Inspired by Pitchfork’s 5-10-15-20 feature, we asked the WITS staff to talk about the books that shaped them as they grew up. From Kindergarten favorites to the novels that got us through college, we’re excited to take this walk down memory lane, five years at a time with our Community Manager, Annie Kennedy.
Annie Kennedy, Community Manager
5 – Barbara Brenner’s Annie’s Pet
Imagine the joy of sharing your first name with the main character of a story! Annie has five birthday dollars, and she wants to buy a pet. On the way to the pet store, she picks up all the essentials that a pet needs: a toy, a collar, a dish, and a leash. She also treats herself to an ice cream cone along the way. By the time she gets to the pet store, she realizes she has spent all her money! I was so invested in Annie’s spending and was worried that she wouldn’t be able to buy a pet after all. While this book taught me very little about the importance of saving my money, it did teach me that, sometimes, all you need to give a pet is a good home.
10 – Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia
After recess, my classmates and I would settle into our seats for a daily read-aloud from our teacher, Mrs. Blackman. Bridge to Terabithia was my favorite book that she read all year. Rivals turned friends Jess and Leslie create Terabithia, a magical, imaginary place that they can only reach by swinging on a rope over a creek. One day, Leslie tries to reach Terabithia alone, and she drowns in the creek when the rope breaks. I will never forget Mrs. Blackman openly crying as she read about Leslie’s death and Jess’ subsequent grief. It was the first time I ever saw an adult have such a powerful reaction to a book, and I often think of the courage it took to be so vulnerable in front of a room of 4th graders. Not only did the book teach me valuable lessons about friendship, Mrs. Blackman also taught me a lot about what it meant to be brave.
15 – Ann M. Martin’s California Diaries series
The California Diaries series was Ann M. Martin’s answer to fans of The Baby-Sitters Club who were growing up and looking for something more mature to read. While I never read any of The Baby-Sitters Club books, I was instantly hooked by the diaries of Dawn and Sunny. The California Diaries covered themes that weren’t touched on in the original series, like eating disorders and losing a parent at an early age. I felt so cool reading about girls who were around my age but lived far away from the Midwest in glamorous California. Their diaries made me feel like I was their BFF, and they were sharing all their secrets and hopes with me.
20 – Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned
Brian and Gretchen are teenagers, best friends, and awkward punks. In between car rides, crummy high school jobs, and references to Haunted Trails (if you grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, you know how big of a deal this horror-themed amusement park is), Brian realizes that he’s in love with Gretchen. In a true adolescent gut punch, Gretchen is interested in someone else, and the two spend the majority of the book figuring out how to exist – in the world, at school, and with each other. Hairstyles was the perfect book to see me through a time of huge life transitions, and I often go back to it when I’m feeling nostalgic.