Influential books of my childhood

Happy Book Lovers Day

Some books we read and enjoy in the moment. Some books we read over and over, like comfort food, because they tell us something we need to hear. And some books stick with us for the rest of our lives, even if we never read them again.

In honor of National Book Lovers Day, a day to celebrate readers everywhere, I decided to share 6 influential books from my childhood and youth – and what I learned from them.

* “The Little Princess” (1905) by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Separated from her beloved father, Sara Crewe went from privilege to poverty at an exclusive boarding school. Despite dealing with disagreeable students, bewildered friends, and distrustful animals, and often going hungry, she was always kind, optimistic, and open to wonder. She used her imagination to make her life and the lives of her friends better. It taught me that we cannot choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we react to adversity.

* “Dragonsong” (1976) and “Dragonsinger” (1977) by Anne McCaffrey. Menolly refused to give up music, despite her parents’ disapproval and a serious injury to her hand, and even left the comfort and safety of her home to keep playing music. It taught me that when you find something you are passionate about, you need to pursue your dream.

* “The Blue Sword” (1982) and “The Hero and the Crown” (1984) by Robin McKinley. Newcomer Angharad “Harry” Crewe and reluctant princess Aerin are both out-of-place and disregarded, but they become warriors who save their people. It taught me that you need inner strength and fortitude as well as physical strength to be a hero.

* “Pawn of Prophecy” (1984) by David Eddings. Garion is a scullery boy whose safe life on a farm is exchanged for a life on the road filled with danger, excitement, and magic. His practical, sheltered upbringing is challenged by events he doesn’t understand and can’t explain. Mister Wolf reveals, “When you get right down to it, nothing – or at least very little – is actually impossible.” It taught me that we don’t know everything we think we do, and almost anything is possible.

* “Dorsai!” (1959) by Gordon R. Dickson and “Dune” (1965) by Frank Herbert. Donal Graeme is a military genius who rises to prominence to face a ruthless interstellar businessman; and Paul Atreides is a psychic nobleman who rises to lead the Fremen of Arrakis against the Emperor. Both are the result of warrior cultures and breeding programs that created a kind of superman. Despite the limited female protagonists, these futuristic science fiction novels taught me that humans have the potential to evolve and become better. However, those gifted people at the forefront of change (enhanced, mutant, Inhuman) can inspire both wonder and fear.

* “Arrows of the Queen” (1987) by Mercedes Lackey. Talia grows up in a society where women are viewed as inferior and women’s choices are limited. Her life changes when is Chosen by a Companion of Valdemar to serve the kingdom. It taught me that honor, responsibility, and hard work are rewarded.

While coming up with this list, I realized that I’ve only read a few of these books as an adult. I’m almost positive that if I were to read these books today, I would focus on different things and take away different meanings than from when I was younger.

There are several books that I absolutely loved, but I never felt the urge to re-read them – like “A Wrinkle in Time” (1962) by Madeline L’Engle, “Over Sea, Under Stone” (1965) by Susan Cooper, and “The Black Cauldron” (1965) by Lloyd Alexander. Some of the books I remember from childhood are not the same when I read through with adult eyes – like “The Secret Garden” (1911) by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I think we take away the meanings and values that we need at the time, without worrying about the rest.

Which books influenced your childhood? Do you have “comfort books” that you turn to, or do you rarely read a book more than once?

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