Without a doubt, my first love happened to be books. A conversation last week made me think of what books I loved as a child and how they shaped the adult I became. Unfortunately, this list may date me. The funny thing is, there is no way I could limit it to just one book, one series, one period of my childhood and teenage years. Instead, I – and by extension you – will have to settle for categories.
Where the Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silverstein
This was the first book of poetry I ever owned, and I absolutely loved it. It still holds a special place in my heart.
Favorite Children’s Authors –
All of Roald Dahl’s books were in vogue with elementary school teachers throughout my childhood, and frankly, elementary school would not have been the same without James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, among others. Some of my favorite elementary school memories are tied to his books. My first grade teacher read James and the Giant Peach, and none of us could get enough. Even in 5th and 6th grades, the best part of the school day hands down happened to be the half hour after lunch recess when teachers would read to us. I even know a certain 5th grade teacher who can fake out her students with The Witches.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
The popularity of the TV show, even in reruns, during my early elementary school years ensured that I would discover The Little House on the Prairie series eventually, but my 2nd second grade teacher read The Little House in the Big Woods to our class. I couldn’t get enough.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work is at least part of the reason why I write. I reread all of The Little House on the Prairie books as an adult, including Farmer Boy and The First Four Years. I also read collections of her essays and letters, including West from Home. Reading even more of her work made me admire her even more.
Favorite Series –
Anne of Green Gables
I read and loved all of the Anne of Green Gables books. They captured my imagination as few others. Anne reinforced my love of strong female protagonists.
Little House on the Prairie
I discovered Nancy Drew early in elementary school thanks to my Grandma who let me borrow her collection. Once I read all of the traditional Nancy Drew novels, I started on the new series. I could not get enough. Unfortunately, I loved Nancy Drew so much that I burned out on mysteries. I tried getting into the Kinsey Millhone mystery series by Sue Grafton as a young teenager, but soon became bored, even though I loved Kinsey.
Choose Your Own Adventure
These books were not great children’s literature, but they were entertaining. I could not rest until I read every single version of the story.
Favorite Classics –
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
I read this book the summer after 8th grade. It took me most of the summer, but I lost myself in Civil War era Atlanta and Tara. It was the perfect antidote to an 8th grade English teacher who spent most of the year on short stories more appropriate for younger students, along with spelling and grammar.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
It saddens me that I didn’t love this novel more when I read it in 10th grade. I am grateful that I reread it for book club as an adult. It deserves its revered place in American literature.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Another book read as part of the 10th grade English curriculum, this is one that stayed with me long after high school. Never underestimate teenagers. Never.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Even though this isn’t an Oprah Book Club pick, I associate it with that era in my life. I used to rush home from school to watch Oprah, and her book club influenced what I read in my later high school years. There are many school of thoughts as to whether or not this novel should be taught to teenagers. I understand both sides, but I did love it. I am glad that teenagers can find it even if it isn’t taught.
Edgar Allen Poe
I swear I came across one or two of Poe’s stories in an ancient collection of spooky stories in my elementary school library. I question the memory simply due to the fact that it was an elementary school library. Then again, the book itself was so old that it could have possibly dated from when there was a high school at the same location. I like to think that I really did come across Poe in elementary school, and that it was his short stories that fed my love of ghost stories. I have no idea why today’s high school students hate studying Poe – and they do. I loved it.
Favorite Historical Fiction –
Christy and Julie by Catherine Marshall
These books introduced me to historical fiction, the Cumberland Gap, and Appalachia. I loved them, even if I probably wouldn’t pick them up now. They did spark my love of historical fiction.
Honorable Mentions –
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and Let the Circle Be Unbroken by Mildred D. Taylor
These books, depicting racism in the segregated South, made me recognize just how much I took my life for granted. The children in these books faced so many obstacles on a daily basis just to get to school.
Randall’s Wall by Carol Fenner
The book itself isn’t all that remarkable, even though it does have a good anti-bullying message. The reason I included it is due to its author. As part of a young writer’s club in elementary school, I had the opportunity to meet her. I even had her sign my copy of the book, and I almost missed the bus. Another favorite elementary school memory tied to books, reading, and writing.
The Cay by Theodore Taylor
My Mom taught this novella as part of the 6th grade social studies curriculum. She also happened to be my 6th grade social studies teacher. She was the first teacher I had that used literature to teach social studies. As a future social studies teacher, I plan to do the same. My Mom may not know this, but she is largely responsible for my interest in teaching social studies and Latin America in general. Recently I saw 6th graders carrying around The Cay; it is still taught nearly 25 years later.