When I was 12 years-old, I stole a book from the middle school library.
It wasn’t a grand heist. I didn’t shove it under a heavy sweater and scale the electronic gates like a ninja. I doubt the library even had electronic gates. I simply never returned the book, and when the school librarian asked about it, I swore up and down that I had brought it back. And maybe because I was a good student, or maybe because my mother was a teacher, or maybe because she was tired of nagging students about overdue books: whatever the reason, she chose to believe me, and took it off my record.
The book was Beauty, a first person retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley. I couldn’t bear to return it. It was my favorite book.
Thirteen years later, as a newly-minted children’s librarian in a public library, I was anxious to add Beauty to our juvenile fiction collection. Since I was new and the branch was small, all of my purchases were screened, and I was not allowed to purchase an older title like Beauty. Instead I bought a copy with my own money and sneaked it surreptitiously onto the shelves. I then proceeded to rave about it to every middle grade girl who walked in the door. It was like introducing an old friend. I was so happy to see it getting checked out to this whole new generation of girls.
And then one of the little stinkers stole it.
One day it simply wasn’t there. I hope whoever took it loved it as much as I did. Maybe she became a librarian. Karma truly is a bitch.
In any case, I now have my own copy (another one I bought for myself many years ago). I’m saving it to give to my daughter when she’s old enough. Already she asks me, whenever I read her a book, “Is this from the library?” She hates returning books. I know she’s not going to want to let this one go either.
There are many other books I am saving for her. When I think about them as a group, I realize they are all about girls, and each of those girls became part of the girl I was hoping to be: part Pippi Longstocking (by Astrid Lindgren), strong and unflappable (the bag full of gold would also be nice); part Sara Crewe of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, kind and stoical with a story for every situation; part Alanna of Trebond from the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, a girl brave enough to disguise her identity in order to pursue her dream of becoming a knight.
I am sincerely enjoying my daughter’s preschool years, and dreading some of the times ahead that I know may be hard for both of us. But I am itching to introduce her to my favorite books. I hope that she loves and lives in them the way that I did. Here are just a few:
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
I loved the movie The Wizard of Oz so much that in Kindergarten I told the teacher my name was Dorothy, and for a day or so (so I’m told) I refused to answer to any other name. I blew through this whole series a few years later, and although I’ve forgotten a lot, I’ll never forget the startling ending of The Marvelous Land of Oz, the princess with thirty interchangeable heads in Ozma of Oz, or Polychromethe, The Rainbow’s Daughter from The Road to Oz (I insisted on dressing as her for Halloween one year. There was definitely no commercial costume available for that, but my mom kindly made me one.)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Another fantasy world I spent a lot of time in as a child was Narnia. I loved the idea that the time spent there was like no time at all in our world, making it the best kind of escape. Although the series has been rearranged since then, and now starts with The Magician’s Nephew, to me the wardrobe will always be the best way in.
Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery
I will probably read Anne of Green Gables with my daughter first, because it’s so much funnier, and was definitely one of my favorite books too. But I loved Emily Starr, a more serious, dreamy orphan who lives in her own stories, and has a mystical attachment to the natural world around her. I wonder if my daughter will identify with her as much as I did, but I suspect she’ll be drawn more to fiery, spirited Anne, with her hilarious mishaps and rich imagination.
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Winner of the 1985 Newbery Medal. An unforgettable fantasy novel about Aerin Firehair, a king’s daughter who battles a dragon. I loved this one almost as much as Beauty, and I had a crush on the the character of Luthe (one of the many fictional characters I pined after).
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The Wizard Howl was another one of my literary crushes. Plus this book made me laugh out loud. A fairy tale about Sophie, the eldest of three daughters, who enrages the Witch of the Waste and is turned into an old woman. I can’t tell you how many times I read this. I know it was a lot.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
I always loved mousy, brilliant Meg, and her genius brother Charles Wallace. I was terrified by IT, the evil pulsating brain, and fascinated by the idea of the tesseract. I think this was probably the first science fiction novel I read as I child. It was a wonderful gateway into the genre, and one I will never forget.
These are just a few of the books that I read and reread and dreamed about. I don’t know if my daughter will have the same tastes in books that I do, and of course, there’s a whole world of new books out there to feed her imagination. But I’m hoping as she gets older she will love at least a few of my old friends, although I hope she is never compelled to steal one.