This is the first post in a series I am calling First Books, recalling many of the books that impacted me deeply as both a reader and a writer while growing up. It is an ode to books both great and unknown, and I hope it inspires wonderful conversations about your own first reads!
Dinotopia, James Gurney
If you were to ask me at any given time what my top favorites books were (but please don't), some of the titles would probably change. But Dinotopia will not. It is a book I have read and reread into adulthood. I have gushed about it to friends and included nods to it in my own stories. I dream of reading it to my own children one day. This story is so full of hope and imagination, and oftentimes it served as an escape from the harder moments of life. The found-journal style of storytelling really draws the reader in, and the paintings are full of with breathtaking detail. You don't have to love dinosaurs to appreciate this story, you need merely share a wonder of the world as it is and as it could be. I could wax poetic on all the ways Dinotopia has impacted me, but I will save it for another time. (Also, hi James Gurney, I love your drawings and this world. Pretty please keep writing more Dinotopia books!)
Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch, Carolyn Keene
I was a Nancy Drew girl all the way. She was probably my first real heroine and I'm still kind of bummed that my own life is not nearly as full of mysteries to solve. In fourth grade my best friend and I made a bet to see who could read through all 56 of the original series first. I barely eked out first place at the end of the school year, which I will admit was filled with lots of secretly reading yellow hardbacks under my desk during class or under the bed covers with a flashlight. Still, the tension of discovery kind of added to the mysteries' ambiance. The Secret of Shadow Ranch was hands-down my favorite. It included more physical action than many of the others, including chases on horseback and climbing through canyons. What made it all the more personally exciting was that the summer following this Nancy Drew marathon, I traveled to Arizona for a family vacation and felt like I was walking through the very scenes of Nancy's world.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
My first reading of this book was really the school librarian reading to me, along with the rest of my third grade class. We sat enraptured every other afternoon, imagining a world of snow and sorceresses and fantastical talking creatures. While re-reading the series as an adult I sometimes can't help but feel that Lewis is bashing me over the head with the obviousness of his analogies, I can still find the magic in the imagery he created. And whatever your thoughts may be about Aslan-Jesus, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe feels like an ode to imagination and hope, and how wondrous, full, and complex the world can look in the eyes of children. I don't think I'll ever stop hoping to find Narnia in the next turn of the wardrobe door.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
While the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, is a wonderful and enchanting introduction to the Wizarding World, I had a stronger attachment to the second book. I found the mystery of the Chamber and Slytherin's Heir far more entrancing, with a better build up and laying out of clues. I loved the expansion of the world we had already gotten to know, and the growing complexity of the main characters. The only thing I ever disliked was the absence of Hermione in the last act, and the fact that she basically solved the mystery while Harry and Ron were labeled the heroes. Luckily, we get a reversal of sidekicks in Prisoner of Azkaban and Hermione gets a chance to kick butt once more, with a Time-Turner. Harry Potter was the first series I got to grow up with as it was being written, leaving me with a lasting personal connection.