Age 5: Chatty Chipmunk’s Nutty Day by Suzanne Gruber and illustrated by Doug Cushman
I loved this book when I was little. It was about a chipmunk who was looking for a safe place to hide his acorns. After trying out multiple places, and encountering plenty of animals that might tamper with his hiding place, he finds the perfect spot. I think what I enjoyed the most was the alliteration in the refrain, “Chitter, chitter, chatter, I like nuts!” Embarrassing fact: I still have my paperback copy.
I also had a beautifully illustrated book of fairy tales, but my little brother threw it down the stairs and it cracked in half. I wish I could remember the name, but each fairy tale was a page or two, with a beautiful illustration around the text, and I think the outside cover had a lot of orange/yellow. The end papers had a scene of a group of men and women in renaissance garb going through the woods. I kept the one half of the book for a while, and I remember my favorite story was “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”
Age 11: Any Nancy Drew mystery by Carolyn Keene
When I was in sixth and seventh grades, my friend Karen and I tried to read all the Nancy Drew books that the school library had. (At that time, there were over 200 Nancy Drew Case Files mass market paperbacks, with Bess in really poofy sleeves any time she was on the cover. Clearly, Bess hadn’t gotten over the eighties, even if Nancy had.) Anyway, we were obsessed. Partially because they were Accelerated Reader books, and partially because Nancy Drew was/is just. plain. awesome. It took a while before I could read a whole Nancy Drew before bed (if I got scared, I’d have to close the book – like that episode of Friends where Joey throws Little Women in the freezer), but the girl sleuth has definitely stuck with me! I just released a paperback edition of my own middle grade mystery, Hot Ticket, and it’s definitely inspired by years of reading Nancy Drews.
Age 16: Don’t tell anybody, but I went through a Nicholas Sparks phase
Here’s the thing about Nicholas Sparks – I could read the first 180 pages, and think, “Whatever, this book isn’t going to make me cry.” And then, I hit page 182 and all of a sudden I’m reaching for the tissues. Nicholas Sparks was definitely my guilty pleasure for a few years, but I’d never tell you that when I was sixteen.
Actually, at sixteen I entering my junior year of high school, and I was probably working on memorizing the first paragraph of Moby Dick. We all had to stand in front of the class and recite from memory the first paragraph — extra points if you could do it in an old English brogue. (It was, indeed, a “damp, drizzly November in my soul” that day, as I believe I stumbled through the first paragraph with no brogue and maybe only half of the correct lines!)
Age 20: “Jane Austen [Doesn’t] Suck”
I didn’t really read YA until I was already out of college, though I do remember reading The Perks of Being A Wallflower as a college sophomore. When I was twenty though, I was doing an independent study on Jane Austen, where I read all of her novels and talked about her politics. I had a friend at the time who was also an English major, and he hated Jane Austen with the passion of a thousand burning suns. I tried to convince him that Austen’s novels were actually very smart, sociopolitical commentaries, but to him she was just a silly woman who wrote trashy books.
So one day, I printed out a couple of Jane Austen quotes, and my roommate and I tucked them into various parts of his car, so that he’d have a little Jane Austen with him wherever he went. Fast forward a few days, and I walk into my bedroom and it is covered in thousands of little slips of paper, individually cut into little rectangles that say, “Jane Austen Sucks.” There were so many papers, that even a few years after graduation, I would still pull out a purse or a pair of shoes and find a slip of paper that said, “Jane Austen Sucks.”
Needless to say, I never pulled another book related prank again!