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  • Writer's pictureJason Haskins

Unlocking new worlds: 5 favorite books from my youth

Updated: Jul 1

Large brown, tall bookshelf filled with books, some stacked on one another. To the left, on a small shelf, an aloe plant in a red pot. Below, binders.

The magical, mystery world of books has been a constant force throughout my life. At least as far back as I can remember. I mean, I'm guessing my parents read to me before my first memories of books at the age of six, so I feel secure in the statement "throughout my life".

Book fairs, weekly summer visits to the library, the bookmobile, and ordering books from, well, I don't exactly remember the company but it was an opportunity through school, highlighted my elementary years.

A large selection of books tucked away on shelves and in closets of my childhood home were also available for perusal. Books like Lassie, Pippi Longstocking, and Hans Brinker; or The Silver Skates were but a handful of these stories from a different era.

I was taken to worlds of Druids and Elves, pen pals and nature, with a brother tandem who liked to solve crimes thrown into the mix. I immersed myself in these stories, imagining myself as the lead character, testing the very limits of a fictional soul while racking up Pizza Hut rewards in real life.

These characters were my best friends, my mentors, and my enemies, many of which rattle around in my brain to this day. That being said, here are five of my favorite books, or book series, from my formative elementary years.

1~ Dear Mr. Henshaw

Do I remember the very first time I read Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary? No, but there was a time that I could recall every vivid detail of this book.

Flipping through my well-worn, recently rediscovered copy, memories floated back in. A boy and his pen pal relationship with his favorite author. A boy and his troubled relationship with his mostly absent father. A dog named Bandit and the saying, "Keep your nose clean, kid."

Well-worn copy of, written in red lettering, Dear Mr. Henshaw . Yellow borders around the drawing of a young boy with sandy brown hair, holding a pencil writing a letter. The boy wears a blue sweater.

The book is told from Leigh's point of view, whether it be via letters to Mr. Henshaw, diary entries (addressed to pretend Mr. Henshaw), and day-to-day action. Subconsciously, I do believe this book influenced my narrative style in Of Snow Forts and Santa.

One of the reasons I believe I was so attached to this book in my youth was because I often imagined myself writing to a favorite author of mine, Terry Brooks, who penned the next series up on my list.

2~ The Sword of Shannara (and original Shannara trilogy)

The Sword of Shannara, and ensuing books over the years, by Terry Brooks brought my early love of fantasy novels, which also led to me wanting to write fantasy stories of my own. These books fermented in my mind and it was as far back as my elementary years in which I started down the road of creating The Dragon Princess.

My mother owned a copy of Sword and I believe it was somewhere around the fifth grade in which I read this book for the first time (perhaps even a year earlier). I proceeded to make my way through the original trilogy, devouring every word. And while Sword was the first, and a book I've read multiple times, the middle book of the trilogy, The Elfstones of Shannara, remains by far my favorite.

Brooks has continued to explore and write about the world of Shannara over the years. It is only here in the year 2020 in which that exploration will end with his final Shannara book, The Last Druid, which arrives in October.

3~ My Side of the Mountain

This is a novel that had escaped my mind for years. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George was a book I read just as much, or more than, Dear Mr. Henshaw. It was a few years ago in which My Side of the Mountain popped back into my head and it was a story I documented, which you can read over on The Journey of Now blog.

Going through boxes at my parents' house earlier this summer, I discovered I still owned a copy. After the above-mentioned recollection, I'd purchased a copy so now I have two in my stash.

4~ The Hardy Boys

The stories I read were newer, but these crime-solving brothers kept my attention for many long, summer road trips in my youth. They were my companion in the backseat as we traveled to see grandparents, relatives, and family friends across the state of California every summer.

Four books, all about the Hardy Boys. From Left to Right: The Last Laugh #42, a boy attacks a person in a red suit shooting fire from his hands. Running on Empty #36. Two men fighting, with a third ready to jump in. The Number File #17, two boys on scooters pursued by a car. Choke Hold #51. A man in a singlet holds a young man over his head in a wrestling ring

The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon (a pseudonym for a collection of ghostwriters) dated back to 1927, but I was reading a new series called Casefiles, which began in 1987. I enjoyed these and also managed to read a few of the earlier stories, thanks to books kept by my parents from their youth.

While favorites from my youth, with their own pulpy style, The Hardy Boys didn't seep into my conscious as much as these previous books on this list. But for years they kept me entertained, and that's why they'll always be dear to my heart.

5~ The Boxcar Children

Living life in a boxcar? That's what I call living!

At least that was part of the wonder I had instilled in me when I first read these books. However, The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner was much more than that, telling the stories of four orphans who are basically forced with the decision to make their home in a boxcar.

Things end up for the better for these children, whose stories are told to this day, with now 140 titles to their credit (Warner wrote the first 19).

Honorable Mentions: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little by E.B. White, The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

A very special honorable mention goes to a book series I can't recall the name of. Google searches have failed me thus far in this young adult series about baseball players. Every summer, I would check out these books from the library, which told the stories of a baseball team, usually focusing on one player per book. If I remember correctly, these fictional players and fictional team were in a low-level minor league or legion league. I loved these books and wish I loved them enough to remember the author or titles.

What were some of your favorite books from your youth? Any of the above? Can you help answer my question about the name of these baseball books? Feel free to comment below.

Be bold. Be kind.


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