Like many, many writers, I grew up reading a ton when I was a kid. T It saddens me that I stopped reading their books as I grew older, but their impact still stuck with me.
Without further adieu, here is my top five influential childhood authors.
5. BEVERLY CLEARY
While I eventually read Cleary’s Ramona books, the ones I started off with and loved the most were the ones that had to do with Ralph. Ralph was a mouse who loved to ride motorcycles. How awesome was that? And Ralph wasn’t content with a simple bicycle. No, he had to have a motorcycle!
What I took away from Cleary was that the fantastical could be introduced in the mundane world, and it could be done well in small doses. And that if you look at things from a different perspective sometimes the mundane can be fantastical.
4. LOUIS SACHAR
While Sachar may be known most for Holes, a book I’ve never read, to me he will always be known for the Wayside School series. I remember ordering this from one of the Scholastic book ads they gave out in school, and thought it was the craziest thing I had ever read. The school itself was built upwards, there’s no 19th floor, everyday words are bad words, and all sorts of other stuff I can’t remember. I also remember wishing that my school was halfway as interesting as Wayside School. Yet no matter how many different schools I went to, they never were.
What I took away from the Wayside School is that it’s perfectly OK to write something completely insane, as long as you have fun with it.
3. RL STINE
I grew up watching Eerie, Indiana; Are You Afraid of the Dark; Tales from the Crypt; and all sorts of late night horror movies. As much as I love Stephen King, I’ve always thought of him more as a fantasy writer than a horror one. Yet when it came to books, I would say the scariest things I read were by RL Stine.
Stine was able to perfectly capture what it was like to be a kid and what was scary to them. It’s pretty standard stuff from a dummy, a Halloween mask that won’t come off, a camera that predicts horrible futures, and so on, but Stine was able to do it in a way that always felt fresh. Plus, it was terrifying without being graphic, and the endings weren’t necessarily all rainbows and sunshine. The show was also a good and faithful adaptation too if you’re too lazy to read a book.
2. BRIAN JACQUES
Another great writer I read because of the Scholastic ads. I wonder if they still do those? What caught my attention was the picture of a badger and thought that book looked cool. I do have a thing for anthropomorphic animals and I loved the Wind in the Willows animated movie I had.
I grew up reading a ton of books on Jacques’s Redwall series. What I love most about the series was that it didn’t matter if you read the books in order or not. I know I didn’t. Each book was a perfectly contained story. Yes, they were all interconnected, but only in the fact that they all took place in the same world. Books bounced around from character to character or took place decades or hundreds of years in the past. Very few that I read had an impact on the others.
1. ROALD DAHL
If you know me at all, you should know that my number childhood author is no surprise. Roald Dahl mixed the fantastical with the mundane in a delightfully wonderful and charming way. While a lot of the authors on my list did that, Dahl also dealt with some very mature and heavy themes. He was so good that I always related to them but I never felt as if I was in over my head or that he was talking down to me. And that’s what great children’s writers do.
Even though I’m older, far too cynical and bitter now, these five authors influenced me a lot–both in my writing and in my development in growing up. I wish I could capture the magic of reading them when I was a kid again, but I can’t. The next best thing I can do is share them with my kids…if I ever have any.