I’ve always been two things: an extrovert and a bookworm. I don’t think one came before the other, but rather grew simultaneously. Before I was able to read on my own, my mom spent a lot of time reading to me. It was the benefit of being both a military bride and stay-at-home mom.
According to my mom, I started reading on my own when I was 3, but before that she would read me Bible stories and a set of books called Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories. I used to love these little stories about children like me. Through those stories I learned the importance of kindness and sharing and doing nice things for others while expecting nothing in return. These stories showed me that my good and bad days were under my own control.
It was also during this time that I found my first favorite heroine. Who was it? A young girl from my Bible stories named Hadassah, who later became known as Queen Esther. Not only was she beautiful, kind and loyal, she caught the eye of a king and won his favor….putting her in the right place to save her uncle who raised her as well as the entire Jewish race. She was, even from my young view, bold, brave and a bit heroic. And so began my love of strong female characters.
As I got a little older I read books like Heidi , but found them to be nothing but interesting reads…until at about 7 or 8, I discovered Little Women. When I met Jo, it was love at first sight. She was a bit of a rebel and outspoken…and (in my opinion) a bit of a tomboy. Yup, I completely related. Maybe that’s also why Jo from The Facts Of Life.
Of course, along the way there was The Wizard Of Oz series, A Wrinkle In Time and Encyclopedia Brown. The first two encouraged me to open my mind to fantasy and other worlds while the second one had me looking for clues everywhere. Of course, he was also my gateway to The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (I preferred the Hardys, by the way).
Then I discovered Ponyboy Curtis. I was in 4th grade when I read The Outsiders. That poetic soul who wanted to be the loyal friend and brother while dreaming of being a writer/poet. It touched my soul in a way few books have….and opened me to the idea that books and poetry could touch a heart and change a life. It also showed me that there is a hero in all of us if given the proper inspiration. Sometimes, what appears to be a lost cause can simply be a case of being mistreated and misunderstood. I saw a bit of that in Dally… Ponyboy changed the way Johnny viewed the world…and Johnny changed Dally for the better. It also reflected how different people handle loss. Losing Johnny destroyed Dally, but strengthened Ponyboy’s resolve to be the writer he was meant to be.
Not all my lessons were so solemn. I think it was 5th grade when I discovered Kit Montgomery and The Witch Of Blackbird Pond. This is probably what I’d call my first “romance”, but it was so much more than that. Kit was a young lady who sold everything she owned after her grandfather died and travelled from her home in Barbados to stay with the rest of her family in Salem, Massachusetts during the Salem witch trials. Kit spoke to me…the way she stood up for what was right, even when it meant the disapproval of the only family she had left…and the potential accusation that she was a witch. Who would have thought that knowing how to swim and read (and teaching a young girl how to read), not to mention an old, widowed Quaker woman could be grounds for that kind of accusation. It was a lesson in bigotry and the importance of tolerance and love and kindness. It was another example of how people fear what they don’t know or understand…and how family can surprise you in a good way if you let them.
Probably the last character from my younger days was Eleanor of Aquitaine. I think I was in 7th grade when I ran out of books to read in our school library, but we were required to check something out. Shoved in a tiny corner was a book I hadn’t remembered seeing before. Maybe it was the unusual title…or maybe it was that the bordering along the cover reminded me of stained glass, but I checked it out.
The book was called A Proud Taste Of Scarlet And Miniver. It was a historical fiction based on the life of one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages…a time when women weren’t really known to have power. She was the wife of not just one king, but two…and her second husband was 9 years younger than her. Her first husband, Louis VII of France, married her because she was land and money rich, while he only had his crown. When it didn’t work out, the Pope allowed their divorce (where she got to keep all her lands/monies thanks to a progressive thinking father) because she hadn’t given him sons. Henry II of England (the younger man) married her next.
Though she’s not the most famous of women, she had always been my favorite female historical character. She was smart, cunning, with a bit of a temper…and she is actually known as the Grandmother of Europe based on the matches she made for her children across the world. Heck, you know you’re pretty badass when Katharine Hepburn played you on the silver screen. What movie? The Lion In Winter. It’s about the time when she finds out her husband cheated on her and nearly lost his kingdom…because her sons went to war against him on her behalf. Yeah, one of them was the infamous Richard The Lionheart. Yup, I’m sure you guys can see why such a strong minded powerful woman would be someone I’d relate so strongly to.
So now you know a little bit about my influences in my youth. What were your influences? Were they book characters? Movies? Athletes? Maybe even musical…? What historical character most impacted you? Why?