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Old favorites.

In light of what Jim wrote about trends this week, I started thinking back to my favorite books growing up, trying to pick apart any trends that might have existed or influenced my reading habits. What I came up with regarding the middle grade and YA books I was reading at the time was a strong lean towards historical fiction and time travel. Thinking about it, a vast majority of the stand-alone books I read between ages 10 and 15 were historical fiction. Series are a category all on their own, and I can tell you now that I’m pretty sure I devoured every single Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley book I could get my hands on.

The books I turned back to time and time again, however, were always, as I remember putting it, about “girls my age living during World War II.” I got pretty specific on that one. I don’t know if it was simply because historical fiction was what appealed to me naturally or whether there was a surplus of like books at the time. Did a trend shape the way I chose and enjoyed books as a child, or did I just have such a specific taste that I found a way to pick out the books I loved? I’m certain there weren’t too many vampires or zombies populating the YA shelves at the time, but would I have been drawn to a book like this if there was?

I’m sure this is something I’ll never work out and won’t change the facts that the books with the covers taped on dozens of times and the paged curled from too much turning will always make me smile when I remember them. The most beaten up of them all, I think, is The Switching Well by Peni R. Griffin. I don’t think I’ve ever found anyone else who’s read about Amber and Ada—one from 1999 and the other from 1899 who switch places—but I assure you, I could recite the plot in intricate detail to anyone who asked. There was a trilogy about a displaced set of siblings from England in WWII by Kit Pearson called The Guests of War and another about a time traveling Irish girl named Rosie by Ann Carroll that I read time and time again.

I own nearly every book in the American Girl series (or at least those written before 1997) and had read The Endless Steppe at least twice before we were required to in school. Is it that today’s children and teenagers don’t want to read about the past or is it that they aren’t given the opportunity or push to? Whatever the impetus, I’m interested in seeing what type of literature—farther than what the next big supernatural being to hit the shelves will be—floods the market next.

3 Responses to Old favorites.

  1. Donn says:

    I think part of the appeal of historical books for children is the “stranger in a strange land” aspect, and part of the challenge of writing them is to make it not-so-exotic as to be alien, and yet not-so-recognisable as to be banal.

    And seems like whatever trend was passing through when you were growing up, a bunch of writers hit that spot dead on for you.

    (My personal favourites growing up were mystery stories. Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Father Brown…)

  2. I was the same way; I devoured so much historical fiction as a youngster, and many of the same books! I’d save up my allowance to get every Baby-Sitters Club book as it came out, and read all the American Girl books through Addy. My favorite writer was Scott O’Dell, and I must have read ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS eighty times along with his other works. As I got older and started shifting more toward fantasy I read a lot of Cynthia Voigt (JACKAROO, THE WINGS OF A FALCON, etc., and eventually her whole series about Dicey, though it wasn’t fantasy), and then I shifted toward science fiction and have loved it ever since. I’d really like to start reading more historical fiction again.

  3. Kelly Klem says:

    Speaking of reciting every detail – my 15 year old really LOVES a good plot, especially about spies (so much that she wants to work for the C.I.A.). She remembers every detail so vividly that she will take twice as much time to share it with me than it would take for me to read the darn book, myself!

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