I have been a reader for a long time- nearly all my life- and as such, a lot of who I am has been shaped by the books I read growing up. I’ve been in a reflective mood recently, so I thought I would share the nostalgia and go over some of the most pivotal books from my childhood/early adolescent years.
Most of these books are ones that I recommend to new readers, or ones that I recommend to parents who are trying to get their kids into reading. Though, a few are books that people of all ages can enjoy. My tastes as a child were usually fast-paced, quick-witted, and had a hearty dose of humor. It’s what gave me my charming hilarity you see today. *grins winningly*
I’m going in chronological order here, so the first books I can ever remember loving is the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park. I related so much to the main character. Like, you don’t even understand; if you’re wondering what I was like as a kid, I was Junie. I read these books in my earlier years of elementary school (around the ages of 5 to 7). I never read all of them, because there are a lot, but I still have the few copies that I got from scholastic and they’re all beat up and falling apart from how many times I read them. I think that’s a good indicator of whether a kid likes a book; the worse the condition, the more it was loved.
If you don’t know, these books are about this girl and her adventures through kindergarten and first grade. Junie is such a spunky little girl, and more often than not her mouth is what gets her into trouble. Everything about these books, from the characters to the voice of the narrative just oozes a goofy sort of humor.
(This isn’t all of them, just a few. I don’t even know how many of these books there are. XD)
A trend that you’ll notice with the books on this list is that though my reading level was far higher than the average at my age, a had a hard time wanting to branch out and read more challenging material. Once I found a book that I liked, I refused to read nearly anything else, a habit I eventually grew out, of but not really until I was exiting middle school.
Needless to say, it took a while for me to graduate from Junie B. Jones. There were lots of books that my friends were reading that I missed out on because I didn’t want to read anything new; a series of unfortunate events, Narnia (though my 3rd grade teacher read the first one to my class and I liked it), Harry Potter. But eventually I found the Fudge books by Judy Blume.
My fourth grade teacher read the first book, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, aloud to my class, and I absolutely loved it. Looking back, it had a lot in common with my favorite things about Junie B. Jones; the wacky characters, the slapstick humor, the sarcasm (even at a young age I had a taste for a bit of irony, before I even knew what the word meant). These books follow a boy named Peter and his little brother, nicknamed Fudge. Basically the books are a series of Fudge pulling off crazy little kid things (throwing temper tantrums, eating things he’s not supposed to, you know.) and Peter, the narrator, just watching like:
I have two younger siblings myself, and while my siblings never did anything quite as dramatic as Fudge, I totally related to Peter.
It was about the fifth grade when I discovered my love for the thing that remains to be my favorite kind of fiction today: fantasy. The first fantasy book I truly loved was Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I remember watching the movie, loving it, and then being overjoyed when I found out it was based off the book. (Fast forward to a few months ago when I found the movie on Netflix and couldn’t get more than about fifteen minutes through it. Yikes). Levine is known for taking her own spin on fairytale re-tellings as well as writing unique stories that feel like new fairytales unto themselves. Ella Enchanted is a Cinderella re-telling, following Ella as she learns to live with a curse that she was given at birth: the inability to disobey anyone. Again, the humor is phenomenal in this book, and the main character is so snarky and sarcastic. (Are you starting to see a trend in my sense of humor? XD )
Fast forward to middle school, where I was an awkward twelve year old trying desperately to make friends. I had read every Gail Carson Levine book three times over, and I had started to feel a need for something new. But what? Well, I had a few friends at church who had tried to convince me to read a certain series for years. I’d seen the movie, and really liked it, and my school’s library had all the books, so I thought ok, fine, since you’ve been badgering me about it I guess I’ll see that this is all about.
That series was Percy Jackson and the Olympians, by Rick Riordan.
I’m not joking when I tell you guys that these were the most influential books I have ever read. I went into it thinking let’s see if this is okay, but really I would rather be reading Levine…. but it took just the first chapter (really just the first few paragraphs) for me to suddenly fall in love with it. I devoured these books like there was no tomorrow, and then there was the Heroes of Olympus series, which I also loved and was there for the releases of throughout high school. Some people grew up with Harry Potter, but I grew up with Percy (literally, since I started reading the Lightning Thief when I was twelve, and was seventeen at the end of the Blood of Olympus; the exact age bracket of the characters.)
If somehow you don’t know what these books are about, the first series (the top line of books above) starts off with the Lightning Thief, where a boy named Percy Jackson finds out that he is the son of a Greek God, and is sent off to a summer camp for demigods, their only safe haven from the mythological monsters that also exist. He has to go an a quest with some of his friends to find Zeus’s missing lightning bolt, of which he has been falsely accused of stealing. The great thing about these books is that though the target audience is middle grade, it’s widely enjoyable for any age. I know twelve year olds who love these books as well as people my age and adults.
Again, a snarky main character (what can I say? I know what I like XD ) and enough humor to make you fall off your chair laughing. But I also gained such valuable knowledge in reading these books at the time that I did; Percy taught me to be proud of my ADD, Annabeth taught me that it’s awesome to be smart and like books, and of course there’s the all important message of choosing to do the right thing and stick up for your friends. It got me through some rough times, and I remember being so grieved when the last Heroes of Olympus book came out, that Percy wouldn’t be in my life the way he had been for the previous seven years.
Percy Jackson was also what got me into the fandom community on the internet. I’ve connected to so many people and found such solace in that fictional world over the years. I think that was like the pinnacle of my fangirling life…I look back on twelve to seventeen year old me and crack up at all the Percy Jackson fan sites I followed and all the fan art I obsessed over and all the fan fiction I read. Oh geez, it was crazy. I didn’t think I would ever stop obsessing over PJO and a part of me will always stay connected to it.
Of course, there are plenty of other books that I read and loved; high school was when I started branching out and reading more broadly (between reading Percy Jackson of course), but these are just some of the most significant books that I believe changed who I am as a person and as a reader.
I do have three honorable mentions though. The first is obviously the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I didn’t grow up with Harry Potter like a lot of people did; I watched the movies before ever having interest in reading the books (and that was when I was nearly exiting middle school), and it wasn’t until my sophmore year of high school (when I was 15/16 -ish) that I picked the books up. But I would be lying if I said that Harry Potter isn’t to this day a good potion of my life as a fan. I think one of the things I love about HP is how timeless it is; I didn’t enter the fandom until after its heyday, but I was welcomed so warmly when I did start reading the books, by friends and other fellow potterheads, and it still felt fresh and exciting.
(I think we all know what Harry Potter looks like XD)
The second is the Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. I read these around the eighth grade (around 13/14 years old). It’s about these two sisters who are descended from the Brothers Grimm, and after they’re orphaned they move to this tiny hole-in-the-wall town with their grandmother. There they find out that all the fairytales the Grimm brothers wrote are real, and all the characters live in this town. This is the series that I discovered fanfiction.net by, and the first I wrote fan fiction for. Admitting to fan fiction writing/reading tends to be somewhat of a skeleton in the closet for us fanpeople, but it was what got me into writing, and I remember being so pleasantly surprised when people actually read my stories and enjoyed them. That positive feedback did wonders for my confidence in my writing, and eventually led to me writing my own stories.
The last is the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, which were the first books I read because of booktube. I may have always been a reader, but the book blogging community has opened me up to so many books over the years that I wouldn’t have known about if it hadn’t been popular on the internet. I read the first three books in…2014, I want to say? (I was around 15/16) It is one of the few series to become as close to me as PJO. These books are sci-fi fairytale re-tellings, where cyborgs are discriminated amputees and people who can read minds live on the moon and every single ship is pure gold. (The fandom kind of ship, though there are also space ships. Just not ones made of literal gold. You know, that metaphor worked better in my head).
I hope you enjoyed this little stroll down memory lane. Where there any books here you recognized from your own childhood? Are there any other books that you loved as a kid? I’d love to know!
And as always, have a lovely day and I’ll see you again soon 🙂