This would come as a shock to anyone who knows me now, but when I was a kid, I didn’t really like to read. I enjoyed being read to, and I didn’t have any problems with the reading itself; I was perfectly able to do it and understand the words, but I would have preferred to do pretty much anything else.
That didn’t change until third grade, when I read Meet Kirsten. Kirsten is of several lead characters in the American Girl Books. For those unfamiliar with AG, they produce dolls and books for girls ages 8-12, all focused on different periods of American history. Kirsten was a Swedish immigrant girl who came to the US in 1854 to live with relative in the Midwest. Along the way, she loses her best friend and faces many challenges caused by the language barrier and has to deal with the harsh life on the frontier. Naturally shy and made moreso by the unfamiliarity of her new surroundings, she often finds herself in leadership roles and struggles to do what is necessary to save her family and friends.
I think that one of the reason I connected so well with Kirsten was that I was also living in the rural Midwest with only family for company. Kirsten and I both had trouble connecting with the people around us for various reasons, and we had both lost best friends, though in different ways.
Meet Kirsten was a book that came into my life at just the right time, and because of it I was opened up to a whole new world. Almost overnight, I became an avid reader. My favorite genre was mid 19th century historical fiction. For years it was a tradition that if I was home sick, I would read through all of my American Girl books, usually starting with Kirsten. The summer I turned nine I caught pneumonia and was sick from the middle of June until August. Those books were my constant companions as I lay in bed, too exhausted to do anything but read or watch television.
Not long after, I was given a copy of A Little Princess. Sara Crewe became a role model for me as she fought against bullies and loneliness at Miss Minchin’s. I wished I had her fortitude and conviction when I was alone on the playground, but I always had her there to keep me company.
I don’t remember how the next book that changed me came into my hands, or how many times I read it. Spying on Miss Müller by Eve Bunting was different from the other books I had available to me at the time, and I devoured it over and over, often finishing the last page and turning immediately to the first to start again.
Set in an Irish boarding school during WWII, the book looks at war-time intrigue through the eyes of a group of 14 year old girls, and mixes it with tight friendships, a ghost story, and the painful consequences of taking action without having all of the facts in hand.
It was everything that I wanted–adventure, good friends, mysteries, and a creepy boarding school. Those four elements have created the baseline for many of the stories I have written myself.
The Harry Potter series almost isn’t worth mentioning, just because everyone has read it. The first book in the series came out when I was in middle school, but I didn’t start reading them until after the third book was released. My best friend kept harassing me to read them until I finally gave in. I devoured the first book in a few days. Too impatient to wait on the second book, I checked the third one out of the library and and read it, instead. To this day, it is still my favorite volume of the seven.
During the excruciating wait for Goblet of Fire, another friend recommended The Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey.
Once again, a book series walked into my life at exactly the right time. Reading about Vanyel’s trials distracted me from my own problems and made me feel less alone. Magic’s Pawn was my first book from the adult section of the library, and the first time I read anything with an LGBTQ character.
So those are the 5 books that have had the greatest impact on me as a reader, a writer, and a person. What are yours?