Hello and happy Wednesday!
This should not come as a surprise if you’ve been around my blog before, but I love reading. It’s come easily to me since the age of four, and I haven’t stopped reading since. Happy stories, sad stories, complicated stories, simple stories…nearly anything clean that I can get my hands on. I can’t imagine not reading books.
Recently, as I’ve been working on several different writing projects, I’ve gotten to thinking about the books that used to be my favorite growing up. The ones that sucked me in and kept me going back to the library, filling up bags of continuations in each series. The ones that first taught me about theme, about characters, and about stories that could feel so real I felt like I was truly a part of them.
Looking back, some of them weren’t anything amazingly written, but to young me, the quality of the prose itself or the intricacy of worldbuilding or plot construction didn’t matter. What mattered most was the same thing that still matters most to me: how real the characters felt and how I could relate to them. What they could teach me.
Through those characters, I learned about how people saw life, how others talked and felt around each other. I watched, fascinated, as those characters got to go on adventures that I felt involved in, simply by reading about it.
I believe all those stories were a huge part of why I started writing. The plots, characters, themes, and emotions they produced still stick with me to this day. Were they perfect? Far from it. But nevertheless, they – and countless other books I don’t have space to mention – meant a lot to me at the time.
So today, I thought I’d dash back in the past for a little bit and share what were some of my favorite books growing up. I hope you enjoy the glimpse at some of my old favorites, and I’d love to hear about yours as well!
American Girl by various authors
Shocker, I know, haha. This is probably the hugest series I dutifully read when I was younger. There were (and still are) so many different branches of the series, all centering around different main characters in various time periods. While it’s been years since I last looked into the books, for a long time I enjoyed sifting through the library shelves, searching for move volumes involving my favorite characters.
I don’t know what kinds of stories the company’s telling now, or what ‘American Girls’ their books are centered on at this point, but my very favorites were always the classic ones. Girls like Molly, Felicity, Kirsten, Kit, Addy, Samantha, and Josefina. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that’s where my love for historical fiction came from.
The glimpses the books offered into what life could have been like in different places and time periods fascinated me. I remember picturing myself in each girl’s place. How would I react? How would I fare? Would I have the strength, courage, grace, and compassion to do what those girls did? Yes, they were fictional people, but they taught me a lot. Those authors made the characters and settings feel so real – and I want to do the same with my own historical fiction.
Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne
And these books were pure fuel for my young imagination. Again, I got to see glimpses into other places, time periods, and styles of life – and even delve into some myths and legends, such as stories involving King Arthur and Camelot. For quite a while, I’ll admit I wished we had a tree house in our yard, just so I could pretend to use it to travel to other times, haha.
I loved the relationship between Jack and Annie – and very much related to hyper, imaginative Annie – and remember thinking it was so neat that the stories combined ‘now’ with time periods from all over in history. Once again I got to wonder how I would respond in those situations. Would I do well being thrust next to a pterodactyl or into England at the time of William Shakespeare? What about in the middle of a twister in prairie-period Kansas?
And as fun as it was to witness Jack and Annie’s adventures, it was equally as educational. I learned a lot of things from those books – about history, animals, cultures, and the way things worked in each new time period – and I was continually sharing my findings with my family. I still remember many of the historical facts that I gleaned from those books. Fun and fascinating…they were winners to me!
Mandie by Lois Gladys Leppard
Perhaps you’re beginning to see a pattern in my favorite childhood books, haha. I certainly enjoyed historical fiction, and these books were yet more that I struggled to put down. The combination of a protagonist about my age, lovable side characters, an engrossing time period, and intriguing mystery plots in almost all the books kept me reading and re-reading them for years.
These books also hold some of my very first reading milestones – like the first time a book made me cry. To clarify, I don’t believe I’ve ever actually cried hard from a fiction book, but there are a handful of times that I’ve teared up, and one of those books made me tear up for the first time while reading. One of the main characters – my favorite character – was very injured and looked like he had died, and my poor heart just couldn’t take it.
When I started writing my own stories, I often drew favorite story elements from other books I’d read. For a while, Mandie came to mind most often. I thoroughly enjoyed how Mandie (while still prone to plenty of childish mistakes) was taught about and strived to obey God, how there were complicated mysteries to solve, how there was a large variety of loyal friends and family members helping her, and the way each character felt intricate and flawed and real. Human. Just how characters should be.
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
I have never – nor do I think I ever will at this point – read all of The Boxcar Children books, as there are at least one-hundred and fifty now. However, I did read a lot of them (out of order) from the library when I was younger, and especially enjoyed the first four. Yet another intriguing and interesting historical setting, more relatable and touching family/sibling relationships, and educational content as the children learned to survive on their own, and later turned to solving little mysteries.
One thing I’ve learned since reading all those favorite stories of my childhood is that mysteries in real life are not quite as common as those books make it seem, haha. At least not now, or if there are, not really ones that children can easily solve. But I really enjoyed getting to ‘solve’ the mysteries with the Boxcar children, and felt very proud the few times that I managed to correctly guess what happened before they did. That wasn’t the case often, but I felt like the cleverest detective in the world when it was.
The biggest things that always stood out to me about those books were how close the siblings were. Yes, they still fought and drove each other crazy – as siblings do – but when it came down to it, they all loved each other and would do anything to keep the rest safe and happy. In the first book, the way they all worked together and supported each other while surviving in the woods was my favorite part of the series. Their determination and resilience inspired me, and made me consider how I treated my own siblings.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
I discovered this book after I grew a bit too old for the rest of the books mentioned above, but it was still a favorite during my childhood. For a long time I couldn’t even say why. My family thought – and still thinks – that I was nuts for voluntarily reading it over and over, haha, but I couldn’t help it. It’s a very sad book. But it also resonated with me. I believe it was the very first book that really made me stop and think about serious topics.
Mostly, Bridge to Terabithia made me think about death. That sounds very morbid, but it’s true. I hadn’t expected it to be brought up. I didn’t expect any part of the end, but it sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. I kept waiting for that character to come back – that there’d have been some mistake – and that everyone would have a happy ending after all. But she didn’t. Instead, I watched as the rest of the characters left behind wrestled with their grief.
Looking back now, I don’t agree with everything in the book – especially the mild swears sprinkled through the book, and the far more common misuses of the Lord’s name. But overall, I kept coming back to the story because it was real. It was painful and complicated and not everything tied up in neat bows by the end of it. People struggled and changed and helped each other and loved, and even though it’s not a Christian book, the main characters wrestled sometimes, as kids do, with the idea of God. With who He was. What He was like.
It broke my heart to think of them not knowing Him closely, and it opened my eyes to how a lot of people must feel in real life. Unsure. Scared. Hopeless. And yet, they do the best they can (which may include some truly beautiful actions). Not very long after I read Bridge to Terabithia, my brother1 passed from a sudden illness, and suddenly the events of the book made even more sense. They felt even more real. And the contrast between the characters, who didn’t know God’s comfort, and my family, who clung to Him, offered even more depth.
Interestingly enough, I learned years later that another of my favorite middle-grade books, Lyddie, about a young girl forced to work in a cotton mill to survive, was also written by Katherine Paterson, and I’d just never put two and two together. Needless to say, I’m a fan of Paterson’s writing style, and the way she’s created emotional and thought-provoking stories that felt so real to me. I hope to create emotions just as real with my books.
Well, those were some of my very favorite stories growing up! It seems like just yesterday I was curled up reading them… It’s crazy how well I still remember each one. This has been a fun and bittersweet trip down memory lane, and I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me for it!
What were YOUR favorite books growing up, and why? Let me know in the comments below! I look forward to learning about them!
1.I talked about my brother here.