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Friday, July 20, 2012

The Nine Most Influential Authors of My Childhood

I have loved books ever since I was very small.  My parents can take the credit for instilling that love in me.  Words on a page have always fascinated me; I've been reading since the age of four.  As I grew in confidence as a reader, I would devour almost any book I could get my hands on.  Luckily, my parents, knowing good literature, provided me with quality books that made a positive impact one me.

I have no idea how many books I've read in, well, seventeen years.  The authors below have been the most influential in my life up till this point, and I still love their books and read them often.
I won't give much information about each author themselves.  The names are all links to biographical information, and I've included links to some other interesting sites as well.  Fair warning--this is a long post!

Laura Ingalls Wilder  When I was small, playing dress-up was one of my favorite activities.  More often than not, I played I was Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Her books fed my imagination.  If I could have gone back in time, it would have been to visit Laura.  The stories she wrote are easy enough to read for small children, and fascinating enough for older ones.  She is a master at storytelling, detail, and bringing places and people to vivid life.  I grew up with Laura, and now I love reading the books about her teen years, courtship with the wonderful Almanzo, and early marriage (Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years).  At the age of seven I had one of the greatest thrills of my life when I visited Laura's birthplace in Pepin, Wisconsin.  That was an experience I'll never forget!

Jane Austen  Thanks to high school literature (credit to my mother) and two beloved friends who were, well, rather obsessed with Jane in high school (Janan and Emily!), I finally watched the five-hour movie of Pride and Prejudice my freshman year and read the book not long after that.  I have since read it several times over, and I have also read Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion.  Someday I'll get to Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park.  I also own the more recent, shorter version of Pride and Prejudice, the movie with Matthew McFayden and Kiera Knightley, and Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson.  They're all great movies!

Jane Austen's books are absolutely timeless.  The themes are still as applicable today as they were when they were written.  They're lovely romances, hilarious comedies, and serious dramas, all rolled into one.  Not for the faint of heart, but most certainly for the romantic.  (More about Jane Austen on this website for fans.)

Jan Karon  Ms. Karon has written quite a few books in the last not-quite-two decades, most notably The Mitford Years, a series of nine books covering ten years in the life of an Episcopal priest, Father Tim Kavanagh.  I believe it was my paternal grandmother who introduced my mom and me to these books when I was in middle school, and I have loved them ever since.  They take place in a charming fictional village, Mitford, North Carolina (which is based on the real-life village of Blowing Rock), and the characters are all so real, so endearing, and so relatable.  Reading a Mitford book feels like going home.  Father Tim is a devoted Christian, and Jan includes many wonderful sermons, prayers, and Christian life, so the books are nourishing to the soul and faith as well as the mind.  She also writes about food a lot, which sparked the creation of the amazing Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader.  My mom and grandmother both have copies, and someday I'll add it to my own collection.

C. S. Lewis  The Narnia books took me a little while to get into, but then my parents bought me a beautiful hardcover edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with gorgeous full-cover illustrations and a ribbon bookmark.  I've read it so many times that the bookmark is well-frayed.  As I got older I read the rest of the books in the series.  Lion remains my favorite, but the last book, The Last Battle, is AMAZING because of so many Biblical references.  Now that I'm older I can appreciate the Biblical analogy much more than when I was little.  I remember watching the old BBC movies with friends when I was about six, and I really love the new movie versions as well.  Other books by Lewis, notably his Space Trilogy (starting with Out of the Silent Planet) have also been favorites.  His theological works are fantastic--I read The Screwtape Letters in high school.

Louisa May Alcott  Ah, Miss Alcott.  After studying more about the religious views of her and her father, I've approached her works with a little more caution (let's just say they were friends of Thoreau and the like), but Little Women had such an impact on my young girlhood.  I always identified most with Jo, but I wanted to be good, kind and obedient like Beth, and a hard worker like Meg and Jo both were.  The movie version of this, with Susan Sarandon playing Marmee, always delights and moves me.  Another book of Alcott's that inspired me greatly was Eight Cousins.  The main character, Rose, is a delightful young lady and such a good moral example--but still real enough to relate to.  The sequel to Eight Cousins is Rose in Bloom.  I also loved Little Men and Jo's Boys, sequels to Little Women.  (For more on L. M. Alcott, visit here.)

Corrie ten Boom  Her book The Hiding Place is still one of my favorites!  Not for the squeamish, it includes a fair bit of detail about life in the Nazi concentration camps of WWII.  And if you're wondering, I didn't read this for the first time till about eighth grade.  WWII has always fascinated me, especially stories about life on the home front in Europe and the US.  The Holocaust is also a really interesting, albeit heart-wrenching, aspect of WWII.  The most amazing and inspiring part of this book, however, is the faith that was exhibited by Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their entire family throughout the incredibly difficult circumstances they endured.  Reading this book taught me to be thankful in all circumstances, to have complete faith in God even when nothing is going right, and to stand up for what I believe in at all costs.  (More about Corrie and The Hiding Place here.)

Lucy Maud Montgomery  I have loved the Anne books for quite some time!  Like with Laura Ingalls Wilder, I feel like I've grown up with Anne, and my favorite books in the series now are the ones about her early marriage (except that Anne is fictional while Laura is not).  These books are funny, lively, touching, emotional, and real.  I always felt like I really knew all the characters.  It was fascinating to read through the series and see Anne grow from a little girl to a young woman.  Her friendships, her relationships with difficult people, her courtship, and her marriage all were realistic but also a good example.  Anne is a very pure-hearted character, and I think that's one of the things I really loved about her.  She wasn't too perfect by any means, but she was someone I looked up to in a way.  (More about L.M. Montgomery here.)

Lois Lowry  Books like The Giver and Number the Stars got worn out eventually because I read them so many times.  The Giver is absolutely fascinating, but weird.  I would recommend it, but I encourage parents to read it first before letting their children read it.  It's about a Utopian society, and includes elements like government-arranged marriage, euthanasia (once people are too old to be of use to the community, they are "Released"--killed) and what is basically post-birth abortion--if a baby is a twin (they can't have duplicates) the smaller one is "Released."  However, the book's redeeming quality is that it makes clear that this kind of society is wrong.  It's a really great story, and can encourage some fantastic discussion between parents and children.  As a youngster (again, didn't read this till at least middle school) some of the details kind of went over my head; I realize how serious it is now as a young adult.

Number the Stars is another WWII book that takes place in Europe (Denmark, to be exact), this one about a young Christian girl and her Jewish best friend who has to go into hiding.  It's a fast, easy read, but it's very historically accurate (for historical fiction), a fun and moving story, and historically fascinating.

Frances Hodgson Burnett  Burnett's two most famous books are The Secret Garden and The Little Princess.  Both of these were favorites of mine as a child.  Both are about a little girl born in India, and include elements of Hinduism that troubled me a bit when I was little (especially in The Secret Garden), but that is the only caution I have about them.  Mary in The Secret Garden is an orphaned little girl who has to learn to live and love.  A gruff old gardener, a boy full of life, and a mysterious cousin help her do both.  Sara in The Little Princess is motherless but beloved by her father--until, while at a boarding school in England, she receives news that her soldier father has been killed in the line of duty.  When circumstances in her life change drastically, she learns to rise above them, keeping sweet and humble and remembering that her father always told her she was a princess, no matter what.

Both these girls had something to teach me.  A person doesn't have to be defined by their situation--you define yourself.  And you can't hide from real life.  You have to face it, make the most of it, and learn from it.  There isn't a strong Christian message in either of these stories, but they are delightful and thoughtful books.  (More about Burnett and her books here.)

If you've stuck with me this far, congratulations!!  I could have written about so many other authors and books, but this is enough for now.  I hope that what I've written will be interesting, informative and useful for you and/or your children.

Talk with me: what were the most influential books and authors of your childhood?  Share in the comments!

Linking with: Your Thriving Family; Consider the Lilies; Susan Godfrey; finding joy


  1. Jaimie, what an excellent list! I, like you, was addicted (is it okay if I use that word?) to reading. I still am! I've read so much that most of it swims together in my mind. When I was a child, I had the dream of reading every book in the library. Now, my twelve-year-old has that dream. I wonder if it would even be possible....

    1. Thank you, Meghan! And yes, "addicted" is allowed. :) There are good addictions--like books, and Jesus! :D

      I totally know what you mean about the books swimming together in your mind. Sometimes I forget what event happened to what character in what book!

  2. Many of these books are on my favourites list, as well! I might add stories by Dickens, Yolen, and L'Engle. My parents required us to record every book we read in a family "Reading Record." When I was about eight, my family took a trip centered around the lives of the Ingalls and Wilders. We got to visit a friend of Laura's in her home! I guess we could've been in Pepin at the same time!

    1. I thought about adding Madeline L'Engle..."A Wrinkle in Time" is another favorite, but not quite as "influential" as the ones above.

      That sounds like an amazing trip! Well, I was in Pepin in late July of 1999. Still have the souvenirs (an ornament, a book about Laura called "I Remember Laura" and Little House earrings and a necklace). :)

  3. I also loved, loved, loved Laura Ingalls Wilder! Probably one of the first series I ever read. Another series I remember reading and loving was the Dear America series. It was historical fiction novels written in the form of dairies. I read quite a few! I loved C.S. Lewis, and I LOVED the book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Thinking back it was such a random book but I truly loved and enjoyed reading it!

    1. You're kidding. I LOVED the Dear America books! I owned three, and then at the library I would go down the shelves looking for the ribbon bookmarks sticking out. :)

      And oh my goodness. Hatchet. SO GOOD. It almost made me want to go live alone in the wilds of Alaska!! Or Canada, wherever it was he ended up. :) :)


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