Do Childhood Books Influence Us?

So I’ve been “thinking” the past few months . . . (“A dangerous activity!” my husband likes to tell me!)  Since I’m a sloooooow learner it’s taken me many years to realize something about myself, and I had an epiphany of sorts after the recent launch of my newest middle-grade ghost story, Circle of Secrets (Scholastic), and the manuscript I just finished editing last week, When the Butterflies Came (April, 2013, Scholastic).

Both of these books have elements of magical realism. (Well, maybe not *that* magical because ghosts are actually real, aren’t they? I like to think so! Does anybody remember the movie, Ghost with Demi Moore and the late Patrick Swayze? Oh my! )

I digress.

In these stories, I write about charm bracelets and secret notes in a bottle tree and old porcelain dolls and keys that unlock mysterious doors, and it suddenly occurred to me that the books of my childhood—the books I read over and over again—have influenced me more than I ever realized. Because as a kid I *loved* books with these kind of magical and mysterious artifacts. OR is it that all of these elements are things I already loved so I gravitate toward books with those elements in my reading—and now I’m writing books with those elements? Sort of a chicken and egg phenomenon . . . but still.

How much do our favorite books as a child influence what we read as an adult? Have your tastes changed much? I do find that I read more widely and eclectically as an adult, and I like to try unusual books I’ve heard good reviews about. I mean, I don’t *just* read books about magical dolls!

And for the writers out there, how have your childhood favorites influenced you in the topics you choose to write about now?

But here’s the thing: As I was writing Circle of Secrets and When the Butterflies Came, I never consciously added the various elements of dolls, charm bracelets, and old-fashioned skeleton keys to the story. After all, I haven’t actually perused my childhood favorites in many years. (Too busy reading all the fantastic new books in the children’s lit scene!)

No, my story ideas evolved as I was first thinking about complicated mother/daughter relationships. Girls and their moms who were carrying secrets and hurts and guilt that keep them apart. And I was thinking about what it was like live in a small town on a bayou. Or an island in the South Pacific. And I was thinking about families and sisters and forgiveness and love and how complicated people are and our relationships. And my brain was doing things like, “Ooh, what if this happened? Or this! Or that!” as I furiously scribbled notes, having small epiphanies, and getting excited as a kid when all those elements start clicking into a real story with twists and turns.

It hasn’t been until AFTER I plotted, drafted, revised and copy-edited that the final epiphany came—that I’m writing the kind of books I loved to read as a child. And that’s been a really satisfying epiphany. So now that we all feel warm and squishy, here are three favorite books from when I was a kid (not counting Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy!):

 

MAGIC ELIZABETH by Norma Kassirer is about a girl named Sally who has to stay with a cranky old aunt for a few weeks. Feeling lonely, she finds a mirror in the attic that transports her to the past where she sees the life of a girl unfold—a girl who lived in this very house long ago. Sally experiences what the girl from the past, Sarah, experiences over a period of strange, dreamlike weeks—including the disappearance of Sarah’s beloved doll named Elizabeth. As Sally becomes embroiled in the events of the past—she eventually figures out the clues that will lead her to finding Elizabeth, the lost doll from sixty years ago.

 

THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE by Elizabeth Goudge

Who says Moms can’t find great books for their kids to read? My mother read a review of this book in a kid’s magazine when I was about ten-years-old and thought I’d like it. Oh, boy, I LOVED it! Read it over and over again. Set in what I used to call the “olden days” about an orphan girl going to stay with her unusual Uncle at Moonacre Manor;  in parts both realistic and magical. In fact, this book has so many unusual and wonderful characters and plot threads it’s difficult to summarize.

Imagine my surprise to read this by J. K. Rowling: “The Little White Horse was my favorite novel as a child. I absolutely adored it. It had a cracking plot. It was scary and romantic in parts and had a feisty heroine.”

 

 

TWO ARE BETTER THAN ONE by Carol Ryrie Brink (Yes, the author of Caddie Woodlawn fame!)

This is the story of two best friends during the turn of the 20th century who receive a pair of dolls for Christmas and together begin writing a story about the dolls, letting them experience adventure and danger and romance—as the girls grow up and deal with school and friendship and family. The dolls show up again decades later when the two girls are old and widowed—with a surprise for the reader.

 

So I’m curious about all of YOU. What were your fav books as a child? Do you read the same kinds of books you did as a child? Have you found that those books have informed you and your life in any particular way?

Kimberley’s busy trying to avoid the candy aisle at the grocery store and prepping for IRA THIS weekend in Chicago! If you live in Chicago and/or are attending IRA (International Reading Association) please come say hello to me THIS Monday, April 30th at the Scholastic Booth from 3-4 p.m. I will be signing books and chatting up a storm.

Y’all are also invited to a fantastic pre-conference workshop Sunday from 9a.m. – 5 p.m. with NINE authors! Pretty cool, eh? IRA Institute 12: Rekindling the Reading fire – Author Panel – Using the story strategies of Professional Authors to Inspire a Love of Reading and Writing with Carolee Dean, Caroline Starr Rose, Esther Hershenshorn, April Halprin Wayland, Carolyn Meyer, Kersten Hamilton, Lisa Schroeder, Uma Krishnaswami, and Moi!  www.kimberleygriffithslittle.com

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