Fuse #8

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Children's Book That Changed My Life

Some of you may have been following the series on Julius Lester's blog A Commonplace Book that asked what book changed your life. The answers include The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Charlotte's Web, The Phantom Tollbooth, etc. Today I gave the notion a little thought. Books that "change your life"? Not a concept I'm certain affects me in any way. I like books. Books are friendly. They amuse me when I'm sifting through my day, but do they tend to "change my life"? Hardly.

There was one book, though. The kind of book I can't really submit to Mr. Lester because he is... Julius Lester. A guy who can give a blog post the title Taking Responsibility for the Past and mean it.

The book that changed my life? Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. No lie. It's 1998 and I'm living in London. I've been sent to pick up this book from a Waterstone's so as to send it back to America, pronto. Fair's fair, and I walk into the store asking the saleslady if she has any books, "by a Harry Potter?" A quick jerk of the head and I find myself in the children's section, which is confusing. Until this moment in time I've not really spent much time in the kid section of bookstores. But there's the book and before I send it stateside I decide to peruse it on my own. I am instantly a fan. Rowling sets her little hooks into me and refuses to let go. The chain of events spirals thusly:
  • Because I read Harry Potter (and continued to do so as they came out) I come across an article in The Oregonian years later discussing His Dark Materials and how it kicks the butt of HP clear across the room.
  • Because I read all three books of His Dark Materials in Powell's week after week in their coffee shop, beneath the strewn, starched corpses of once-wild women's aprons, I begin to spend more time in the children's section of Powell's.
  • Because I spend more time in the children's section of Powell's, I begin to read more and more children's literature.
  • Because I read more children's literature I discover, when I eventually take courses for my MLIS degree in Minnesota, that I really like it. The kidlit course I eventually take is so much fun that I suddenly find myself considering a career not in preservation and/or conservation, but as a children's librarian instead.
  • I follow that yen, move to New York, and we are where we are today.
I like a linear course of how one thing affects another. It gives a person's life a kind of structure. I also like to examine how one decision or another affects the future itself. So it is that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets DID change my life. As directly as any book ever has, I'd say.

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At 1:42 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the rest of us in the Kidlitosphere are all glad that you did read that book at the time, for sure.

At 2:26 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I remember those aprons in the Powells coffee shop! We must have been devouring children's lit. together, along with the dangerously large cookies and hot cocoa. I was the woman with the four little book fiends, once again searching for something they hadn't read.

I must have read a thousand kids' books in that coffee shop (HP and His Dark Materials included) and the more I read the more I saw how vital kids lit is to the development of not just language and literacy but culture and conscience. Plus I could see every day how book characters offered real companionship to my kids and brought topics to our conversation I would never have thought to bring up. I definitely wanted to be a part of that.

I have to admit all those starched aprons hanging on the wall of the coffee shop got me to worrying that I would never produce anything that would not be eaten or unfolded in the next 10 minutes.

So I wrote a middle grade novel, several actually, and your HMOCL#13 was sensible enough to acquire one of them. :)

I'm in the middle of revisions, and tomorrow I think I'll take my laptop down to the Powells coffee shop and remind myself why I love kid's lit enough to work past midnight for weeks at a time. Thanks for the inspiration!

Rosanne Parry

At 10:27 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story.

Brava for you and Harry Potter, both!


At 10:46 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was great to hear the story of how you became a children's librarian. As an aspiring one myself, it is always nice to hear other's reasons for wanting to work in this particular field.

At 11:58 AM , Blogger Robin Brande said...

Ah, Fuse, I love that story! Why have you been holding that back all this time? I love it when we can see the step-by-step of someone's life.
Thank you for sharing!

At 2:41 PM , Blogger Erin said...

That is such a cool and inspiring story!

At 3:21 PM , Blogger MotherReader said...

Great story. I think J. Lester would love it.

At 12:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a very similar experience. I was hired as the summer student in my local public library and felt the need to read Harry Potter so I could converse with the rabid fans who wandered around the library clutching it to their hearts.

I read the entire series (well, up to 4, this was a few years ago)in a week and became more and more interested in children's literature, and here I am, five years later, just completing a masters in children's literature!

Yay Harry Potter!


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