And by “kid,” I mean eight or nine to about twelve or thirteen.

You’re past Berenstain Bears, but you haven’t hit Beverly Hills: 90210 viewing quite yet.

You are, as the book industry is so fond of saying, a Young Adult.

My friends and I got into a discussion the other night about our favorite books as kids, and how much they meant to us. There was Ann M. Martin, who taught us how to run a business. Judy Blume, who taught us about our bodies. And Christopher Pike, who didn’t impart any long-lasting life lessons, except that one should never, ever, participate in chain letters.

I absolutely adored the library as a kid. Also, book fairs, the bookstore, and thumbing through that Scholastic book catalog that came around every so often in the classroom, where you could check off what you wanted, take it home to your parents, and have them order the books — which later came delivered, right to your school. It was terribly exciting.

When I was in the 4th grade, it seemed like all the cool girls liked horses, so I tried getting into The Saddle Club series for a while.  It didn’t stick. The Dollhouse Murders, however? DUDE. I still talk about that book. I’ll tell you about it right now.

So a sweet girl named Amy goes to live with her aunt for the summer, right? It happens to be the same house where her great-grandparents died. But that’s OK, people die.  Amy soon discovers a cool old dollhouse in the attic, and everything is going just great, until she starts hearing disturbing noises coming from the dollhouse at night. She realizes the dolls are moving when she’s not there, and when she tries to explain the situation to people, the adults in her life say things like “moving dolls, huh?” and “boy, what an imagination!” Come to find out, the dolls are acting out Amy’s great-grandparents unsolved murder. Then the adults are like “wow, Amy, we should have listened to you” and “I know, let’s keep going to bed at night while the creepy dolls move around and give us more clues about your great-grandparents grisly death” and because you are ten years old and impressionable, you hang onto every single page while they execute that horrible idea, and terrify yourself so thoroughly you consider hastily getting rid of all of your dolls/action figures and possibly your stuffed animals, just in case they too decide to one day up and act out some murders for you.

But not all of the books I read were kiddie thrillers.

I also dabbled in Sweet Valley High (where I was, and still am, most decidedly an Elizabeth — not a Jessica). I devoured Nancy Drew. I tried to embrace The Boxcar Children, but frankly, their life was a little too feral for me. I preferred the civilized entrepreneurship of The Babysitters Club instead, and wanted one of the girls’ Kid Kits sooo badly.

Kids these days think they invented edgy sex scenes, and to them I say: Have a seat children, and let me tell you about a little story called Flowers in the Attic. Or better yet, for a story not quite so twisted (i.e: incestuous), Judy Blume’s Forever …, which as Megan so eloquently put it, “was the book the got passed around, with key sections highlighted.”  No vampire bedroom scenes here!  Just an actual boy, and an actual girl, actually having sex. (Actually on the floor.)

There’s a pretty new library up the street from my house, and while Ross and I don’t have any kids yet, I sometimes fantasize about walking up there with our future toddler. I envision Story Hour, and puppet shows, and helping them write their name on the book’s check-out card, in a space underneath the messy, scribbled names of all the other kids who have borrowed it.  Check-out cards still exist, right?  Don’t break my heart and tell me some cold scanner has stolen our check-out cards.

But eventually, our boy/girl will discover books that maybe they don’t want us to see. Books that discuss sex, the embarrassment of junior high, and the joy of finding a best friend. Or the joy of finding a really hot vampire. Whatever. That’s what’s so magical about grade level 4-7 literature: It’s ushering you through this confusing time, but it’s not doing it through pure fantasy. (Maybe a little fantasy.) It’s showing you a life that could maybe be your life, with recognizable people and stuff in there, only with much more grown-up themes. It’s titillating. Educational. Sometimes scandalous. And 20 years later, you may find yourself gathered around a small table, splitting a bottle of wine, giggling about the first time you read the word “penis” in a library book.


What were your favorite books as a kid?  Also, is this a gendered thing?  Are girls more frequent bookworms than boys?  I’m curious.


(Fun factoid: The books in Moonrise Kingdom weren’t real books, but pretend books that artists created especially for the movie. To make them, they studied books of the time, and invented titles that sounded appropriately 1960s.  Wes Anderson even commissioned those artists to make animated shorts of the story snippets Suzy reads in the movie.)

(Another fun factoid: Austin lady Sarah Pitre hosts an absolutely kickass YA blog called Forever Young Adult. She is married to one Henri Mazza, creative director of the soon-to-be-world-dominating Alamo Drafthouse, which officially makes them my favorite Austin power couple.)

(OK LAST ONE I PROMISE: The Austin Teen Book Festival is September 29 this year at the Palmer Events Center, and is free.)