Once Upon A Time…

my favorite (1)“A childhood without books – that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.”
Astrid Lindgren

In grades three through five, little Aila was a precocious, passionate little thing. Imagine that, right? I loved recess more than most anything, and it was just as true back then as it is today: I took my fun seriously. I can’t just spontaneously have fun, no. I had my recess routine down pat.

First, I had to run to the swings; not walk, run. I couldn’t risk another kid getting my swing. I would swing until I was so high up I was certain I’d go right over the bar and the chain would start wrapping around the frame. (By that point, my adrenaline rush was deemed sufficient and I moved on.) Then, I’d go to the monkey bars and meet up with my boyfriend. (We were crazy in love for third graders, split in the fourth, and were back on for fifth!) Then, I’d spend time on the merry-go-round, and I’d end my playtime by sitting in the softest patch of grass with my best friend and we’d make hippie jewelry with braided daisies or dandelions.

 Why not play hard until the very end, you ask? Because right after recess was story time, and I didn’t want to be out of breath and unable to focus, or so tired I couldn’t listen.

My favorites probably aligned with most everyone’s at around that age, Where the Wild Things AreThe Hungry, Hungry CaterpillarWhere the Sidewalk Ends… but the first book I remember absolutely falling in love with was one of my first chapter books. After my teacher read it to me, I rushed to the library and checked it out and reread it several times over, each time looking for clues I may’ve missed before, and analyzing symbolism – things I felt pretty advanced for being concerned with as a fifth-grader.

Wait Till Helen Comes - Original

There is a much more sinister cover for recent editions. But, nostalgia!


Wait Till Helen Comes had me on the edge of my seat as a child, which wasn’t easy since it was actually a desk, and we weren’t allowed to sit sideways.

The lovely teacher that brought this book into my life was named Ms. Williams; she had a real knack for voices, inflection, and building suspense. I would beg her to read more than one chapter per day. She gave in once, and read an extra one, for my birthday.

While I don’t write in the horror or supernatural genres, I believe this book is what gave me an appreciation for both, and it definitely gave me that first nudge towards reading and writing.

Let’s skip ahead a couple of years. I’m in the seventh grade, my boyfriend from elementary school is now just a friend,(actually, we’re still friends.) and there are no more swing sets, monkey bars, or merry-go-rounds on the playground. In fact, there was no playground. We had a track, and bleachers, and a few picnic tables. People sort of just wandered around aimlessly, keeping to their various cliques and whatnot.

Where was Aila, you ask?

In middle school, I usually traded my books for boys, and I spent mThe Giverost of my free time walking around the track with one, trying not to get caught holding hands, and making ridiculously mature plans for someone who couldn’t yet drive. Ahh, the good ole days.

There was one book, though, which stole my soul and set my imagination on fire. It was considered mandatory reading, and technically it was homework, and there were quizzes and tests, and drudgery – but I’d have read this book regardless. In fact, I have, several times since then. I own a copy as an adult, and may very well pick it up again. I’m not ashamed.

The Giver was the first book, that I can remember, which played like a movie in my head as I read it. It was the first time I really felt immersed into every scene of the book, the first time every idea vividly translated into moving pictures in my mind. I was in awe.

This is how I try to write. Now, don’t take that to mean I feel I am in any way on the same level as Lois Lowry, or that anything I write will ever be as cherished as this work; but, I do attempt to choose words which might help people see my ideas rather than just read them.

The next book from my childhood (and at this point, “childhood” may be debatable) is one that I picked up again rather recently. August of 2015, to be exact.

High school is not an easy time for anyone. Even when it appears that way on the surface, I believeFahrenheit 451 it is rough for all. Trying to figure out who you are, what you want to do for the entirety of your adult life, what kind of person you want to be – that kind of sucks a lot of fun out of life, or at least, it did for me.

Perhaps all the rough things I dealt with during that time were what drew me into Fahrenheit 451. The thought of a society where books were burned and information was a crime was terrifying. I couldn’t put it down, I read it way sooner than the material was required to be finished, and happily reread it again immediately.

This book made me realize the importance of reading and obtaining knowledge, not just for fun, but because it is vital to a functioning society. It truly made me reassess my opinions on the power and magnitude of the written word, which is why the notion of banning books baffles me. Even if the material of the book offends you, it doesn’t mean the work isn’t valid. Think about it, it is just as important to learn what not to do as it is to learn what to do. (I’m kind of waiting on people to show me examples of ultra-offensive work, now.)

What were your favorite books growing up? why? Have you picked any of them up recently? Did they have the same effect on you as they did the first time?

7 thoughts on “Once Upon A Time…

    • Aila Stephens says:

      I’ve been tempted to pick up Wait Till Helen Comes, but I am afraid my adult eyes and mind would ruin what memory I have of it. I did read recently that it is coming out as movie sometime this year. I just hope it is better than the movie adaptation of The Giver.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. gabriel360live says:

    One of my favorite books that I read as a young person was Charlotte’s Web. I don’t remember it now because I haven’t read it since, but I do get a warm feeling when I think about it. Also, I loved loved loved the 2006 film.

    I don’t really recall much of anything I read in my youth. I tended to prefer Choose Your Own Adventure books because I’m the type of person who likes having options. I do remember, though, reading a few sports books in my teen years — Bo Knows Bo, I Had A Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story, and a Charles Barkley autobiography. The Hank Aaron book contained some nice insight on the racism that Hank Aaron faced during his baseball career.

    I didn’t appreciate the books I was forced to read in my high school classes, probably because there was always an assignment attached that made reading a chore (I swear, high school ruins Shakespeare.). I mean, I’m thankful that I was shown things like symbolism and foreshadow (that’s actually helped me in my writing), but it would’ve been nice if, first, I was shown why people appreciate the literature I was supposed to find to be important somehow. It would’ve been great if someone would’ve passed along their passion to me in an exciting way before simply telling me that I should care.

    Beyond that, there was a period of time when I was reading nothing but nonfiction, usually about politics and religion. I was raised to be a strict Catholic Democrat, and luckily for me I felt a growing urge to rebel from that. That’s when I started reading books that approached things from different points of view. I would actually read a wide range of material, anything from Deepak Chopra to Jesse Ventura to Ralph Nader to Stephen Colbert. One of my favorite religious books was called The Mystical Life of Jesus by Sylvia Browne. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her perspective on Jesus, which was one that seemed to balance the spiritual and human aspect of the figure of Jesus in a way that respected him, but without trying to sell him as an all-or-nothing savior of humanity as Christian religions do. By the way, I totally recommend reading anything by Matt Taibbi. The guy has written about politics, Wall Street, and banking in the most entertaining way imaginable.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t develop a true appreciation for Dr. Seuss until just a couple of years ago when I researched him for a presentation in a poetry class. The man was a genius. It’s a shame I didn’t catch onto that when I was kid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aila Stephens says:

      Wow! Thank you for all the amazing insights! I also have a special relationship with Charlotte’s Web. I started reading it in the first grade, right before I came down with chicken pox. I swear, I owe the fact I don’t have any pox scars to my overwhelming love for that book – I couldn’t put it down long enough to scratch!

      I agree about high school ruining Shakespeare. The teacher who first introduced him to me was borderline terrible.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Books Giving Hope says:

    Fantastic post! Reading about your recess time brought back my memories as well! They are eerily similar. Beginning in 4th grade I became a book freak. That’s when I was allowed to ride my bike to the library. Thinking on where I had to ride, the parent in me is screaming at my mom “What the hell are you thinking? She’s 9! There are three busy streets to ride on. She could get hit by a car, and helmets weren’t invented yet!” Luckily I never was hit by a car or kidnapped, because I went to that library weekly. The book I remember loving back then was “Luvvy and the Girls”. It was the story of a young girl who goes to a Catholic boarding school, and her struggles to fit in. I loved it because I was a skinny, red haired girl with freckles and didn’t always fit in. I related to Luvvy. About 8 years ago I found the book online and bought it. It was a gently used copy so it had that old book smell, and the cover and pages were softened with age. I reread it and it still made me smile. My daughters liked it also, but it was a bit dated for them.

    Nancy Drew was a favorite in middle school. In high school, I remember loving “The Catcher in the Rye”, “Animal Farm”, “Macbeth” and “The Canterbury Tales”. College sucked for pleasure reading but I got back into reading after graduation. Such great memories! Thanks for making me look back to a safer, simpler, gentler time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aila Stephens says:

      I am glad it took you on such a pleasant journey!

      Actually, The Canterbury Tales has a special place for me, too… I met my husband while I was reading it!

      I also loved Animal Farm, and anything from Shakespeare. I hope you’re doing well, Barb! I will have to look up “Luvvy and the Girls.” 🙂


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