children’s book that changed me

What children’s book altered my perception of the world, and of myself? This wasn’t an easy question to answer as a few books came to mind (and some poetry that I was in love with too…I’ve already told you about “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes) but here are my top picks:

A Little Princess_book coverA Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Little Sara was a girl of privilege, and as much as I loved the descriptions of her porcelain doll dressed in silk and lace and all of her lovely things, I also loved Sara’s unshakable bravery and sense of self even when all the money was suddenly gone. She remained herself throughout, regardless of her status at Miss Minchin’s school for girls (this book also made me want to learn French and work on a slate) and her imagination blossomed in the shadows of her dank new dwellings.


EmilyOfNewMoon_first edition coverEmily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery: Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest. I was completely absorbed in the old-fashioned detail of these books, and I found a kinship in Emily that I hadn’t felt with Anne Shirley (of Green Gables). Though I have since read the Anne books and now love them, Emily was more my type of girl: quiet, introspective, walking in circles and spinning stories in her head. And she would experience those beautiful flashes of inspiration that I experienced (if only briefly) as a young girl yearning to become a writer. There is a particular scene in Emily Climbs of being snowed in an old house overnight with her friends (including a certain young man whom Emily likes beyond friendship) where she finds the inspiration to write a novel. This was pure magic to me, and it spoke to something vital to me, still: the act of writing and the feeling of being inspired is a beautiful thing, and should be enjoyed for its own sake and not just for the final product. Especially as a kid, when I would get distracted from one project to the next to the next and nothing was ever finished, it was important to know this. As if that wasn’t enough, Emily had a special ESP/seeing-into-the-past type of power. She was like a quieter, darker, more mysterious version of Anne Shirley, with magical powers to boot. It’s no wonder that I was hooked.

I could blame these books for making me sort of an old-fashioned girl more interested in pretty dresses and dancing slippers than in the brand-name sweatshirts and white jeans that all my friends were getting, but looking back I don’t think this was such a bad thing. At the Children’s Literature Conference, M.T. Anderson talked about how teenagers have a tendency (a natural tendency, I think) to create themselves from the “outside, in” – their clothing is seen as evidence of their personalities, and so they wear and change their clothing to suit the personality they want to emulate. A big part of me wanted to live in the days of Emily of New Moon – I’m sure I may not have been happy there long-term, but it made a big impression on me. Those books helped create my personality, from the inside-out. And while I’m happy in modern life I often retreat back to the lush details and exciting history of the past when I write.

Published in: on August 8, 2009 at 4:37 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I felt the same way about A Little Princess and Emily of New Moon – there was just something magical about those books (not to sound cheesy). I’m currently reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and it’s reminding me of that style of book: rich with historical details and with a main character who makes amazing observations about the things around her.

  2. A Little Princess has always been one of my favorite books and sometimes I still reread it if I have an afternoon available and I’m feeling nostalgic. Another princess story that always got me was The Ordinary Princess, by M.M. Kaye.
    Yeah, I’m the girl who kept “A Map of Faerieland” up on her wall, even after she put up her Rent movie poster, because they were CLEARLY equally important.
    I never read the Emily of New Moon series, but I did read most of the Anne of Green Gables books, and numerous family friends have compared me to Anne Shirley, minus the red hair.

    • The Ordinary Princess looks darling! I’ll definitely check that out. Oh, and being compared to Anne Shirley is a good, good thing. No doubt about that. Just make sure you check the label on the raspberry cordial:)

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