Popular author Thomas Taylor says that all the books he enjoyed reading as a child also found a home in his own writing. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien—one of the books that had a huge effect on him—opens with a map and he decided that he’d put one in his book too, when he wrote one. He kept the promise he made to his 12-year-old self and added a map to his debut novel, the best-selling Malamander.
One might assume that reading comes naturally to writers, that they love words and are adept at using them. However, as many celebrated writers have told us, this is not always the case. The Hobbit was the first full-length novel Thomas read. He was twelve then.
Even though he grew up in a house full of books, Thomas found himself drawn to the white spaces between words and stammered when called upon to read in front of people. The book that set him on a track to reading and helped him overcome his fear of words was Star Wars. It was lent to him by a thoughtful teacher, who noticed both Thomas’ fear of words and his obsession with Star Wars, consequently deciding to use a book on the latter to cure the former.
Thomas is not the only writer who calls Tolkien’s novel a childhood favourite. The 2022 Newbery Medal winning writer, Donna Barba Higuera, cherishes it too. Donna read everything her small-town library offered, but particularly remembers being drawn to the fantasy and science fiction shelves. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis are some of the books that helped her escape to bigger, more magical places.
Even Kate DiCamillo, a rare two-time recipient of the Newbery Medal, struggled with words and letters. Luckily, her mother paid attention to her as a reader and gave Kate the books she needed. One such book which Kate remembers vividly is the Paddington series by Michael Bond which narrates the story of a lone bear that finds a family. The story resonated with her so much that she still goes back to it.
To the children who are still looking for a book that speaks to them, Kate says, “Keep an open eye and an open heart. The right book is out there. Sometimes it’s the book that helps you recognize yourself, sometimes it’s the book that comforts you, sometimes it’s the book that tells you who you can be. It is that feeling of walking into a lit room‒you’ll know it when you find it.”