The Books I Loved as a Kid

No books at dinner.  That was the rule.


It was a necessary intervention for my entire book-loving family…but especially for me.  If I wasn’t at school, or at Little League, tennis or soccer practice, I was reading.


Now that I write for kids, I’ve thought a lot about the books that distracted me from homework and kept me up well after bedtime.  The following especially stand out:


  • Anything by John Bellairs:


I was in the Yolo County Library a few times a week, and every trip began with a look at the “B’s” just in case a new Bellairs book had come in.  (Bellairs was prolific enough that this wasn’t as futile as it sounds).   Each of his grim, supernatural mysteries had a distinctive feel and its own devious, central premise: a cursed dollhouse, a doomsday clock, or a killer robot baseball player powered by…well…it needs to be read to be believed. They were downright scary, too. I’ve never been as terrified by a book as I was by The Mummy, The Will, and the Crypt.


  • Anything by William Sleator:


Speaking of prolific! Sleator’s mind-bending, creepy, and hilarious books were the perfect introduction to science fiction.  For years, Interstellar Pig was my go-to “favorite book.”  It features a boy, a beach house, and a very important board game (I’ll say no more).  The library’s copy was at my house more often than at the library, and I probably managed three or four book reports out of it over in as many years.


  • The Adventures of Tintin:


I was, and remain, a huge Tintin fan.  The exciting adventures, massive cast of recurring characters, oddball humor, and European vibe held huge appeal, and I read every Tintin book I could get my hands on.  Even as an adult, I’ve steadily added to my collection of Tintin paraphernalia (the Tintin doll I bought for my baby daughter is not yet appreciated, but I hold out hope).


There are challenging aspects to the series, however.  Herge’s portrayal of race was particularly unsettling–especially  in the infamous Tintin in the Congo.   Unable to locate an English version, I finally found one in Spanish and made my own edition: photocopying it, whiting out the text, and reentering my own translation.  I found myself censoring as I went (nixing the speech praising Belgian colonialism, for example) but I could do nothing about the story, or the ugly, noxious art.  It was a good lesson, trying to reconcile my love for the books with the few troubling ideas they convey.


  • Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators: 


My dad’s love for classic movies hooked me at an early age, and so when I came across Alfred Hitchcock’s name on a children’s  series in my school library, I knew I had to give them a try. Less straight-laced than the Hardy Boys, there was a lot to love about these books: the science, the mystery, the hidden junk yard HQ, the brainy arrogance of lead investigator Jupiter Jones, and cameos by Hitch, himself.  It’s fun to see that the series maintains a solid fanbase on-line.


  • The Three Musketeers series (aka The d’Artagnan Romances): 


Outside of school, much of my seventh grade year was spent in the company of Dumas, Sr.  I read The Count of Monte Cristo first, then read it again, then disappeared into The Three Musketeers.  I remember how excited I was when I found out that there was not just one sequel, but two–or four, depending how individuals publishers had chosen to break up the story.   Still, finding them was tough.  Luckily, the local university’s library had both Twenty Years After and the Viscount Bragelonne.  Until I’d gotten the permissions necessary to check them out, I would bike to the campus just so I could read them in the stacks.


Now there is a good reason why only the Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask (Viscount Bragelonne’s final section) are well-known today.  The political machinations during France’s Fronde des Parlements may not be quite as interesting to, say, a 12-year-old kid.  So I skimmed. But any scene involving Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan was like a secret that only I was privy to.

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