Often, I think about the books in my life that inspired me. As a fledgling writer, I am always in awe of those authors who ignited my interest and imagination. They took me on journeys, evoked emotions, and broadened my world. I fell in love with the characters they created. Their stories never really leave me.
At a very young age I was read to by my parents. In my pre-school years, I was given many little golden books. My Teddy Bear, Scuffy the Tugboat, Heidi, and my very most favorite Doctor Dan (I think this ranked as my favorite because it came with a real band-aid adhered to the front of the book) surrounded me as I fell asleep at night and still live vividly in my mind. As I grew older, Carolyn Keene (the pseudonym of multiple authors) brought Nancy Drew into my life. My oldest sister was 13 years older than I. Someone had given her a membership to the Nancy Drew book club so there were many of the titles in our home. They only had a few black and white illustrations and the clothing and hair styles were from the ’30s but it didn’t matter to the ’50s me. I engaged in Nancy’s adventures and developed a life-long love of the mystery genre.
In sixth grade, I found the Witch of the Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. The plot is so rich and I think it influenced me on many levels. The historical setting drew me to read much more and appreciate historical fiction. The issues of prejudice and tolerance made me sensitive to those issues in my era. After reading this book, I chose to read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, another excursion into issues of tolerance. Only recently did I discard my paperback copy that had been given a new cardboard cover and had numerous pages taped back into it. It is one of the few books that I re-read often.
It was around this time that I discovered Classic Illustrated Comic Books. I had always been a fan of comic books. After all, Archie, Jughead, and Veronica were my pals as I entered high school. The classic comics introduced me to so many notable novels. In fact, as a senior in high school, my literacy instructor – Sister Virginia – thought I was so well read because whatever classic she brought up, I would be able to comment upon. She would look to me with queries like, “Judy, what was the name of the character from Tale of Two Cities who knits? (Madame Defarge). I would be embarrassed to admit that my knowledge came from comic books except that Sister’s belief in my ability actually made me read the original novels. After we referenced something in class, I would read the book so I wouldn’t disappoint my instructor.
As a middle school (6-8 grades) teacher, I was able watch my students become excited as they connected with characters expertly crafted by authors. Emily Neville’s It’s Like This Cat was a favorite of mine to read to my classes. The emotional and rewarding relationship between a teen age boy and his cat resonated with an age group that struggles to deal with many emotional changes. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series became a staple in our classroom library. In a Chicago inner city school, I couldn’t keep the books on the shelf. Urban kids were connecting with a Canadian orphan in the mid-twentieth century. Ben Carson’s autobiography Gifted Hands inspired students as they followed his progression from the “…dumbest kid in the class…” to his achieving top of the class status.
At a time in history when heroes are referenced as role models, we often find entertainment and sports figures identified as chosen heroes. For me, my heroes are those authors who have and continue to make me laugh and cry, bring me to new places, make me look deeply within myself, and ignite my interest and imagination. These are truly my heroes.