While I started reading at three (my mother was a big reader), the book I first remember being really excited about was in second grade. My teacher, Dr. Gross, handed me a copy of Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary, saying, “I think you’re ready for this.” I had no idea what that meant, but I knew it was special.
Ellen Tebbits was published in 1951, so it was already quite dated when I read it.
For example, Ellen’s mother sewed her beautiful dresses to wear to school. Also, quite a bit was made of the fact that her friend, Austine’s mother wasn’t as good a seamstress. But that was part of what made it interesting to me, because it was more about my mother’s childhood. It existed in a time and place where someone might grow beets in their backyard. This didn’t happen in suburban New York.
While I wouldn’t call the book part of a series, it was part of the larger Beverly Cleary universe which included the characters of Otis Spofford, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Henry Huggins. I read all her books, then moved on to others. Being a reader was a huge part of my identity as a kid. I always knew I’d someday write a book myself.
While my own books aren’t very similar to Cleary’s, I think one thing I got from her is that the characters in my books generally inhabit a larger universe of their school with interesting secondary characters. While I like books where characters are whisked off to a different world, for the most part I write about ordinary worlds that become interesting or extraordinary. The world is normal, and then everything changes.