Are You There God? It's Me, Danielle.

The other day while at my parents’ house, my Dad brought out some extra-large boxes full of books from my younger years.  I’ve always been an avid reader, but when I went off to college to share a teeny tiny dorm room, my book collection had to stay behind to make room for a mini-fridge.  In hindsight, my freshman fifteen probably would have appreciated the books rather than a place to keep beer cold but hey, what can ya do? Luckily my parents aren’t insane and instead of giving my half-ton of young adult literature to the Salvation Army, they boxed them up for safe keeping.

So on that day just last month, when the boxes came out of the garage clearly labeled “D’s Books,” my heart did a hop-skip-jump in my chest as I remembered all of the treasures that lay inside the cardboard containers.  For me, reading was a huge part of everything from as far back as I can remember. Reading Rainbow, summer reading programs, Book It, and I even recall wanting to invite the head librarian, Doris, to my 8th birthday party. I never thought I was too cool to read and actually, I thought you were so not cool if you didn’t read. I devoured books as quickly as I could, often finding myself in the middle of three or four at a time, and the sight of me teeter-tottering out of the library, books stacked high in my arms as my Mom helped lead me over to the car, was not uncommon.  My young-adult literature obsession started with books like A Wrinkle in Time (still love it), worked through the Babysitter’s Club (I was totally a non-diabetic Stacey), and took hold in all things Judy Blume (my hero).

Judy really did it for me, and I found myself reading and re-reading her books every few months.  I loved Deenie (hated Mrs. Fenner), couldn’t get enough of Tiger Eyes, cried right along as Linda aka “Blubber” was ostracized, and I’m sure you can tell by the title of this article what my favorite J.B. book is.  There I was, a slightly awkward preteen, living in a small, rural New Jersey town and being quite naive to the world and through those pages I was learning all about first kisses and padding your bra, the weird classmate who might actually be cool and menstruation belts. Ah, the menstruation belts. Even now the chapters involving the belts and pads in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret are still really strange. Looking back I remember being totally confused. I mean, I guess those people way back then had to use archaic contraptions like that…but now, holy shit. And “Teenage Softies”? Don’t even get me started.

But anyway, moving away from period talk and back to literature… later on when I was a high school English teacher I tried to explain the wonder of libraries and Judy Blume to my students during a book club unit.

Me: “I used to rush into the library straight to the YA section, snatching up any books that looked interesting. I judged by cover, by the back, by the first page and then I would find myself a corner and read the afternoon away. Judy Blume books were my favorite – she so got what it’s like to be a teenager. I can seriously still think back and remember reading some of her books for the first time. It was magical.”

Student: “Mrs. Hampton, first of all, you’re so funny (quick note: when students call you funny they mean really, really weird) but secondly, but do you know if you can get her books on my Kindle? The library is so freaking annoying and it smells bad.”

Me: “What smells bad? The library?! And don’t say ‘freaking’.”

Student: “Yes. The library. Books. They smell old and weird. I would rather just download to my Kindle and not even go there.”

Another student: “Seriously. Ugh, I hate the library, books do smell. Plus I feel like there’s no point to books now that they make movies into everything, you know? Kind of a waste of time.” (Most of the class nodded in agreement.)

And then… my heart broke into a million pieces. Seriously? My students didn’t like the library? I feel like who I am today, is because of a few things, two of them being the library and Judy Blume.  Not that everyone has to love what I love, but to not even like the library a little? Shame of shames.

I think a lot about these kinds of things now that I’m a Mom. How can I convey a love of reading to our son Henry?  In this world of instant gratification- 60-second downloaded books, interactive Facebook pages, and the 140-character share- everything is fast, fast, fast. Sitting down to read a 300-page book? No time, man, no time.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a e-reader fan and I’m borderline obsessed with my Kindle. But I DO know the beauty and wonder of books, the excitement of the “new literature” section in the library, and the quiet joy felt passing time turning pages in a comfortable chair.  Kids should have a favorite author, or  a favorite book. They should at least be exposed to these things so that someday, years later, they don’t make up the 75% of a sophomore English class agreeing that books are indeed a waste of time.

So, it is my goal to make sure that Henry grows up knowing all about the wonder of the library (and maybe even Judy Blume, too).  It’s my mission to make sure he’s never too cool for reading. If he is in a class of book-haters, perhaps he can be the Guy Montag in the room, the one to stand up and say, “No no no, you’ve got it all wrong”. It’s my goal to expose him to libraries and story time, to make-believe and creativity via the written word. And later, if he doesn’t like it, fine. But at least I tried. And if that trying includes me making LeVar Burton a fixture in our home and downloading every Reading Rainbow episode in existence or resurrecting a Book It of my very own, paying him in personal pan pizzas to read chapter books, so be it!  This boy will read.

Did you have any favorite books growing up, books you couldn’t get enough of? I’d love to hear your picks in the comments below!  To my list I’ll add:

  • The Sleepover Friends series (anyone read these? I’ve yet to find a fellow S.F. fan)
  • The Babysitter’s Club
  • Sweet Valley Twins and Friends – and later Sweet Valley High
  • R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and the Fear Street books

…and I could go on, but I’ll save some for you! Do tell.

p.s. I also suggest you check out Judy’s website. I was pleasantly surprised to find her gracefully rowing a kayak on the first page. Love you Judy!

image via

Danielle Hampton is a high school English teacher turned stay-at-home Mom, living in Arizona. She blogs daily at Sometimes Sweet and tweets too much via @danihampton. Come say hello!

  • Klara Maria

    I was a Pippi Longstocking girl and loved Astrid Lindgren in general :) I’m not a big fan of kindle and Co., basically because I actually enjoy “real”page turning. and I think nothing gives you more satisfaction than looking at an overloaded book shelf.
    “A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend”

    • Danielle Hampton

      Oh I loved the Pippi books too! I’d forgotten about them until now!

  • Aubrey Fisch

    I was completely in love with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. Also, thanks to their awesome covers, I remember feeling super cool reading them.
    hmm, I must be completely weird, because I love the “library book smell” haha/

    • Danielle Hampton

      Not weird AT ALL. I love that old book smell. That’s another instance my students would say “you’re so funny” (aka really weird) when I’d talk about how much I loved it.

    • Laura Mayaneli Brown

      I was just sharing this information with my friend earlier! We were debating whether it would be better to have a kindle since it can hold so many books, or having to check out books from the library because of their “library scent”. We agreed that we might as well do both haha :)

  • Bethany Caron

    I loved the Sleepover Friends!!! I can’t tell you how many times I read and reread those books.

    • Danielle Hampton

      Oh my gosh, YES! Finally! A fellow SFs lover. Best books ever. Now I’m on a hunt to amass the entire collection. I would love to reread them!

  • Beth Curry

    The Goosebumps books were great! I remember being fascinated over one of the ‘choose your own ending’ books.

    • Danielle Hampton

      Yes me too – and then I’d skip ahead and read the various endings out of order and feel like a cheater! But those were super fascinating, for sure.

  • Bri ‘Fox’ Brekke

    I loved all the books you mentioned above, especially the Sleepover Friends!! I loved the library when I was growing up, and my mom brought us once a week. I would check out like 9 or 10 books and then I would stay up and read one whole book the first night! This is one of my most favorite childhood memories, and I think it helped to make me into the book lover I am today. There is no way my parents would have been able to buy me all those books! I hope that my daughter can learn to love the library somehow!

    • Bri ‘Fox’ Brekke

      Oh, some other favorites of mine growing up-Little Women, Secret Garden and the Little House on the Prairie series!

    • Danielle Hampton

      I love that you love the Sleepover Friends too. And how awesome that we had such rad Moms to make these special memories for us? I always think back to those days in the library and it makes me so happy.

  • Lauren Vaughan

    I read Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, Harry Potter, and every fantasy/medieval book I could get my hands on. Some of my favorite YA books of all time are the “Talking With Dragons” series.. sounds lame, but they were amazing :)

    • Danielle Hampton

      Oh I LOVED Little House on the Prairie, I was so obsessed with that time period when I was younger. Ahem, Oregon Trail!?

  • Kelly Messer

    I was an old soul as a kid, which was all because my parents wanted me to see & experience some of the things they did when they were little. While I wasn’t a huge fan of reading when I was younger (that all changed in high school, when I was introduced to Jane Eyre), there was one series I loved…all because of the B&W movies my parents showed me. I could never get enough of Nancy Drew! I still love to open one every now & then.

    In fact, when I played with friends I usually wanted to be Nancy Drew. Solving mysteries & going on adventures.

    • Danielle Hampton

      I love that you mentioned being an old soul, because I felt like that a lot too- my Mom still has her original Nancy Drew collection (I need to get my hands on those!) and I remember just loving them so much. I also read The Hardy Boys but they weren’t as cool. Nancy ruled.

  • Kate Springer

    I loved the library growing up and it’s still one of my favorite places. I think one of my absolute favorite smells is the smell of a library or bookstore. Since a kid, I would get so excited just by the smell of a good book. It’s unbelievable and heartbreaking that your students hate that. I’ve never used a Kindle or Nook because I LOVE curling up in a comfy chair and bending back the cover of a good paperback. Anyway, I loved Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, Goosebumps (The Barking Ghost was my first “novel” in 2nd grade), the American Girl books, Little House on the Prairie, and a million more from just about every genre. I am a book nerd, and I’m proud of it!

    • Danielle Hampton

      Ahhh! Island of the Blue Dolphins! I just had so many memories rush back. That book was one of my favorites.

  • Sarah Betteridge

    Never heard of The Sleepover Friends, but I am right there with you on the other books. My fave Blume book was “Sally J. Freeman as herself”. I read that book so many times that the cover fell off. And the library, still one of my places to be! I LOVE the smell and still to this day, find the atmosphere so relaxing. YAY fellow English teacher!!!

    • Danielle Hampton

      Sally J.! I actually had forgotten about that one. I think it’s on our bookshelf so I’m going to go pull it down and check it out. You also just reminded me of her Fudge books t00- remember those?

  • Megan Anderson

    I’m a book lover and avid reader too! My five year old is also in love with books, though I’m honestly worried that they might seem a little less cool after the peer pressure sets in. Hopefully she’ll be a trend setter instead.

    Eliza loves books because we read to her before bed every night, so it’s part of her ritual. We not only read to her every day, but we also read all of the time. There are books all over our house and we frequent bookstores and the library. In other words, we have a reading culture in our house.

    I’m sure, being an English teacher, you and Hank have a reading culture in your house too! I’m sure Henry will be just as in love with reading as you are.

    • Danielle Hampton

      I love that idea of having a reading culture. I’m definitely trying to keep that up in our house. He’s at the age right now where he prefers to chew the books, but he’ll still listen if he’s in the right mood. I’m excited for the day he actually starts “getting” it but I know right now even though he’s so little he’s still taking a lot of it in!

  • Ashley Maffioli

    I loved books in elementary school but they were books with big pictures and one sentence a page. I never read in middle school. I was ‘too cool’ except looking back I really wasn’t at all. I had goosebump and baby sitters club books on my built in shelf of my childhood room but I can’t say I ever really payed attention to them. In 9th grade (1999) my grandma (an avid reader of everything) handed me a book that totally changed my mind. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I read it in just a couple days and couln’t get enough. From there on out I wasn’t only hooked on HP but on reading in general. All through out high school I would get so excited to get done with my work early so I had time to read. Maybe those high school kids will change their minds one day.

    • Danielle Hampton

      I hope they change their minds, too! And as far as H.P., I was so not into his books, even though I had never read any. While I was pregnant I picked up the first one and was immediately hooked! Now I’m on book five and loving it so much. I can’t believe it took me so long to get into it!

  • Brittany Stine

    I have been an avid reader since a very young age and absolutely cannot imagine life without books. When I was two I would sit and very carefully page through books, magazines, and the t.v. guide; I got started early! I am so thankful that my mom put up with my reading addiction and was more than happy to scrounge up some extra money when it came time to order books off those little paper booklets in elementary school. I’m so thankful that my interest continued through junior high and high school; reading and art became top priority in those years, while others were out pursuing more questionable activities. And thank the high heavens I was so experienced in reading, it made the college years a breeze.

    My very favorites have always been science fiction and fantasy. Growing up I adored the Animorphs, I remember bringing my entire collection to class one day for show and tell. I quickly surpassed the lower reading levels, if I remember correctly by grade 6 I was reading at a college level and during junior high got into books by Stephen King, Ann Rice, Anne McCaffey, etc. I’m still a fan of those and am absolutely obsessed with post-apocalyptic and dystopian fantasy now. I cannot get enough.

    It is so sad that kids don’t know the absolute joy of finding a great book in a library and spending hours wandering inside that quiet building. I also adore my Kindle and it’s where I make the majority of my book purchases, this is simply because I absolutely have no room to house my book obsession, I have three large shelves full and a rather small house. :)

    Thank you so much for this article. When I begin my family I really hope to pass on the love and wonder of books to my own children.

    • Danielle Hampton

      Okay I loved your whole comment. I kept saying “yes, yes yes!” throughout it. Have you read The Hunger Games?

  • Ashley Maffioli

    Oh and I’d like to add that my birthday just passed and I didn’t ask for a kindle but for two actual books. My husband got me both. Reading rocks!

    • Danielle Hampton

      So awesome! What books did you get?

  • Kate Gabrielle

    How could people not love the smell of libraries and old books? That’s one of the best things about them!! And I completely forgot about Book-It! I actually think my parents still have my pin in a kitchen drawer (we obviously aren’t big on cleaning things out).

    My favorite YA series were the Goosebumps books and mysteries by Joan Lowery Nixon. I used to read her books dozens of times over, I was just totally engrossed in them. I can remember getting SO excited when I saw one at the bookstore that I hadn’t read before. It makes me so sad to think of what kids are missing out on nowadays. Do they even still have book fairs in elementary school? I used to LOVE those!

    ps. Love the Fahrenheit 451 reference :)

    • Danielle Hampton

      YES to you catching the F451 reference. I love you already! haha. And I think they do have book fairs but I don’t think they’re the same. Those were so, so awesome. The books, the folded up posters of puppies…the awesome pencils.

  • Mandy Sellers

    I loved this article, and I love books! I spent a good amount of my high school years with my nose in one, and even TA’d for the librarian for a semester. Best semester ever, I might add. I roamed the contemporary fiction section every day picking new favorites, judging always by the cover. I still think the most interesting books have the most interesting covers. When I was younger, I was obsessed with the Animorphs series, and later Harry Potter. I don’t have an e-reader, but I do have hundreds of books I’ve been collecting my whole life. Kaetana has a substantial collection herself already, and I hope to convey the love of literature in her as well!

    • Danielle Hampton

      Mandy I love how much you love to read! It’s so awesome. I know Ms. K. will one day be a voracious reader too, just like her mama!

  • Rebecca Paul

    I used to devour R.L Stine and then later anything in the Point Horror collection. I also loved anything and EVERYTHING by Enid Blyton…it’s VERY British (think tea, scones and lashings of Ginger Beer). I read them all as a child, and am considering beginning to build up my my own collection for my own children

    • Danielle Hampton

      Oh you definitely should! My Mom passed down a lot of books to us and I thought it was so awesome even back then.

    • Klara Maria

      OMG. I loved Enid Blyton. Really great books. and I also forgot to mention ROALD DAHL. Childhood without Matilda? No way :)

  • Becca Sands

    I did the Goosebumps, but my favorite was Animorphs. Oh my gosh, I LOVED Animorphs. My mom hated them, saying how they weren’t “quality” and wouldn’t be “classics” and I should be busying myself with better books, but I figured that as long as I was reading, what was the harm? Now I’m reading Salinger, Fitzgerald, Saramago, and decent books, but oh man, I LOVED Animorphs.

    Until Harry Potter came around and then that’s a whooooooooooooole other story.

    • Danielle Hampton

      This is the 4th time someone’s mentioned Animorphs so I think I am intrigued enough to go check them out!

  • Jamie Gray Habermaas

    I love, love, loved ALL the Sweet Valley High books. I would devour them as soon as they came out and then feel sad because I had to wait for the next one! I played the board game while I waited. 😉 I’m really happy that my kids’ school is really promoting reading. Grayson will be in 1st grade and got a packet at the end of Kindergarten. There’s a sheet for each month this summer and if they read 10 books (& list them) each month then they will be rewarded when they go back to school. I think it’s really important for kids to keep reading during the summer!!!

    • Danielle Hampton

      Jamie I LOVE that! My Mom is a 3rd grade teacher and is all about the reading too. I hope that when Henry is old enough has has teachers just like my Mom and Grayson’s. Do they still have Book It?

  • Americo Polk

    Fantastic article I don’t have children yet but I also loved the library and the touch and feel of a book and fear it will disappear

    • Danielle Hampton

      I get scared about that too – I hope it never ever happens!

  • Becca Dickson

    I was obsessed with reading The Babysitter Club books, starting around age 7. I’m talking obsessed … I had the movie, the game, the dolls, the stationary, the brooch pin, etc. Haha! That fueled my thrifting hobby, as well … I would scour flea markets, antique shops and old bookstores looking for a copy of one of the books in the series. I believe I had well over 200, and they have been sitting in my mom’s attic since middle school, because I always wanted to save them for my little girl if I ever had one. My daughter is 6 months old and by the time she is ready to read them, she will have a Babysitter’s Club book collection that’s been waiting for her for nearly 20 years. :) That makes me happy.

    • Becca Dickson

      Ps. I too, loved Book It! Do they still have that in schools?

    • Danielle Hampton

      Okay, you are my soul mate. I ALSO loved BSC and had all things related. I love that you saved all of them. Oh, and thinking of that series, I remember being so excited when they had the extra long vacation specials! Remember those?

      And I’m not sure if they have Book It! I’ll have to investigate further!

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