What a fascinating exercise, to come up with the five books that helped me become the writer I am today. I think what’s difficult for me is I feel like every book helps me become a better writer. I don’t think I’m one of those born with the necessary talent to do this writing thing. I really have to work at it. And I honestly feel like every single book I read is a lesson in writing, in one way or another. But here is the list of five I came up with!
DREAMLAND by Sarah Dessen – This was the first Sarah Dessen book I read, and actually one of the first young adult books I read after I started writing for kids. I started out writing picture books and middle grade novels, and since there were many mid-grade novels to keep me reading, I didn’t venture much beyond those. But when I read this book, I was hooked. Her characters were real. Her descriptions swept me up and away into the story. It’s no wonder her books are so hugely popular with both teens and adults.
OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse – As someone who writes in verse, how could I not mention this amazing book? It was actually the first verse novel I read. The poems were so vivid, I could taste the heat and dust as I read. It stuck with me for a very long time, and even now, when I’m writing in verse, I think of Billie Jo and the pictures Karen Hesse painted in such few words.
BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo – I don’t often reread books because I have so little time to read as it is, and my to-be-read pile is always about to topple over. But this book is the exception. When I need to remember why voice is so important to a story, I read this book. When I need to remember how important it is to create unique and vivid characters, I read this book. When I need to remember why books are so important for kids, I read this book. I loved books when I was at the middle grade age. Life was kind-of chaotic for me then, and most of my memories of books as a child come from that period of life. They comforted me in a way nothing else could. Those memories, along with this book, are what keep me going back to mid-grade fiction.
WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN’T KNOW by Sonya Sones – Another novel in verse I have to mention, because this book is hugely popular with the teen girls and when I finished I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, I immediately sent an e-mail to Sonya and asked if she ever took on books to critique. By its very nature of being different, verse can turn some teens off. I really wanted to make sure I was being poetic while also being accessible. It’s a fine line! Fortunately for me, Sonya said yes and my book became stronger thanks to her feedback.
CAT IN THE HAT by Dr. Suess – I know, what an odd one to end with. Why? Because one of the top rules in children’s literature is don’t try to be Dr. Suess. Which is another way of saying, there is only one Dr. Suess. So when I find myself wishing I could write books like John Green or Laurie Halse Anderson or E. Lockhart or Suzanne Collins or a thousand other authors, I tell myself, don't try to be them. Just be yourself, and do the best you can with what you've got. After all, it worked for Dr. Suess, didn't it?