I really liked to read as a kid, maybe only because I didn't grow up with a GameBoy for a hand, but I'm sure I'm not the only one. Any book that had a big shiny Newbery Medal embossed on the cover had to be legit, and that was good for me, because how would I have known if a book was good or not without it? When it comes to Newbery medals, there were books like Hatchet. I remember picking up Gary Paulsen's Hatchet in the 4th grade and regarding it like "high literature," like the kind of thing "adults read." Here I was thoguh, I didn't even know what a "hatchet" was (even long into reading the story), but I knew at least that the cover had a howling wolf and teen guy, a giant ax, and a plane. It looked like it was shaping up to be a great outdoors adventure story, so of course I dove into it. "I can read," I figured.
Like most kids, I loved adventure books and had grown up on really obscure book series like The Ladd Family Adventures and Adventures in Odyssey, and so this book really was right up my alley and even looked so much more "mature" about it's adventure, so I knew I had to give it a look. In fact, it may have been the first so-called "adult book" I ever attempted. And I really mean "attempted," because the first time around I never finished it. My un-diagnosed dyslexia that I don't have (I think) was causing me to call the main character "Brain" rather than Brian, and I just remember thinking what a weird name "Brain" was for a guy. Whether Brain or Brian, this book really was a good adventure story of a youth going down in a plane crash and having to survive in the wilderness completely alone and with nothing but his trusty hatchet (which I only later figured out was an ax, since the cover didn't clue me in). I enjoyed it so much that I still find myself calling any weird berry I see in the woods "gut-cherries." Remember kids, red and sweet.
There was another book a teacher read to us about a young graffiti artist's daily romp for survival and his mad dashes to avoid the cops that I just drooled over, but for some reason I can't find any record of this story's existence and don't remember any details about it (even the title or anything) other than a thrilling shopping mall chase scene where he skillfully paints his insignia and manages to avoid security. He goes on to become a famous graffiti artist in the process. Now despite vanishing from existence itself, that story about the besieged graffiti artist may have been the first time I said "I want to WRITE one like that!" in response to a book, and that inspiration has never left. But then there definitely was yet another book that definitely does exist that I didn't so much read but had read to me (the teacher during story time in the 4th grade), but it has come down through the years as one of my all-time favorites and one that I still tell people had a major influence on me wanting to be a novelist and what kinds of novels I wanted to write. This was Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary.
I had read Cleary's Ralph S. Mouse books, or maybe had them read to me in story time, throughout the 2nd grade, but when it came to Dear Mr. Henshaw, I just remember being so captivated (even as a kid) by the drama and realism of that book. The story is a compilation of letters written by a boy over the course of several years to an author "Mr. Henshaw" who had visited his class when he was just a tyke. The first letter the kid writes is a class assignment and reads like a small child wrote it, but then for some reason this kid just keeps writing letters to this same author over the course of his life and that's where we get to see him grow up, we get to hear about all the turbulence in his family, his obvious need for a role model, his mood swings, the ups and downs, and his letters even start becoming long and detailed as he gets older. The book was all about growing up at an age when I thought I'd be 9 years old forever. I mean, this was pretty heavy stuff for a kids book, like LMN-heavy stuff, but it was the realism about life that got me, and that's why I said "I want to write books like that."