Baby Penguins, Hell, and Other Childhood Readings

I’ll tell you the first book I ever fell in love with: it was called Pomona. I found it in the tiny library of my elementary school when I was 6 or 7 years old. It was about a baby penguin named Pomona growing up in a zoo. Nonfiction. Educational. It had lots of Interesting Facts about penguins.

My favorite part was close to the beginning. In the picture, Pomona was a chick, a ball of grey fuzz with a tiny beak and beady black eyes squinting at the camera. The accompanying caption said something like, “Pomona is too little to lift up her own head!”


I took that book out of the library almost every week. There was a card in the back of the book where you had to write in your name (old school, right?) and the Pomona card just had my name written on it, over and over again in my over-neat second grade handwriting. I memorized it after a while (it was a really short book), but I kept reading it anyway because I loved it so much. I have no idea why.

I never developed a particularly zealous love of penguins, but I certainly developed a love of reading. And I wonder if Pomona, my first favorite book, is to blame.

When I think of some of the other books I liked to read as a kid, I find I have trouble remembering a lot of the details of the books themselves, but there are a few moments surrounding them that are quite vivid to me.

One of the first books that ever scared the crap out of me was Boys Against Girls, from the series of the same name by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. The series was adorable, and featured kids becoming friends via mercilessly pranking each other. This particular book was not adorable, and featured Jersey Devil-like sightings of a scary cat monster. It’s the first time I can remember feeling like something was watching me that I couldn’t see. When I read this book, I kept the lights on, and my back to a wall.

I wasn’t obsessed with Goosebumps (I didn’t like scary things), but I liked it as much as any kid growing up in the 90s. I was obviously a huge fan of the “Choose Your Own Adventure!” series because, hey, they were awesome. Once I read one where I (yes, I. The “you” of the narration) was on this island where I’m sure I was being chased by all manner of monsters, and possibly pirates. But I made a choice that lead me to a beautiful cave made of glittering crystals. I had a pretty strong imagination, so trust me, this cave was breathtaking. It turned out to be an ending, something like, “You find a [description of the beautiful cave] and live out the rest of your life incredibly rich and happy!”

Now that was an ending that I was glad to have chosen. But the thing is, I could NEVER find it again. Not when I read through the story, attempting to make the same choices I had the time before. Not even going through the book page-by-page (which is exactly how you’re NOT supposed to read Choose Your Own Adventure books). That cave mysteriously disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. And I still carry the picture of it around in my mind.

I went through an unfortunate phase where I was obsessed with the Anne of Green Gables series. I remember the day I finally stood in front of that shelf in the library, the 7th or 8th book in my hand, and I thought, What am I reading?? I put it down and never looked back.

I loved the Sabrina the Teenage Witch books, though I rarely watched the TV show. I owned about 30 of them.

The first time I purchased an Animorphs book I was in a book store with my father, I don’t remember which one. I just remember picking up this book because there was a girl who was turning into a dolphin on the front cover. Being myself a girl and in approximately second or third grade, I loved dolphins. I flipped the book over to see what it was all about, and I discovered that this mysterious dolphin girl was named Cassie.

I made my dad buy it for me.

I know I read more of the series (there are 54 books total), but the only other book I remember reading at that time is the one where the Animorphs turn into ants. At first it’s like, hey we’re bugs! We’re tiny! Let’s go on adventures!

Then they get sucked into the collective mindset of an ant hive and completely lose their identities and nearly spend the rest of their lives as half-conscious slaves.

When I rediscovered this series at age 18 (yeah, you read that correctly) I didn’t re-read the ant book. I don’t think I’ll ever re-read the ant book.

I remember Christopher impaling himself on a curtain rod in The Lives of Christopher Chant, and it made my own chest hurt.

I remember Tod’s face when his friend fell under the train in Foxspell, and my chest hurt then too.

I remember Oyuna’s crushed foot in I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade.

I remember Taffy’s feet being eaten by the Nothing in Summerland.

I remember Will’s fingers on the floor, curled into a quotation mark in The Subtle Knife.

I remember Bertram screaming in hell, surrounded by fish, the smell of bubblegum, in The Eyes of Kid Midas.

I read some pretty messed up stuff when I was a kid, and I read some pretty tame stuff too (see: baby penguins). But I was reading, and I loved it.

What was your first love?

**This post is dedicated to Knut, another baby animal in a zoo who stole my heart. R.I.P.**


2 thoughts on “Baby Penguins, Hell, and Other Childhood Readings

  1. NOOOOOOOO, NOT KNUT, HE WAS SO YOUNG AND CUDDLY! Did you know they want to stuff him and put him on display? Poor little guy. ::tears::

    Anyway, the first literary love of my life was the Telestory version of “The Little Mermaid”. I would listen to that cassette and read along over an over again; I can still hear the voices in my head very plainly. It was the ORIGINAL Hans Christian Anderson story where she dies at the end, and I actually still have that book (although the tape is long gong).

    Then of course was “Goosebumps”. I read so many of those books, and I’m pretty sure I was part of a “Goosebumps” club in elementary school. I still can’t leave my toes unattended without worrying that a monster is going to eat them off. ::shudders::

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