I’m a writer and I’m a mom. Those roles intersect when it comes to my teen daughter and reading. Recently, my daughter was in a reading lull. It went on for a while and was starting to concern me. I kept recommending different books, but I’m her mom, so you can imagine how seriously she took my ideas. I happened to have an advanced copy of FROSTBLOOD (an amazing book by Elly Blake that debuts next year) and left it on the kitchen table. My daughter picked it up and read it in a single sitting and then announced that it had gotten her out of her slump. Since then, she has read several more books and I was reminded how much books matter to the kids who fall in love with them.
The whole experience got me to thinking about how young people connect with books. And it made me wonder.
When did you realize books are your jam?
For those of us actively writing books for children and young adult readers, a lot of the motivation for doing so often seems to be rooted in the experiences we, ourselves, had when we were young.
For me, I had one single experience that made me realize that books were my thing and were the thing I valued more than most other things.
In the fall of 1983 (let’s pretend I had a time machine to go back to that year and that I am not really old), the middle grade writer James Howe came to do a school visit. This in itself was noteworthy because I lived in one of the poorer parts of town. We didn’t get a lot of special visits at my school and as far as I can remember Howe is the only author who ever went there.
Howe was there to talk about his book, Celery Stalks at Midnight, the third installment in the Bunnicula series. By that point, I was already an avid reader and I loved Bunnicula. In case you haven’t read the books, they follow a dog named Harold and a cat named Chester who become convinced that the family rabbit is a vampire. During Howes’ visit, he did a talk for the whole school in the cafeteria. The school librarian (I could do a whole post on how much school librarians do for children, but I’ll save that for another time) put together a smaller activity after school and invited kids she knew really liked to read to meet Howe in a smaller setting. Anyone who bought the book would also be able to have it signed.
I think the book was $2 or $2.50 or something and my grandma gave me $3 which was a lot of money for our family in 1983. But everyone thought it was really cool and special that I was one of the kids who’d been chosen to stay after school and meet a real author. At the talk, I asked James Howe where he got his ideas from and he said that he tried to look around for inspiration from his every day life. He did sign my book, which instantly became my prized possession. He wrote my name on it.
But I was eight.
And I never had any money.
So that particular day, I had 50¢ leftover from buying the book. On the way home from school, I had to pass by a woman who made homemade lollipops and sold them for a quarter. They were really delicious. I stopped inside and bought two.
When I got home, I no longer had my book.
I ran back to the woman’s house but didn’t find it. I ran all the way back to school. I was so hysterical that the school custodian let me into the library to look for my book, but I didn’t find it. I never found it.
I cried and cried and cried. Probably for an entire week. The librarian tried to loan me the book but I couldn’t take it. It made me too upset. My grandma scrounged up another three dollars and offered to get me a new copy, but it never would have been the same. To this day, I still have not read Celery Stalks at Midnight. I have no idea what happened after book two, Howliday Inn.
The whole experience changed my awareness of what books meant to me. That’s when I really knew that books were my thing. That I would never ever again leave my book unprotected to get some candy. Screw lollipops! I wanted books.
So what about you? When did you really know you were in love with books?
P.S. I seriously still want that book back. If anyone has seen my copy of Celery Stalks at Midnight signed by James Howe please let me know!