What book made you a reader? I’ve seen this question floating around on the internet in various different forms, but I have yet to jump into the discussion because I didn’t think I really had an answer, or at least not an obvious one.
I have always considered myself a reader, but it wasn’t until adulthood that I really began tracking my reading and keeping up with what I’ve read and haven’t read. Not to mention, at this point, I’m about 20 years removed from when I first began reading, so remembering what I loved and what drew me in is close to impossible. However, as I gave it some thought, I narrowed down my early reading life to 3 books/series that I think had a profound impact on my reading life and set a trajectory for me to become an avid reader.
My First Book Series
My first vivid memories of picking out books that I wanted to read on my own are from early on in my childhood. My mom always loved to read and we would go to Books-A-Million once a month or so to pick out something to read. I would walk up and down the rows of middle-grade books waiting for something to catch my eye. I read a lot of different things during this time period like Because of Winn-Dixie, Junie B. Jones, and The Magic Treehouse, but the first series I remember picking out on my own was the Heartland by Lauren Booke.
I don’t remember exactly what caused me to pick up that first book, maybe it was because the author and I shared a first name, but I do remember what kept me reading all twenty books. I loved the storytelling and I loved the characters. The writing of one book drove me forward to the next and two years later when the final book was written and read, I felt like I’d lost a friend.
Anyone who has ever fallen in love with a set of characters understands that deep empty feeling that you get when you finish a book or series. What you also probably know is that empty feeling leads you down two paths, 1) to pick up a new series to feel that connection again or 2) to take a long break and mourn the loss. As a third grader, I picked the former and kept on pushing through, looking for the next book that made me devour each word.
The First Book I Loved (That Everyone Else Hated)
As we moved into upper elementary school we began reading books together as a class and transitioning from English language education to literary education. These were the years when we read things like Where the Red Fern Grows and Holes. That year I learned that not everyone liked the same kinds of books I did. I remember well the first time I had to defend one of my beloved characters from the harsh words of a fellow fifth grader.
We were about halfway through reading Johnny Tremain and our teacher asked us point blank what we thought of the book so far. A student raised his hand and quickly informed our teacher that he hated it and thought it was boring. I was appalled! How could anyone think this story was boring? It was a coming of age story set in pre-revolutionary America that parallels a teenage boy’s coming of age to the coming of age of the United States. It’s a brilliant book if I do say so myself.
Regardless of how irritated I was at that boy in my class, it did serve as an introduction to the different literary genres and set me on a journey of figuring out what kind of books I enjoyed most. Over the years I’ve gone through different phases, but I’ve always loved historical fiction, fantasy, and sci-fi. That situation also taught me to read widely and try to understand what other people loved about certain books even if they weren’t quite right for me.
The First Book That Made Me Forget I Was Reading
I remember the day I picked up Little Women by Louisa May Alcott for the first time. I was in fifth grade and on one of those Books-A-Million trips I told you about earlier. I was frustrated at how quickly I was getting through the books I was picking out so the 450-page purple book caught my attention. I grabbed it off the shelf and my mom looked at it and told me how much she had loved that book when she was young which made me want to read it all the more.
As I took my time soaking in every word on the page I absolutely fell in love with each and every character Louisa May Alcott created, but I particularly loved Jo. I do not have sisters and I only have one brother, so the dynamics of their particular family weren’t ones that I could relate to, but the feelings they all encountered were all too real in my young heart. When Jo felt out of place, I felt out of place. When Jo celebrated I celebrated. When Jo mourned I mourned. It was like being the 5th sister in their family.
The difference between this book and the Heartland series where I also loved the characters was that Heartland felt like watching a movie. I was completely outside of the action watching it happen. Little Women felt like I was there. Like I was one of them. It was the first book that didn’t feel like reading a book. I stayed up many hours later than I should have devouring this book and when I finished it I read every other book that Louisa May Alcott wrote about this family.
Walking down memory lane thinking about the books that shaped my early reading was so fun and just reminded me all over again why I love books so much. Books have a way of impacting you in ways you never saw coming and teaching you lessons that you didn’t know you needed. No person can experience everything this life has to offer and books give us the opportunity to get a glimpse into those lives we’ll never live. Every book we’ve read has in some small way impacted us and we get to share that experience with one another.