A few weeks ago, I saw this on Pauline Ross’s blog (she originally got it from I Read Encyclopedias For Fun). The prompt was timely; I host a twice-monthly activity for the 8-11 year old girls from my church, and at the same time I was planning an activity that’s always a favorite: the girls are invited to bring a favorite book to share, and we spend an hour talking about books and our favorite characters and the things we love about them. One little girl said, “I don’t like to read, I like math,” so I found this book in my older son’s room: One Two Three… Infinity, by George Gamow. She was so excited to realize there are books about math that aren’t just math textbooks, and while the other girls were drawing portrait galleries of their favorite characters, she copied equations and diagrams out of this book. That was awesome.
Another great thing about this activity is it gave me an excuse to haul out some of my favorite books from when I was that age. So here, inspired by the blogging prompt, are some of my favorite books when I was growing up. As far as possible and as best I can remember, the covers below are the editions I owned, or close to them. Links go to Goodreads.
I loved these books. Besides fantasy and romance, I’ve always enjoyed mysteries, and I gobbled up the Nancy Drew books like candy. I thought Nancy was so cool, she was smart and brave and had a car and friends and a boyfriend and could go wherever she wanted and do whatever she wanted and her dad the lawyer was her buddy, and the mysteries were always interesting. Spooky and dangerous, but not too much so. When I was in the 4th grade, in the early 70s, a girl in my class who lived on my street had the entire collection of Nancy Drew books that had been published up until then (the ones in the yellow hardback covers). She was the envy of all the girls in the 4th grade. We weren’t really friends, but I asked if I could come over to her house just to admire her Nancy Drew collection, and she graciously agreed. It was a thing of beauty.
This tale of a young teenage boy in Boston during the early years of the American Revolution was one of my favorite books when I was eight years old (I was reading well ahead of my grade level; I think it’s more written at a 6th-8th grade level). I loved seeing historical events that I’d learned about in school on a personal level, what it was like for someone only a little older than me to live through them and play a part in them, and I was drawn to the honor and courage shown by Johnny, the young soldier Rab, and the other patriots. But mostly, I had a huuuuge crush on Johnny. Yes, Johnny Tremain was my very first book boyfriend. I may be weird in this, but in my crushes on fictional characters or celebrities, I never got jealous of whatever woman they might be in a relationship with; I always rooted for it to work out, either as vicarious wish-fulfillment or because I just wanted the object of my adoration to be happy. Anyway, I loved the budding romance between Johnny and Cilla and wished there was a follow-up book to show that they lived happily ever after.
I had the full set of these, and read them over and over. Another fascinating glimpse of life into a period of history I had learned about in school, and I found I could really relate to Laura even though her life was so different from mine in the suburbs in the early 1970s. I could never really get into the TV show, even though it was hugely popular. The books were better.
Another one I read over and over, and I read my favorite parts even more often. I related to Jo, with her love of books and making up stories. I got a beautiful illustrated hardcover edition from my parents, probably for Christmas? But I don’t seem to have it any more. Maybe it’s still at their house. This is one of the first books that got me started on making up my own “fanfictions” (though I never wrote them down), mostly versions where a certain character doesn’t die (do I really have to avoid spoilers on a book that’s 150 years old?) but gets to live happily ever after with a special someone (usually an original character, or OC in fanfic terms, as the book character who might have been eligible was already taken).
I thought I was younger when my parents gave me the boxed set of this, either for my birthday or for Christmas (they’re about a month apart), but according to the printing date inside (yes, I still have the original set), I must have been 13. So a little older than the age group I’m looking at here, but these books were so influential on me, I can’t have a post on favorite childhood books without it. I love the world, vast oceans and small islands, and Sparrowhawk/Ged is one of my all-time favorite characters (and another early book crush). I wanted to explore the world more and have more adventures with Ged and explore different angles and directions the story could have taken, and this desire and the resulting daydreams were a direct contributing factor to my decision to try writing a fantasy novel of my own some thirteen years later.