I found this article on StumbleUpon and it really rang true with me. The idea is that the books we read as children can change our thinking more profoundly than any books we read as adults, because when we are young we are looking to books to explain how the world words. Sure, we can still learn things from books as adults…
“But when a 14-year-old gushes that the Twilight series are the best books she’s ever read in her whole life, it’s easy for grownups to forget that this is not necessarily hyperbole. At that age, we haven’t heard any clichés, and even dumb ideas are new.”
It made me think a lot about the books I read as a kid, and how they shaped my expectations of the world. I started with Little House on the Prairie (because the main character was named Laura just like me!), then read every Trixie Belden book (who was like Nancy Drew with brains instead of boyfriends), followed by every Wizard of Ox book, and those books by the guy who did “Half Magic,” but the best, by far, were Tamora Pierce’s books. I found them when I was 10, maybe, and I read every single one over and over again. I still buy everything she writes, even though it’s too young for me. I also read Harry Potter starting when I was 11, and loved the fact that I was always exactly the same age as Harry.
Now, I can see a pretty clear pattern here. Little House on the Prairie, Trixie Belden, and Tamora Pierce’s books are all dominated by strong women. The Wizard of Oz and Half Magic series are about 50/50 gender-wise, even among the kick-ass adventurous heroes. Pierce’s books and, surprisingly, the Oz books were very racially diverse as well. Harry Potter is the only one that doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors (I think it probably passes somewhere in those hundreds of pages, but female friendships were not given much screen time at all, making it compare very unfavorably to the others.)
And so, when I was looking to books to figure out how the world was supposed to work, what made someone a bad guy or a good guy, what was fair and what was unfair, when I was creating my ideas of normal— this is what I was reading. Is it any wonder I’m a feminist these days? (Is it any wonder I’m supremely disappointed by the sexism rampant in the world?) It’s what my books led me to expect.
Ralizing this about myself has also given me a newfound respect for “kid’s books.” I’ve been bemoaning the fact that Tamora Pierce still write YA fiction, since I want her to do something for me, something I can really sink my teeth into. But now that’s the last thing I want– I want her to keep writing great books for young teens, so that the next “me” still has wonderful, world-changing books to look forward to! I’d enjoy a denser Pierce book, but it wouldn’t matter to me the way that a YA book would matter to a younger girl. And although, since she’s a self-declared feminist, I want to hog her all to myself, I think it’s more important that she continues to reach out to kids and show them her beautiful picture of normal.
What books did you love to read as a kid? Would you say they’ve had an impact on who you are and how you see the world today? What other books would you recommend to younger kids?
I’m sticking by Tammy. If you know anyone of the right age– boy OR girl!– do them a favor and give them one of her books at your next opportunity. They come in quartets (and doubles, these days) so pick the first of any set and you won’t regret it.