Books that changed your life

My sister Abby is a children’s librarian who knows more about the field of children’s literature than anyone else I know. She’s been reading the blog of Julius Lester, a favorite children’s lit author for both of us. Recently, Lester asked his readers of his blog to send him a paragraph on “Books That Changed Your Life.” So Abby wrote to him about a book that she and I both love deeply, and today Lester published Abby’s paragraph on his blog:

There are so many books that have deeply affected me, but the book that first sprang to mind is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. My brother is eight years older than me…. The first time I felt myself to be more than a little sister to him, the first time that I felt somewhat on his intellectual plane, was after reading The Phantom Tollbooth. Dan and I had many long discussions about the book, most especially its subtle humor and twists of language, and thus began a life-long habit of sitting and talking together about literature and philosophy. There are two messages in the book that have helped to form how I approach my life: that the impossible can be achieved, and that it’s far better to appreciate the here and now than to waste time and life wishing you were somewhere else [link].

The Phantom Tollbooth is a book that changed my life, too, so here’s my own paragraph on how it changed my life (though I’m not so eloquent as Abby):

When I was in fourth grade, I got transferred to a new public elementary school. Structured on the “open classroom” ideas then current, the school was one huge open carpeted room with a library in the middle and groups of children around the periphery. I loved having the library so close at hand, and one day I discovered in that library a book called The Phantom Tollbooth. I remember the moment when my nine-year-old self understood that the whole book was an allegory about opening your mind to the wonders of the world around you. I read and re-read that book innumerable times, its characters and world became a part of me, and yes that book opened my mind. So of course I had to tell my beloved younger sister, Abby, that she should read it. She read it, and fortunately she also loved it; and over the years the book seemed to feed into shared realms of fantasy and puppetry and thinking and conversation. A few years ago, I understood that the book was also about how to cultivate a life of the mind to get you through the bleak times in life. And to do that, you need friends and companions to share that life of the mind with you — along with free and open access to a library full of good books.

So what books have changed your life? I’d especially love to hear about books that you read when you were somehwere between 8-12 years old — but talk about any book that changed your life.

6 thoughts on “Books that changed your life

  1. Elizabeth

    Thanks for sharing. I love hearing about books that change people’s lives. My dad was an English teacher and so we always had a lot of books around – and there was little sense that we (my sister and I) needed to read “age appropriate books.” So I read The Color Purple, The Prince of Tides, and To Kill a Mockingbird all by the time I was 12 because these were books my parents liked, so I figured they must be good. I realized in later years that I missed SO MUCH the first (and second… and maybe third and fourth) time reading these at such young ages – and maybe my parents assumed I wouldn’t really “get” a lot of it, but the point is that even reading these books when I was young, I already had the sense that they were important books in my life. I have read them many times since, and each time I learn something new or get something else from them. They are all written beautifully and shaped my identity as a southerner, feminist, person against racism, social justice-seeker, writer, and lover of beautiful words.

  2. Jean

    Hi Ab and Dan –
    My book, perhaps predictable, is Black Beauty. It was the first book I read, on my own. I think I was five. Maybe six. I know I read it in the summer, because I can still remember lying on the floor, reading, the heat of summer heavy all around. That book became, and still is, a touchstone book because of its perspective: the story of Black Beauty is told from the point of view of the horse himself. Its tone is, I know now, a bit arch and pedantic, but reading the book then taught me something that as a writer I have never forgotten: see the world from another’s point of view. It will teach you everything. And so, that’s been what I have tried to do ever since. I suppose it’s not too embarrassing to admit that my first “published” piece was a story in the Boston Herald about a dog. From, yes, the dog’s point of view.

  3. Anna Belle

    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – no question there. We lived in England back in 1959, and my mother found it many years before it was discovered in this country. My father read it out loud to my brother and me. How we all loved that ritual. He’d never read children’s books when small, and so it meant a great deal to all of us. Somehow it gave me hope. The scene where Lucy is believed by the Professor struck me to the bone.

  4. Administrator

    Elizabeth — I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, and it was overpowering then — reading it as a child must have knocked you for a loop. Wow. Great story.

    Jean — Memories bubble up of you reading Black Beauty. If you were five, I must have been all of three. But when I got old enough to maybe read it myself, I remember looking at it and thinking that it was Your Book, so I never did read it, although I retain a vivid visual memory of the cover. I did read some of your other horse books — I *still* love that book on how to ride a horse (I’m blanking on the title), even though I’ve never ridden and never want to ride. Oh, and I remember you and mom trying to get me to read “Little Women,” which I refused to do (I think because I thought it was a girl’s book) — then when I finally read it as an adult, I told my childhood self, “You idiot, you *would* have loved that book.” Funny how siblings pass books along to one another.

    Anna Belle — Imagine having that book read aloud to you as a child — must have been wonderful. And yes, that scene you mention really is powerful….

  5. abs

    Dan – glad you got my phone message to read the post! I think I’ll go read “The Phantom Tollbooth” again now that I have your perspective on its meaning…

  6. Pingback: Favorite Books « Elizabeth’s Little Blog

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