As a kid, I was called a bookworm more times than I can remember. Sometimes it was said affectionately by my mom, "Oh, Ashley's such a bookworm!"... but mostly it was said derisively by my friends who couldn't drag me away from the pages of my books to play, as in- "Stop being such a bookworm!" My cousin Charity would even hide my books from me (on those rare occasions that she deemed me worthy of being her playmate, aka when my sister April was unavailable; not that I am bitter or anything... =)

I always had a book with me... at school, on the way to school/church, at the table, in bed, in class. In fact, you could (and still can) find me by following the trail of books I'd leave lying around. And, unlike some people who are "once and done" when it comes to reading, I would read the same book over and over and over again. This did nothing to inhibit my already-forming love for fictional characters (nor did it lessen my quirkiness, unfortunately) but that's just how I rolled. What can I say? I was weird kid. (Ask anyone... it's true.)

So, what was I reading (and re-reading?) Here are a few of my very very favorites (and the ones I still pick up every now and then, just to say hello to old friends.)

1. Anything by Beverly Clearly, but mainly the Ramona books (and the pre-Ramona books about Henry Huggins.)

I remember a school parent telling me last year that she didn't let her kids read Ramona because she is such a brat (Ramona, not her child.) I was like "Whaaaa?" but after revisiting the books I guess she is bratty, but it's not like she gets away with it. She drives her family, especially her sister Beezus, crazy half the time, but she does eventually figure it out (by like, age 9) that it's better not to annoy the people you live with. And I just think that all of Beverly Clearly's writing is stellar. I was never tempted in any way to act like Ramona (except for writing Ashley Baines, Age 8 on all my papers for a while) so I'm pretty sure her behavior isn't too damaging. My favorite part of the series is when the Quimby family goes out to dinner and the nice old man pays for their meal because they look like "a nice, happy family." 

I also loved Mitch and Amy, Runaway Ralph, and Beverly Cleary's books The Luckiest Girl, Jean and Johnny, and Fifteen are some of the most adorable little teenage stories you will ever read. I highly recommend them...they capture all the angst of adolescence without so much of the smut of today's teen literature. 

2. The American Girl books, particularly the Molly and Samantha series but also the mysteries that came out later.

You may not know that American Girl is more than just (ridiculously overpriced) dolls and accessories. Each doll comes with a series of six books (and later some short stories). I was never a big doll girl, but I did looove those books. My favorite American Girl was Molly, from 1944. I didn't just like Molly, I wanted to be Molly. I already had the brown hair and glasses... I wanted the saddle shoes, the argyle sweaters, the Victory Garden... all of it. The Molly books- Meet Molly, Molly Learns a Lesson, Molly's Surprise, Happy Birthday, Molly, Molly Saves the Day, and Changes for Molly were magic for me. It was like reading about myself during World War II (you know, minus the older and younger brothers and best friends Linda and Susan.) Samantha was great too, and of course I read all of Josephina, Kirsten, Addy, Felicity, and Kit. Then each girl got a short story book, and THEN American Girl came out with a "History Mystery" series that I devoured, naturally. All around, good writing, great stories, and very relatable characters. Oh, and they teach history- how sneaky of them! =) If you have girls in your life, a set of these makes a wonderful gift. 

3. Nancy Drew- of course!


Who didn't love Nancy Drew- that titian hair, that blue convertible, those quick wits? Remarkably, Nancy could get herself, Bess, and George out of whatever "scrapes" they encountered, all while looking neat and tidy and ready with a fresh dress. Then there's Ned Nickerson (just admit you love him, Nancy... no need to be so coy!), the ultimate dream date- football star, handsome, and ready to break away from the evening's date to do a little sleuthing. What more could you want in a college man? Anyway, the only bummer I have about these books (and no, the unrealistic way that Nancy eludes death countless times doesn't count) is that I found out recently that the author, "Carolyn Keene," was actually just the person who started the series and that books 2-50 were written by a group of ghost writers. That took the wind out of my detective sails, but oh well. I'll always be a Nancy fan. Now if I could just have her endless collection of evening wear, I'd be set.

4. Random biographies- Like I said, I was a weird kid. 

So old, hardback copies of biographies of people like Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller's teacher), Horace Greeley (founder of the New York Tribune), and Noah Webster (um, the dictionary, obviously) were right up my alley. While these were not really "light" reading, I did enjoy them and I'm glad I read them because lots of the "extra" information I share with my history class comes from reading stuff like this. I had a "Meet" series (Meet Abraham Lincoln, Meet the Men Who Sailed the Seas, etc.) of juvenile biographies, and really any biography that included stories about the person's childhood were a winner with me. (Don't I sound like a delightful nine-year-old?)

5. Sports books- major tomboy, remember? Who fancied myself an athlete but really wasn't so I had to make up for it by reading books on the subject?

 One I remember in particular was Who Stole Home Plate?, but I had quite a collection, including a really old book about the top fifty baseball players of all time (which I think went through maybe the 1960?)... anyway. Fiction or nonfiction, I loved a good baseball book. (Sometimes basketball, but that was pretty much the extent of it. No rugby or tennis for me.)

Of course, there were some books that I feel like everyone is supposed to love, but I just didn't- the Hardy Boys, for example, were never a favorite, nor was I a huge fan of Judy Blume. And other than biographies, I didn't read a ton of nonfiction. But I have to say emphatically that any skills I have in writing are due in large part to the amount of reading I did as a child. Sentence structure, phrases, vocabulary choices- these aren't things you consciously pick up on but I can tell you that so many books I read became such a part of me that I use bits of them all the time, on purpose or not. And as a teacher I can now say with some experience that it is very obvious which students read (and were read to!) and which ones are not. It has something to do with their grades, yes, but even more to do with their general curiosity in the world around them. Most of all, I like to think that reading made me a more balanced young person. I didn't sit in a musty library all day, and I didn't play all day and avoid books like the plague- a lot of time time I was up in a tree with my book, pretending to be some fictional character. (Eccentric doesn't even begin to describe me, okay?) 

I'm no expert on any literature, chidren's or not... but if you want some really excellent (and informed) recommendations and reviews, head over to Everyday Reading, where Janssen will blow your mind with her vast knowledge of all books ever. (Seriously, she is so well-read and has the experience of a librarian to boot.) 

Now if you'll excuse me, I am halfway through Nancy Drew's Mystery at Lilac Inn and it's a real page-turner. 


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