For me, books have always held a rare magical power. My mother read to me often from a very young age. I can still remember the wonder I felt as I watched her slender finger trace each word, carefully sounding out letters that put me under a spell I never quite recovered from. I remember the excitement that gurgled in my stomach like potion bubbling over a hot cauldron, as the incantation of her every sound formed words which created worlds that mysteriously inhabited the enchanted realm of my imagination.
As a child I devoured books. Perhaps being the youngest of eight children (and often feeling lost in the mix), created a need to enter into the questions and awkwardness of other kids in order to somehow understand my own.
I obsessively followed the twists and tribulations of Ramona the Pest, relieved that someone with freckles, wild hair, and a knack for winding-up in trouble (despite her best efforts) could manage to survive through her clumsy world of predicaments. If Ramona could do it, so could I.
I drew courage from Scout’s bold journey to the front porch of Boo, and wondered, along with her and Jem, at the often bewildering behavior of adults. I longed for Mrs. Piggle- Wiggle to be my neighbor so I could enter her chest full of magical remedies, and I tried for hours to move objects with my mind like Matilda.
On more than one occasion I could be found deep in my mother’s walk-in closet, silently reaching for the wall behind her long winter coats, in hopes of finding a magical door that would lead me into the kingdom of Narnia.
When I was 12 years old my mother died. Before her death I often played in the enchanted orchard behind my house, which I had named “Terabithia.” I must have read the book at least 10 times, but after my mother died it felt as if I knew the story for the first time. Jesse’s grief over the death of Leslie felt similar to the hollow ache inside me – and as it had always been – it was a book that helped me process feelings that felt too big to understand.
I once read that authors tend to create main characters set at ages that were pivotal in their own development. Likewise, readers are often drawn to books for the same reason. Even now, when I walk into the children’s section of a library or bookstore, I still get that fluttery feeling in my stomach – like I’ve entered a portal that connects me to other worlds. And there is always someone in those worlds who just somehow understands.
I can’t think of any other place in society where the role and importance of a child’s life is celebrated like they are in middle grade books. I’ll be forever grateful to all the authors who contributed to my development, growth, and healing, and continue to keep my world magical.
Happy Middle Grade March, everyone!