Formative Reading

I heard once that the books you read when you are eleven are the most formative books you will read in your life. Sounds like pretty soft science, unprovable in […]

June 28, 2017 // Kelly Greenwood // 3 Comments // Posted in Reading

I heard once that the books you read when you are eleven are the most formative books you will read in your life. Sounds like pretty soft science, unprovable in the tangled mess that is human life, but interesting to think about. Especially given that the books I read when I was eleven were among the genre of The Call of the Wild and My Side of the Mountain, and now I lead wilderness expeditions and teach environmental education. So maybe there is something there.

Among the many tasks in getting the expedition program I work for in the summer ready, myself and a coworker were given several boxes of books to sort through and decide which to keep around for campers and which to donate. As we sorted through piles of teen and pre-teen lit, it became a trip down library aisles of our pasts. A Wrinkle in Time! The Boxcar Children! And a group favorite, Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. Hatchet tells the story of a young boy who is the sole survivor of a bush plane crash in the Canadian wilderness, and must learn to survive with only one tool on hand–surprise, it’s a hatchet. It’s a classic tale of adventure and survival, one that I read over and over again as a child. So, too, had many of my fellow expedition leaders.

We found six copies of Hatchet that went into the “keep” pile, and then a seventh that we decided to sacrifice to the “donate” pile. It sat at the top of the pile, and, without fail, everyone who passed us as we worked that day picked Hatchet up, talked about how much they loved the book, and tried to move it to the “keep” pile, only relenting when we explained how many we had already kept. Is it coincidence that almost every single one of our trip leaders read Hatchet in their childhood and now works in the outdoor industry, or did our eleven-year-old selves make a larger decision than they were aware of when they pulled that book off a shelf? There is no way to know, but either way, if you have an eleven year old in your life, I have a book for them.


What were you reading when you were eleven, and does that relate to who you are today?

  • Mike Garcia
    June 28, 2017

    Interesting thoughts looking back on what books had an impact and influence you are younger. I think what you relate with when you’re younger still gives you a nostalgia feeling today, but its the sense of characters you relate to that gives a bigger influence you are today.

    I read a lot of comic books, goosebumps, animorphs, and other preteen books growing up. Which I guess influenced me into superheroes, occult, and animals. But I already liked those things. What really made an impact or relatable to those books at that age were the characters we were given. From the readers perspective you always want to root for the hero, especially if you can relate to them. The characters I admired were the rolemodels of who I wanted to be when I grew up.

    I always want to relate to the hero or main character and find courage in the face of adversity. We as regular people have challenges everyday and the way we deal with them, makes us the heroes or villians of own story.

  • Gaia W
    June 30, 2017

    Oh I love this question. Gary Paulsen also contributed greatly to my childhood narrative, particularly with his The Voyage of the Frog. But even more formative for me were the novels of Tamora Pierce. From age nine to thirteen I lived and breathed every book she wrote. With her heroines who defied traditional definitions of femininity, who swung swords and wielded spells and refused to let bullies, sexism, or their own fears keep them from their goals, who lead with compassion and strength, who drew together chosen families whose sense of community they relied upon to save the day… Pierce taught me the sort of world I wanted to help create and the type of woman I wanted to be. These days I work as a professional mariner and educator aboard tall ships, often surrounded by more women than men, women who choose a hard, dirty, physically challenging, mentally exhausting job in a traditionally male dominated industry. Here we teach girls to shout instead of whisper, here my crew is my family and I must work in perfect synchrony with them to accomplish our goals, and though I don’t have a sword, I wield a rig knife like a badass.

    • Kelly Greenwood
      June 30, 2017

      Gaia, you are a real life heroine. Rock on lady!

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