Three Kids Books That Influenced My Life

I recently went through the exercise of writing down the three kids books that influenced my life.  Amazingly, I did not have to wrack my brain to come up with the titles. They had simply become apart of my narrative, much like the crazy trip my family took to Disneyland or the late nights editing my papers with my mom over an old typewriter.  Somehow they had seeped into who I was as our childhood books are want to do.

Little House in the Big Woods was the first book I wrote down with no hesitation.  This is the book that made me a reader.  While devouring it, I longed to recreate the life with Ma and Pa, harvesting sap for maple sugar and evenings with Pa playing the fiddle.  I wrote my first book report on this story and remember my mom giving me a small candy heart each time I finished a paragraph.  

I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to the Ingalls family and consumed the whole series in record time.  I always think that Harry Potter played that similar role for my boys as they got caught up in a different world and invested heavily in the characters, just as I had done with half-pint, Mary, and Almanzo.

Fast forward a few years and Searching for Shona became my obsession. It is the story of two girls who switched places as children were being evacuated from London during WW II with a plan to switch back at the end of the war.  However, one of the girls doesn’t want to switch back and assumes her pretend identity.  It’s not that the book was a piece of great literature, it just hit me at a time when I wrestled with fairness.  This one struck a chord with me and I actually made up different endings to satisfy my need for justice.  This was one I couldn’t let go of and a little part of me still get riled up at the inequity of it all.  

Searching for Shona presented itself in my life when I was working through understanding who I was and what I valued. It wasn’t an obvious soul searching story but yet it was to me.  I see that occasionally in the books my kids choose.  While Diary of a Wimpy Kid feels like a funny illustrated novel to me, to my kids it represented their own awkwardness and social anxiety and they use it to work through their own issues of social identity.  That may be why my one son reread these books so many times I thought they would fall apart in his hands.

My last seriously influential read was in High School when Watership Down crossed my path.  I really didn’t want to read this book, but an English class listed it as required reading and I was never one not to do what the teacher assigned.  It was not the message of the book that was so profound for me, it was the fact that I could completely venture outside my comfort zone and fall in love with a story.  

Up until that point, I read what I enjoyed.  If I was presented with a fantasy book, I politely said no thank you.  Hand me nonfiction and I would turn up my nose in disgust.  But this book about bunnies, one I looked at with disdain, was brilliant.  I consider it the book that opened up my reading world to books that at the outset may not have had me dancing in the aisles.  

This is why I think it is so important for kids to try a variety of genres.  It is easy for kids to get a myopic focus into their preferred type of story.  I remember when a teacher “forced” my kids to read What the World Eats and suddenly they were completely caught up in a book of nonfiction, a genre they had never ventured near before.

So what does this say about reading choices for us and for our kids?  I think foremost it says that the books that influenced us growing up are not necessarily the ones that will resonate with our kids.  Time and place matter and your kids will find their own influential stories that speak to them.  I can’t imagine my kids finding Searching for Shona the mind-altering narrative that I experienced when reading this story.   They will find different books that speak to the issue with which they are wrestling.

I think it also says that reading matters for the fabric of who we are.  Books help us dream, they help us work through our own development and they open our eyes to people and places we may never experience in our day to day lives. Keep gently encouraging your kids because what may not stick today could become a favorite a year or many years from now.  Books resonate when they do, not when we will them to.  

Do you have a similar pattern from your childhood?  I would love to hear what spoke to you and why.  Just thinking about those books can be a delightful exercise in understanding how you grew up and how your children relate to books.  Happy reading!