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Auspicious Days: Musing on Childhood Readings

Flickr Creative Commons: Barney Moss

It’s clearly an auspicious date. This Writer Unboxed post falls on the launch of my new novel, Marilla of Green Gables. It’s true, Jupiter and Mars are in alignment, the harvest moon has risen full, and the air is sparkling with autumn’s magic. Not that I believe in any of that and, of course, I believe in all of it. Whatever your conviction, no one can deny the charm of October. It’s ingrained from our childhoods to feel the magnet pull of change—new yet old, strange but familiar, comforting in its promise that the miraculous is real and evident season upon season.

On days like this one, there seems to me a palpable connection between the lives we live and the stories we share. The narrative osmosis begins in our youngest days and carries through to our last breath. It’s why I’ve come round to believing that the books we read during our imaginative development are the ones that make the biggest impact on our adulthood—the majority of our life.

Looking at my own literary upbringing, my favorite novel and one of the first that I read without pictures was Anne of Green Gables. I distinctly remember the pages of that old, borrowed library copy in my mother’s hands, ink type on sepia pages, dimly lit under night lamps. Nothing exotic, whimsical, or particularly fairy tale in it, but it didn’t need embellishment. The word pictures in my imagination exceeded any illustrator’s paints.

During that first reading, I had never met a person with red hair and had never been to Prince Edward Island. I had, however, visited my grandparent’s farm in Puerto Rico. I imagined Green Gables in tropical jungle motif. The landscape Lucy Maud Montgomery described sure fit the bill— vivid and swirling with motion. We had farm animals on my grandparent’s finca, just like Green Gables. I had a tribe of titis (aunties) flittering back and forth between kitchens. Marilla and Rachel could’ve been two. We had church gatherings weekly, bedtime prayers, and my mother made all my favorite dresses. So Anne in her Avonlea world felt like an extension of my own. A bosom friend in a make-believe world that was as real to me as any of the stories my family told about bygone days and people.

Such a poignant a part of my childhood, the book took root and my devotion only grew. For those who know me well, it’s not surprising that a middle-aged Sarah would be compelled to write the story of the middle-aged heroine Marilla Cuthbert. In Chapter 27 of AOGG, Lucy Maud Montgomery writes: “The spring was abroad in the land and Marilla’s sober, middle-aged step was lighter and swifter because of its deep, primal gladness.”

There’s a story heart beating passionately in that single sentence. I remember knowing it as a child and wanting to know it as an adult. It’s the reason Marilla of Green Gables exists.

I stared to wonder about the other texts of my childhood and the influence they have on my real-life character.  Here’s my quick list—and I didn’t cherry-pick scholarly approved titles. These are the first ones that come to mind and by virtue of that, demonstrate themselves to be the most memorable.

  • The Secret Garden showed me that nature and friendships and even who I was as a person could transform into something beautiful if tended to properly.
  • The Velveteen Rabbit made me believe in the power of love to give life and meaning anything and everything.
  • My Side of the Mountain taught me that no matter what adversity I faced, I could survive with a little ingenuity.
  • Pollyanna gave me an admiration for eternal optimism.
  • The Babysitters Club books stoked an entrepreneurial spirit and showed me the importance of strong female friendships.
  • The Wind in the Willows helped me appreciate the unpredictable journey and the friends, old and new, who help me on my way.
  • Samantha: An American Girl books gave me an appreciation for history in fiction and the literary framing of winter, spring, summer, and fall as a natural connection to the real world.
  • Island of the Blue Dolphin was proof that self-reliance and perseverance are critical ingredients for inspiration.
  • Anne of Green Gables instilled in me that magic, miracles, and blessings are all one of the same kind of power that transcend the page to the real world—or perhaps, comes from the real world into the written ones.

So now I’m curious, what books of your childhood have impacted the person you are today?

About Sarah McCoy

SARAH McCOY is the New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports doctor, and their dog, Gilly, in Chicago, Illinois. Connect with Sarah on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page, Goodreads, or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.


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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.