Thursday Thoughts: When I was young

(I was going to title this post "A trip down memory lane," but if you actually look at that phrase for more than 2 milliseconds, you realize it is a ridiculous clichรฉ that I must spare you all from at all costs.)

(Also, be warned that this post is ramble-y and strange, but I'm writing it last-minute on Thursday and don't have any time to revise it—not that I normally revise my posts anyway—so here we go.)

Here's a funny thing. I am a reviewer of kids' books, and over the years of running this blog, I have developed all sorts of reading habits and preferences.

But I was an actual kid once—a little kid, one who had been reading since the age of 3—and my reading habits and preferences then were nothing like they are now. So I figured today, I would channel my younger self and give you a sense of what books (and other stuff) he enjoyed.

The very first thing that comes to mind is Wendy Mass. If you've ever existed in the kidlit community, you've heard of Wendy Mass. But I don't know if you have read, let's see, one, two, three, fourfivesixseveneightnineteneleven, TWELVE books by her.

A collage of every Wendy Mass book I've ever read so far

Mass had—has, actually, except that it's been a few years since she's published a book—this incredible ability to combine surprisingly deep ideas about the world with childlike perspectives and plenty of humor, and I think that's why I had a tendency to utterly devour her books.

I loved some of her MG novels for older readers, especially Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life and Every Soul a Star (which I never reviewed and barely remember—I may have to fix that). And her Willow Falls series (11 Birthdays through Graceful on the collage) just might be one of my favorite book series of all time—I used to consider Finally my favorite book, before I decided to get rid of it in a recent book-purging adventure and promptly regretted it. (I may have to borrow the whole series from the library at some point and do a mega-review. And maybe also borrow Every Soul a Star and review it too. And maybe also finally read my copy of Leap Day. Goodness, I've got reading to do!)

On the topic of book series, I used to read way more series than I do nowadays. Besides the Willow Falls books, I kept up with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books through around book 6. I read all 3 books in the Odd Squad series by Michael Fry and some quantity of the Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce. I practically inhaled a ridiculous but ridiculously-entertaining book series called Wiley and Grampa's Creature Features by Kirk Scroggs. And I raced through the Just Grace series by Charise Mericle Harper faster than one might have thought possible. When I was younger, there was so much less agonizing over what to read; I just picked up book 1, and then read books 2 through 10 or so.

The first books in the aforementioned series

Occasionally, I would stumble upon an author who wrote both fun series and deep MG novels. One of those authors was Grace Lin. When my mother bought me a copy of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, I wasn't particularly interested in trying it—and then I read the whole thing in a two-hour sitting on a Saturday morning. I was blown away—blown away—by the writing style, the characters, the sheer number of plot events that all come together in the most beautiful way at the end.

I went on to discover Lin's wonderful trilogy of shorter reads, The Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, and my favorite of all, Dumpling Days, which further cemented Lin as one of my favorite authors of all time.

I was such a voracious (and deeply, deeply spoiled) reader as a kid that I often couldn't wait for a book to show up in the mail. Luckily, this was right as e-books were becoming popular, so I would often have a physical copy of the first book in a series but e-book copies of all the rest—and even those weren't all in the same place. Some were on my Nook Tablet, which I have such fond memories of (this was back when every single person played mobile games, and I enjoyed playing Where's My Water?, Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, and some kind of Fruit Ninja knock-off on the Barnes & Noble app store), and some were on the iPad I got later.

The kids at my school weren't huge readers either. For a few years, we had to take the now-reviled Accelerated Reader (AR) tests, where you would take a quiz over a book you had read for fun in order to get class credit. I was fine with those tests, but as I have since learned from my Social Psychology college class, rewarding people for behavior they were already interested in doing makes them less interested in doing it in the future. So it's quite possible that my 3rd-grade English teacher managed to kill my classmates' love of reading. (I think we did AR tests in 4th grade too, but my 4th-grade teacher was awesome and I could never throw her under the bus. My 3rd-grade teacher was partially responsible for the allergic reaction to peanuts that left me out of school for 2 weeks, coated in hives and Caladryl, so I'm more than happy to be bent out of shape with her.)

On occasion, I would see my classmates reading. One time, a classmate was reading Smile by Raina Telgemeier, which I avoided reading because I feared it was "too girly" until I finally got over myself and totally loved it. (And it's not much of a surprise—all the boys in books I read when I was younger were either mean or stupid, neither of which is a good character trait, in case you were unaware.) Another time, a classmate was reading one of the books in the Mysterious Benedict Society series, which I was already a fan of—I think that was the only time a classmate read a book I already liked. And I remember my aforementioned 3rd-grade teacher passing out Scholastic flyers—that was how I decided to read Wonder by R. J. Palacio (which, thanks to this blog post, I have now learned was somewhat problematic—as was another childhood favorite, Rules by Cynthia Lord).

The last thing I remember about childhood reading was lots of reading aloud with my family. We weren't huge picture book fans, instead preferring to read books like Percy Jackson or The King in the Window (both of which I recall only half-understanding but liking all the same). But I do recall plenty of Dr. Seuss (The Sleep Book, anyone?) or—a favorite even now—Sandra Boynton. (If you're a slightly older reader who still enjoys clever and adorable nonsense, read Amazing Cows!—you will not regret it.)

I kind of forgot to include a moral in this post, but we'll pretend everything I've written was skillfully leading up to the following conclusions all along. It's fascinating how different a reader I was as a kid—even as a kidlit reviewer, my tastes have changed so much. But there's still something wonderful about remembering all those moments devouring books, or pulling them up on my old Nook, or spilling mustard on them because I was some kind of WRETCH that used to read books while eating meals and avoiding hand-eye coordination. Reading books made for some of my best childhood memories, and it just goes to show that even the authors who write books that don't win the Newbery or Caldecott or whatever are still making such a difference in the lives of kids. They're making young readers, and for that, we should all be grateful.

That's all for today! Make sure to come back on Monday for my next book review, and then stop by next Thursday for another round of Thursday Thoughts!


  1. Ah, the dreaded AR system! I had one son who was an avid reader and one who was good at reading but didn't enjoy it, and they both hated AR! They did it all through elementary school here. I still sometimes find Post-Its stuck to old books with the AR level on them!

    I've enjoyed some Wendy Mass books, including 11 Birthdays, and I haven't read any Grace Lin, though I always hear rave reviews, so I need to rectify that.

    I know what you mean about boy characters in books - neither of my sons ever got into the Wimpy Kid books because they didn't like that Jeremy was mean (to his brother? or a kid at school? I don't remember the details, except they had no interest in reading more about him!).

    I loved Smile and Rules and want to read Wonder (hadn't heard about any controversy - will have to check that out).

    And, we all LOVED Sandra Boynton books!! So funny and clever :)

    Great post :) I love to read about childhood reading - I did a whole video about it (Hindsight 20/20), where I gush about my favorites from childhood.

    Lots of fun!


    2021 Big Book Summer Challenge

    1. I had an OK time with AR, but I get the sense that it was detrimental for a lot of kids, unfortunately. You should definitely try some Grace Lin if you get a chance—Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is one of my all-time favorite books! I don't remember the details about Diary of a Wimpy Kid either, but I have that vague sense of mean protagonists in a lot of those kinds of books. I don't know if there's been much controversy about Wonder or Rules, but I had seen those articles and they made some good points, so I felt like sharing them. And yes, Sandra Boynton's books are wonderful! If I get a chance, I'll take a look at your Hindsight 20/20 video! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!


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