My love of reading began at a very young age. I remember my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Heard, suggesting biographies to me when I ran out of fiction books and calling me out of class to peruse new arrivals as soon as they came through the door of our little elementary school library. There are an endless number of books that opened the world for me. I call them the books that shook me, changing the way I saw the world.
Childhood of Famous Americans series
Several installments have been added since, but this series was originally published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1958. My elementary school had dozens of them and when I got bored of fiction, Mrs. Heard suggested these. I remember devouring them, reading about James Oglethorpe and Anne Bradstreet, Juliette Low and Liliuokalani. I am almost certain this sparked my love for history and eventually historical fiction. These books turned world-changers into relatable people and boosted my confidence in what I could grow up to do. They truly made history interesting to me.
Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
This is a classic. I don’t remember why this was required reading in school, but I distinctly remember when Rubin trips and falls on an axe and dies (somewhere in the middle of the novel) and I remember being intrigued by this idea of the west: Idaho, Oklahoma, even Kentucky. These states were foreign to me. And, of course, the ending was traumatic. I remember it to this day.
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
Ashton Kate and I read this book simultaneously, if I remember correctly. For some reason, I still remember the exact shelf where all of our library’s copies of this novel lived. Hunt introduced me to war and the idea of being away from home for an extended period of time. Until this point, I don’t remember ever thinking about living outside my tiny hometown with my family and familiar places. I also had no concept of how difficult war could be. According to Scholastic, this book is a 7th grade level, but we definitely read it in elementary school and the way Hunt chronicles a war-torn life shook me.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My love for this series started with the television show. I fell in love with the characters like so many other young girls. Mom signed me up for a subscription service of some sort where I received each book in order along with a few smaller “companion” books. This series was my first true introduction to historical fiction and I loved it, devouring the books when they arrived. The first book was originally published in 1932. Though not entirely truthful or accurate in her depictions, Wilder’s accounts of her life in the Midwest provide fascinating political and cultural discourse.
The Diary of Anne Frank
My brother, three years older than me, brought this book home during middle school as part of a school assignment. Incessantly fascinated with whatever he was reading, I “borrowed” it when he was finished. I had so many questions when I finished this book, you guys. I had heard of the World Wars (my brother was fascinated with all things military and aircraft when we were growing up. Anybody remember Micro Machines?), but I had no idea it was all this – people groups targeted and tortured simply for existing, children like me living in crawlspaces holding onto slivers of hope while also trying to navigate the magnitude of growing up. I was in shock. I was interested. I needed to know more. This took what I knew of war from school and books like Across Five Aprils and tore all the walls down. Henceforth I have been fascinated and brokenhearted over the World Wars and historical fiction.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
I began reading this series in elementary school (my mom bought me an abridged version at first, then realized it would be better for me to just read the real ones). Anne was me, but with red hair and an e on the end of her name where I had none. Reading Anne’s stories often made me embarrassed for her – I was so much more concerned with what others thought of me that I couldn’t imagine speaking or acting as she had – but strangely empowered by her bold and outspoken character. She put actions behind thoughts and feelings I’d experienced. Her stubbornness and determination drove her to accomplishing her dreams. And she had an amazing, lifelong friendship in Diana. Anne’s stories made me feel seen and known and, to this day, I cherish them.
Heartland by Lauren Brooke
I found out less than a month ago that this became a t.v. show – ha! I loved this series so much as a child for a million reasons. First and probably most importantly – I wanted a horse, but had no hope of ever getting one, so I just read about them. Dad, a fireman, often had to spend days at the Ag Center across town as the on-call EMT for horse shows. Every once in a while he would take me with him. I’d wake up early and we’d pack lunch – usually a pb&j or turkey sandwich, chips, some sort of juice box, and sunflower seeds (I was never far from ballpark life, y’all). I’d sit in a folding metal chair in the sawdust just outside the arena gate next to dad and the other EMTs who opened and closed the gate as the horses entered, performed, and exited. There were the 4-H shows, rodeos, and shows full of majestic Arabians and those prancing Paso Finos and I felt like I was sitting just outside the gates of heaven.
The Heartland series is a collection of 26 books about a girl who lives on a horse ranch for abused and mistreated horses. There’s drama, some middle school romance, and a ton of horses. I read every single one of them and loved them.
Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
Clearly I was into reading books by the series as a youngin. We lived across the street from an older woman whose children and grandchildren lived far away (Atlanta and Florida) so we became surrogate grandchildren. I learned a lot from her, but most notably how to read. She shared the most beautiful original Nancy Drew novels with me, which I devoured en masse. There was something about a gripping mystery solved by a girl instead of a boy that empowered me. I had my own book series to my brother’s Hardy Boys so he couldn’t claim to be better than me – ha! I remember feeling the suspense when Nancy fell into peril while solving a mystery – would she make it out without the bad guys finding her? I remember The Hidden Window Mystery with the greatest detail. The description of those screaming peacocks will forever be etched into my mind. I had never experienced something quite so terrifying in my life. Looking back, I’m grateful for stories like these that encouraged curiosity in me. That curiosity has buoyed me into the wildest life experiences, Boston not the least of them.
A Wrinkle In Time (quintet) by Madeleine L’Engle
L’Engle was my introduction to science fiction, mind-boggling math, and questioning my faith.
A Wrinkle In Time, while terrifying at times, fascinated young me. I was dumbfounded to learn that there could be life outside this tiny earth we had (no matter how realistic or unrealistic L’Engle’s portrayal was) and that someone could be evil enough to try and control everyone, making them act and walk and talk the same by controlling their minds. Little did I know… And the very idea that something so far outside the earth could be reached or understood through math – I didn’t know where to file that in my mind.
Having grown up in a Christian household, I read the typical Bible stories we were supposed to read – Jonah, Adam and Eve (damn apple), Moses, Elijah, Noah, and so many more. When I found myself in the midst of a desert with Sandy and Dennys in Many Waters (book 4), it dawned on me that I recognized these names and knew (or thought I did) this storyline. Having been exposed to a KJV Bible my entire life, seraphim were no new discovery here. I knew Noah and the names of his sons and knew about the ark and the animals (two-by-two). What L’Engle presented here made me start asking questions. I remember sitting in my little twin bed reading parts of this book, then flipping through my Bible to see if the stories matched. Were the niphilim really the result of women having babies with angels? Was this story much more riddled with chaos and messiness than I’d originally understood? Truly, this is when I started asking questions about the truth surrounding what I believed (and I haven’t stopped).
These are the books that shook me in my early childhood through middle school. Books have (and continue to) shape the way I see the world. They expand my worldview and cultivate a curiosity and creativity outside my comfortable little existence.
Do you have similar books from childhood? I’d love for you to share them!