As a child, I was a re-reader. Those books I loved most never left my bedside table, and even today, have never left my heart. Now, as a professional author of middle grade books, I realize how much they shaped my own voice, how much those books made me into who I am today. Therefore, here is a tribute to my five favorites.
1. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. Set in historical England, this is the exciting adventure of plucky young Bonnie, her shy cousin, Sylvia, and their brave friend, Simon, a goose boy who helps the girls escape their evil governess, Miss Slighcarp (don’t you just love that name?). This was one of the first books I read where the author was genuinely tough on her characters, where it wasn’t clear to me as a reader that everything would have a happy ending. I cared, and worried, and hoped for these characters, and loved Joan Aiken all the more for taking me on that journey.
2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Misfit Meg Wallace loves her oddball family, especially her young genius brother, Charles Wallace. Along with the cool Calvin O’Keefe, they seek help in finding Meg’s lost father from three even more unusual women: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Their adventure is much greater, and more dangerous, than they ever could have imagined. I loved Meg, and still do. She was tough and persistent and unfailing in her love, and that is what saves them.
3. Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon. This series began in 1927 but still sells over a million copies a year. My favorite of the series was, While the Clock Ticked, in which boy detectives Frank and Joe Hardy get trapped in a house about to be blown up by a time bomb. Joe was always my favorite of the boys, and he gets into some pretty significant trouble during this book.
4. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. This is the mystery story of sixteen heirs of Sam Westing, as they must solve the clues to determine who killed Westing. The winner will inherit his $200 million fortune. I loved this book, but even more fun was when my kids became old enough to read the book for themselves and were genuinely shocked that they hadn’t been the first to discover it.
5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Okay, this might be more of a YA than a middle grade, but I discovered it in my middle grade years. This story follows young Ponyboy, a dreamer who is on the fringes of the Greasers gang. The Greasers are rivals of the Socs gang. Through all of the troubles for Ponyboy and his brothers and family, he ultimately learns the lesson from his friend to “stay gold.” It was this book that made me decide I wanted to become a writer one day, and is the reason it had to be included in this list.
So what about you? Which were the books that shaped you the most?
Jennifer Nielsen lives on the side of a northern Utah mountain with her husband, three children, and a naughty puppy. She is the author of Elliot and the Goblin War, the forthcoming Elliot and the Pixie Plot (Sourcebooks, August `11), and from Scholastic, The False Prince (April `12). Learn more about her and her books at www.jennielsen.com