What book made you a reader?

I’ve been reading some of the previews of the upcoming version of Little Women (though seriously, how many film versions do we need?…) and it got me nostalgic for the days when my sister and I would reenact scenes from the book (I was always Jo, she was always Amy). Looking back I realize just how definitive this book was in turning me into a lifelong reader – and when I see books like ‘How to Raise A Reader’, I wonder if some books really do turn out to be pivotal in inspiring someone to love reading. I know for my sister at least, there really wasn’t any one book (or books) that proved critical to turning her into a lifelong book lover. In fact, growing up she was indifferent to many of the books I adored and, though we played ‘Little Women’, she didn’t actually read that book until she was a young adult. I wonder if for her it was just a matter of timing – finding that one amazing book at the right time in childhood that would make all the difference – because, even though she is a great reader now, she was never as passionate (nor as voracious) a reader as I was as a child. This got me questioning whether many ‘non-readers’ simply never found that one pivotal book in childhood that inspired them to read…

For me, Little Women was one of many books that inspired my love of reading. I remember how much I wanted to be just like Jo, how I wished she’d married Laurie (I really hated Amy for a while!), and how much a wept over Beth’s death. Little Women wasn’t the only book I remember reading vividly – there was also C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, Madeline L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, and Elinor M. Brent Dyer’s Chalet School Series (which I read and re-read for many years). When I think back to my childhood reading experience, these are the books that really stand out for me – with the memories of the first time I read them indelibly imprinted on my brain. When I look at my own children, I feel grateful to have witnessed their own ‘book’ moments that turned them into lifelong readers – but then I wonder what happens to those kids that never find that special book, or who never have those moments which turn them into book lovers…?

So TKZers, what were your early reading experiences like? Was there a particular book (or books) that turned you into a reader? Do you think it’s getting harder for kids to experience this? (asked against a background of dread that ‘screen time’ has now replaced book time!)

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40 thoughts on “What book made you a reader?

  1. I read absolutely everything as a child. My parents had to work to get me away from books and do “non-reading” things from time to time. My aunt used to tack “with her nose in a book” to anything she said to or about me.
    “Favorites” depended on how old I was, and were usually series or theme related. Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys (didn’t care for Nancy Drew), Tom Swift, Jr. (raided my brother’s shelves for those. Books about horses, especially Marguerite Henry. Then mystery and science fiction. Doyle and Christie, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke.
    My 11-year-old grandson, who is addicted to screen time, still reads books, both print and on his Kindle. Captain Underpants, Ready Player One, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

  2. Swiss Family Robinson, and the Sugar Creek Gang series. Read both in the 4th grade. My book report on the Swiss Family Robinson took two days.

  3. You brought back some great nostalgic memories of hours upon hours in my room on Saturdays, cuddled under a quilt, reading, reading, reading. I’d finish one, cry that the story was over, and immediately start on another. My parents had to threaten me to get me to go out and play.

    I loved Nancy Drew books. And, like you, I dreamed of being just like her. I read every one available at the time. As a young adult, that love morphed into Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, and kind of out in left field-Jack Higgins.

    There are many more now, but the Nancy Drew books romanced me into a lifetime of reading. I wonder how many more of us there are out there…

  4. The Black Stallion hooked me on reading–I couldn’t wait for the next book to come out when I finished one. But the first book I remember having an impact on me was a biography of Will Rogers. It inspired me to find a rope and learn how to twirl it. lol

  5. Thank you for bringing me way back to very happy memories. I was maybe 4 or 5 years old and home sick. My mother was reading The Wizard of Oz to me and it was so good I begged her to keep reading. She put aside her house work and read all the way to the end because I was sick. I remember she read until her voice was hoarse and I also remember it was the first book I ever loved that didn’t have pictures. She told me that once I learned to read I wouldn’t need pictures to love a book. I decided then and there I couldn’t wait to go to school and learn how to read.

    • What a lovely story! I remember reading Little House on the Prairie to my boys when they were sick – they were so engrossed I had to keep going till we were finished too. I can still see them both lying on the couch with their blankets listening intently – even while feeling awful!

  6. Clare, how fun you and your sister acted out Little Women.

    My grandmother, with her British accent, introduced me to Dr. Doolittle and Mary Poppins and gave me a head start on learning to read before kindergarten.

    Years ago, I heard children’s author Ben Mikaelsen’s talk about the sacred obligation he felt to young readers b/c a book could turn a child on to a lifetime of reading, or totally turn them off. He recalled a signing where he met a little boy who’d never read a book before. After talking for a few minutes, the boy decided, instead of spending his allowance on a particular toy he’d been saving for, he wanted Ben’s book. Ben said he felt a huge responsibility not to let that kid down.

    I’m guessing the boy became a reader as a result of that encounter.

  7. For me it was Jules Verne’s Journey To The Center Of The Earth at age 14. Then on to more Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and this led straight into Hemingway and Steinbeck.

  8. I have to admit, I never read books until after high school. Then was given Kathleen E. Woodiwiss – Flame and the Flower. I read the first page and that was it. I hate to say it but I’ve read probably 600+ romance novels in my 20’s-30’s. That’s how I realized I could write one better than most I read. I donated bags of them to the local library. I read mystery or autobiographies now.

  9. It wasn’t one book but a set of them. The old Childcraft books, which my mom or dad read to us before bed. I started collecting them a couple years back in homage. Within one volume is one of the few poems I can recite from memory:

    A book, I think, is very like
    A little golden door
    That takes me into places
    Where I’ve never been before.

    It leads me into fairyland
    Or countries strange and far
    And, best of all, the golden door
    Always stands ajar.

    • Great. I was thinking of Childcraft also. Orange. Great illustrations. The first few graded volumes and then, when I was daring, dipping into the higher-numbered “adult” volumes with things like psychology.

      I think I was part of an exchange on KZB a while back about “The Highwayman” as it appeared in Childcraft.

  10. I have two books that totally changed my life as a reader.

    In the third grade, THE SECRET HORSE by Marion Holland woke me to the pleasure of reading, and I’ve been a bookaholic ever since.

    THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read this book with my English class in high school and was electrified by the period and the possibilities of Romantic fiction. Also, for the first time, I understood the book better than my extremely bright classmates! This book pointed me in the direction of my college studies. I was an English major, and I specialized in Hawthorne’s Romantic period all the way through graduate schools.

  11. The Rootie Kazootie Golden Book series to begin with, then the hardcover “All About” series written by various authors and published by Random House.

  12. I don’t clearly remember anything that sparked my interest in reading, though my mum and her family are voracious readers. Mum would read bedtime stories to us and record them on the tape recorder, then play them back if we wanted more than one story (though, that’s only what I remember, the reality could’ve been very different).

    I remember the Little Golden books and the Richard Scarry books as a child, but my first book that I read over and over again (that I remember) was a ghost story called Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. Probably because the protagonist’s name was Molly. 🙂

    I got into a lot of trouble reading books when I wasn’t supposed to- during class, when I was supposed to be doing homework- and could easily go through two to three books a week. Classic literature, romance, thriller, crime, mystery, noir, science fiction, fantasy… you name it, I probably read it.

    Sadly, I don’t read as much as I used to, so many other things take up my time now. When I do read though, I binge read, blocking out the world for three to four books at a time.

  13. I can’t ever remember not being excited by books when I was a child. The illustrations in Little Golden Books still feel so familiar to me.

    Jane Eyre was one of the first books I bought with my own money at the school book fair when I was 11. It, in combination with a book of Poe’s stories, cast me into my lifelong love affair with all things gothic.

  14. I. Have. No. Idea. I have always read. My parents read to me from the time I could understand. I could read from the time I was a toddler (seriously). My mother used to take me to the library when I was a kid. There used to be this thing where kids could order books in class. I always ordered more than anyone, and I read them. What books I loved most would have depended on my age. Just like pretty much everyone I started with picture books like The Sun Shone on the Elephant and Where the Wild Things Are, and moved onto chapter books like Homer Price, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Chronicles of Narnia, and then moved into books like The Secret Garden, etc. Many books I loved and can remember snippets of, but have forgotten the titles of, have no doubt been out of print for decades and lost to time. There has never been a time in my life when I haven’t been a reader. I never know what to say to someone who tells me they don’t read.

  15. It’s never too late to find the book that makes you a reader. As a child, I wasn’t read to and I only ever skimmed books I was forced to read in school. Part of the problem was the books the school wanted us to read held no appeal to me, but mostly I was a worshipper of TV.

    It changed when I started university and was spending two to three hours on public transport every day. Sure, I probably should have used that time studying, but instead, I picked up a copy of Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World (yes, I am a huge geek). I loved it and read the rest of the series that he had written at that point as fast as I could.

    It should be noted I went instantaneously from someone who didn’t read books to someone who was devouring 1000+ page books.

    It took me over twenty years to finish reading the series as Jordan’s illness and death meant it had to be finished by another author and during that time my taste in fiction had changed. I had bought the later books but hadn’t got around to reading them until a few years ago. Even though I don’t read epic fantasy anymore, revisiting them reminded me of all the things I love about reading, writing and storytelling.

  16. How inspiring Kate – and I do believe it is never too late to become a reader. Geek that I am, I loved the Robert Jordan series too! I confess after his death I haven’t read the remaining books though…

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