Monday, October 13, 2014

What Do Your Favorite Childhood Books Say About You?

By Niki Turner

I recently listened to a recording from an ACFW conference workshop taught by agent Natasha Kern about the influence our favorite childhood books have on our lives as adults, and as writers.

Ms. Kern shared an example of a client who writes suspense/thrillers. His favorite book growing up was "Artie the Smarty." Artie, a little fish, has to use his wits to navigate his way across a pond filled with dangers. Can you see the parallel? He now writes stories where his protagonists have to use their wits to escape the villain's clutches on their way to reaching their goal.

My list of favorites is long. As an only child I was (and am), a voracious reader. Books were my friends. (On a side note, learning that almost every other writer I know shares that same addiction has been such a comfort to the adult me!)

"Gordon the Goat" and "Ballerina Bess" topped my early reader list. (My mother insists I should have had to keep reading Gordon the Goat, which is all about peer pressure, throughout my teen years.)

I have a beautifully illustrated copy of Cinderella that I read and re-read for years, sometimes just to look at the pictures.

I loved "The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes."

Some of my favorite memories involve trips to the bookstore, and frantically searching to see if there was a "new" Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden, or a new Black Stallion book, on the shelves. And the Christmas I got the boxed set of Little House on the Prairie books (still have it) was a fine Christmas, indeed.

There were also the books that "stuck" emotionally, the ones that made me cry: "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," "The Secret Garden," "Black Beauty," "Little Women," "Jane Eyre." Bittersweet stories, to be sure.

As I got older, the books got fatter, and darker: "Sacajawea," Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance."

And then I moved on to romance novels, to my mother's chagrin (this was in the '80s, remember romance novels in the '80s?). And this one is mild... wouldn't even need a brown paper cover to take it out in public.

Is there a theme? Possibly. Nothing quite so straightforward as Artie the Smarty, but I can see a connection, not only in what I like to read (and write) as an adult, but in my motivations, my perceptions of the world, and in some of the choices I've made. (The Country Bunny and I have SO much in common...)

How about you? Did you have a particular favorite, or many? 

What was the first book you read that made you cry over the characters? 

What parallels can you draw between your childhood favorites and who you've become?

Have you ever thought about the effect your stories might have on your readers? 

Niki Turner is a novelist, journalist, blogger, and the production manager for the Rio Blanco Herald Times weekly newspaper. Her first completed manuscript earned second place in the Touched By Love 2009 contemporary category romance contest. She won second place for best agriculture story at the 2013 Colorado Press Association annual convention. She also blogs at She is the Colorado Area Coordinator for American Christian Fiction Writers and is involved in establishing an ACFW chapter on Colorado's Western Slope, where she resides. She published “Sadie’s Gift” as one of the Christmas Traditions novella collection in 2014. Her next project, “Santiago Sol,” will be published by Pelican Book Ventures, LLC, as part of the Passport to Romance novella collection.

Connect with Niki on Facebook, or on Twitter


  1. I heard Allen Arnold mention the same thing in a workshop, and realized the books that really got me reading novels for the first time were about a dancer.

    1. Interesting! Ballet Shoes was another of my favorites. :)

  2. this is fascinating. my favorites were the Dr. Suess books, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Encyclopedia Brown, The Great Brain, and of course, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books (liked Hardy Boys better). My teen years were all about C.S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov and Orson Scott Card.
    I'm a graphic artist and always lean a bit to sci-fi/fantasy and steam-punk books. And I still love to read the YA novels.

    I'm curious to see which books my four year old will like. So far, he likes Dr Suess and Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Winnie the Pooh stories. Oh, and the Little Engine that Could. He's in a train phase right now and Thomas the Train is very cool.

    VERY, very interesting post. And yes, I've always been a voracious reader and loved to write since childhood.

    1. It's fun to see which books my grandchildren are drawn to, and which ones I loved that just don't interest them. :)
      If your son is in a train phase, have you read Tootle (Little Golden Book)?

    2. Hey DebH *waving. Thanks for mentioning Nancy Drew as it brought back a memory. :)

  3. I had to stop and remember what I read, but the first ones that come to mind are Little House on the Prairie series, Chronicles of Narnia, Sacajawea. Always determined to read "bigger" books and read the whole series. The parallel is interesting with my life, as they were stories of adventure, family (good and bad), independence, and all the struggle and accomplishment that goes along with those elements. My life has been, and continues to be, quite an adventure, and never with the weird fairy tale expectations.
    I don't remember crying over a book character as a child or young adult. I have cried over plenty of characters as an adult. Most recently, and noteworthy, was the story of Louis Zamperini in "Unbroken". Amazing story of survival, and strength and determination.
    I'm not a writer, but since you've made me stop and think about it, I can see how those books affect the way I run, raise my kids, tackle challenges, and clearly explains my confusion with how I ended up as a CPA. :)
    Think I'll inquire of some family members what they read and see what connections I can make. Maybe that will be my next writing prompt.

    1. You may be the only other person I know who has read Sacajawea!
      I need to ask my family members, too... particularly the ones who DON'T read very much. That might be even more revealing!

  4. Charlotte's Web was the first book that made me cry. It was a wonderful book that put me right there in the barnyard. The real story is about laying down your life for someone you love...I adore that kind of a story.

    1. Definitely a classic, Loree! The Velveteen Rabbit is another one of those weepers. Still can't get through it (or the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) without sobbing. :)

  5. Hands down, The Pokey Little Puppy. It confirmed that breaking the rules only brings punishment and misery. As I look back at the reason I liked it, I can see parallels to my own childhood. Back then, if we were 'bad' we were sent to bed without supper. And yes, losing your mittens was catastrophic and meant you were irresponsible with your health and your things and had to do without until such a time as new ones could be made or bought. Much better to be responsible and obey the rules. I wonder if that's why I've always been a rule-stickler?

    1. Now THAT is interesting, Anita! Fits with your military experience, too! Tootle (see comment to DebH above) has a similar theme.

  6. Um. There was this book I loved as a very young child called 'Suzie Smart'. I wonder if there's a parallel to that? Lol. The Wizard of Oz was actually my favorite. I was so fascinated by it. But I also loved Cinderella. Then I also moved on to Nancy Drew, The Dana Girls, Trixie Belden, and Agatha Christie. Truly, I read everything I could get my hands on.

  7. That's funny, Suzie, of course there's a parallel! :) Isn't it amazing how many of us were impacted by Nancy Drew? That could be a whole post in itself.


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