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

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 flickr.com

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!

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  1. FEAR STREET FEAR STREET FEAR STREET! I have yet to find books as fabulously thrilling as the Fear Street books. I devoured so many books as a teen/child and the library is such a treasure box. I love the feel of touching books people enjoyed as much as I did.

    • I also read all of the goosebumps I could find and reread “Night in Terror Tower” a good 30 times as a kid. The best Fear Street books was the cheerleader series! In one of them the cheerleader gets scalded to death in the shower! I can’t believe I read that as a nine year old!
      On another note I also read the Little House on the Prairie book series a good nine times, and loved Where the Red Fern Grows and reread that classic a ton too! Clearly by my overuse of exclamation marks I love reading :) I am about to crack open a book right now! Happy Reading! :D

  2. I loved the library back when I was young and I still love the library now. I’m not an avid reader but I love having the ability to get a book to read whenever I want. My favorite books were the colored fairy tales books – Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books – huge collection of fairy tales from all over the world. Another series I adored and grew up with is Phyllis Naylor’s Alice series. It is the age of the Kindle, and I got one for my husband recently, but it’s cause he’s a huge reader and he travels a lot for work so it’s easier for him rather than putting three books in his suitcase and two in his carry-on… We still collect book though – I love the smell of old books. We are planning to have a family soon and I know I will be taking my future children to the library at least once a month. It’s what my family did for me – I have fond memories of checking out 20 books every time I went to the library.

  3. Always love Enid Blyton (as a pre-teen) then DAvid Eddings and anything else fantasy once I was in my teens and even still! I work in a bookstore, but I think it is sad that ereaders may take over paper books!

  4. I was that weird kid who read books that were WAYYY above my grade level
    (To Kill a Mockingbird in 4th grade, Wuthering Heights in 6th), but I always had a soft spot for Paula Danziger’s Amber Brown series, as well as anything involving Ramona, Beezus, or Henry. And my favorite book is still Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

  5. Danielle,

    So happy to see this article, and even more delighted to see so many women commenting – perhaps you all can help me! I have been thinking about a YA novel that I read when I was quite young – maybe 10 or 11 (this would have been ’85/86 and I cannot for the life of me think of the name or author. I was wondering if any of you may have come across it in your wanderings in the library.

    The story is quite along the lines of A Wrinkle in Time, in that the protagonist is a young girl who needs to venture into a different world in order to save someone (possibly her mother?). I remember VERY clearly the procedure she used to go into that world – hopefully this will ring some bells – she is guided by 2 someones (I don’t remember exactly, but I don’t think they were real) into a deep meditation whereby she relaxes her whole body, and then in this state of relaxation, constructs a ship in her mind’s eye. I envisioned it like a submarine – she uses the mnemonic “the green ship left port if the captain read right” in order to outfit the ship with things she anticipates needing. A Welsh queen helps her out at some point – Mordanna? And the character’s name is also Welsh – maybe Myfanwy? although I think she too, goes by Meg, which is why I mix it up with A Wrinkle in Time. There’s a very strong Welsh theme in this book, and Morganna/Mordanna definitely has a horse.

    Anything? I wish I had more detail, but I gotta tell you, this story left SUCH an impression on me that I think about it all the time. I would love to find it again.

  6. I think I was really lucky in that my dad read me bedtime stories every night (when he wasn’t away on business) until late into junior high- possibly into high school. I was home schooled for kindergarten and first grade and found my mother a very frustrating reading teacher so for quite a few years there my dad was my only link to the amazing worlds revealed in literature- and amazing worlds they were. I wanted soo badly to learn to be a good reader and unlock more books on my own- I remember, one of my best friends was a precocious reader, and I so wanted to be cool and read big books like she did, I remember checking out Anne of Green Gables from the Book Mobile (library on a bus!) that came to my school every day. My teacher told me it was too difficult for me, but I was determined to get through it anyway. Within a year I scored a 12th grade+ reading comprehension level on an assessment test. I was in third grade. I have been an avid reader ever since.
    My dad got me hooked on swashbuckling fantasy stories (some of my earliest memories are of him reading the chronicles of Narnia aloud to me, oh how they blew my mind) and I remember being in a race with my friend to be the first to get through all the Redwall books, I read everything by Roald Dahl I could get my hands on. I was madly in love with the Harry Potter books, with the author Diana Wynne Jones and Tamora Pierce, I loved the books Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli and Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. Those were the books I read and reread and still cannot part with, there were many others, I remember being especially partial to the Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew. My family didn’t have TV, or a computer back then and I wasn’t allowed to watch movies often, so I read and read and read.
    I studied literature in college, but the books I loved as a child and a young adult remain in a special place in my heart that the best of adult literature rarely makes it into.

  7. 1. Anne of Green Gables (movies too…)
    2. Fear Street (OMG, I forgot about this one!)

    I have to admit, I never really liked the library either, for a lot of reasons. They were always where the cool kids hung out to skip out on going to class and what not. But also, I always wanted to keep the books I was reading. I’m kinda a germophobe too, so the thought of holding or possibly falling asleep on a book that other people did the same, or worse, to (so many boogers found in books… yuck) was just totally gross to me.

    That said, I do like books in and of themselves. But, now, as an adult, I just don’t have the space for them all anymore. I’ve been reading on my phone through Kindle for the last few months, which has been awesome because I can literally just pull it out anywhere when I’m not doing anything and just read (instead of playing some mindless game or something). I also just got an actual Kindle yesterday.

    And today I found out that tons and tons and tons of classic books are FREE! I got a ton, including Anne of Green Gables!

    So, while it might not be the same experience we had growing up, I don’t think the move to Kindle/e-readers is a bad thing. It’s instant access to almost anything they could want to read.. maybe even getting them to read more often.

  8. [...] the spirit of last week’s column, I thought it would be fun to share my top six summer reading picks for both mama and [...]

  9. Also, I think you may have just inspired me to start an adult YA book club… pizza party!!!

  10. Omg, I’m right there with you on this one. When I was little I would check out so many books at a time the stack would almost be as tall as me! I’ll never forget the special relationship I formed with our elementary school librarian, Mrs. Pinkston- when she realized what an avid reader I was at such a young age she would reserve books especially for me, and I’m pretty sure she introduced me to Madeleine L’Engle. I still read A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and Many Waters at least once every few years and I still find them powerful.
    Other classic favorites: Narnia Series (C.S. Lewis), Oz series (L. Frank Baum), everything Roald Dahl, Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, and one of my all time faves- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.
    I also love my Kindle- but I will never stop collecting and loving and smelling(!) the books I love.

  11. I remember starting at one side of the library and checking out my 5 books reading them and returning next week for 5 more. I’m pretty sure I read every book in that library. Judy is still my hero and the smell of a library is right up there with a fine wine, so intoxicating.
    I thought the babysitters club were the coolest and while it was weird that they never got past 8th grade I happily took them with me as I experienced life.
    Reading got me thru tough times, great times and I was never really bored if I had a book. I still am never without a book and while I want a kindle for cool geek nerd tech reasons I can’t imagine not going into the library and waiting for a good book to jump off the shelves at me.

  12. Ahh I too was obsessed with Boxcar Children growing up. I also used to read a lot of those historical diaries when I was in middle school. I forget the series but I read everything from Martha Washington’s diary to a girl who grew up in Mexican-American War. Whenever the Scholastic catalog came out, I had a very, very hard time deciding which books I wanted because, of course, I couldn’t get them ALL. I loved Babysitter’s Club, American Girls, Nancy Drew when I got a little older… Of course, there was also The Giver and Where the Red Fern Grows, both of which made me cry and made me love reading books all the more. When I was in middle school, I was ambitious enough to try reading Tom Clancy but too many big words gave me a headache haha. I still adore Stephen King and I have since I was 14. One of my absolute favorites in middle school were the Sweet Valley series. I couldn’t relate to the twins but I remember a lot of it being amazing and it was a wonderful fantasy world I could get lost in.

    One day I brought the book to school and some kids were asking me about it and one of the guys in the story happened to be named Ken and he was dating Jessica and the other kids were making fun of my story by saying it was about Ken and Barbie. I didn’t care, I still loved it.

    Oh and a really good website was started by James Patterson. It’s http://www.readkiddoread.com and it’s designed to help spread the love of reading for the next generation because, as crazy as it is, James Patterson’s son did not like reading. Anyways, it’s a good website with some really good book suggestions. It even includes the Wayside School series, which is just hilarious and amazing.

  13. I read the entire Boxcar Children series when I was in 3rd grade! I got a set of the 1st five for Christmas- and spent the next year purchasing one book at a time from Toys R Us (children’s books were even bought at the toy store back then!) for 3.95…. 4/5 of my weekly allowance!

  14. Reading your article I felt like I was reading about myself! I also loved Judy Blume, Baby-Sitter’s Club and the Sleepover Friends. I’ve always been a bookworm and now that I’m a teacher I try to develop a passion for reading in my students. I am a special education teacher working with Elementary school students with mild to moderate disabilities. Recently, one of my students wrote an e-mail to Judy Blume telling her how much he loved the Fudge books and how her books had helped him improve his reading skills. We were so excited when a couple of days later she wrote back!!!

  15. Great article! I had a sentimental book moment too a couple weeks ago, when I found an old suitcase full of my teeny-bopper books :) Some Judy Blume, Goosebumps (no Sleepover Friends, I borrowed most of those from my real-life sleepover friend melissa :D ) I also was a major horse book lover so I had all the “thoroughbred” books and “Misty” books, The Black Stallion, Black Beauty etc. I also read alot of jane austen when I was young, my favorite was “Emma” Oh jeez! so many great memories!

  16. On the first day of 3rd grade, my new teacher went around the room and asked what we were reading. I proudly said “Are you there God? It’s me Margaret,” to which she replied, “that’s too old for you.” I went home that night and told my parents that I hated my teacher’s guts. (A quote my dad has often reminded me of.) Like you, I read all the Judy Blume books many, many times and loved me some SVH too. But how about Lois Duncan? I mean, astral projection (Stranger with my Face), psychic abilities (Down a Dark Hall), etc?! And let’s not forget the other Lois of my childhood, Lois Lowry. I would laugh even on the 17th reading of Anastasia Again. I think it’s time to take a break from adulthood and go find these old favorites….the kind where you can truly turn the pages.

  17. I’m sure it’s been mentioned, but I am dying to read Sweet Valley Confidential! SVH 10 years later! (c: What could be better?

    And yes, I am an avid book-reader, library-dweller, deep-breather of the sweet smell of aged paperbacks. (c:

  18. I LOVED Edgar Allen Poe when I was little (mama used to read me his stories before bed), and I would pick up anything with aliens on the cover. AAANNNNNDDDDD I am SO not into these e-reader things it’s not even funny . . . what’s wrong with books???

  19. When I was little my mom used to make me read every day a certain amount of pages and she rewarded me with something…. and that worked, I’m a book fanatic (in fact, today I was sorting through my books and I have like 200 :S jeez!) anyway, is good to know that there’s still people who cares about books, and prefers a book over a movie :)

    oh right, favorite book? The portrair of Dorian Gray, I love Oscar Wilde

  20. WTF?! Books smell bad!? I have been offered a Kindle as gifts and still, I cannot give in just for the mere experience of actually going to the library/bookstore, smelling the paper, wondering who else may have held and read that very copy.
    I love to own a small book store. Just for the smells, touches and shared experiences.