Stories have a way of sneaking into our lives and making changes—often without us realizing it. The first books that made an impact on me were Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books. First published in 1941—and no, I wasn’t born then—The Black Stallion sank its hooks into me and didn’t let go. It had a shipwreck. A desert island. A wild stallion. A seventeen-year-old boy. And a victorious horse race. What’s not to like?
I was only a kid, but I jumped into that series with the loyalty of any child who discovers a fabulous story. I became a Walter Farley fan. I wanted to be a jockey—even though horses made me sneeze and the only time I ever rode was during summer camp. Those stories instilled in me a love of reading that I’ve never lost.
When I was in junior high, I discovered—because isn’t that what it feels like?—the books of Alexandre Dumas. The Count of Monte Cristo. The Three Musketeers. Let’s hear it for swashbuckling adventure, intrigue, and revenge! I learned that I had the ability to read a “big” book, even though I had to look up words in the dictionary and barely understood the adult issues involved in the plot.
In my early twenties, I read Madeleine L’Engle. In fact, it was pretty much all Madeleine, all the time. Her books entertained, challenged, and inspired me. I felt encouraged to write and write well. I can’t even tell you what it was about A Ring of Endless Light, but when I finished it I felt so much joy about life that I knew I had to write. To write the kind of books I loved to read. Madeleine L’Engle wrote for children, young adults, and adults. She wrote fantasy, women’s fiction, picture books, and contemporary YA. She wrote nonfiction. And that’s another lesson I learned from her—write the book you need to write. Just because I write young adult fiction, doesn’t mean I have to only write YA forever and ever, amen.
So, how about you? What books have made an impact on your life?