(Picture: A Young Girl Reading. Charlotte J. Weeks – 1890)
I must admit that as a child, I was not much of a reader to begin with. I was apparently going to be a non-reader born into a family of readers. However, I did love hearing stories and making them up. I remember pestering my parents for bedtime stories and irritating my sister with an endless tale about a lion. It was only as I entered middle school, with its mandatory book reviews, that I started to get interested in exploring and reading these stories on my own. There were some that have left a lasting impression on me. Here are some of them:
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This was one of the earliest books that I remember reading. As a child who was constantly shifting to new schools, these books gave me characters that I could empathize with.Mary, the protagonist, did begin as a rude and entitled child but you cannot help but sympathise with her as she was reacting like any child who had lost her parents, who did not seem like the most involved parents to begin with,and was then forced to move to not just a new house but a new country. What has made this book memorable to me, even after all these years is the sheer intensity of emotion contained in it. There is a kind of nostalgia in
the reading of books like The Secret Garden and Heidi that makes one want to just hug the book and cry, uncertain about whether it is tears of joy or sadness.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda came at the height of my Roald Dahl obsessed phase. While I still love his quirky works such as The Witches and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it is Matilda that remains my absolute favourite. What else can convince a pre-teen how fantastic reading is, other than a protagonist who develops telekinetic powers as a result of reading? Also, putting down bullying adults was not a bad selling point either.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
I know that books like Anne of Green Gables and What Katy Did? Are ultimately bildungsroman that focuses on these wild kids growing into demure adults. Yet, it was Anne’s imaginative and trouble-making childhood combined with her sense of adventure that has endeared her to me (I steadfastly choose to ignore the preachy and moralistic adult she becomes by the last books). She brings a ray of sunshine into the lives of siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, and indeed it seems to the prim and proper town of Avonlea. She was the Tom Sawyer I could relate with and wished to be like.
Works of Enid Blyton
I know this is not just one book, but it was the long summer of the sixth grade that was spent reading her books that has created the reader in me. She gave me characters and friend groups that I wanted to be like and wanted to be a part of. I wanted to be a part of the adventures of Famous Five or the Mystery Series, and I had never been more intent
on going to a boarding school than after reading Mallory Towers. If there were some middle school summer goals, the children of her books seemed to encapsulate it.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter has become the quintessential childhood read of recent times and it deserves its place. I must admit I am a bit of Harry Potter prude. While I enjoy the various theories floating around the internet, the seven books are the ones that matter to me. Rowling did not just give us a story that takes us onto a magical journey of good and evil, she also gave us a diverse set of characters we can relate to. The series takes us from our childhood to our teenage years, showing the tumultuous changes of adolescence (even in the midst of all the saving the world). Harry Potter started me on a fantastical journey that would last through my high school and introduce me to writers like Rick Riordan, Eoin Colfer and Michael Scott.
Even though as an adult and a literature student, I do see the problematic aspects inherent in my childhood favourites, these books will continue to hold a special place for me because for a child who was not too outgoing, these books opened up a wider world for me.
(Featured picture: Young Girl Reading – 1877. Seymour Joseph Guy)