The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss was the first book I remember choosing from a collection and reading by myself. I embrace it with great fondness, and use it frequently with my readers even now. Just last week one of my students read it for the first time by herself, and so that story continues to be relevant for readers today and readers of the future.
Bracketing the Carrot Seed was an early reader called Benjamin in the Woods by Eleanor Clymer. I recall working steadily through its pages with my Dad, and then reading it many times over on my own, exploring forests and encountering woodland creatures with the main character as if it were happening to me. Our son Ben owes his name to that book.
A few years after those seminal samplers, I became the neighborhood voyeur courtesy of Louise Fitzhugh and Harriet the Spy. Notebook in hand, I took to peering from closets to spy on siblings, and hunkering in bushes to peek at neighbors, taking copious notes all the while. I filled pages and pages of composition notebooks just like Harriet, and reveled in my deliciously covert existence, which was not an easy task in a family of eight.
Harriet offered a compelling segue into blissful years solving countless mysteries with the titian-haired sleuth – Nancy Drew. This partnership started unassumingly enough with the purchase of a tattered copy of The Mystery of the Tolling Bell pulled from a cardboard box for $.25 at a neighbor’s garage sale. The adventures that inaugural book spurred were priceless. Sadly, over time – and hours of careful tapping – I was forced to conclude that there were no false walls, revolving bookcases, or loose bricks revealing secret passageways in our suburban New Jersey home, but the mere possibility borne of those pages was captivating.
When I was twelve, I fell desperately in love with Johnny. I am not sure if it is typical to fall in love with a fictional character, but I sure did. S.E. Hinton wrote him off the pages of The Outsiders, and into my heart, and I was smitten. I remember the heartache of that impossible love and devastating tears over his death. The emotion was no less real because it came from a book – my imagination filled in the rest.
Perhaps it was Meg and her brother Charles Wallace that drew me out of the funk. A Wrinkle in Time whisked me off the planet in spine-tingling suspense and I am grateful to L’Engle for an unparalleled dip into science fiction and fantasy. Years later, I find myself still trying to wrap my head around the tangential treasure When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
In young adulthood, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman introduced me to astounding new perspectives I had never encountered, and to this day my copy of Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gift From the Sea remains a coveted talisman from a friend gone too soon.
A quartet of best bud books that have stayed with me through adulthood remain Last Child In the Woods by Richard Louv, Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’ Brien, and Survival of the Birch Bark Canoe by John McPhee, and Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean. It’s a challenge to name just four, but to me, they deserve a secure spot on the shelf.
Even just last month, I found novel kinship in the pages of The Long Loneliness. Rarely have I experienced such instant affinity as I have in getting to know Dorothy Day; not a day goes by when I don’t think about her still. I have an inkling it may be a relationship that bears the test of time.
So, these are (some of) the stories that grew me. They taught me, stretched me, informed me, hid me, transported me, comforted me, and shaped me. I am who I am partly – and maybe largely – because of what I have read.
These are the stories that grew me.
What are yours?