• These Words Matter: Amber Smith

    My mom used to read to me every night when I was a child, so books played an important role from a very young age. I vividly remember the way I would follow along, studying the illustrations long before the words made sense. I immediately fell in love with storytelling and became mesmerized with the idea that words could paint pictures. Books fed my imagination, and imagination was my saving grace as a kid. (As an adult, too, now that I think of it.) When I was a little older, in elementary and middle school, I chose books that could take me out of my ordinary life, where I often…

  • These Words Matter: Sara Barnard

    I can’t remember when I first read my first Sweet Valley book. You’d think, given all the things I’m about to say about this life-shaping series, that I’d remember every detail of my first journey into this sunbleached piece of American perfection, but I don’t. What I have is this sense of always reading Sweet Valley Twins books, in that same way you always played with Sylvanian families or Lego; it was just a part of your life, until that day when it wasn’t. The end of something beloved in childhood has a clarity; a shape. The beginning is, at best, blurred. I loved Sweet Valley with the ardent passion…

  • These Words Matter: Brendan Reichs

    The question of which book turned me into a reader is complicated for me. The concept of reading for enjoyment broke through in fourth grade. My father forced nightly sessions of The Hobbit down my throat, despite all my “books-are-stupid” protests. Night after night, I went from obnoxiously pretending not to listen, to grudgingly accepting the readings as unavoidable, to secretly looking forward to them, and finally to skipping school one day to finish the novel all by myself. The Hobbit opened my mental doors to the magic of books. However, it wasn’t the book that made me a truly insatiable reader. That one came years later. In 1990, I was…

  • These Words Matter: E. Lockhart

    At age nine I was a member of a community that operated through the reading nook of my Montessori classroom. My three best friends and I would press worn Yearling editions into one another’s hands: “This one is so good!” If a book was beloved by one of us, it would be beloved by all. We would all four read it, one after the other. If it were especially adored, we would “play” the book during recess, acting out important scenes and making up new stories for the characters. One of my friends, a kindred spirit, had a lending library that operated out of her bedroom. She had index cards…

  • These Words Matter: Michelle Hodkin

    Ask a writer to name the book that shaped her and you’re likely to get a list instead of a single recommendation. It’s hard to resist the temptation. There was The Joss Bird, which my mother lovingly read and reread on demand when I was two. Then The Velveteen Rabbit, at four. “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” Sam, Bangs & Moonshine by Evaline Ness, Amos & Boris by William Steig followed. Given my obsession with animals, it was no surprise that I graduated to the Thoroughbred series by Joanna Campbell, The Wild Mustang and The Black Stallion books. I wanted a horse almost as much as I wanted a dog. (I…