The Books That Made Me: Slice of Life 25/31 #sol16

slice of life

In a recent post for the Nerdy Book Club blog, Donalyn Miller wrote about revisiting our reading histories to identify the books that have been touchstones in our lives:

More than listing favorites, creating a reading autobiography encourages readers to revisit their reading experiences and identify books signifying turning points or touchstones in their reading histories. While we often live our reading lives in the present and the future—the books we are reading right now and what we plan to read next—readers benefit from traveling back through the books we have read in the past.

While I believe we find something beneficial about every book we read—knowledge, escape, entertainment, insight, and so on—some books transform us in fundamental ways.

I am the kind of person who always reads the book first. I don’t mean reading the book before seeing the movie. I mean reading the book before having the experience. Reading the book before living the life. Sometimes I think that everything I am and everything I’ve done can be directly connected to a book I’ve read.

bread and jam

Bread and Jam for Frances made me a foodie. There is some exquisite food writing in Russell Hoban’s descriptions of the contents of Albert’s lunchbox.

on the banks of plum creek

On the Banks of Plum Creek made me a South Dakotan. I longed for the prairie thirty years before I set eyes on it for the first time. I never drive across my beautiful state of South Dakota without thinking of Laura Ingalls Wilder and my childhood fantasy of going west. (On the Banks of Plum Creek actually takes place in Minnesota. I feel compelled to be accurate as an adult. But in my childhood imagination, once they left Wisconsin, it was all Dakota.)

day i became

The Day I Became an Autodidact made me a college dropout, for a couple of years anyway. I ended up taking two years off from formal education after high school, and those two years shaped my life afterwards in so many ways.

beyond sky and earth.jpeg

Beyond the Sky and Earth: A Journey to Bhutan made me an adventurer. I decided to leave academia and go somewhere unusual to teach. It was between Mongolia and South Dakota, and I chose South Dakota. (When you’re used to East Coast urban, South Dakota seems just about as unusual as Mongolia!)

writing down the bones

Writing Down the Bones made me a writer. Twenty-five years after I read it for the first time, it’s still a book I return to for sustenance and inspiration.

two parts textbook one part love.jpeg

Two Parts Textbook, One Part Love: A Recipe for Successful Teaching made me a teacher. Although in my classroom, the formula was probably one part textbook, two parts love, which strikes me as just the right balance.

in the middle

In the Middle made me a workshop teacher. Inspired by Atwell, I threw out my curriculum two weeks before the first day of school and started over with reading and writing workshop.

there is no me without you.jpeg

There Is No Me Without You made me a mother. It brought me to Ethiopia and to older children.





24 responses to “The Books That Made Me: Slice of Life 25/31 #sol16”

  1. jennieb Avatar

    I love this idea and need to start thinking about mine.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s a great topic for a post! I enjoyed thinking about the difference between favorite books and touchstone books.

  2. Kate Schwarz Avatar

    What a lovely idea–I have a long drive tomorrow and will definitely be happy in my daydreams about books from my past, and how they shaped me. Thank you for this!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I hope you’ll blog about your list of books too!

  3. Shari Daniels Avatar

    This is such an important idea. In one of my graduate classes, we had to create our own autobiography in books. I think every teacher should do this. You have a couple books in your list I need to add to my to-read list, especially, Beyond The Sky and Earth. Thank you, Elisabeth, for another inspiring post!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Writing this list made me think some rereading is in order! I reread Day I Became An Autodidact last year, but I haven’t reread Beyond Sky and Earth in years. How I love that book! And how I want to visit Bhutan!

  4. writintime Avatar

    Beautiful walk through the history of the books that inspired your life!

  5. carriegelson Avatar

    This is so very thoughtful and personal. Wow. Bread and Jam for Frances is a book I just referenced in our family’s read aloud journey. I am now quite curious about many of these books.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I sometimes still say SMFO when I mean better. Frances is absolutely imprinted on my brain. When I reread now, too, I see something of what I aspire to in my own writing style too. Would love to see a similar touchstones list from you!

  6. Linda Baie Avatar

    I enjoyed reading about the books important to you, Elisabeth, and must tell you that each one except the last & the ‘two parts textbook” have been important to me in some way. Wow. The Day I Became An Autodidact saved my daughter from an early education death. She hated school, & left high school in the middle to go on to college, all from the inspiration of this book. In The Middle is a book I’ve read & re-read, given to others. The first two are special because I read them to my children, still have them, & now read the Frances books to my grandchildren, Little House books will come. Thanks for sharing these books’ importance to you.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Linda, I haven’t met others who know Day I Became an Autodidact, so this connection is so meaningful for me! I read this book in my senior year–otherwise, I would have left school early too. I wish homeschooling had been a thing then. I would have LOVED unschooling! In the Middle is a book I’ve come back to literally dozens of times in my teaching career. The Little House books are hard for me to return to now–and they are not books I would ever read aloud to my son without censoring, honestly, because of the racism. I am sure there is a productive discussion there to have about racism and attitudes but it’s so painful for him to experience more evidence of what he already knows.

  7. Wilcox Carol Avatar

    I love capturing your life this way. The Frances books were some of my favorites as a little girl (trying to remember tonight which one has the teapot with the penny in it). I had never thought about it, but there was some really great food writing. I have never read AUTODIDACT,

    1. Wilcox Carol Avatar

      Whoops, I accidentally hit send before I was done! I have never read AUTODIDACT, but your comments and Linda’s make me want to get hold of this book. And I definitely need to read NO ME WITHOUT YOU!

    2. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think the penny in the teapot is A Bargain for Frances. I bet my mom remembers, LOL. They are all wonderful. Bedtime for Frances was surely the one that was read aloud to me most. I think my mother was trying to give me a message!

  8. mgminer Avatar

    I’m eager to work on my reading autobiography, too. So many titles come to mind, but I love the thoughtful way you identified the impact of each book.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ve so enjoyed reading the other reading autobiographies that have turned up in slices this week inspired by Donalyn’s post. Hope to see one from you too!

  9. djvichos Avatar

    “Sometimes I think that everything I am and everything I’ve done can be directly connected to a book I’ve read.” Wow, what can I say? It’s true, and you captured it in this line and post. I like how you start at the beginning, the booklist itself, feels like a journey through your life, each book coming to you at the perfect moment. Ok, so maybe it’s mutual, you are ready for the message, the book is there for the taking. No matter, I love it, and it’s got me thinking about my own list.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Lovely point–hard to figure out what comes first–the book or being open to the message of the book. I’d love to see what’s on your list too!

  10. Zezee Avatar

    I really like Goldberg’s book. So inspiring. I highlighted almost everything in it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      The Goldberg book is one I return to again and again. Whenever I’m stuck or uncentered, I can read a chapter and feel inspired.

  11. Akilah Avatar

    Okay, this is an awesome idea. I don’t think I’ve read any of the books on your list, but I also don’t think it matters because I just learned a ton about you.

  12. Myra GB Avatar

    I’ve been doing a Literary Forty series this month since I turned 40. I originally just intended to do one post – but I ended up doing FOUR different posts. I think the first three have already been published/posted. Laura Ingalls Wilder was in one of my posts too. Love Nancie Atwell’s PD texts. I think I have to find Writing Down the Bones. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: