Do you remember, when you were a kid, what it was like to walk through the cafeteria with your lunch tray or walk down the aisle of the bus, and kids are putting coats and backpacks across the empty seats so you can’t sit down? Remember that feeling?

Or, say, you’re walking down the hallway at school and some girl comes up behind you and cuts a foot-long section of your hair off while her friends (yours too, you thought) laugh hysterically.

This is why books are so important during childhood. Because one day, you’ll open up a book and discover a child who hurts like you do, and suddenly, you’re not alone.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Because books are not just about company or validation. They shake up your ideas about everything you think you know. They show you that the world is infinitely more glorious and more wicked than you ever dreamed.

The world is no longer just a tiny corner crammed with backpacks and mean girls. And while you once walked silently past the girl holding the scissors, determined not to let her see you cry, now there are so many more possibilities.

My favorite children’s books?

Look behind an obsessive reader and you’ll usually find out why they ditched people for books. Tell me some of your early favorites. Or, better yet, tell me your own version of the scissors story.

TAGS: , , , , , , , ,

SUSAN HENDERSON is the author of UP FROM THE BLUE (HarperCollins, 2010) and founder of the blog, LitPark, a literary playground for writers.

37 responses to “How a Book Can Save a Kid”

  1. Aw, I loved “The Giver.” I was one of the mean girls though. I hate to admit it now, but I was for sure one of them. Still, I love books. I guess I was escaping my family more than I was escaping the mean girls at school when I was a kid, which is probably why “Matilda” by Roald Dahl was my favorite.

    P.S. Did the scissors story really happen to you? I can’t even imagine that?!?

  2. amy says:

    Great piece Susan. I remember the backpacks being shoved across the seats when I got on the bus. I fell in love with a book called The Velvet Room. I wonder if anyone else has ever heard of this one. About a girl who finds an abandoned house and upstairs is a beautiful fuschia velvet room filled with window seats with velvet cushions where she sneaks off to to read. I still have The Velvet Room in my where I sneak off to when I need it. Thanks for the reminder.

    PS Brad Listi came and spoke at a UCSD publication panel I put on yesterday. Thanks for all the contacts you and he have put into my life. All those seats on the bus that you’ve opened up.

  3. Thanks for this Susan– I loved all the books you pictured here. Also, I loved The Little Fur Family (a sweet cozy family who lives in a tree stump) and The Little Brute Family (a grouchy family who eat sticks and stone for breakfast, wear scratchy clothes, and have a kicking dog who wears hob-nail boots). I think all of my writing, including the two novels, clearly show how these two children’s books have influenced me.

  4. Thanks for posting the link Susan!

    I see that your new book THE RUBY CUP comes out in September 2010, the same time that my new book comes out. We’re both with Harper Collins, so we MUST schedule some readings together next fall! Could be great fun, no?

    Also, here’s Greg Olear’s AMAZON list of TNB books available now:

    • Susan Henderson says:

      I would LOVE that! (P.S. I doubt that will be the title of my book by then… the marketing folks want me to find something better.)

  5. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    When I was little, I loved ULTRA-VIOLET CATASTROPHE by Margaret Mahy. Quirky story about a girl and her great-uncle who go on an outdoor adventure. As an older child, a favorite was A WRINKLE IN TIME. I re-read it a couple of years ago, and it means even more to me now. I still hope love can conquer evil.

    I was definitely a bookwormy kid, perhaps to avoid torment altogether. It’s easy to go unnoticed if you’re bowed over open pages.

  6. I can’t really remember when I first got into books. I’ve always been a ridiculous reader, though. From a young age I was reading murder mysteries, and anything else my parents were done with. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends – I somehow managed to fit sports and books into a busy early life.

    But I do remember when reading became important. Rather than being something to fill my life, it became something that mattered, that I wanted to be a part of. That was when I read ‘Microserfs’ by Douglas Coupland. Having read so many dumb books before that, it was the first thing I read that I really related to and realised that books were necessarily about other people or imaginary things. They could reflect reality…

    And since that day I’ve been doomed to read and write and care too much…

  7. lance says:

    the phantom tollbooth.

    it taught me that words could even escape themselves (ah, symbolism!)

    and as for tales of torment… well, I think you know my answer to that one.


  8. lance says:

    and I can’t forget “the giving tree”…

    that one taught me that a great book can make you cry, and you have permission to.

    • LitPark says:

      That’s the best and perfectly said.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      “The Giving Tree” has always struck me as- call me paranoid- sexist. Tree? Female. Boy? Male. Tree? Gives and gives and gives until there’s nothing left of her but a stump. Boy? Takes and takes as though its his due.

      • LitPark says:

        I’ve always read it this way, too.

      • lance says:

        I’ve heard that idea tossed around before, but it isn’t the read I got from it.

        I guess I always read it through the eyes of a six year old boy with a mom that left.

        the idea that anyone would stay and nurture for a lifetime was revolutionary for me.

        I don’t think at that age “sexist” or “misogynist” were in my vocabulary.

        • Susan Henderson says:

          Well, that’s beautiful and heartbreaking, and you’ve helped me see it in a new way.

          I came to a lot of children’s books late, mostly as a babysitter reading to other kids, so I didn’t get a fresh look at many of them. I don’t think I knew the word sexist either, but I cried that the tree had been left only a stump, and I cried, too, but more out of the sense of longing and sacrifice.

  9. Marni Grossman says:

    I’ve always loved “The Secret Garden.” I have a theory that people (read: girls) can be divided into two camps: those who love “The Secret Garden” and those who love “A Little Princess.” It says a lot about a person, don’t you think?

    • LitPark says:

      I love The Secret Garden – the ghoulish crying in the huge empty house and the whole story of why the garden was shut off. I spent a lot of my childhood searching for a garden like that and believing it was just around the corner. I was surprised when I read the book to my kids to find all the Indian prejudice in it because I had no memory of that at all.

  10. I loved Beverly Cleary’s “Dear Mr. Henshaw”. I read it when I was about 6 and it was the first time I recall becoming emotionally involved with a character. “Watership Down” by Richard Adams was also a big favorite.

  11. SusanaMai says:

    Now, this is kind of old school, but I loved The Great Brain by John Dennis Fitzgerald. A few other good ones was The Westing Game, anything by Sharon Creech, and D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths.

    • LitPark says:

      How funny that you brought up The Great Brain because I was walking down the street the other day, and a guy – a grownup – passed me with his nose in that very book. I was so curious, I went home and Googled it.

      We have D’Aulaires and have read it over and over.

  12. SusanaMai says:

    woah, talk about bad grammar. sorry, make that were the westing game, etc….

  13. Ducky says:

    Look behind an obsessive reader and you’ll usually find out why they ditched people for books.

    Love this.

    My favorite book was The Secret Garden. But I also loved Ramona. And Pippi.

  14. Kaye says:

    Hands down…Ramona the Pest, I had curls like Susan. Never had them cut off though. I did have wild frizzy hair, acne, glasses and braces so naturally seats were never saved for me!

    I also loved Are you there God, it’s me Margaret and Forever both by Judy Blume

    I just finished (like 2 minutes ago) Up from the Blue. Just amazing. The last paragraph was so poignant.

  15. Kids room decor…

    Thank you for this excellent write-up. I am usually searching for Kids room ideas to recommend in order to my own, personal readers. It is just what I was looking out for….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *