As news of Hatchet author Gary Paulsen’s passing at the age of 82, social media outlets lit up with posts. All the posts expressed sadness, but some included a bit more. For many people, it seems, Hatchet was “the book.” As teachers, we all know “the book.” The book that made us love reading. The book that inspired us to dream, to learn, and to appreciate how words could create entire worlds for us to explore. We asked teachers to share which book was “the book” for them. The following are some of their responses:
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- “I wasn’t a very passionate reader in high school, but this book struck me then and has stayed with me ever since.” —Elyse W.
- “If I’m honest, I ‘fake-read’ everything from middle school on until a teacher let me listen to the audiobook version of ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.’ It was the first Black female author I had ever heard/read. As a Black teenager, it changed my life.” —Amri P.
- “It started my love of science fiction (I was a 6th grader when I read it for the first time). I also loved that the hero was a girl.” —Julie O.
- “This was the book that inspired me to write.” —Sarah K.
- “I read this book when I was in second grade, and it made me fall in love with reading. I reread it every time I want to get wrapped up in the magic of another world.” —Erin B.
3. Matilda by Roald Dahl
- “To this day, I still try to use my vision powers to knock over a glass of water, all the while hoping a lizard will pop out.” —Susan D.
- “I can’t remember anything good about grade school that wasn’t reading Roald Dahl.” —Mariel A.
- “I remember my teacher reading this book in class. She had to stop to explain the Holocaust to us, and I couldn’t believe human beings were capable of such evil.” —Maryellen M.
- “As one of only three Jewish children in my entire school, I didn’t just read this book, I studied it. I absorbed it. It was the first time anyone in my life outside of my own family discussed Judaism, and I was transfixed. It makes me sad to remember just how alone I felt sometimes and how important that book was to me. But I also know it made me a more empathetic teacher to all of my students.” —Maura H.
- “The first time a book ever made me cry, and I remember being so shocked that a book could make me so emotional!” —Jessica W.
- “I even named one of my daughters Anne.” —Mary Beth M.
- “All Beverly Cleary books!” —Tiffany M.
- “Ramona showed me that it was OK to have messy feelings, to act up, to fight with my sister. I saw myself in the Ramona Books.” —Nicole M.
- “Every defining experience Ramona Quimby went through was mine, even though I was living a life totally different than hers.” —Tina A.
7. Umbrella by Taro Yashima
- “The colors and art in this picture book had such a huge impact on me that I still see flashes of pages from the book during rainy days, even as an adult.” —Meghan M.
- “I remember finding this in the library and bringing it home to my mother. I was so excited to see a character who looked like me.” —Amy N.
- “It made me a reader!” —Stephanie A.
- “I liked the otherness of it. I had never experienced anything like these boys dealt with.” —Brynee A.
- “I will always be just a little bit in love with Dallas Winston.” —Ellen W.
- “I can still remember sitting on the floor in the library and reading this book. One of my favorite authors when I was young.” —Deanna G.
- “When I read this as a young girl, I felt like Judy Bloom was telling me the truth. She was whispering this is what’s to come, you are not alone, and you do not need to be perfect. This book gave me so much solace as a child.” —Jenna H.
- “I was prohibited from reading Judy Blume books. My parents said so. So, beginning in the seventh grade, I secretly checked them out from the school library and hid in my room and read them instead of doing homework.” —Melissa P.
- “[Reading this as a child] was the first time that I’d really encountered a woman as someone who could be considered a famous American.” —Kathryn R.
- “This book got me into historical fiction, which is the genre perhaps closest to my heart. The conflict between freedom and responsibility, between individual and family and community ring as clear today as they did when I first read this book as a kid.” —Katherine A.
- “I often think of Kit and Nat and Mercy and Judith and John Holbrook and Aunt Rachel and Mathew and Prudence and Hanna. They all stepped off the pages and became my friends.” —Brenda F.
- “Even with such a heartbreaking ending, I wished for dogs like that myself! The book taught lessons of hard work, success, keeping one’s word, and loyalty no matter the price.” —Kendel H.
- “When I read this book in sixth grade and cried my twelve-year-old heart out.” —Rebecca B.
- “I read this book when I was in grade school, and it always stuck out as an effortless read. I still remember the storyline and the characters and the ending was magical.” —Jonathan A.
12. Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
- “Kids today say that Harry Potter got them to enjoy reading. For me, it was Nancy Drew.” —Ciara A.
- “As a young girl, I spent so many long hot days of summer reading each and every one of the Nancy Drew books. I assume that I love reading more adult-like thrillers and suspense today because of Keene’s influence so many years ago.” —Mackey T.
- “I read all of these when I was in my pre-teens. They had a tremendous impact on my reading patterns and my personal life. The simple mysteries solved in each book steered me toward more sophisticated mystery reading. The fact that these mysteries were also read by my mother in her youth brought us closer together and made me want to know what else she had read.” —Rae H.
- “Once upon a school day, I think when I was in second grade (so this would have been pre-1980, I believe), we went on our bi-weekly library outing. The librarian had us sit in front of her in the storytime area and whipped this book out. She read it to us. That may have been when I realized my love for wordplay. I don’t think I’d ever laughed so hard in storytime in my life.” —Erica G.
- “This was one of my favorite childhood books. This also explains a lot about me and my opinion on the English language.” —Sarah H.
14. Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- “I have to admit, I think this book may have played a big part in my choice to be a vegetarian at a young age!” —Jennifer N.
- “It just isn’t possible for me to be objective about the Little House books. They were THE go to books for me as a child, and the comfort books as a teenager.” —Suzanne Z.
(WeAreTeachers Note: The Little House books were mentioned by many educators, which is why it appears on our list. But we do think it is important that we acknowledge Ingalls-Wilder’s troubling descriptions of Black and Native American people in her stories. While her writing was representative of many peoples’ views during that time, we should always strive to listen, learn, and do better moving forward.)
15. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- “It was the book that made me interested in history. I also loved how strong the women were.” —Linda R.
- “Jo was my role model. I wasn’t as brave or as talented as she was, but I wanted to be!” —Mickey M.
- “It was only in retrospect that I realized just how much of a formative influence ‘Little Women’ had on me.” —Gabrielle A.
There were so many other fabulous novels that were mentioned we couldn’t showcase them all. It does demonstrate, however, the power a good book can have in helping a young person start to love reading. And love reading for the rest of their lives.