Books • Writers for young readers tell us the works that changed their lives.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah boasts an impressive cadre of writers for young readers who have earned a variety of national awards, including an Edgar, a PEN, a Newbery Honor, a Delacorte Press Prize and an IRA Young Adult Book Award. Utah even boasts a National Book Award finalist. In addition, many of these authors' titles have been featured on the New York Times Best-Seller List.
So which books changed their lives when they were young readers?
Matthew Kirby • Author of Icefall and Infinity Ring Book 5: Cave of Wonders.
When I was 12, my parents gave me A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin for Christmas. I loved fantasy and dove right into it, but it didn't take long for a very different kind of magic to begin its work on me. With each word, sentence and page, I became aware of the art of crafting a story. The language. The choices. One particular scene in that book, where Ged first opens the rift, transformed the way I looked at books entirely. In that moment I became fully aware that there was an author behind it, someone writing and casting spells and playing tricks, and I knew I wanted to do that, too. That was the moment I decided I wanted to be a writer, and for that reason, A Wizard of Earthsea is the most important book of my childhood.
Shannon Hale • Author of The Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days, Princess Academy and the adult novel Austenland.
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley rocked my world. It had the first redheaded heroine I'd read and not only was she a redhead like me, but she was awesome. I'd always been teased for being a redhead. Aerin [the heroine] somehow made it OK. I think how important it is for kids to see someone like themselves represented in literature.
James Dashner • Author of the Maze Runner series and Infinity Ring series
The books I remember the most are Charlotte's Web, Superfudge, A Wrinkle in Time and James and the Giant Peach. Each one of those just resonates in my head. Whenever I hear them spoken or see them in a bookstore, my mind goes back to [my childhood]. There was just something magical about those stories that has never left me. Those books solidified in me a love of reading that has never disappeared. And writing for that age brings back some of that magic that can never be wholly duplicated. Ah, to be a kid again!
Jessica Day George • Author of Wednesdays in the Tower, Tuesdays at the Castle and the Dragon Slippers series.
In fifth grade, when I was 11 years old, I picked up a book from the shelf beside my teacher's desk. I'd read them all, except this one. This book was either new to the shelf or I hadn't noticed it before: It had a dark cover, very worn, featuring a dragon and a warrior with a sword. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. Simply magical!
I had seen "The Hobbit" (the old cartoon) and a few other fantasy movies. I knew that there were books out there, but none had ever fallen directly into my hands in this way. (I never said I wasn't lazy.) I realized that this was what I wanted to read about: princesses, dragons, wizards, adventure! Then I discovered something else: Robin McKinley? This was her job! This was a job I could have, too! I knew that I was on to something, and instead of picking up whatever books Mrs. E. left lying around, I went on a quest for books like The Hero and the Crown.
I found McKinley's other books. Patricia McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld I found because it was shelved next to McKinley in the library, and then, glory of glories, I looked up on a shelf and found Diana Wynne Jones! Dogsbody, which I still maintain is the greatest love story of all time, Howl's Moving Castle and A Tale of Time City, and a book so wonderful for children and writers Archer's Goon which introduced me to the concept of writer's block. And Daniel Pinkwater! Later would come Tolkien, Terry Brooks and David Eddings, but McKinley, Jones and Pinkwater are the reason I'm here today.
Rick Walton • Author of numerous picture books, riddle books, poetry and mystery books.
Some of my favorite series were Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Three Investigators by Robert Arthur, the Freddy the Pig books by Walter Brooks, Oz books by Frank Baum, the Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald Sobol and The Great Brain books by John Fitzgerald. I read so much one to two books a day that I didn't have time to have one favorite book.
Jennifer Nielsen • Author of the Ascendance Trilogy and Book 6 of the Infinity Ring series.
I absolutely LOVED S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. On the surface, it would seem that I had nothing in common with this tight-knit, misfit gang of Greasers, and yet I eventually saw a piece of myself in each of them. For a time, I read the book on a solid loop. Once it ended, I would start all over with Ponyboy stepping out into the bright light from the movie theater and lose myself in that world all over again. Most importantly, S.E. Hinton was the first author I became interested in learning more about and the author who first made me realize that writing a book was possible for me, too.
Jennifer Adams • Author of the BabyLit series, which introduces young children to the classics including Jane Eyre, Moby-Dick, and Romeo and Juliet.
My favorite books were Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, etc. I read them in fifth grade, and that's when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I majored in English in college and even did my focus in medieval literature because of those books, which were a retelling of Welsh mythology. I met Lloyd Alexander at a signing when I was in high school, and he was so lovely. It's always my favorite thing when authors live up to your expectations.
Carol Lynch Williams • Author of The Haven, The Chosen One and Pretty Like Us
I was a huge reader as a child. My mom wanted to be an English teacher and she turned me on to the greats. I read Steinbeck, Faulkner and Twain like crazy. A bit of Fitzgerald. Tons of short stories (can't forget "The Lottery"). When I went to the library, after pulling the best books out of the adult section, I always ended up in the kids' nonfiction, looking at the life cycle of bees or how flowers reproduce. I thought I might be a scientist.
There wasn't a lot of kid lit in the house (OK, none), but I remember getting The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the mail something Mom ordered for me. I loved that book. Loved it. One day I went to the grade-school library and saw that oh my gosh L. Frank Baum had written tons of books! So many about Oz! I still remember that delicious feeling of seeing all those books waiting for me.
My dear grandmother took me to the library when I went to stay summers with her. I remember checking out every one of The Borrowers books and reading them over and over, piled up in the bed or on the rattan chair in the Florida room. Oh, the adventure of being so small. The idea of floating away in a tea kettle. Or having a stamp a tiny stamp as a large picture in your living room!
When I look at who most influenced me as a writer, I would have to say Ms. O'Connor or Ms. Welty or other adult writers. But the people who made me feel like something amazing was about to happen or could possibly happen in my life were Mr. Baum and Ms. Norton.