When Fiction Sparks Recognition

The other day, I pulled out stacks and stacks of books I bought in my tween years. I know quite a few are still at my parents’ house and even more have been given away over the years. But these books that have been saved were like a treasure trove.

41LS4enKBZL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Even though now I have to set goals to read more fiction, as a kid fiction was my go-to genre and more specifically, I adored historical fiction. Books like Number the Stars, about a family who helps their Jewish neighbors escape Denmark and Back Home about a British girl who was sent to America during World War II brought these events to life. I reread Lyddie about a girl who works at the mills in Lowell, Massachusets. The girls in the stories were around my age and I could easily imagine a role in the narratives.

Reading these fictional books set the stage for later history classes. My imagination had already been sparked so learning the dates and historical accounts seemed easier.

Looking through the books that shaped me now, I see a theme: A young, scrappy, often white, girl overcoming challenges in her world. Beyond the young white girl, I didn’t have much in common with these heroines. And looking back, these stories often romanticized the details a little bit. There was some tension, yes. But the stories ended happily and with a neat conclusion.

Now I look for a bit more grit in my fiction. I don’t necessarily want or need that tidy conclusion. My characters still don’t represent me much. I look for protagonists who are people of color and often their lives bear little resemblance to my own.

But as a child, I think seeing myself a little bit was important. I connected with these girls because I could imagine myself in their (made-up) stories. As we fill our library with books for our own girls and I dream about the day when I can introduce them to my old favorites, Frank and I are intentional about including books from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. I love reading Peter’s Chair and A Pocket for Corduroy with Elle before bed.

But I’m also remembering that it’s developmentally appropriate to find ourselves in the books we read. That as Bea gets old enough to absorb these deeper chapter books, we’ll continue to mix in perspectives from people of color. But I also hope that by seeing herself in the story, a spark is ignited to find more and more stories, even if she’s not the heroine.

When you were young, how did you see yourself in the books you read? How has that changed as an adult?

A (1)This post is Day 3 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the A Literary Life. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

4 thoughts on “When Fiction Sparks Recognition

  1. One of my earliest reading memories was a class project in grade school. Probably 2nd or 3rd grade. I had to read a biography and write a book report on it. We could choose any person without limitations. I chose George Washington Carver. The book sitting on my desk, the teacher remarked, “You know that is notthe president, he is a black man.” That was exactly why I chose it. I had never heard of blacks accomplishing anything. I was facinated. What else did I not know? I had only heard about the civil war and the founding fathers, Thomes Edison, and Henry Ford. I wanted to know more about the history of other persons that we did not find in our books. It was the begining of my love of history and biographies. George Washington Carver is still one of my fondest memories. The story of his facinating life sparked something in me that still burns bright today. He was a scientist – a plant doctor. He was from Southern Missouri like my parents and grand parents. He discovered so much we use today. Facinating. He is an inspiring story and human being.

    1. How awesome! I love that you knew exactly who you were choosing to research, and why. And what cool connections to your own life. Have you read any biographies about him as an adult? I always mean to go back and read books about the topics I loved from a more “grown up” perspective. (Maybe a goal for the coming year?)

  2. As a kid, I liked being red to. Like most kids, I remember wanting my mom to read the same books over and over. Funny, I don’t remember the books but her sitting on the edge of my bed reading to me. I also had a 6th grade teacher who would read to us. It represents a calming time to me. I read more fiction these days than ever and I’m sure it’s just to get away from demands of our work. Reading can be a wonderful retreat as well as an education.

    1. I love this. My mom read to me each night even when I was in middle school. The last book I remember her reading aloud was “Hinds Feet On High Places.” There’s something incredible about listening to adults read to us, isn’t there?

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