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.
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?
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.