When I think about what was transformative in my experience as a reader, I think about three specific books. Some readers I talk to cannot remember ever not being a reader–he or she walked into kindergarten ready and eager to read. This was not me.
I don’t really remember reading voraciously until the fourth grade. My wonderful fourth grade teacher, Ms. Newland, handed each child in my class a wrapped Christmas gift the day we left for winter break in December of 1988. (Wow! Did I just write 1988?!) When I opened the package, it was a copy of Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. This book about Paul and Maureen, two orphaned children who save their money to buy a wild horse during Pony Penning Day, spoke to me like no other book ever had. I have never been a huge fan of books with animals as a focal point, but this story captured my heart.
That same year, my parents went on a trip and brought me back Daphne’s Book by Mary Downing Hahn. Hahn’s book about Daphne, the class “weirdo,” and Jessica, the main character, being partnered for a writing project, was the one of the single most transformative books in my reading life. In the book, Jessica is less than thrilled with being paired with Daphne; however, through their partnership, she realizes that Daphne is living with a dark secret, and the girls become unlikely friends. This book really fostered my love of reading AND writing, because as the girls worked on their writing project in the book, I found myself intrigued by the process and began to experiment with my own writing. Daphne’s Book was also the first book I had ever read that dealt with a true issue, and it touched me in a way that other books hadn’t.
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder is another all-time favorite and was discovered in the last months of fourth grade. The librarian at my small-town elementary school talked about Laura Ingalls Wilder and some of her books during our weekly library visit close to the end of the year. I looked at all of the books in the series, but the cover of Little House spoke to me. I loved the picture on the cover of Laura lovingly cradling her doll while she basked in the adoration of her family. I just had to know about that little girl on the cover and her family. I was engrossed in this book from the start and couldn’t wait to read about Laura’s daily chores, the way she played, and her family. There was something so appealing about the simplicity of her life and the hard work and dedication that went into maintaining it. I have already told my children my favorite scene from the book–the one where Pa blows up a pig bladder after butchering for Laura and her siblings to play with like a balloon. The wholesome story and the importance placed on family made me feel warm and snuggly like being wrapped in a warm hug which is why I checked it out of my elementary and middle school libraries numerous times during my younger years. I cannot wait to read this one with my daughter.
It is interesting to me that two of these books were written quite a long time ago, but are still some of my most beloved. When I taught English, I often recommended these books to students and was delighted (and gratified) that they enjoyed them too.
What are some books that were transformative for you? What are the books that really flipped the switch and made you a lifelong reader?