Books I Grew Up With

Hello everyone! I’m not going to begin this post with an apology about not having a book review. You’ll get that when you get that. Since I have moved back home, I have had to do some sorting in my room. My book obsession started early so I had to sort through the years of books I had accumulated. As I was going through all of them, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much some of these series or stand alone-novels piqued my interest in writing. I decided to create a list of some of the most important books that got me through the confusing and whimsical time of childhood. (Note: I am talking about the books I read up to eighth grade. I think I might make another post about the best and worst books I read in high school.)

  • Where would I be without the Harry Potter series? It was the first full length novel I ever read on my own. It was my first real “fandom.” It was the first book that showed me a character like myself. I was Hermione for more than one Halloween. I even had a Harry Potter quote on my graduation cap. To this day, my dedication to this series knows no bounds.
  • One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that I am fascinated with the paranormal. My interest for this topic began when I started reading R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps series. I read so many of these books. I even wrote book reports about some of the novels. Along with this series, I also read the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. I still remember being terrified and thrilled by both of these series and I still remember a good portion of what I read.
  • As I got older and entered middle school, the vampire craze swept the nation. I soon fell in love with the Twilight series and the Vampire Diaries series. As cheesy as these books are, I loved the romantic aspect of vampires. The books were more “grown up” than Goosebumps and really played into my romantic side. I give these books credit into easing me into more mature books that I read nowadays.
  • As a lot of you know, I’m a big fan of crime/mystery novels. Obviously, this had to come from somewhere and it came from the Nancy Drew series and A Series of Unfortunate Events. I used to love the Nancy Drew computer games. Much like with Hermione Granger, I saw similarities between myself and Nancy Drew. Lemony Snicket, on the other hand, offered such an interesting writing style full of cynicism, tragedy, and intelligence that most people don’t expect to see in a children’s book. I definitely connected with his writing style. (Note: I highly recommend the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events.)
  • Another genre I do love is sci-fi. Scott Westerfield’s The Uglies series only fueled my fascination with the genre. In fact, I am excited to say that Westerfield is releasing another book in the series called Impostors. I am very excited to read it as it takes me way back. I was also a huge fan of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. I was incredibly dedicated to that series for a long time. I’m almost sad I lost track of that one. I still own a chunk of the series and have fond memories about them.
  • Going back to the fantasy genre, another book series that I loved (and still love) is the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. It was a natural progression from reading Harry Potter. I was always interested in mythology, particularly Greek mythology. I might even go so far as to say that Riordan might have inspired me to eventually study Latin. (In case you didn’t know, I actually took Latin classes in high school and have a minor in Latin.)
  • I’d be silly not to mention some early childhood staples, such as the Judy Moody series and the Junie B. Jones series. I feel like a good majority of girls latched onto those books in grade school. I was certainly no exception as I lived vicariously through these outspoken characters. Looking back, I might think of Junie and Judy as being kind of bratty but, I have to give them credit where credit is due. I was (and still am) way too nice to be as bold as either of them.
  • I distinctly remember reading the Wayside School series as a child. I feel like this series is somewhat obscure but it was essentially about this grade school that was built like a giant tower and all of the students and teachers would get into wacky adventures in the bizarre building that had no 13th floor. I really hope some of you remember this series because I loved how weird it was.

That is the end of my list. There were a bunch of books I didn’t mention, such as the Magic Treehouse series and A Wrinkle in Time. Let me know what kind of book you read as a kid. Maybe there were some I forgot or some I didn’t read fully. Either way, I’d love to know about your favorite childhood books.

Monsters, Fathoms, and Witchcraft: Reviewing The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’m surprised it took me as long as I did to get to reading this book. In a moment of weakness that I experience whenever I am in a bookstore, I decided to add yet another Neil Gaiman book to my growing collections. What can I say? I’m guilty of being a Neil Gaiman fan. I will now tell you about The Ocean at the End of the Lane. 

When a middle aged man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, he finds himself drawn back to an old farm where his friend, Lettie Hempstock, lived. As he stands by Lettie’s “ocean” (that was really a pond) behind her farmhouse, he remembers a frightening, magical, and fantastical time in his life that no small boy could have even imagined. The Ocean at the End of Lane follows the journey of children trying to make sense of a strange world where adults aren’t always right and magic inhabits the forest.

You are all aware of my bias as I am a Neil Gaiman fan but, regardless, this novel is a delicate and dark look at childhood and the struggles that come with it. Gaiman takes his signature dark storytelling and turns it into a fairy tale that is surprisingly relatable. It’s a quick read too, at only 273 pages but Gaiman makes every last page count. This coming-of-age story presents the reader with a new outlook on adulthood, humanity, bravery, and kindness. The Ocean at the End of the Lane takes you a whirlwind journey through the magic world that we grow out of.

After All This Time?

Since it is the twentieth anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, depending on your country), I decided I wanted to write a little personal essay on why Harry Potter and JK Rowling mean so much to me and many others. Like many others, it is the foundation for my love of books and has inspired my writing in many ways. I felt it was a perfect time to give a little ode to The Boy Who Lived.

The first time I became interested in the series was when I was just about to turn six. The television was on in my living room and a preview caught my eye. It was a preview for the second movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I turned to my mom and told her I wanted to see that movie. I knew nothing about it but I was intrigued by the flying Ford Anglia. My mom told me I had to read the book first before I saw the movie. Happily, I obliged because I was a weird kid who loved the thought of being able to read a book on my own. At first, my mom would read me the book but I became increasingly frustrated because I felt I could do a better job with all of the pronunciations of the spells and names. I snatched The Sorcerer’s Stone from her hands and she let me continue on my own way.

Soon, the books and movies began to pick up traction in mainstream pop culture. My parents found themselves sucked into a series that they once disregarded as just another kid’s book. My sister was a little late to catch on but now we get into arguments over the content of the books and certain characters. I attended a Harry Potter-themed camp as my first Girl Scout camp. I got a Harry Potter doll and a toy obstacle course of sorts that allowed you to “levitate” a ball through a series of hoops. (It wasn’t a Quidditch toy but some of you out there might know what I’m talking about.) I went to midnight book releases and movie premiers. I dressed as Hermione for Halloween three years in a row, teasing my hair out to exaggerate my already frizzy curls. About two years ago, I went to the Harry Potter theme park in Universal. Since I was just a small child, the Harry Potter series has been my constant literary companion. Looking back at it now, it is easy to see why.

I distinctly remember my elementary school library consisting of series such as Goosebumps and The Babysitters’ Club. While I don’t mean to insult these books since they are a main part of many childhoods, I just remember not finding them interesting at all. Before JK Rowling came along, most children’s literature and YA books were written to be approved by adults. Magic was reserved for bedtime stories. Rowling, however, decided that magic should be for everyone. The series was not written to condescend to children about problems with growing up but to show sympathy and encouragement while struggling with life. It doesn’t pit children against adults, or use the “Listen to the Adults” trope, but shows how their is not simply good or evil but people with different motivations. This is how Rowling set herself apart from other children’s authors in a revolutionary kind of way.

JK Rowling herself is also a major part of why the series is still just as loved today. She stays in touch with fans on social media, isn’t afraid to expand her stories and answer questions, and she is honest about her life. To this very day, she is still hands on with her stories and is in control of the movies as well. The cast of the movies are still in touch and have mini reunions that make my heart flutter whenever I see them reference the movies. This unique network of writers and actors help to keep the hype alive. With the success of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it doesn’t look the Harry Potter craze is going to fade out any time soon.

I can’t help but smile when I see new Harry Potter merchandise come out or hear it referenced in another show or movie. I still feel giddy whenever the first few notes of Hedwig’s Theme plays. I own several wands and have a Ravenclaw phone case. I cherish my well loved copies that have sat in the same spot on my bookshelf for as long as I can remember. I still play Harry Potter trivia. I can not properly express how I love the strange bond between “Potterheads,” as the fans have been dubbed.

It’s hard to imagine a life without Harry Potter. I hope it continues to inspire future generations in the same way it inspired my generation.