First Book Asks, What Book Got You Hooked?

Alison Morris - September 10, 2008

Time is running out to visit the First Book website, write about the book that got you hooked on reading, and vote for the state that you’d like to see receive 50,000 new books for low-income youth. The voting ends at midnight on September 15th, after which First Book will tally the results and post on their website the name of the winning state as well as a list of the Top 50 books that got readers hooked. This is the second year of First Book’s "What Book Got You Hooked?" literacy awareness campaign, and visitors are encouraged (though not required) to make a donation of $10 to support the non-profit’s work.

One of the things I’ve been enjoying on the WBGYH site this year are the answers from "celebrities" about what books got them hooked on reading. You’ll note that included under the "celebrity" heading, alongside the names of famous athletes and actors, are a number of children’s book authors and illustrators. When was the last time you saw children’s book creators named as "celebrities"? When was the last time you saw, for example, Eric Carle’s name mentioned alongside Stephen Colbert’s? (Which makes me wonder what it would look like to see a BOOK that was a collaboration by those two… Somehow I’m just not picturing it!)

Stephen Colbert’s quote about the book that "got him hooked" happens to be one of my favorites on the Celebrity Favorites page of the First Book website. Here’s the book he chose and the reason for it:

"The first chapter book I remember reading by myself was Swiss Family Robinson. It had it all — a shipwreck, a tropical paradise, a treehouse, pirates, home made bombs, a tiger pit, and the enviable freedom of those three Robinson boys who were seemingly on permanent Summer vacation. Oh! Plus, later they find this girl who they don’t know is a girl because her grandfather has dressed her up as a boy so the pirates won’t know, and the boys treat her like another boy until they find out she’s a girl, and she’s really pretty, and the older brothers fight over her, and they have to hold her hand and stuff to help her over rivers, and that seemed cool to me."

I also loved the answer given by Ira Glass, host and producer of NPR’s "This American Life," because it speaks to the fact that not all the adults I think of as being especially smart and well-read were actually avid readers as children and teens. (It’s a reminder that there’s still plenty of hope for those reluctant reader kids out there!) Here’s what Ira had to say:

"I’m afraid that I’m someone who didn’t read much as a kid. Or at least, I didn’t read books. Mostly when I read, it was comics, Peanuts and Spidey especially, and MAD magazine. That’s how old I am. To me, reading books was something you did for school. I read Catcher in the Rye and Dostoevsky and Gabriel Garcia Marquez the way I did math problems — looking for the information that would answer the teachers’ questions. My friends and I weren’t dummies or anything. We just didn’t look to books for entertainment. In the boring Baltimore suburbs where I grew up, that was normal. It did not occur to me to take a book to heart — to feel any connection with a character in a book, to think a book had anything to do with my life at all — until I was in college. It was there that I met people who seemed to think that reading could be intensely interesting. They felt about books the way people I knew felt about movies and TV shows. The way movies and TV shows can get under your skin and stay with you and have you thinking about them for days. One of the first books I read during this period was Franny and Zooey. I just reread it last summer and discovered that perhaps Franny was not the entirely 100% admirable person I thought she was when I was 21. What I loved about the book then and now was the world the people inhabited. Coincidentally they happened to have my same last name, but that only pointed to how unbelievably different they were from me and my family and anyone I’d ever met. They were insanely smart, and urbane, they’d been child geniuses and went to fancy schools in fancy New York, and their heads were filled with big ideas about how to live that seemed actually kind of cool and interesting, though they were also smokers and drinkers and always disagreeing with their mom. The best stories always contain at least a small answer to the question "how should I live my life?" and Franny and Zooey struggles with that question in spades, in a fantastically chatty, funny, hard-to-put-down way. Those characters still seem alive to me. I had a chance to visit Princeton for the first time recently and all I secretly wanted to do was see the train station there because that’s where Franny has a big early scene with her soon-to-be-dumped boyfriend. There’s something chemical about that book that still gets to me. I love the characters the way I love characters on my favorite TV and radio shows. I’m fascinated with everything good and bad in them and I wish I were their friend and I also wish I was them and they remind me of myself and they don’t remind me of myself at all. Parts of that I guess are part of any kind of love."

For the record, Ira isn’t the only kid in the bunch who was hooked on comics or cartoons before books. Others on the First Book site who mention them (and many cite Charles M. Schulz’s "Peanuts" in particular) include Mo Willems, Sandra Boynton, Patrick McDonnell, R.L. Stine and (not surprisingly) Art Spiegelman.

What got you hooked on reading? Share your thoughts here AND share them with First Book!

7 thoughts on “First Book Asks, What Book Got You Hooked?

  1. Joel

    Actually it was a person, rather than a particular book that probably got me started. When I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade, my Mom made me an offer… I had a set bedtime, but if I was completely ready for bed by that time (face washed, teeth brushed, etc.) I could stay up for an extra 1/2 hour but the only thing I could do during that time was read. No TV, no video games. I could read anything I wanted, but no book meant lights out. Needless to say, I always had a book handy. I started with the Great Brain and Paddington Bear plus a few Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries. Then I discovered C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. After that my parents spent the rest of my childhood trying to get me to put down the books and get out and get some exercise. 🙂

  2. Donna Marie Merritt

    The Dick and Jane books. Making the connection that words represented real actions and thoughts was an epiphany. Being able to decipher those squiggly lines made me part of the grown-up world of reading. I could do what they did (!) and I couldn’t wait to keep going.

  3. Elizabeth

    I’m told that I was hooked on books before I could even read them on my own, so I can’t pinpoint a specific book that did it for me. But the first books I remember purposefully seeking out on my own were the Polk Street School books by Patricia Reilly Giff. I read that entire series when I was in 2nd grade, and the one where Matthew moves away was the first book to make me cry!

  4. Linda Collison

    I read King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry countless times. For days on end I pretended to be the mute boy in charge of the horse. I recently bought a used copy of this out-of-print book, and it has stood the test of time.


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