First Loves: The Books We Never Forget

You know how it is.  Your pulse quickens, your body tingles with excitement. You can’t think about anything else,  your completely caught up by something new, something amazing . . . and you just can’t wait to turn the page. If you’re a  regular reader (and I will suppose that most people following this blog are just that) then  you almost certainly experience this kind of discovery at least a handful of times over a year.  But despite new discoveries of great reads, I truly don’t think anything ever quite measures up to those first amazing discoveries when we were young.

You never forget your first loves.  Those books that first captured you in a way no other books could.  Those books that spoke to some part of your inner self, that  made you realize that someone somewhere out there was writing for you.  You probably read and re-read those books.  Maybe you drew your own pictures of the characters or wrote your own stories about them.  You went back to those old loves at the tough times, the sad times, the dark times and curled up with them again and again.  Even now, as an adult those old loves are fondly remembered and cherished.

My last Flashback Friday post on Anne McCaffrey‘s Harper Hall trilogy led to a flurry of comments from readers who loved these books growing up.  Given how much I loved them, it’s still kind of stunning to realize others loved them just as much as I did.

So i wanted to talk about those first loves.   These are the books that live in us, that imprint on us before we’ve any others to compare them to.  These are the books we love not out of intellect and experience, but out of innocent discovery the thrill of a book that speaks to you, that you immediately connect with.

Here are a few of my firsts:

Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce

Here’s my favorite edition of the second book, In The Hand of the Goddess. I tried to draw this cover several times and have a few of my scribbled stories that used this scene as inspiration.

I wasn’t a stranger to fantasy when I found this series.  I’d read the Narnia books.  I’d  swept through every fairy tale and folk tale I could find.  But it was all missing something.  I didn’t know what until I encountered Alanna: The First Adventure.    A sword and sorcery fantasy about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to become a knight.  My first woman warrior story.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it since then.  I still read the entire quartet at least once a year.

I was the girl who thought playing barbies go shopping was ridiculously boring.  My barbie dolls went on long epic adventures and set up house in Castle Greyskull and did battle with evil Star Wars figures.  I was the girl who got miffed when my brothers swiped the Thundercat Sword of Omens when we played dress-up.  I was the girl who found these books and was convinced they had been written just for me.    I’ve read a lot of strong female fiction since then, a loved quite a lot of it.  But at the dead center of it all is Alanna of Trebond with her sword Lightning.

I sometimes wonder if authors ever imagine how much they speak to us.  How much a score of words on the page can answer our unvoiced dreams and our unrealized yearnings.  While as an adult I realize that Tamora Pierce is a writer who was writing for a large audience of readers, many who love her books as much as I do, I still get that thrill when cracking one open to read yet again.

Dragonsong and Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey

Menolly from Harper Hall isn’t a warrior.  There’s no “magic” as such in the stories.  But there are dragons and fire lizards.  And there is Menolly herself, a girl with a powerful gift for music trapped in a community that not only doesn’t appreciate her gift but seeks to squash it.  Where the Alanna books spoke to the warrior within, Menolly brushed up against my creative spirit.  I know what it’s like not to fit in, and to not want to fit in, to not be able to “go with the flow”.  I recognize the pain of having a talent and a powerful yearning to use it . . . and not have anyone around you understand.  Menolly was full of heart, full of courage and full of passion.  I drew my own fire lizards and imagined the fun of having a fair of them to fly around school and fetch things for me.  I also admit I fell head over heels in love with Master Robinton. (FYI,  Artist Robin Wood has created some stunning portraits of Pern characters, including Master Robinton. )

Menolly dealt with being an outcast and didn’t let it diiminish her.  She remained herself and remained true to herself, not changing to meet the expectations or demands of those around her.  She was a delightfully sincere personality and a girl I could imagine myself to be.

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Given the name of this blog, it can hardly be a surprise that this book is among my first loves.  A science fiction, fantasy adventure of the first order, and who is the main protagonist?  A shy and slightly geeky big sister.    There really aren’t too many books in the whole cannon of children’s fiction where  the big sister goes on an adventure to find her missing father and winds up having to confront a big nasty evil to save her baby brother.  Meg is forced to fight tooth and nail for the things she loves, even though she is no match for any of them.  She suffers a hero’s journey on her path, and learns a great deal about herself and about the world she inhabits.   There is nothing that has ever quite matched L’Engle’s Time trilogy in the kind of story it tells.

The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts

I found this book in my fourth grade classroom.  I can never thank my teacher enough for adding that particular treasure to the mix of books we could take home to read.  Before Matilda, there was Katie Welker–a  misfit girl with a huge secret.  She can move things with her mind alone.  Dare I tell you how often I sat and stared at an object trying to make it move?    This book was my introduction to psychic powers and the whole idea fascinated me.   Katie yearned to find others like herself, to find a place to belong–in the process of searching, she became more and more sure of herself.  This little science fiction read had me hooked on the idea of psychic ability.  I scoured the shelves for anything similar. When this book came back in print with new covers, I couldn’t have been happier!  It’s wonderful to see an old friend picked up by new readers!

So these are a few of my first loves–what about you?  What were the first science fiction and fantasy  books that you fell in love with as a child?  Please Share!


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on June 12, 2013, in General Posts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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