I just discovered Hardcover, an application that is looking to become a very compelling alternative to Goodreads. So far, I’m really enjoying using it and the community around it is lovely. Those who are designing and coding the app are taking the time to gather feedback from all sorts of different kinds of readers and authors. It’s still under construction, but feel free to sign up and join the discord if you want to be a part of this progress. It’s been a great ride so far.
Recently they put up a prompt, asking about favorite childhood books. It got me thinking about what I used to read and how it compares to what I now write.
The Creative World of Dr. Seuss
My family, especially my mother and grandmother, are big advocates for reading. When my siblings and I were little, my mother would read to us just about every night. She allowed us to pick the book and she would read most of it, but as we got older, we took turns reading the pages.
I don’t know how the collection started or even how big it ended up, but we had several of the classic Dr. Seuss picture books with all the weird languages and creatures. Each of us had our favorites. My sister liked A Wocket in my Pocket. My brother absolutely loved Go, Dog. Go! He loved it so much that he requested to read it every chance he got.
My favorite book was Wacky Wednesday where a kid wakes up and all these weird events are happening in the town. As we read the book, my mother, siblings, and I would take the time to find all the strange things happening on each page. That was my favorite part of the book. I would like to think the strangeness of the Dr. Seuss books contributed to my writing style, basically rarely writing anything from mundane, everyday life.
Learning History—Mine and Others
Along with reading, my mother and grandmother strongly advocate for the learning of one’s history. As Black Americans, much of our history is watered down to basically Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, Martin Luther King had a dream, and Rosa Parks said no. They wanted me to learn about similar experiences to what my ancestors faced, filling in the blanks my education left. One special way my grandmother provided me that mising history was purchasing the book box set and matching doll of Addy, one of the classic American Girl dolls. Addy and her family were slaves, but determined to risk their lives for freedom when the suspicion of Addy being sold arose. At first, only Addy and her mother escaped to Philadelphia. Throughout the books, they had to deal with the challenges of being separated from one’s family and the ridicule of one’s skin color or lack of wealth.
As a young teenager who also dealt with ridicule based on her skin color, I found strength from these books. I remember marveling at the illustrations within, showing Addy's courage. I still have both the doll and the books today, though I will admit that Addy herself is a little worse for wear.
The other major historical fiction series of my childhood was one that I happened to find on my own. Do you remember the Scholastic book orders and book fairs? Honestly, I was one of the weird kids that got super excited for the book fair, begging my parents for enough money for one or two books. I remember squealing with joy as my teacher passed out the book orders.
One time when I was scanning the available titles, I noticed a pack of two books: one with a green cover and a young woman with a skin tone and hair color similar to mine and another with a red cover with a regally dressed princess with pale skin and bright red hair. The two-book pack contained Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile, Egypt, 57 B.C. by Kristiana Gregory and Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor, England, 1544 by Kathryn Lasky. I remember reading both of the books with a new sort of vigor.
Noticing that I enjoyed these historical fiction novels, my grandmother bought another diary from the same series (the non-royal edition), I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, Mars Bluff, South Carolina, 1865 by Joyce Hansen. She wanted me to continue learning about American slavery and my history. These three books planted within me a desire to learn more from this series, both from the royal and original diaries.
All these stories featured young women coming into adulthood, usually during a tumultuous time in history while receiving grand responsibilities (sometimes even beyond their years). That was their common thread and probably the reason why I tend to read and write YA. I love the fight young characters show despite being thrust into tiring situations. With time and effort, they manage to overcome them, while at the same time learning more about themselves and growing up a little. It’s definitely the case with Rex and Meenal in Element Unknown.
Did you have any books that defined during your childhood? Do you still read books similar to what you read as a child? Let me know! Also, sign up for Hardcover! I definitely think it’s going to be competitive to Goodreads. Until next time!