For this special Valentine's Day series, we asked our readers to tell us about the first book that stole their heart. Here are some of our favorite stories. They range from joyful to wistful, hilarious to poignant — but each demonstrates the ineffable experience of falling in love with a book, an author, or a fictional character.
The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle
During my first stint as a library volunteer, I was asked by the librarian to read three nominated books and participate in the ALA voting for that year. I don't remember the two other titles, but the book that won my vote and my heart was The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle.
I read this book three times that month before realizing that I had to have a copy for myself. I was in seventh grade but grew up in a financially disadvantaged family and never purchased a book of my own. As my mother would say, "Why waste money when you can read any book you want in the library for free?" This proved sufficient up until this point. A book fair was scheduled to visit our school and I knew that this was my chance (for even getting my mother to take me to a bookstore would be a challenge). For the next few weeks I begged her to let me keep the spare change after grocery shopping, looked under our sofa cushions for lost coins, and sold some of my favorite pencils to classmates to obtain the cash I knew I needed to procure my dream book, at the time identified with a cover price of $4.99. When the Book Fair finally came, I hit a new milestone in my life — I purchased my very first book. Today my library contains 700-plus books, but there is only one that I pull down from the shelf at least once a year and revisit like the best friend you never lost touch with, The Only Alien on the Planet.
I have written to Kristen Randle expressing my delight for her book, and she was kind enough to offer to inscribe it for me if I mailed it her way. I was so excited, until the day I stood in the post office not able to part with it. I kept thinking, What if it gets lost in the mail? What if it gets misplaced at her publisher's office? WHAT IF SHE BENDS THE COVER TOO FAR BACK WHILE MAKING THE INSCRIPTION? The idea was terrifying, and I ended up never shipping it out.
Sadly the book has been forgotten by most of society over the years, but it will always hold a special place in my heart.
– Sam Y.
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
I can scarcely remember a time when I did not love reading, but the first book I remember falling utterly in love with was Charlotte Sometimes. It is about a girl in (approximately) present day who falls asleep one night and then wakes up in 1918 as someone else. Each night she switches places with the girl in 1918.
It was probably the first book that I read that was fantasy without being fairy tale, and it opened the floodgates to my lifelong love of science fiction and fantasy and magical realism. It was also the first book I remember reading and then recommending to my mother (instead of the other way around). She read it and loved it as much as I did, and since I was probably seven or eight at the time, this was a huge step that also opened up a lifetime of sharing and discussing books with my mother. For years I couldn't find it because it was out of print; it makes me so happy that it is available again.
– Heather T.
The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
I think I was around 13 years old when I discovered the book The Singing Tree at the public library. What probably first grabbed my attention were the exquisite illustrations — something unexpected in a book that wasn't written for young children. The author, Kate Seredy, was also the illustrator, which amazed me. When I started reading, I was immediately captivated by the characters. The book, which opens in pre-WWI Hungary, tells the story of the loving Nagy family, who live a peaceful and happy life on a ranch. They treat one another and everyone they encounter — including Uncle Moses, the Jewish shopkeeper in the village — with respect. Then their lives are transformed by the war.
As I read a moving scene from the battlefield, late in the book, I was stunned to find myself sobbing. This was the first book that made me cry. I didn't know a book could do that. I reread it many times, and it never lost its power.
The beautiful illustrations never lost their power, either. I was mesmerized by them and studied their details over and over. Today, when I got the book out to photograph it, I was again lost in the drawings and felt some of the deep emotions that I seem to reserve only for this book.
– Risë K.
More First Loves on Powell's Blog: Last of the Breed | Even Cowgirls Get the Blues | A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm | Baldy of Nome | Bambi | Jane Eyre | A Little Princess | The Hobbit | Finn Family Moomintroll | Mary Poppins | In Watermelon Sugar | Far from the Madding Crowd | The Pink Motel | From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Books mentioned in this post