Tag Archives: childhood

Dreams of a Lifetime

So yesterday was my birthday. And in honor of that special day, my mother made me read through my entire baby book, which is basically a scrapbook covering the major points of my entire childhood. The only benefit, besides making my mother happy, was discovering a true treasure from my youth. My first story.

For the sake of readability, I’m going to be my own editor and fix any spelling mistakes and capitalization errors there are. But here you are.

“Silly Potatoes”

Once on a Saturday night, Ms. Vanilla and Mr. Vanilla were in the kitchen cooking potatoes. The recipe book said wait five minutes. Ms. Vanilla could not wait. She opened the oven door. Out popped Fred Fryer and Ms. Mashed with their little tater tots. They skied out of the house on French fries and never came back. So from now on, Ms. and Mr. Vanilla listen to the recipe book. Or they will starve.

THE END

My mother and I laughed so hard when we found this. I loved how I left it open ended. It just amused me for a while, and I had to share it.

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I suppose the main thing I wanted to talk about is pursuing your dreams. Since I was a child, I’ve dreamed of being a writer. Though this story is clearly some kind of school assignment from first or second grade, to me it still speaks to this lifelong dream I’ve had of creating and sharing stories. But what does it really mean to pursue your dreams?

When I was little I would always tell people I wanted to be an author when I grew up. When I went to college and started studying English, I still knew that was what I wanted to do. But at the same time I recognized it wasn’t the most logical choice of career in terms of a steady income, so I’ve moved writing to a side pursuit while making teaching my main focus at the moment. However, as I start into my adult life, I’ve had to wonder how this is all going to work out in the end.

I’ve recognized there need to be sacrifices made for this to work. For now I’m working at the YMCA with children, helping them with their own learning, encouraging them to chase their own dreams. And in my free time I write. And I continue to imagine the future, hoping one day I’ll actually have a book out on the shelves.

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I watch America’s Got Talent a lot in the summer, and I always have to shake my head at the people who say they dropped out of high school to be a singer. I suppose it always makes me wonder if that truly is chasing the dream. If that’s the best decision. For me, my dream has required balance. But maybe for others that isn’t the case. In the meantime, I pursue my writing in my own fashion, hoping one day maybe I’ll be published, but recognizing that the pursuit is the beautiful thing in itself. Looking back and seeing these old stories. Knowing I’ve finished novels in my lifetime. Those are beautiful. And I hope many more milestones will be met over the course of my life, even if those aren’t my only pursuits. Each little accomplishment is important to me. And I take what I can, while I try to balance my dreams with the realities of life around me.

What dreams do you have? How do you choose to pursue them? What sacrifices do you make for your goals and aspirations?

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Window to the Past- 24 Favorite Childhood Books

As a writer, it’s interesting to trace the inspirations that have come through life. One undeniably big influence are the books that we consume over time.

I hope to do a three part series, one on childhood books, one on young adult, and one on adulthood, but I figured I’d start young and work my way up. As I started I realized how many books I love, and I couldn’t include them all. But here are a few that randomly sprung to mind.

DISCLAIMER: I haven’t read some of these in a long time, so if I get something wrong, I’m sorry, and also if you’re a parent please review the book before reading it to your kid, because I am not responsible if it goes against something you want to instill in your child because you didn’t double check. I’ve included links to Goodreads where you can find summaries, reviews etc.

The Chronicles of Narnia (Chronicles of Narnia, #1-7)   The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: I have to begin with Narnia, because it’s one of my happiest and earliest memories of reading. My parents took turns reading the first book to me when I was probably five or six and they’ve stuck with me ever since. I can’t deny the beauty of these simple and magical stories.

Where the Red Fern GrowsWhere the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawles: One of the books that made me cry a ridiculous amounts. I love my dog stories, to be sure. A great tale of adventure and friendship between a boy and his pets out in the wilderness.

The Little Prince  The Little Prince by Antoine de Sainte-Exupery: I read this in high school, so I can recognize the values even as an adult. However, even if children might not recognize all of the beautiful life lessons, it has value just as a beautiful and fun story.

Oscar And The Lady In PinkOscar et la Dame Rose by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt: Again a read in high school for French class, but nonetheless beautiful and inspiring. Not sure I’d recommend it for children even though it’s short. A beautiful tale about cancer, young dreams, conversations with God and so much more.

The Hobbit (Middle-Earth Universe)The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: A fantastic tale of adventure filled with dwarves, maps, magical mountains, ferocious spiders, and of course the terrifying dragon Smaug! A great read for people of all ages (though I believe this was a read-aloud for me as a child which probably helped!)

Tuck EverlastingTuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt: a beautiful and potent story on eternal life and love and youth. The thought of this book brings up some warm reminiscence within me, sort of a sweet and meaningful sadness.

The Witch of Blackbird PondThe Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare: I hardly remember anything about this book, and yet for some reason I’ve still held onto it as a childhood favorite. I know I greatly admired the main character, that her struggle against the expectations around her always felt meaningful to me for some reason. A book that seems to prize individuality and difference in a world that says they’re not so important. Definitely a story I’d have to pick up again, but I’m still going to recommend it nonetheless.

Harry Potter Boxset (Harry Potter, #1-7)Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: I can hardly deny putting the books on here that inspired me to want to be a writer. An inspiring and magical reading experience that I recommend to all ages (although later books in the series are a bit dark for young kids perhaps). These books offer stories that not only are captivating in plot, but also hold valuable themes about friendship, love, bravery, and the power of doing what’s right. I could go on for a whole post, but that’s for a later day.

A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1)A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: A strange yet oddly captivating story involving an odd mix of science and fantasy. L’Engle writes so wonderfully, and I remember as a little girl being so inspired by the character of Meg as an old sister and as a young girl coming to a bigger understanding of myself.

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain #1)The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander: For any Lord of the Rings lovers, any kids who like fantasy and legend and adventures I highly recommend these books. They detail the misadventures of Taren, assistant pig keeper, his companions Princess Eilonwy, Gurgy, and Fleudor. And yes, there was a Disney spinoff movie but it’s terrible and the books are fantastic.

Harriet the Spy (Harriet the Spy #1)Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: Another one of those female characters I remember feeling very similar to and loving. Harriet’s adventures are entertaining, heartwarming, and perhaps even a little heartbreaking too. Definitely a good way to learn about the power our words and actions have in the lives of others and how careful we need to be.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Rats of NIMH, #1)Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien: A book I remember fascinating me as a young child. I quickly devoured the others in the “series” even though they’re not by the same author. It’s a bit of a quirky story really, but I think that’s part of why I like it so much.

A Little Princess A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett: As a little girl I wanted to be just like Sarah. I wanted to have that same level of grace and dignity, kindness and compassion even in the midst of sorrow and hardship. As a young teen I remember feeling motivated to try to reach out to others even while feeling very confused about myself. A lovely and sweet story.

Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #1)Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede– A very odd little thing to throw on here, but I think part of it comes down to my women’s studies class and thinking on what makes me who I am. I loved fractured fairy tales, and this one does fracture a few fairy tales. Essentially the princess runs off to go take care of the dragon herself, only to make a friend and find a happier life there than her boring one in the castle. I appreciated even at that age the princess not needing saving, and the fact that the dragon at one point wanted to be a King even as a woman (because a Queen is a completely different role). Fun and quirky and magical.

The Thief Lord  The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke: Going to Venice last year made me recall this book in a nostalgic way. I think it’s one of those books that made me want to travel, if only to see the magic of the places Funke described so beautifully. A magical story full of adventure, mischief, enchantment, and history.

The Two Princesses of BamarreThe Two Princesses Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine: Ella Enchanted falls a close second, but this was my favorite book by Levine. I related so much to the principle character in never feeling brave enough. Again, I enjoyed the atypical princess story, the inspiration it gave me as a young woman. I would have included Ella on here as well, but I figured this part could serve to glorify the both. A great author with many fantastic books.

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1)A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket: Quirky and odd with a failure of a finale (see Snicket…see what I did?) these books were pretty entertaining to me as a child, even if they disappointed me at the end (guess it shows they had me hooked). I loved the vocabulary and random facts I learned reading these. They never failed to make me scratch my head and ponder a little bit what madness had affected the author.

The Complete Charlie Bone SeriesMidnight for Charlie Bone (Children of the Red King) by Jenny Nimmo:  I think part of the reason I loved this story so much was that it had a slight hint of similarity to Harry Potter. I liked the imagination and creativity behind the works, and I adored all of the characters.

The Forgotten DoorThe Forgotten Door by Alexander Key: Alexander Key is an obscure author I fell in love with (though I think it might have been as a teen rather than a child). A fascinating thought on the possibility of utopia, with a unique boy from an alien world coming to earth. It definitely gave me a lot to ponder at the time.

Catherine, Called BirdyCatherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman: I thought I should include at least one “historical” book since I loved these as well. The famous women in history diaries were one, but I liked this one for being more fictionalized, not about anyone real but wondering what it might have been like to be a woman back in the days of arranged marriages. I adored Catherine’s wit and cleverness, her clear dislike for the traditions of her day and longing for more.  A very fun story with a great heroine.

Among the Hidden (Shadow Children, #1)Among the Hidden (Shadow Children Series) by Margaret Peterson Haddix: Haddix is a master storyteller. I love lots of her works, but these ones were particularly suspenseful and interesting. Great dystopian fiction. I remember it brought a lot of pondering for me about population laws and government control and other important things like that.

The Castle in the Attic (The Castle in the Attic, #1) Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop: Again, my love of fantasy playing out. A fun and interesting adventure that followed in a series of books. I think one of my favorite things about this one was that my brother and I both enjoyed it, and I like remembering books that were shared in interest by both of us, because those are doubly special.

Half Magic (Tales of Magic, #1)Half Magic (Tales of Magic Series) by Edward Eager: More oddballs. I guess I was just a weird kid, what can I say. I loved the concept of this book taking little traditional storytelling elements (like making wishes) and playing with them. Summing it up, four kids find a magical item that gives them the ability to make wishes, but only in halves. Misadventures ensue. I have a childhood fondness for all of these books for some odd reason.

The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes, Volume 1The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes by Anne Mazer: One of the earliest books I remember making me want to be a writer. Really a very simple series with several books, but I still know as a little girl I had a diary I filled out with green pen (I think Abby’s is purple) and I would put little quotes on it and I would try to motivate myself to do great things. Cute memories attached in spite of the lesser nature of this one.

Getting to the end of this I begin to realize how many wonderful books I’ve left off. I mean how could I forget about the wonderful Spiderwick Chronicles? Or the funny Bruce Coville alien series? Or the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? Honestly, there are too many books I loved as a girl to list here. Oh well, this is just a sparse selection, some of the first that come to mind.

What are your childhood favorites? Why do you love these so much? What books made you want to be a writer or inspired you to some future goal?

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The Things That Change Us

Rowling

When I was a child I refused to follow things that were popular. Absolutely refused. I was a bit of a stubborn girl as my mother would surely tell you if you asked her. And that contributed greatly to my choices of what I read and watched and participated in. I tended to be free thinking, wanting to enjoy my own interests without interruption from my peers. There is something both amusing and admirable when I picture my younger self stamping her foot over people encouraging her to pursue something utterly mainstream. So my reading choices tended to largely be books of my own choosing. But being an avid reader I had already begun my lifelong problem of having recommendations. And like all readers the popular books are always recommended first and foremost.

So began my lifelong dance with popular literature. And in particular, Harry Potter.

Second grade was where I largely blossomed into a reader. I became capable of reading to myself, and that development was troubling to behold. I snuck books under desks to read during class and slipped a flashlight into bed with me to keep going on my latest pursuit. And in second grade Harry Potter had just begun to become a phenomenon particularly prevalent in my age group just as I was beginning to figure out the wonderful world of books.

I was absolutely against Harry Potter to a degree where I wouldn’t even talk about the subject. To be honest, I had little idea of what Harry Potter was only that my peers greatly admired it, and therefore I wanted nothing to do with it. Of course everything changed when I went off to France for a semester with my family the next year.

Isolation tends to make me gravitate all the more towards books. And in France I was homeschooled and since I didn’t speak the language had no chance to interact with other children. So, home was my solitude and books kept me busy. But books in English were not so readily available in our small town. And in the library there were few choices. With most of the books already finished I turned to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (they had the British version) to occupy my time. There was much irony in my caving as I had thrown a fit over a Harry Potter journal I’d been given before going to France. But Harry followed me across the world, and it seemed I was incapable of fully escaping even in a foreign country.

My mother read book one aloud to my brother and I. Within the first few pages my resistance melted away, and I was helpless to do anything else but enjoy. We devoured the first and second books together and even enjoyed watching the newly released first movie on the plane ride back to America.

While I could sit and ramble about how amazing the books and movies are, I would prefer to speak more personally about them. Because that little lonely boy in the cupboard under the stairs sparked something deep in me that I had never known before. And that was a desire to write.

I began with copying J.K. Rowling’s ideas, making a school for fairies rather than wizards and creating an orphan character as my protagonist. I remember little about that initial series, but I remember it being the first of my inspiration and that it paved the way for later books to come. Something in Rowling’s works made me come alive and gave me a desire to emulate Harry Potter in changing children’s lives through story. I think if nothing else those books gave me hope of something better, of a world filled with love and light, and in the dark years ahead of me those messages continued to remain both a prevalent part of my worldview and my own writing.

You would think Harry would have cured me of my desire to be unique in my entertainment choices, but to this day I still do meet some resistance when faced with something popular. I’ve certainly become better, but it is a fault I have to work to correct.

Today I’m a total nerd when it comes to Harry Potter. I know what house I’m in (Hufflepuff), know what character has the same Myers Briggs personality (Neville), know what wand I would have (12 1/2 in. cedar dragon heartstring), and even own a copy of Luna Lovegood’s wand from the movie along with two of the books (one in French which I can now read and one in English).

Yes, I’m a nerd, and I love it, and anytime I think about Harry Potter I know that it’s never just a fandom to me, and it’s something more than that. No matter how critical people want to be of the books or movies, I hold onto a few very special things in knowing that Harry Potter changed my life in an impossible way. As I have completed my fourth novel this year I can only look back with fondness at the little third grader who wanted to make her own Hogwarts. Because with her change in mindset she gained a whole new world. And I suppose I keep that forever in sight today, that in opening myself up to something new and different, I can gain something new.

What books or moments have changed you? Do you have any good stories of childhood reading? Has Harry Potter had an influence on you?

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Wishbone: My Roots as an English Major

What’s the story, Wishbone?

My love of literature started at a young age. Though I didn’t realize it at the time I was fascinated by many of the books of the canon. Even before I could read myself I already knew stories like The Odyssey, or Tom Sawyer, Romeo and Juliet, The Count of Monte Cristo, or Pride and Prejudice. But of course at such an early age I wasn’t reading, instead I was watching.

My favorite show as a child was Wishbone, a PBS show about a Jack Russell Terrier that uses classic literature to relate to the adventures of his humans. My family didn’t have cable so for the most part I was stuck with public television or movies. But I didn’t mind too much, it gave me more time to play rather than absorbing screen entertainment. As a result of my few choices I usually was presented with the opportunity to always watch Wishbone. And that started me down the path of loving stories.

I will never forget when I started reading those books for myself. Remembering how they portrayed things in the children’s version always gave me great joy in rediscovering the stories as an adult. It was a new angle, a further dimension to the thirty minute episodes I used to watch. It was a great joy to get to read my favorite stories again.

Alongside that Wishbone’s example of applying literary lessons to real life was one I would continue to value for years to come. When I’d be scared for a presentation at school I’d remember brave heroes I’d read about in books and use them as an example of what I wanted to act like. When I was bullied for being a book nerd I’d remember Hermione Granger and how her cleverness paid off in the end. If I struggled to find comfort in my circumstances I’d think of Sarah in The Little Princess and how she always found ways to be happy, and in turn to share happiness with others. Books are full of inspiring people and circumstances and thanks to Wishbone I learned some of what it means to apply a book to my own life.

So, here I am years later as an English major, continuing to read and write. I hope one day I can share with others that love of books that I first gained as a child. I know my own children will grow up with books all around them, constantly being taught that when life gets hard a book can be a great friend to keep you company.

Thanks for all you taught me Wishbone. I miss you!

Where did you learn to love reading? What childhood memories stand out to you? Did anybody else watch and love Wishbone?

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