Wednesday, August 6, 2014

20 Great Books That Sparked an Early Love of Reading


During the sixth grade at Whittier Elementary in Boulder, I worked in the school library. Several times a week I was excused from the chaotic classroom to the quiet sanctuary of the library to shelve books, write overdue notices and straighten the card catalog, mostly unsupervised. It was a sweet gig.

Near the end of the year, the librarian said she would reward each of us volunteers with a brand-new copy of our favorite book. The Boxcar Children and Little House on the Prairie were popular choices that year, but I selected a quirky, lesser-known title I'd discovered on the fiction shelf.

Miss Osborne-the-Mop by Wilson Gage is a summertime tale of two bored siblings who magically bring a dust mop to life. Miss Osborne tirelessly performs their chores—at least in the beginning of the story—until she develops her own ideas and begins wreaking havoc as only a live mop can. With plenty of plot twists and conflict, I remember it was the first book I read straight through over a weekend—and then I was hooked.

I witnessed a similar transformation with my twelve-year-old son. He has never really loved to read, but that changed this summer when he read Wonder, a 300-page novel by R. J. Palacio that he couldn't put down. That's how it happens, it seems; we finally connect with a great book, and then we understand what all the fuss is about reading.

I asked The Prose Cons to share some of the first early books they really enjoyed reading. Illustrating the diversity of our authors, they came back with some great responses—and the group didn't have a single duplicate. Here's what the Cons had to say:

"I was always an avid reader, but the John Carter of Mars books hold a special place in my heart. I remember finding the entire series in paperback tucked away on a forgotten shelf at my grandmother's house and feeling like I'd discovered a lost treasure." – Garrett Calcaterra

"Three Without Fear, by Robert C. DuSoe. My fourth grade teacher read it to us and I've read it repeatedly since." – Holly West 

"Jaws. I was visiting my grandparents in Florida and the book totally freaked me out.  I wouldn't go near the ocean." - Conrad Tuerk  

"Watership Down! I bought a copy for own kids as well!" – Peter Hogenkamp 

"My first literary loves were the Great Brain books. Why? Fuck, I was ordinary. No one noticed me, but I thought I was special. Which is an unfortunate combination in grade school. Tom (the "brain" of the title) was better than everyone else in his dopey little town, and he got what he wanted. Whereas I spent $40 at the stupid Berlin Fair and still couldn't bag Tracy Bartlett, Tom got Polly." – Joe Clifford 

The Secret Garden. I also liked The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” – Dr. Suzana Flores

"The Winning Forward Pass, a book that not too long ago I actually found at a bookstall at a New York City Book Fair. I purchased it, of course." - Charles Salzberg

"The Catcher in the Rye." – Arthur Kerns

"The Witches by Roald Dahl. It scared the living crap out of me with suspense as opposed to horror. I caught some of the movie version on TV a few weeks ago and realized it STILL scares the living crap out of me." – Mia Thompson

"To Kill a Mockingbird—and it is still one of my favorites." – Susan Clayton-Goldner

"The first book that left the biggest impression on me and I never forgot it was Go Ask Alice by Anonymous. It was a powerful true story of a girl who got hooked on drugs and ultimately died.  The book was made up of passages from her diary.  I remember reading it and being blown away.  I think my mother was trying to teach a life lesson.  Who would've imagined it would translate to me writing crime fiction." – Susan Coletta

"Dr. Zhivago. I read it in the sixth grade." – Leigh Anne Jashaway

"First one? I know it was probably Charlotte's Web, but I recall being fascinated by the 'novelization' of the movie Walking Tall. I was too young to read it, so I remember hiding under my sheets with a flashlight so I wouldn't get caught reading it. Same for The Exorcist a year later. I don't know why I was so afraid my parents would catch me reading. If I found one of my kids hiding under a sheet with a flashlight today, I'd probably just turn on the light and say, 'Go for it.'" Tom Pitts

McElligot's Pool.” – Helen Hanson

"The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I loved to think that a magical land lay just beyond the ordinary. And The Borrowers, for the same reason." - Jan Moran 

"Isaac Asimov’s Foundation." – TJ Turner

How about you? Was there a book you read as a youngster that hooked you and turned you into a lifelong reader? We'd all love to hear about your favorite titles and authors.

Your independent bookseller can also give you recommendations for today's young readers. IndieBooks Store Finder can help you find a great independent bookstore near you.  

Eliza Cross is the author of seven books including her latest, 101 Things To Do With a Pickle, just released by Gibbs Smith. She blogs at and and is the founder of the bacon enthusiast society BENSA, which—unlike Mensa—welcomes members of all intelligence levels. She is currently working on her second novel.


Susan Clayton-Goldner said...

Interesting there were no duplications in the books our early selves loved. Fun to see what everyone chose and to realize I'd read many of them as well. Great idea, Eliza.

Eliza Cross said...

Thanks for participating, Susan, and you reminded me that I want to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird.

Peter Hogenkamp said...

What a great idea for a post, Eliza. I will add that Alistair MacLean's FEAR IS THE KEY made me want to write thrillers, as did Robert Ludlum's THE BOURNE IDENTITY and Ken Follett's EYE OF THE NEEDLE.

Eliza Cross said...

That's interesting that those books and authors inspired you to write thrillers, and just think--someday your books will do the same thing for a new generation of readers and writers.

Sue Coletta said...

What a great post, Eliza! Reading Tom Pitts' answer made me recall secretly reading Judy Blume books. I'm not sure if I made a fort with my sheets, but I know they seemed very risque, like I shouldn't be reading them. Funny the things you remember.

Peter Hogenkamp said...

Thanks, eliza! I hope so.

Eliza Cross said...

I loved Judy Blume's books, too! They would probably seem tame by today's standards, right? Thanks for the reminder about Go Ask Alice, too.

Unknown said...

Dr. Seuss was an easy first pick followed by Nancy Drew. Even as a child, my tastes were pedestrian :) Fun post, Eliza!!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

sorry, double posted . . .

Dr. Suzana E. Flores said...

Love this post! An excellent trip down literary memory lane.