In which I find a tattered book

A few months ago, we opened up storage bins at my parents’ home, looking for old Golden books for the tinies, and the keepsake clothes my mum had held onto from our childhood, particularly an old Minnie Mouse nightie that my mother had made for me many Christmases ago. (We found the nightie, Anne promptly put it on, we discovered it was a bit too small for her tall frame already, but she wore it all winter anyway, nighties are good that way. My little red-haired niece wears our old frocks for birthday parties and it makes me happy every time I see her in the dresses that I remember my own small sister wearing 30 years ago.)

Then, in the midst of my mother’s teary remembrances, in our laughter, and storytelling, our Do-You-Remember tales, I found a tattered book, tucked into the folds. Quick as a flash, I snatched it out of the box and put it in my purse.

It’s falling apart, this book. Nothing special, just a cheap paperback from the 1965 run of Scholastic book services, it’s my copy of Helen Keller’s Teacher by Margaret Davidson. Inside the cover, my mother wrote my name: Sarah Styles Rm 5, because I took it to school for show and tell, she didn’t want to risk someone re-shelving it in the library, she knew I loved it.

Because, you see, this was the first book that I read, cover to cover. It was the first book that I read without care for food or water or playtime or other people. It’s the first book that gave me that distinct and addictive coming-up-for-air feeling when I finished it, closed it, looked up around me, that feeling of emerging after being submerged in a good book. Hearing a noise, I looked up, blinking around the spare room, perched in that uncomfortable old car seat, and where am I again? That’s when my mum snapped this photo.

Annie Sullivan became a friend, I loved her. I had never known anything of history or “the old days” before this book, now I realised with a start that it was all real, and people had lives, and their lives were very, very different from my own, and now I had experienced it all through a story.

Stories still do this to me.

This was the book that lead me to Anne of Green Gables, to Emily of New Moon, to Little Women. This book opened me up to The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Little House on the Prairie, even to that mild-mannered Grandma’s Attic series. This worn-out book, devoid of awards or fables or distinctions, is the book that made me a reader.

I might frame it.

Almost every reader of fiction that I know has a book experience like this. The ones that aren’t readers-for-the-love-of-it didn’t have a day, as a child, when they lost track of time and just read and read and read. Sometimes it’s a book that no one remembers, like mine, or it’s a classic, other times it’s The Baby-sitter’s Club. Either way, there was a day, when you read and read and read, and when you finished, you had emerged.

What book turned you into a reader?


  • Kelly @ Love Well

    The Chronicles of Narnia. I read them continuously from age 9 to age 16. I would start at The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, read straight through to The Last Battle, then start back at book one the same day. CS Lewis’ words are grafted into my bone marrow.

    • Jana Gering

      This was an important one for me as well. I even watched the old BBC movies…and still went back to the books. They were so much better!

  • Juanita Dueck

    I have that EXACT book! Loved it too. I think I read it cover-to-cover in mere hours. My first book , though, was Charlotte’s Web. Still have my original copy from 1979 . Oh how I adored reading. Still do. Someday , your kids will be treasure hunting in your boxes for their first read. :)

  • J.R. Goudeau

    The Ordinary Princess by L.M Montgomery. It’s in a very important place on the highest shelf in my house now. I pulled it down and read it to my girls last summer and they soaked it in. A princess is given the gift of not being pretty or perfect, but just ordinary. She ends up having a whole lot more fun than the other golden princesses. It’s a great book about a girl who learns to be confident whether she’s anything special; it’s only later that I realized how much it impacted me as a tomboy and a girl who never quite fit in with the cheerleaders and athletes growing up.

  • fiona lynne

    The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge. You can tell how loved this book was by how tattered it is now. I read it over and over and over and wanted more than anything to be Maria, to be the little girl who got to see the white horses. Apparently my primary school teacher told my parents they should stop me reading so much because my other school subjects were suffering…

  • Caroline

    Oh, Sarah, I loved this post! The books that made us readers…..I can’t wait to read what everyone is going to say! My mama read books to me over and over again that I loved, but the first one I ever remember reading on my own was also a Helen Keller book when I was in about 2nd grade. I cannot remember the name of it but It had a picture of Annie and Helen sitting by the water pump on the cover. It is probably still in a closet at my parents’ house. I’ve had a book in my hands ever since then!

  • the Blah Blah Blahger

    Great question!!! I loved reading as a little kid, but man, I was just SUCKED into reading in a deep and intense way in 6th grade with Upon the Head of a Goat, which is a Holocaust memoir. The writing was so visual and real…even at such a young age, I understood that her words were not just a story…she broke my young heart and taught me to love history and to want to make a difference in the world!

  • D.L. Mayfield

    omg, sarah is that the book that describes annie sullivans growing up in the poor house? i was literally trying to recall that book last week, as i was trying to pinpoint the first time my little safe and wonderful world was opened up to grief. The descriptions of sullivan’s childhood put such a dread in me, but made the rest of the story sweeter. I am wondering if this is the same book? If so, then we are quite the bosom buddies.

    • Sarah Bessey

      That’s it, indeed, exactly. We ‘re meant to be.

  • Rebekah Sanders

    For me it was Beezus and Ramona and I think I was 6 when I read it. I remember thinking that she was just like me with her antics. And I remember the overwhelming feeling of JOY when I realized there were more books in the series. I remember that Ramona Quimby, age 8 was the very first book that I bought brand new with my own saved money. Which led my dad to subscribe to weekly reader books for me – where I would get a WHOLE BOX of books in the mail every month. It was like Christmas came all year long!

    • Bree

      Oh, me too! I read every Beverly Cleary book in our small school library before I was in 3rd grade, and even read her memoir, A Girl from Yamhill. Those books opened up a wide world of imagination in me and introduced me to the first of many “book friends.” :)

  • Tina Francis

    Nancy Drew. Hands down. :)

  • Tina Francis

    Hands down, Nancy Drew. :)

  • Beth

    I loved Little House and Little Women and Narnia and Janette Oke and the Thoenes, but before all of those was Nancy Drew. My mom brought home a bunch of her old Nancy Drews from my grandma’s house. I think I burned through four in a row one sunny, warm Saturday while the rest of my family was playing outside. They kept coming in to check on me to make sure I was still alive. :) The rest of that summer, I would haul bags of them out of the library every week, and read one or two or three a day. I would lie awake at night writing my own Nancy Drew mysteries in my head, or coming up with alternate endings. I remember that feeling of looking around and not knowing where I was, I had been so immersed in the story.

  • Leanne Penny

    I feel far less classy than you fine ladies but… for me my first chapter book was babysitters club, was I the only one?

    I did progress to Where the Red Fern Grows, Trumpet of the Swan, Sidako and the 1,000 paper cranes and Little Women, and although BSC took up the volume on my shelf, the classics are what remain for me.

    • Mallory Pickering

      Don’t worry. How pretentious would you have to be to put down another person’s reading choices, especially a child’s? I loved BSC!

    • Caris Adel

      I still own my whole collection of BSC. Still missing a few books, but my 11 year old is helping me finish them off. Those were my most favorite fluffy books.

    • Anna R

      I still love them! True story: a couple years ago I spotted a new Christmas Secret Santa special BSC book. It’s on my shelf now.

    • charity jill

      Where the Red Fern Grows was the first book I ever read where I had a truly emotional reaction. What a memory! But its true…those Baby Sitters Club (and the Little Sister series) were like library-crack to me.

  • Jana Gering

    your snapshot there could be me, down to the outfit and the odd perch. Also we had that book, and I loved it. Davidson’s Annie was sassy and smart and passionate!

  • Rose

    So many of them blur in my mind but it might have been From Anna by Jean Little. In a year or two you should look into Jean Little for Anne! Her books are so, so good!

  • PrayerPoseMom

    Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” I consumed that book in 2nd grade – the message of LOVE above all else, the science, the mystery, and the scope of imagination to pull all those together. Still one of my favorites along with “To Kill A Mockingbird.” books were, and remain, the very best of friends to me.

  • laura @ hollywood housewife

    Starring Sally J. Friedman As Herself by Judy Blume. Game changer. I got nostalgic just typing the title!

  • Mary Lee Downey

    I remember “Number the Stars,” by Lois Lowery being the book that I “lost” myself in. I was always a huge reader, but I had to have been 7-8 when I read it and I couldn’t tear myself away. It’s a fictional account of a child in the holocaust. Out of that book my heart for social justice was born!

    • Rose

      Oh dang, I LOVED Number the Stars too! Definitely a must.

    • Lindsay

      Number the Stars was mine as well. And Babysitters Club, much to my father’s chagrin. 😉

  • Jennifer Short Bennett

    Oh man, I got the Little House series when I turned 8 (7?) and I read through it like nothing else existed. Then I read it again. And again. Certain favorites are more ragged than others, but I think the first one was–and maybe is–my favorite.

  • Jo-Anne

    The Sweet Valley books, and now I have started a collection for 3 year old daughter who I hope will one day love them as much I did.

  • Tiffany Norris

    Little Women! I don’t think I even fully understood it, but I knew I loved it and loved reading. And Helen Keller is from my tiny hometown–it’s our claim to fame. :)

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    i did read all the little house and ramona books, but it was bridge to terabithia that made me fall in love. katherine patterson never wrote down to children, and i loved her for it. i loved judy bloom, too. just as long as we’re together was one i read again and again.

    • Holly Grantham

      Oh Bridge to Terabithia–Yes…me too! I read it while crammed into the backseat of the car while our family drove to Georgia. I’ll never forget being pulled into every next page and the crushing sadness that threatened to devour me. When I finished the book and found that I had survived…well, that was a triumph…but I was also transformed. Books would never be the same.

  • Katie @ ktmade

    It was the Ramona books for me, but then it carried on through the Nancy Drew books, and then every book LM Montgomery ever wrote – we were definitely kindred spirits.

  • Melody Harrison Hanson

    Charlotte’s Web and I still have it too!

  • Maya Resnikoff

    The Oz books were my gateway to real, immersed reading. I still re-read them, here and there. My other special memory book was “The Curse of the Witch Queen” by Paula Volskty, my very first “grown up” book- read later that same second grade year. Once I got immersed, I dove in with great enthusiasm…

  • Beth

    The first book I remember being utterly absorbed by is Bridge to Terabithia… It surprised me, it saddened me, it got me hooked. I just re-read it for the first time as an adult, and it was just as good as I remembered.

  • Misty

    I don’t remember which book it was for sure, but I can easily say Ramona Quimbey did it for me. They are the first books I have memories of reading and I read them all multiple times for years before I moved on.

  • HopefulLeigh

    Oh, it’s hard to remember which was first. I remember a board book was the first I read all by myself. I was heavily into the Babysitter’s Club by second grade but I’m pretty sure Little House on the Prairie stole my heart first. The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Little Women, & Anne of Green Gables all followed after. Loved the Grandma’s Attic books, too! I didn’t think anyone else knew about those. I also read and loved a book about Helen Keller but I think a different one than yours. My best friend and I used to play our version of Little House on the Prairie in her backyard, while my other good friend and I would dream about marrying Gilbert Blythe someday. Such good memories!

  • Kelly

    Harriet the Spy…made me want to be a writer (and an international spy) too! :)

  • Joanna Dobson

    You made my heart ache for the days when there always seemed to be enough time to read for as long as you wanted. I can’t remember which book in particular did it for me – maybe one of the endless paperbacks about girls with ponies that I used to devour, or A Little Princess, or an amazing book called Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr. The first ‘adult’ book I couldn’t put down was Jane Eyre which I read when I was about 13. Then I became completely obsessed with all things Bronte – it’s still a huge favourite.

  • Lyndsey

    I can’t remember not being a reader, but there was this book I read about fifty times called “Mandy” about this orphan girl who finds a little house and fixes it up. I think I found it at some thrift store and I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Always wanted to read about orphans, though…

    • Kathie

      I loved that one too – it was written by Julie Andrews.

  • Linda Stoll

    Here’s another Nancy Drew fan …
    But some of my most prized possessions are the books my own mother carefully read and cared for when she was young … back in the days of the Depression in the 30s. Every book was a treasure, a valued investment, a keeper. They are so frail now, and I seldom handle them. But when I glance their way, in a place of honor on my own shelves, I can’t help at smile at the gift of reading that she has shared with her children, her children’s children, and her children’s children’s children.

  • Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm

    Honestly, I don’t know. I can’t remember ever not being an obsessive reader. Maybe it was Nancy Drew? Or the Boxcar Children?

  • Kathie

    For some reason I didn’t go to the town library until I was in Grade three. So I missed all the picture books because I thought myself too old for them – they were baby books. Instead I started to read chapter books. I fell in love with the Carolyn Haywood books – B is for Betsy, Betsy and Eddie, – a whole series. I read them all. Then I moved on to other series like The Bobbsey Twins (always got a new one for birthdays and when my parents went on trips), The Tuckers, The Happy Hollisters. Then I devoured almost every children’s book in our library. Unless there was a boy on the cover – it took me quite a while to read Farmer Boy. It turned out to be one of my favourites!

  • Oksana K.

    Mine was an odd little chapter book called Harriet’s Hare, about an alien rabbit. I read it after my family emigrated from the Ukraine to Canada, and because I didn’t know much English at the time, I didn’t understand most of it. Still, it somehow had me completely engrossed. Later, Pippi Longstocking, Anne Shirley, and the March sisters (especially them—I once read and re-read that book daily for a year just to live in it) would do the same.

  • kim

    The book I first remember getting under my skin is “Now I am Two,” Rylllis Linday. I remember the line…”I run. I fall down. I get up and run some more.” My Dada ( grandfather) taught me to read when I was 3. He was a brilliant teacher. I loved the pictures in this book. The girl little looked so much like me. When I got older I scarfed down Nancy Drew books.

  • Caris Adel

    Oh these comments are so fun to read. I could talk about books all day. I’m trying to remember what books I would say turned me into a reader, but I started reading at 3, and haven’t stopped devouring them. The ones I remember loving the most when I was little was the Ramona series (I still can’t hear the Star-Spangled Banner without thinking of Dawnzer Lee), the Little House series, the Signature series of biographies (I wore my Pocahontas and Mark Twain copies out!), and….Janette Oke. I still sometimes get those out and read those, cheesy as they are. My daughter and I just finished the Love Comes Softly series, and I still liked it more than I thought it was corny.

  • Mindi

    Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I believe I was led into that book by my mother reading Watership Down to me every night when I was in second grade. I then rode a pretend horse to and from the schoolbus for months afterwards.

  • Ashleigh Baker

    Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I wasn’t quite eight myself, but I couldn’t wait until I was and it was my first book with chapters. But the next year I bought my boxed set of the Anne books and read every one of them in a summer. I’m not sure I can pick one experience or the other as the one that made me fall in love with books and words and stories. Both are so dear.

  • Bridget Blinn-Spears

    It was my mama reading to me, as yet unborn, I think. And then the little Engine that Could (over and over) and then the Litle house books – the whole series at least ten times in second and third grade. The loss of those particular copies in a basement flood is one of my life’s small personal tragedies.

  • Libby

    Ramona Quimby was mine followed by the Little House books and Grandma’s Attic. Great memories!

  • Anna R

    Miss Laura Ingalls Wilder. Hers were the first words I was lost in. I was 3 when I read it because I could read, and I was in 1st grade when I became enamored and coveted a bonnet =)

  • Lisa McKay

    Great post. I remember that book, too! And here’s a recent quote from Helen Keller I clipped because i just loved loved loved it: ““Once I knew only darkness and stillness… my life was without past or future… but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.” (Helen Keller)

    The book that turned me into a reader was The Far Pavilions by M.M.Kaye when I was 9. I’m sure there were others, but this is the one that stands out.

  • June Abner

    I can’t remember not reading! Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins, The Happy Hollisters, Narnia and the Little House Books are what come to my mind. Fun, fun, FUN!

  • sarah

    besides many of the lovely books listed here–laura, ramona, and co.–i remember being absolutely captivated by e.l. konigsberg, particularly “from the mixed-up files of mrs. basil e. frankweiler” and “the view from saturday.” i still keep copies of these books on my shelffor easy access today.
    reading through this post made me remember the saturdays of my elementary and middle school days. i would wake up and stay in bed as long as possible, forgoing both food and bathroom breaks for as long as i could stand it, so that i might devour a new book from the stack by my bedside. i hope to create more of these moments in my life now, free of to-do lists and obligations, to escape into the adventure of a good story…

  • Carrie K

    Where the Red Fern Grows….i remember crying and not being able to stop and feeling so overwhelmed at this world that lived only in the book pages. Shortly after that was Christy….similar reaction. I was hooked…and read everything and anything…still do :) it was so fun to read your story and relive that moment in my life!

  • charity jill

    Nancy Drew, “Mystery at Lilac Inn” made me into a library rat!

  • KatR

    My mother gave me a copy of the first “Little House on the Prairie” book when I was 6. I also loved “Stuart Little” and “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Trumpet of the Swan”.
    I recently bought a copy of “The Trumpet of the Swan” because I remembered it being magic and perfect as a kid and wondered if I still would find it that way as an adult and I DID.

  • Forever YoungWard

    How to Make a Million. I read it in kindergarten, and it was the first book my teacher let me take home to read. From there on, I’ve been unstoppable:) How lucky I was to have a teacher who allowed my love of reading to flourish!

  • mizmelly

    Wow, Joe is so like you!

  • Handsfull

    I loved Helen Keller’s Teacher too! And my copy looked just like yours :) Can’t remember which particular book it was that started me off, but my parents have told me that I would meet my dad at the door when he came home from work, holding a pile of books, begging ‘Read, read, read!’ I can’t have been more than 2 or 3.

  • Jillie

    Hi Sarah…I remember one summer when I was very young, I read ‘Lassie’ and I became ‘Jeff’. My entire summer was spent dreaming of his farm life and that Dog. But the book that truly turned me into a reader was one given to me by a very dear friend whom I have lost. She hasn’t died…i just have no idea where she is. The book was called ‘Garrett’s Crossing’…and I still have it. One of the main characters was a soft-spoken son named ‘Nathaniel’…I named MY son after him. Just recently I read ‘Garrett’s Crossing’ again, and it took me right back to those same memories. A good book is a gift…that keeps on giving.

  • Hannah C.

    I can’t remember learning how to read. In my memories, I’ve *always* known. Since I learned how to read at four, this makes sense. I’m also not positive which book turned me into a reader…but I’m pretty sure it was Little House In The Big Woods. I have a distinct memory of my mother reading this book to us, and me looking over her shoulder and reading ahead because she wasn’t reading fast enough. After that day she wouldn’t read to me anymore. But I preferred to read it myself…I always have. When I was five or six or maybe seven, I read an *adult* biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. That’s how much I loved the stories she told.

    I read that copy of Helen Keller’s Teacher, too – but mine almost certainly came from the library. :)

  • jessica ♥ The Fevered Pen

    The Nancy Drew series actually turned me into a reader.

  • Sonia Johnson

    Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. That was the first chapter book I checked out from the school library in either 1st or 2nd grade. Still love it and now my oldest boy is old enough to have it for a read-aloud.

  • Beth

    Where the Red Fern Grows was my most favorite book of childhood. I picked it up again recently to try as a read aloud with my children and it was like saying hello to an old friend.