Books that changed my life; or, the importance of “kid books.”

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.


6 Responses to Books that changed my life; or, the importance of “kid books.”

  1. dollyann says:

    I remember being a HUGE Harry Potter geek when I was a kid. My passion faded as the fifth book came out, but before that I totally dreamed of being a witch at Hogwarts like Hermione and outscoring everyone on the OWLs. 🙂 I was also a huge fan of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice (because I was a pretentious 13 yr old). My mom was an English major, so she was always pushing canonical British lit on me.

    I think maybe that’s why I’m a feminist in some ways. I was always naturally more inclined to read the written works of women. But I also think it’s why I work so hard in school. I was always reading when I was young, and I came to define myself as kind of a “nerd” because of it. I also think I came to identify as a writer for doing some much reading as a child, because naturally I was inspired at some point by all that I’d read.

    Great post, eloriane! 😀

  2. pwoink says:

    Tamora Pierce WAS my childhood, sprinkled with Patricia Wrede and Jean Craighead George. Maybe there’s a different exterior on me now, but that is sure as hell what’s still inside.

  3. eloriane says:

    Haha, I’m a huge Harry Potter geek now. I only got more absorbed as the books went on– but that’s because JKR is a very meticulous writer, and if you read carefully enough, you can predict what was going to happen next. This was irresistible to me, so I read and re-read her books, and even purchased some books about the books, which made a ton of predictions. I still remember the cardinal rule:

    Hermione is always right (except when she’s emotional.) Ron is always wrong (except when he’s joking).

    It’s more useful when you’re trying to predict things within a single book, rather than across the series, but it help me spot a lot of plot twists, which was a great deal of fun. I like twists to be a surprise, but a a surprise that makes sense– it’s most fun if I go “Is it A? Is it B? Oh! It’s A!!” rather than “A or B? Oh, it’s– WTF– ostrich?!”

    Which is a long way of saying, I loved those books, but they don’t evoke childhood for me the way Tamora Pierce does. Oh! And Gail Carson Levine (who did Ella Enchanted, my favourite book for years) and Karen Cushman (who did historical fiction, like Matilda Bone.)

    Yeah, my childhood was made up of strong women writing about other strong women who kicked ass without apologizing for it. And like pwoink, maybe I don’t look like that now, but that’s sure as hell what’s on the inside.

  4. dollyann says:

    I didn’t read much TP as a kid. I’ve heard a lot of good things about her though. I remember my best friend said she was totally in love with her. My sister really liked her too. Maybe I ought to check out some of her books this weekend. I gotta pick up some of the ones lavendertook mentioned in the other thread.

    Anyways, my childhood persona is not emobdied in a storybook character, unortunately. In all honesty, I think Sonic the Hedgehog is my childhood alter ego. 😛

  5. pizzadiavola says:

    Would you say they’ve had an impact on who you are and how you see the world today?

    Definitely. After reading Little House on the Prairie as a kid, I would rant about women being equal to men and not being property and being able to vote at the dinner table, while my parents looked on with amusement. Laura Ingalls was my model for the stubborn, outspoken feminist, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

    I also loved Patricia C. Wrede and Tamora Pierce. I still read them now and again. Btw, Tamora Pierce is on LJ.

  6. Dale says:

    As a kid, the books I read the most were all those Goosebumps books. As far as I remember, those were pretty good in portrayal of female characters – the female protagonists were on par with the male ones, basically.

    Oh, and there was Animorphs. They were really good, they broke a lot of gender stereotypes and had strong female characters.

    I’d say they helped shape me, yeah, especially seeing as how I’m now a huge horror movie geek. And I think as kids we get role models from fiction, and they help shape us. Mine that I remember were Cassie from Animorphs, Sora from Digimon, and Chloe from Smallville, and I still identify with those characters a lot, and am glad I had them. Admittedly Chloe had to be saved by Clark a fair bit – SV was never too creative, and if someone other than Clark had a central episode, you could count on it ending with them being saved by him. But Chloe was smart, ambitious, outspoken, adventurous, never backed down, and was a really good person, and I’m so glad I liked her instead of Lana freaking Lang.

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