Welcome to The Midnight Garden’s March Favorites!
This is a monthly feature where we bloggers talk a little bit about our favorites in any given topic that might tickle our fancy. We figure it would be a fun way for all of us to get to know each other!
This month we’re talking about some of the first books we’ve ever read; books that have, over the years, lingered.
Do you remember the book that started it all? The book that made you see that reading is important, that words have power? Do you remember the moment you became a reader? For us, the following are some of the first books to truly affect us…some of the first to open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts to stories.
And beware, there are spoilers ahead!
I read Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia in 5th grade. It wasn’t the book that set me off on a forever journey of words. That was Harry Potter in 7th grade. But it was the first to make me feel. Bridge to Terabithia is a wonderful story about many things: friendship, family, belonging…
And I found myself softly relating to some of the things I was reading. I related to Jess’ shyness and fearfulness, I related to Leslie’s alienation and desire to make friends. They evoked within me emotions I hadn’t really recognized and put into words until I saw them on the page — in the faces of these two young characters.
But more than that, it was simply that I was captured by their bond. It was sweet and honest. And it made me long for the same. I remember reading Leslie’s death. I remember looking around at my classmates and wondering why no one was crying…because in that moment, I was surprised to realize that it was all I wanted to do. I’ve known the secret power of storytelling ever since.
In third grade we had to find a book from our school library to do a book report on. I remember walking the stacks, running my fingers along the rainbow of spines–some weathered and cracked under my fingertips, some perfectly smooth in dust jackets or layers of thick tape–and choosing one at random.
It was Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Clearly, and I’m pretty sure fate was guiding my hand there, because I don’t know if I could have picked a more perfect book for myself. In it, Leigh writes to his favorite author, asking him questions for a biography he’s doing for school. Eventually they become penpals, with Mr. Henshaw giving Leigh all sorts of advice about his parents’ divorce, bullies at school, and his absent dad.
It was the first book that felt as though it was written exactly for me. I had divorced parents. I had an absent dad. And even more than that, it made me wish I could connect with an author like that. That I could write to LM Montgomery or Ann M. Martin or Beverly Clearly and tell them exactly how much joy they’d given me with their books.
I wore the cover off Dear Mr. Henshaw, and fifteen or so years later when the internet took off and authors suddenly became accessible and approachable, I thought of Beverly Clearly and Leigh and Mr. Henshaw, and said thanks.
When I was little, my mother took me to the library every week, so I can’t even remember a time when books weren’t a part of my life. The first time I stopped to think about how much they could mean, however, was when I read Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family.
I know, I know–I chose this as one of my holiday favorites not too long ago. But the series, which follows a family of Jewish sisters growing up in the early 20th century, meant a lot to me for many different reasons; one of the most important being that they made me realize how very precious a book can be. In the very first chapter of the very first book, Sarah has misplaced a library novel and dreads having to tell the librarian about her dastardly deed. The heavy responsibility she feels, the pretty library lady’s sympathy because replacing the book is very costly to a family living on the lower East side, Sarah’s joy when a solution is found so her beloved weekly library trips aren’t spoiled–all that made me love my own books just a little bit more fiercely.
Books play a big role in this series in other ways, too. Here’s an illustration of the girls’ delight when their father, who trades large lots in his junk shop, invites them to choose whatever books they want from an unexpected shipment brought in by a street peddler. From fairy tales to a set of Dickens to a lovely book of paper dolls, the girls’ excitement over their finds is absolutely infectious.
“May we keep them all?” Ella asked.
When he said “Yes” they could hardly believe their ears. They never thought to own even one book and now they had twelve. It was too wonderful!
Isn’t that feeling of incredulous joy something every bibliophile has experienced? It’s amazing that we have the luxury of such a wealth of knowledge and adventure at our fingertips. After all this time, I still feel the same way about books that those dear All of a Kind girls did.
Illustrations by Helen John.
It goes without saying that we wholeheartedly recommend these books that have meant so much to us as children, and even now as adults.
Tell us, what was the book that made you a reader?