my classroom, and I agree about many of the books on there, many of the books are recent releases that did not exist as I was growing up.

The following books and authors, in no particular order, are the books that were most influential for me as I grew up:

1. Anne of Green Gables (and the other books in the series) by L.M. Montgomery.  This series was perhaps the series that I read most frequently throughout my teenage years.  My grandmother and I read these books together and fell in love with the PBS mini-series that starred Megan Follows as this incorrigible young Anne.  We spent countless hours in the company of Anne, Marilla, and Matthew, reveling in the beauty of Prince Edward Island.  This experience was so special to me that when I had a chance many years later to choose any place in the world to visit with my mother, I chose this island.  My mother and I meandered through the forest behind the house with green gables that inspired the author.  We laughed together thinking of the adventures of Anne and cried together remembering my grandmother.  Anne Shirley is quite possibly the character that has influenced me the most throughout my life.

2. Adventures of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide.  This is not a well-known book, but it is one that my grandmother and I read over and over again throughout my childhood.  The story I loved best was "The Shrinking of Treehorn" in which Treehorn starts playing a board game that he received in the mail.  He is interrupted in the middle of the game and realizes that having moved backward on the game board has actually made him shrink.  He then goes through his day trying to get through tasks that have now become difficult for him, but very few people notice that he is now smaller.  I felt so bad for poor Treehorn and the trouble that he got into that wasn't his fault.  This book is influential not because of the content in the book, but because of the ritual that it had in my life.  This became the book that we always read together every time I went to Grandma's house.  I now have the book with an inscription from my grandmother in a special spot on my shelves.

3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.  I read this book in school.  I don't remember what kind of activities we did with it, but I do know that my teachers must have provided some supports for the complex concepts presented in this book.  I was lucky enough to go to an elementary school that was quite progressive for its time.  My teachers had lofts in their classrooms, they read aloud to us every day, and I had ample time for silent reading.  This book ignited my interest in fantasy and science fiction and helped me to feel good about being a girl that liked mathematics.  I went on to devour every book that Madeleine L'Engle wrote, fascinated by the characters and ideas about science that were infused throughout the books.

4. Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I was fascinated by the adventures of this family moving through the entire country to find a good place to live.  They lived in so many different types of houses in so many different settings.  Since I am from Wisconsin, I remember feeling fascinated while reading Little House in the Big Woods that this family had been here and that their life then was so different from mine.

5. Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.  These two girl sleuths jump-started a life-long love of mystery.  I eagerly hunted down copies of these books in used book stores and library sales.  Both girls came from families that were well-off and had things that I could never imagine having.  Yet, I wanted to be each of these sassy girls.  Trixie especially started a fascination with horses that continues to today.

6. Are you There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume.  I got this book when I was 9 years old.  I waited 2 hours in a line for the book to be signed.  Trembling with anticipation, I gave the book to Ms. Blume to be signed and she said, "Does your mom know you are getting this book? You are a little young to be reading it."  I remember this clearly because I felt so infuriated.  Of course it was okay with my mom.  She was here with me in line, wasn't she?  I don't remember what I said, but the point must have gotten across because I left with an autographed copy of this book.  I then went on to read it over and over and over again in the next few years.  I might have been younger than what the authors idea was of her readers, but I was ready for this book.  Being an early bloomer, I was happy to read about other girls going through some of the same things I was experiencing.  I still have this book in an honored spot on the shelf.

7. Agatha Christie.  My grandmother loved murder mysteries.  When I was old enough and ready for some great mysteries, she introduced me to Dame Agatha Christie.  I then proceeded to systematically read through her entire bibliography.  I fell in love with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple as I read about murders all over the world.  This reading ignited my obsession with murder mysteries.

8.  Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  This is the first book that made me sob.  I mean slobbering, gasping, uncontrollable crying.  It was the first book that I put down and thought about how  unfair life is.  Scarlett captured my heart and frustrated me and made me appreciate a truly complex character who really didn't know what she had and what she wanted.

9. Babysitter's Club books by Ann M. Martin.  I owned every single one of these books, including the special adventures.  I eagerly awaited the release of the new book and collected them and devoured them.  I loved reading about the adventures of these girls.  The idea that a group of girls could get together and make a business like this was inspiring.  Their relationships with each other, with the families they baby-sat for, and with their own families provided plenty of material for entertainment.  My love of this series taught me about being a reader with plans and watching the calendar for book releases.

10. Love Comes Softly (series) by Janette Oke.  This is a christian series about a family that moves west in the times of wagon trains.  These stories were uplifting and sweet.  This era in our history was a fascination for me and I loved reading about the struggles and triumphs of pioneer families.

11.Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.  My copy of this book was beat up, bent, tattered, and spilled on.  I went back to the silly poems again and again for laughs when I needed them.  I go back to the poems in this book now as a teacher as well when I need to infuse humor into my classroom.

12. The Diary of Anne Frank.  What better way to learn about the awful tragedy that was the Holocaust than to read this real-life diary.  I laughed, cringed, and cried with this book and walked around with a heavy heart for quite some time after putting this one down.

Watch in the coming days for a list of my all-time favorite books to include all the books that have stood out for me as an adult and as a teacher.  What are your most influential books?  Did some of them make the NPR list?

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