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The First Time

Posted by Susan on August 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Classics
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A kid asked me a question at the children's reference desk a few days ago. While I was answering it, I saw that he was holding a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I noticed that his bookmark was fairly close to the end of the book. I asked if he had read it before. He said no. Had anyone told him what happened? Nope. Harry Potter 7.jpg

At that moment I was struck by how lucky he was. And, I have to admit, I was a little jealous. He didn't know the ending. Millions of people all of the world (including nearly everyone reading this post, I bet) know exactly what happens in those last few chapters. But he didn't and he had the joy of reading it for the very first time and finding it all out for himself. The magic was still his to discover.

To be as spoiler-free as possible, I'll just say that he was at the beginning of Chapter 34 and Harry was starting to walk into the forest. I vividly remember the suspense I felt when I was at that point and didn't know what was going to happen next. He started reading again the second I answered his question.

It's one of the things I love the most about children's literature. Nothing ever really gets old because there is always a new generation to discover it for the first time.

Golden Compass.jpgAnd it's not just the kids who get to explore new worlds. A few years ago, at the first Kidlitosphere conference, there was a dinner table discussion about the upcoming movie version of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. I had been very vocal up until that point but got quiet as soon as that particular conversation started. When I got asked for my opinion about the book, I said I was embarrassed to admit that I had never read it. Someone at the table (Pam, was it you? Or maybe you, Kelly?) told me not to feel embarrassed, but to feel lucky instead. After all, I still had it to look forward to.

Charlotte's Web.jpgThink about all the children who haven't met Ramona yet. Or Paddington. Or Mr. Popper and his penguins. How about those who haven't gone down the rabbit hole? Or through the tollbooth? Or found out where Platform 9 and 3/4 is? Or what Charlotte writes in her web?

They have so many magical people and places they get to discover.... for the very first time. And to them, the books will be just as new as they were to you the first time you read. How lucky they are.

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time? What book or series are you still looking forward to?

Update: Thank you all for your wonderful and insightful comments! I was absolutely overwhelmed at the hundreds of responses this post generated here and on Facebook. Curious to find out which books were mentioned the most? See this post for a top ten list.


Liz writes...

I also wish I could re-read the Harry Potter books for the first time! Even though I read them for the first time as an adult, they had the magical ability to transport me completely to their world. Some of my childhood favorites that I would love to re-read for the first time are From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Edward Eager's books (Half Magic and so on). I would also say the Penderwicks series, but luckily she's still writing those!

Melissa (Book Nut) writes...

Nice post, Susan.

I think it would be almost anything I've loved. The joy of reading out loud to my girls is that I do get to experience books I've loved again (and sometimes again and again and again), if only through their eyes.

adrienne writes...

One thing I love about being a children's librarian is I get to vicariously enjoy kids' first readings of books I love over and over.

I would love to read the LOTR trilogy as something new. I really vividly remember reading it for the first time, getting to the end, and just turning right back to the beginning of the first book to read it all again because that's how much I loved it.

Kate writes...

Your post made me tear up a little. So true and so wonderful! Thanks for writing!

Susan writes...

When I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I literally lost track of time. I missed a meeting that I really wanted to attend but I just didn't put down the book. That isn't how I usually read. I usually have a sense of time and other obligations. It was a great read and I was so in the story. I do wish I could go back to that experience and have it all over again. But there are still so many great books to read....I haven't read everything yet!!!

Sarah writes...

Ooh...Susan. This post gave me chills just thinking about discovering those books again.

For me, it's definitely the Potter books, His Dark Materials, and A Wrinkle in Time (and other L'Engle titles). Sigh. I love when that happens with books.

Liz writes...

Susan, I had a similar experience the summer Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out. I was working at a job I wasn't crazy about, and every day at lunch I would read the book for an hour. For that hour, it was like I wasn't at work--I was in the world of Harry Potter. I would lose track of any work-related things and also of time (I think I had to set my cell phone alarm to let me know when the hour was up!). I honestly don't know if I've ever had that experience with another book!

Jen Robinson writes...

I love this post, Susan! Just love it! I, too, would be very happy if I could read the Harry Potter books again for the first time. Fortunately for me, I'm blessed (kind of) with a poor memory. So in some ways, I have been able to re-experience some of my childhood favorites. Though of course it's not quite the same.

Pam writes...

I'm with Jen on the poor memory thing. Rereading almost any childhood book is like a new experience. I would like to read The Series of Unfortunate Event for the first time - again. Given the memory issue I could probably go ahead and start it now. I'm looking forward to The Lightning Thief series because I never got around to it, even though I know it's excellent.

Jennie S. writes...

When I think of all the books I've read during my years as a Children's Librarian I'm not sure I can limit my answer to one book title. But in an attempt to be brief I'll say I wish I could read again for the first time "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (before seeing any of the movies of course)and "Artemis Fowl" and "The Secret of the Old Clock".

Cheryl K writes...

Madeleine L'Engle's - A Wrinkle in Time and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.

Alison writes...

I would want to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the first time again. The ending had limitless possibilities despite the sequel.

Nick writes...

I suppose legally, I am still a child, but that fantastical world of discovery seems so far away. Today, it seems as though every book I read has been read, and reread, and retold for centuries. So, if for one more time I could be a rivet 6- year-old, I would like to go sit in my father's lap, and read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone just once more.

Maureen writes...

I love To Kill a Mockingbird and although I will never be able to read it for the first time again, it is one that I reread and rediscover annually. I think a good book has the power to take the reader to a new understanding, even after multiple readings. When I was teaching, I was able to experience "the first time" with my students. Now, I am looking forward to sharing some of these "first" reads with my own children. They also have given me an opportunity to discover children's classics that I never read or some of the new classics (The Tale of Despereaux and Edward Tulane) that are truly magical.

Betsey writes...

Velveteen Rabbit. The Little Prince. I've also found listening to GREAT kids books - classics and contemporary on audio with kids -especially in the car - is a GREAT bonding experience for all.

Travis writes...

Wow, that has to be the toughest question I've ever come across. I have loved nearly every book I have touched. I came to enjoy reading later in my childhood, I hated the books, I was forced to read in elementary school and I hated writing book reports. It wasn't until I left High School that I went back and read some of the great books again. I have the most fond memories of Lord of the Flies, The Potter series, The Screwtape letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Neverending Story, The Princess Bride. All of these books and thousands more I would and do read again and again. But if I could pick one series to reread for the first time it would either be The Hitchhikers Guide or The Lord of the Rings.

Bill writes...

The book that sticks in my head is JRRT's "The Hobbit". I discovered it by accident in a little college bookstore one weekend when my roommates were away. It opened my eyes to a fantastic world. Over the course of that weekend I ended devouring "The Hobbit" and the "Lord Of The Rings" as well. While it would be nice to re-read the book as if I never had seen it before, I have shared "The Hobbit" with each of my three children. Every time I read it with them, I re-discovered the magic of "Middle Earth" through different eyes.

Emilie writes...

In the summer of 2003, a guy I was dating told me about Harry Potter. This was a guy who loved beer and baseball. I obviously knew of the series and the first two films, but had not read the books. I'm a huge book lover but I didn't know if there was anything there for me. I immersed myself in the HP world all summer long, capping the event off with Order of the Phoenix, which was the newest edition. Since then, Half-Blood Prince came out on the day of my college graduation party (I almost avoided the entire thing in order to read the book that had arrived at my door) and I stood in line at midnight to get my copy of Deathly Hallows. I started reading the minute I got home from Border's and finished at 7AM (speed-reading has served me well). I couldn't sleep after reading, however. Harry Potter has allowed me to stay a kid at heart, and I wouldn't give up that feeling for all the world. I'd give anything to experience that book again for the first time. Forget parties, bars...give me a good book.

Lynn writes...

Oh, Mr. Popper and His Penguins! What a memory. I used to love reading that one on the floor of the library at my elementary school. I can smell the library just thinking about it. I'll have to reread that one.

I think we also have a related joy as parents, getting to experience our favorites all over again through the eyes of our children.

Laura writes...

Oh, so many to choose from - anything by Madeleine L'Engle, Lois Lowry or L.M. Montgomery!

But still, I remember my very first foray into the world of reading - the first time I read a book and I realized that my life would never be the same. The book? My mother's old copy of the Bobbsey Twins. Crazy, I know. And yet it was the key that opened my eyes to the magic of reading.

Amy writes...

Many of my favorites have already been mentioned, but I would also like to add the Anne of Green Gables series, the Laura Ingles Wilder series, and - most importantly - The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Imogene Herdman, you're still my idol.

Sarah writes...

I wish I could reread All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. It lovingly chronicles the lives of five Jewish girls growing up on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s. Among the most memorable moments are the Purim celebrations and visiting Coney Island. As an only child, I used to act out the stories with my dolls and imagine what it was like to be a part of an all-of-a-kind family.

Cheryl K writes...

While I didn't read them until the 70s - I still credit Carolyn Haywood Betsy books with instilling the love of reading.

B is for Betsy was the first book I took out of the library that took more than an hour to read. On Friday after school I laid down on the couch with the book and didn't move again for hours until I finally finished it - after that, I was hooked and have been reading everything ever since.

Lorra writes...

When you reread a cherished childhood book as an adult, it is like reading that book again for the first time. You'll find yourself loving all those little, wonderful details that you've forgotten over time. The theme will likely resonate more deeply with you now that you've experienced so much more of life's ups and downs.
You've inspired my to get down to the library for A Wrinkle in Time. That was my "Harry Potter" as a child.

Joan writes...

I would like to read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" again for the first time.
It was read to us at Camp Kinsolving in the early 50's. One chapter after each meal was read to us and I loved it. I went home and bought a copy and then proceeded to illustrate it myself in a drawing book.

I love the Harry Potter books, too.

Shannon writes...

Definitely A Wrinkle in Time, or the Phantom Tollbooth. Loved both, and both inspired a lifelong love of reading in me.

Sara writes...

I would probably pick A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L'Engle, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The first two books were the first novels I remember reading for more than just plot and characters -- I consciously took a message away from each story and it affected me. The first Anne book introduced me to an author I have loved ever since. The sixth Harry Potter book had me sobbing by the end and while the ending still makes me sad, I don't cry over a second reading. You never forget a book that makes you cry.

Leslie writes...

Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

Dan writes...

I would love to be able to have selective amnesia when it comes to reading a good book, so that I can re-read and enjoy it all over again for the 1st time. I sometimes wonder if I have spoiled the sense of discovery for my kids by reading C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling to them at very early ages?

Books I'd love to read again for "1st time":

  • "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"
  • "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"
  • Mark Helprin's "Winter's Tale"
  • Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone
  • Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban

Pauline writes...

I wore out "A Children's Garden of Verses" both from being read to and then the thrill of reading it myself.

Matthew writes...

I would love to come at The Prydain Chronicles again by Lloyd Alexander.

It saddens me more people don't seem to know or have read these books, because I find them full to the brim with action, adventure, and imagination.

Erica writes...

I'd love to reread Harriet the Spy and the Encyclopedia Brown.

Denes House writes...

What a great thread!

Let me also put in a good word for the joys of reading a worthwhile book for the eighth or ninth time. They are a different species of joys, perhaps less keen or lofty, less thrilling, but deeper, more fulfilling, longer lasting. There is immense benefit in delving the richness of a good book. I remember in grad school saying apologetically to a professor that I didn't fully "get" one of the assigned books on my first reading. He looked at me with an amused expression, and said "of course not! Why did you expect to?"

It's great to sit with a child and thrill with them to their first exposure to Narnia, or Middle Earth, or Hogwarts, but I wouldn't trade the joys of my ninth reading of LOTR for anything.

Dede writes...

I agree with Matthew:

I would love to be able to start The Prydain Chronicles again by Lloyd Alexander once again.

From the time I was 8, I have re-read these books over and over. Usually reading the entire set in the course of a day, trying to recapture the magic of that initial reading.

These stories are a wonderous voyage into a marvelous land. It's such a shame that Disney saw fit to crush them into one little, rather flimsy animated film.

Ellen writes...

I would love to be able to read The Secret Garden again for the first time! As a first time grandmother, I can't wait to start reading my favorite children's books to my grandson!

Carol writes...

As a kid, I read "Bambi" over & over again. Recently I gave a copy to a 10-yr-old to read for the first time. Now I want to read it again, too (at age 57)!

pegyreads writes...

I'd love to re-read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. I'd love to have the light bulb go on again as it did when I realized that the description for the umbrella trees is also a description for the people in that neighborhood ... and every neighborhood.

Sharon writes...

As a retired 4th grade teacher, one of the things I miss the most was sharing both old and new books with my students. They found out how much they enjoyed poetry through A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein and his other books as well. Even the boys started reading more when we read books by Gary Paulsen, like Hatchet or My life in Dog Years. When studying the Civil War period, one picture book favorite was Pink and Say by Patricia by Patricia Palacco. Every year when I shared that book, I could hardly read the ending without tearing up.

Pat writes...

I read the Harry Potter series and His Dark Materials as an adult, so I don't know how I would have reacted as a child, but I am guessing I would have loved them.

As a child I loved Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books, particularly Season of Ponies, The Egypt Game, Black and Blue Magic.

And of course Louis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Laura writes...

The books I LOVE to reread over and over and would love to experience for the first time again are THE SECRET GARDEN, DADDY LONG LEGS, and the WHAT KATY DID series.

Yusra writes...

The books I could never stop reading in my childhood were those from Alvin Schwartz like In A Dark, Dark Room and the Scary Stories series. I also loved anything from Roald Dahl, Chronicles of Narnia, and the Goosebumps series. This post made me so nostalgic. There is nothing like the joy of reading an amazing book!

HeidiRenee writes...

I joke with my husband that if I ever get alzheimers he can just put me in a room with my 6 favorite children's book series and each and every day introduce me to a new one like I've never seen them before.

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