I absolutely love reading. Always have, always will. The fact that a bunch of words printed on a piece of paper (or tablet) can so powerfully impact human emotion is still just mindblowing. It’s no wonder storytelling has been a part of life since humans could talk. There’s no better way to connect with people, to teach younger generations, to grow. With that in mind, here are eight books that influenced my path from toothless blob to functioning (usually) adult.
1. Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson
Life Lesson: Life is Hard
2. Goodnight Moon - written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd
Life Lesson: Escapism
This book kick-started my love of reading. Truly. My family read it every night and God forbid my parents try to switch up the bedtime routine and throw in something new. I was attached to the pattern, the repetition, the comfort of familiar words. It taught me that you can escape into a book. That’s a powerful feeling and one that has served me well as an adult.
3. The Cat in the Hat - Dr. Seuss
Life Lesson: Social acceptance
I mention this book specifically because it was one of my favorites, but really, many of Theodor Geisel’s books are worth noting. Dr. Seuss teaches kids about racism, friendship, diversity, overcoming hardship, and on and on in a fun and accessible way. I laughed and laughed as I heard about The Sneeches, but I was unconsciously learning that just because some people look different than you, it doesn’t make them more or less valuable. Seuss tackled big issues that still come up in my adult life on a regular basis, and his books provided a pretty solid foundation for addressing them.
4. Knots on a Counting Rope - written by Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault, and illustrated by Ted Rand
Life Lesson: Respect your elders
The book is a beautiful lesson in both how to have courage and the value of accepting wisdom from your elders. I didn’t always want to do what my mom or my grandma said as a kid, but I loved hearing Boy-Strength-of-Blue-Horses beg his grandfather to tell him stories. Now, I definitely don’t always want to do what my mom says, but I recognize the value in hearing her out.
5. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz
Life Lesson: You’ll get through it
I still reference this book, much to friends’ chagrin. “Have you ever read ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?’” I ask. “Well, you’re having one. And he didn’t end up in Australia and you’re not going to end up in any proverbial Australia, either. It’s going to be fine.” Our biggest issues may no longer be lima beans for dinner or a stubbed toe, but the lesson still applies: everybody has bad days sometimes and you’re going to be okay. Whether you’re eight or 80, sometimes you just need that reminder.
6. The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein
Life Lesson: Friendship takes effort
This book gets incredibly mixed and incredibly impassioned reactions. Some people think the boy is a brat and why would you read an impressionable young child such a thing. I never took it that way. As a kid, it was a reminder that to get, you have to give. To maintain relationships - with friends, with parents, with teachers - you have to put forth some effort. That lesson still applies. Relationships have become more complicated. There are work relationships, acquaintances, and romantic relationships. But the basic lesson - that you can’t take and take without giving anything in return - holds true.
7. The Goosebumps Series - R.L Stine
Life Lesson: Being Scared is OK
This series taught me, among other things, how to be scared. Yes, I know, I’m a wimp. They’re really not scary. But they were just scary enough for a little kid. My heart would pound a little faster and my palms would get a little sweaty as I turned the pages, but look! We made it! It’s pretty important as an adult to know how to be scared. You’re going to be scared of job interviews, freaked out by that gray hair you found last week. Just keep going. You’ll survive. It’s a valuable lesson. And, p.s., choose your own ending? How awesome was that?! Extra brownie points, Mr. Stine.
8. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. - Judy Blume
Life Lesson: You’re no weirder than anyone else
What Holden Caulfield of J. D. Salinger's ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is to some young adults, Blume’s Margaret was for me. Doesn’t matter that she hit bookshelves in 1970, well before I was born. The fashion might not be the same, and even some of the language, but her inner monologue is still spot-on adolescent girl. She’s timeless and to an 11-year-old me, she just made sense. It was the first time I read a book and thought, “Hey, maybe I’m not actually crazy. Maybe this is all normal.”
We want to know: Which books that you read as children continue to inspire you?
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.