I don’t know about all of you, but I developed my love of books and reading early. My parents would take my sister and I to the library every weeks to borrow books. My sister and I loved going to the library-there was a whole world right there at my fingertips to discover and devour. I am convinced that it was there trips to the library that made me a lifelong reader and bibliophile. Reading was a fun hobby, something enjoyable to do, not a chore that was rammed down my throat. So many parents want their kids to read, and they turn it into something they force their kids to do “that’s good for you” like eating lima beans. (YUCK!) I personally believe that’s the wrong approach. Yes, by all means, encourage your kids read classics like Little Women, Treasure Island, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web, The Secret Garden, but don’t force it on them. Let them develop their own reading tastes, and choose what they’d like to read for pleasure. They are more likely to give the classics a shot if they’re already exposed to a wide variety of reading materials. So, in my opinion, it’s ok if they start off by reading comic books-the important thing is that they’re reading! Eventually, they will get to Dickens, Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc. Just give it time.
The first books I remember loving and gobbling up were the Encyclopedia Brown and Baby-sitters Club books. Try as I might, I was ever smart and observant enough to solve the mysteries Encyclopedia could just with seemingly no effort, and I thought Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, and Dawn were the coolest girls ever. I really enjoyed the friendship between the girls, and imagined that I was an honorary member. (See, even at a young age, I understood the power and importance of female friendships!) I liked that these were strong, independent girls who had started their own business, while still going through all the typical ups and downs teenage girls go through. In fact, my love of the BSB led me to write my very first piece of fanmail to author Ann M. Martin. If memory serves, I issued a lunch invitation along with the the gushing about how much I liked her books. I never heard back from Ms. Martin, so needless to say, I never got to have lunch with her.
I also became a big fan of Roald Dahl’s books in elementary school. Mathilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, George’s Marvelous Medicine, and The Witches were particular favorites. What I liked best about Dahl’s books, is that he wrote from the child’s perspective, and the children were the heroes, standing up and emerging victorious from adult authority figures who were unsympathetic, impatient, and often mistreated the child protagonist. As a kid, reading stories where the child goes up against the adults and won was a real treat.
Around the 4th Grade, I started reading the Nancy Drew mysteries. I loved that she was a smart, sophisticated heroine who solved crimes with her two best friends Bess and George, and hunky boyfriend Ned Nickerson. I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see how Nancy was going to escape the latest perilous situation she found herself in, and how she was going to put the clues together to figure out who the bad guy was and bring them to justice.
However, looking back, I find the books stretch the limits of my suspension of disbelief, and some plot issues definitely give me problems. Let’s start off with the fact that Nancy is only 18 years old. Yet, somehow, she travels all over the country, all over the world, solving cases that somehow elude experienced police and detective. They can’t crack an international smuggling ring, but Nancy is all over it! Stretches the limits of plausibility for me now, but back then, I just went with it. And again, I really liked that Nancy was a strong, take-charge heroine who went out and solved mysteries, and didn’t take a backseat to a guy. I liked that Ned respected Nancy’s independence and her sleuthing skills.
By the time I was in high school, I was a full fledged romance addict, which meant I was completely addicted to the Sweet Valley High series. The world of the Wakefield twins, Elizabeth and Jessica, drew me in right away. Soapy, over-the-top it may have been, but I loved it anyway. There was so much romance, drama, and intrigue with every installment, and I couldn’t get enough. I must give kudos to Francine Pascal and her ghost writers because they did a heck of a job with the world building with the Sweet Valley series. There was the Sweet Valley Twins series, which chronicled Elizabeth and Jessica’s middle school years, there were spin-offs where you found out the family history of the Wakefields, as well as the prominent Patman and Fowler families, and there was a revolving door of secondary characters you kept tabs on. The series also dealt with serious issues, like drug abuse, dropping out of school, the challenges of blended families, bullying, etc.
But again, just like with the Nancy Drew books, as much as I loved the books, and still do, the ridiculousness of some of the books are striking to me now. Let’s start with the covers. Do they look like ANY 16 year olds you know? And secondly, sometimes I feel the contrast between Liz and Jessica was too stark. Liz is always the “good, responsible” twin, while Jessica is more “impulsive, carefree” and obsessed with popularity. Time and time again, Jessica takes advantage of Liz’s good nature, and 9 times out of 10, Liz cleans up after Jessica’s mess after Jessica does something immature and irresponsible. Again. I don’t know about you, but if I were Liz, I probably would have thrown Jess to the wolves ages ago!
So, what books started you on the path to being lifelong readers and book lovers? Any other SVH and BSC lovers out there? Tell me in the comments below!