Books That Helped Us Grow Up There are some books — like those by authors Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, for instance — that helped define childhood and teenage awkwardness, but still ring true well into adulthood. Lizzie Skurnick and Meg Cabot talk about the books from our childhoods we can't seem to put down.
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Books That Helped Us Grow Up

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Books That Helped Us Grow Up

Books That Helped Us Grow Up

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

They're the well-handled, much beloved books that young girls stuffed in their backpacks and snuck out to read whenever they got a chance. They are the books that got a lot of women started on the rocky roads to adulthood. They are the books they read and re-read again and again, from the ups and downs of the March sisters in "Little Women" to the push and pull of puberty in "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret." They are pre-"Twilight", pre-Potter, and they can still make a grown woman squeal, "I loved that book." Author Lizzie Skurnick's new book "Shelf Discovery" revisits these teen classics with a little help from some of the women who read them, writers such as "Gossip Girl" maven Cecily von Ziegsar, and "Princess Diaries" author Meg Cabot.

Later in the program, Ask Amy joins us to talk about the horrors of college roommates. But right now, it's a wrinkle in time. Think back to the teen classic you read under the covers and tell us how it explained or changed your childhood experience. Our number here in Washington: 800-989-8255. The email address is And you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Lizzie Skurnick is an author, blogger, poet and reviewer and a regular book writer for She is with me here in Studio 3A and it's great to have you.

Ms. LIZZIE SKURNICK (Author, "Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading"): Thank you.

NEARY: So this memoir, we should say, includes essays, some written by you, some by other writers on books ranging from "Little Women" to, as we mentioned, you know, the "Princess Diaries," those kinds of books. But what I was struck by was the focus seemed to be really on the books that started getting popular in the '70s and I was wondering why, why those books in particular?

Ms. SKURNICK: Well, I am 36 and those were the books that were available in my local book store. And - but I also do think that for the women my age, you know, for maybe 25 to 45, that was a hidden boom in YA, that no one really about. I mean now everybody knows about the YA market, but it was really before there was this quote unquote "YA market." But…

NEARY: YA meaning Young Adults.

Ms. SKURNICK: Young Adults.

NEARY: What it's called in publishing, Young Adults.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SKURNICK: That's right, Young Adult books. And we all had them available in our book stores and we were reading them, even though no one knew we were reading them.

NEARY: Well, you know, because I was interested in that because I have a few years on you and so when I opened up your book and started looking at the essays, I thought - I didn't read most of these books. I read a little "Little Women," of course. I read "Island of the Blue Dolphin," "The Witch of Blackbird Pond." There is an essay in there. You know, a number of others I read, but a lot of them I didn't. I missed it.

Ms. SKURNICK: Yeah, and…

NEARY: What did I miss?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: You missed a lot.

Ms. SKURNICK: You missed, you know, Zindel, Cormier, Amy Kerr, some Judy Blume, probably, a lot of Madeleine L'Engle. There were really a ton of writers who sort of came of age then. But, you know, they were not on the shelves for very long. You know, if you take someone like Paul Zindel, I would go and I would see "The Pigman." And then I would go two weeks later and I would see - he was "The Pigman Returns," then "The Undertaker's Gone Bananas." So, you know, it's not like - every book didn't stay on the shelf, you know, for a very long time.

NEARY: Now, what was your favorite? What was your very favorite? Do you have one?

Ms. SKURNICK: No, I have two. Can I say that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Yes. You can say as many as you'd like. Go ahead.

Ms. SKURNICK: Well, my favorite is Katherine Paterson's "Jacob, Have I Loved," which is about twins, Caroline and Louise. And it's about, you know, sisterly jealously, but it's also about coming into your own, you know, accepting what is true about you and what you can change. Just wonderful book and this very strange book. And then my other favorite book is a forgotten classic and I've really made it the campaign of…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SKURNICK: …of all the press I do to get this book remembered again, but it's a book called "Secret Lies" by Bertha Amos. And it's set in New Orleans in the 1930s and it's about a young girl named Addie that is trying to find out the truth about her dead mother. And it's a wonderful book. It's a funny book. It's a smart book. And I just hope it comes back into vogue so girls can read it.

NEARY: Give me a sense of how these books built on what before, like, let's say "Little Women" for example, which you have an essay about, but how they took, you know, that kind of book that appealed to a girl of a certain age and then changed and made more contemporary.

Ms. SKURNICK: Well, you know, I don't think they did that. I do not think they built on what came before.

NEARY: Okay.

Ms. SKURNICK: You know, I think they were an entirely new animal, these books. And I think that they sort of coincided with the rise of feminism, with this revisiting of what is the role of women? What is it likes to be a girl? What was good about my childhood? What was bad about my childhood? And it was sort of the first time anyone had asked these questions in a pretty long time in a public way. And there were also a lot more women getting published then. You know, it was the first real time women had time to write and time to publish and this sort voice. So, I think these were the really singular entities, these books.

NEARY: And they also sort of dealt kind of frankly with sexual issues for the first time, I think. And it seemed to - seems like it took the teachers and the parents and librarians about 10 years to figure that out or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: But is that right?

Ms. SKURNICK: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean they were - these books - you know, in "Jacob Have I Loved" Louise has a crush on a 70-year-old man. He is the captain and it is shameful to her. And it's also interesting to her and you just - you are not going to see that in a book nowadays. And then you have, you know, sort of the characters of Norma Cline, these girls on the Upper Westside who were sort of sleeping with their professors and exploring themselves sexually. You have lot of books about rape, you know. It really was this era, you know, it was an era of sort of sophistication but it was almost innocence, like, oh sex. Let's talk about sex.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: We never did that before.

Ms. SKURNICK: And so, you have this real explosion and I do think it took a long time to catch up because people were teaching things like "The Red Pony," "The Old Man and the Sea."

NEARY: Yeah.

Ms. SKURNICK: You know, "Little Women," like, I think we were reading - what were we reading in my, like, 11th grade class? I think we were reading, like, "Twelfth Night."

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Yeah. Charles Dickens.

Ms. SKURNICK: Charles Dickens, yeah. And so, they didn't know these books were there and therefore they weren't sort of tracking, you know, V.C. Andrews, which is what we were reading at the same time that we were reading, you know, "Of Mice and Men." Which by the way is also - I'm shocked they teach that book sometimes and like - there's like an attempted rape and a strangulation and this is - I mean, I think I read this book when I was nine, you know.

NEARY: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: We're talking with Lizzie Skurnick about her reading memoir "Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped." If you would like to give us a call, the number is 800-989-8255 and we're going to take a call now from Judy(ph) in Portland, Oregon. Hi Judy.

JUDY (Caller): Hi, how are you.

Ms. SKURNICK: I'm good. How are you?

JUDY: I'm not the one that read all those because when I was young, I read Nancy Drew.


JUDY: In second grade. I was mature - I was a mature reader. But my daughter is dyslexic and when she was in seventh grade, I mean, you know, up to that point she had to have so much extra help with reading, she never read for pleasure. But we were in Maui for spring break and she brought a little friend. It was raining one day and this girl was reading this book. And she started reading to Dancy(ph), knowing Dancy couldn't read. And Dancy, my daughter got so intrigued with this book, they ran down to the book store in a little shopping mall and it was V.C. Andrews.

And my daughter became this voracious reader. I mean - and I looked at it and I went, this about the most twisted thing I've ever read. But she absolutely loved those books and that's what got her started reading for pleasure. I mean, there were times that maybe she didn't know quite what the word was but she'd skip over it by the content of the sentence she could figure out that, oh, that word was whatever it was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JUDY: And so, you know, so she just - I mean, she would read those. And when I, you know, we'd see a new one that would come out we'd race to the book store to get it. And I mean, she just read every single one of those V.C. Andrews books. And so really, I mean, even though people might call them, you know, trash reading, sort of like the romance novels, I mean, it was the best thing that ever happened to her.

NEARY: All right, thanks for your call, Judy.

JUDY: Yeah. Thank you.

NEARY: So Lizzie, tell us about V.C. Andrews.

Ms. SKURNICK: I don't think I can on the radio. I mean, these - I love that. What a wonderful mother that is because the V.C. Andrews books are really - I think they are the filthiest books that have ever been written on the - I mean, they are filthy. They're really wonderful. You know, there's lots of, you know, molestations and clasping to bosoms, and you know, it's all sort of about the crucible of the family. You know, if you have, like, two family members, they're probably going to sleep together.

NEARY: Now, wait. Is that in "Shelf Discovery"?

Ms. SKURNICK: Oh, yeah. I reviewed "Flowers in the Attic," which is, you know, the story of a brother and sister that are - they're forcibly locked up by their parents, and the brother and sister, of course, sleep together and then proceed in this great romance for four more books…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Really?

Ms. SKURNICK: Oh my, God, yes, totally. And I also wrote about my favorite one, which is one of V.C. Andrews' earliest books, which is "My Sweet Audrina," which is about a girl who is raped under a tree, and her parents change her - her parents convince her that she is not herself, that she is her own sister - and I don't know why I'm laughing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SKURNICK: But no, really, it's not funny, but the books themselves are so ludicrous that it's great.

NEARY: Why are these - geared to teenagers? Like, we heard you earlier in a cut of tape saying that these really were dealing with very adult ideas and themes and that the parents didn't know about it.

Ms. SKURNICK: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, V.C. Andrews is actually the prime example of that. You know, they used to sell them in these racks. You know, if you were at Grand Union, which I guess doesn't exist anymore, which was a grocery store for all you people out there, but they would be on the racks by the checkout. And you'd just be, like, mom, can I get that? And they'd be, like, sure, anything to, you know, make you happy. And that's how they were bought, and we used to pass them around

And they actually looked kind of creepy. You know, the covers are black, and they have these ovals in the center with a face, and then you open up the second cover, and then inside is whatever clan, you know, she wrote about several different clans.

NEARY: Now, do you think that these books that we've been talking about, that sort of, as we've said, started becoming popular kind of in the '70s, are they going to become classics?

Ms. SKURNICK: I mean, I wrote this book because I think to us they are classics. I mean, something I heard at the "Fine Lines" column that I write on Jezebel, over and over all the time is that people had kept all of these books.

You know, you have these 40-year-old women that still have their entire collections. You know, sometimes I couldn't find a cover, and I would say: Who has a cover of "The Moon By Night," the one with the dolphin? And then, you know, three girls would send me a scan of the cover. So it's - I think to us, they are classics, but part of the reason I wrote the book is that I wanted them to get credit for, you know, for how good they were.

NEARY: We're talking with author Lizzie Skurnick about the books that got her through her teen years. We want to know what teen classics helped you navigate adolescence. We're taking your calls at 800-989-8255, and you can send us an email to Lizzie is staying with us, so stand by. I'm Lynn Neary. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Young-adult literature, those teen classics by Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, even Louisa May Alcott, is often dismissed with the faint praise of genre fiction. But the girls and women that devoured these books never forgot them, like author Lizzie Skurnick, who's written a reading memoir about teen fiction. It's called "Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading."

She's with us today in Studio 3A, and we want to know what you never stopped reading. What teenage books meant the most to you, and how did they explain or change your childhood experience? Give us a call. The number is 800-989-8255, or send us an email to, and you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we are going to take a call now. We're going to go to Michelle(ph), who is calling from Elkhart, Indiana. Hi, Michelle.

MICHELLE (Caller): Hello, and thank you for having me on your program.

NEARY: Good to have you with us.

MICHELLE: Thank you. My favorite book growing up, actually - was Madeleine L'Engle "A Wrinkle in Time" and "A Wind in the Door." They really changed how I saw the world, in a sense, and helped me to get to know people for who they are. And when I was 13 years old, I read in the newspaper that Madeleine L'Engle was going to be at a book-signing at my local library, and I rode my bike there and stood in the crowd with - she was - she had a book that was an adult-themed book at the time, but I was there, was the only child. And I got to ask her a question, and she - I brought up my tattered paperback version of "A Wind in the Door," and she wrote to be a namer on it, and it was just the most incredible experience for me.

Ms. SKURNICK: That's wonderful.

NEARY: Well, that's one of the - there's a story about "A Wrinkle in Time," about Madeleine L'Engle in this book, "Shelf Discovery." That is one of the classics.

Ms. SKURNICK: Oh yes, absolutely.

NEARY: And what makes that such a great book, would you say, Lizzie?

Ms. SKURNICK: Well, you know, in my particular essay about the book, I wrote about how - something I hadn't noticed when I was a young girl, which is that Meg was so difficult. She was such a difficult girl. She had such trouble controlling her anger. She had such trouble learning what she wanted to be in the world.

And I think that, coupled with this - and I don't know, for listeners who don't know the book, you know, Meg and her brother, Charles Wallace, and Calvin, her to-be husband, you know, a long time from then, go off and they save her father, who's been imprisoned by, you know, an evil force in the universe. But I think it was, you know, because of that that it strikes girls. It's a great story, but it's also about learning how to be a person.

NEARY: All right, thanks so much for your call, Michelle.

MICHELLE: Thank you.

NEARY: Judy Blume's classic novel, "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret," may be the pinnacle of nostalgic adolescent angst. And Meg Cabot, who writes about that book's lasting appeal in "Shelf Discovery," a woman who knows a little something about young-adult literature, and she is the author of over 50 books, and she's the bestselling author of the "Princess Diaries" series, and she's joining us now from her home in Key West, Florida. Welcome to the program. Good to have you with us, Meg.

Ms. MEG CABOT (Author): Well thank you. I'm so excited to be here.

NEARY: Now tell us a little bit - in your essay in "Shelf Discovery," it opens with a story about - you're at a school in South Africa with a group of girls and the book comes up. Tell us that story, how that…

Ms. CABOT: It's really so bizarre. I was actually writing my essay for "Shelf Discovery," and I was coincidentally at the Oprah school in South Africa, and the girls there asked me what book I was reading. And I was reading "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" in preparation for writing the essay. And I kind of hesitated. I wasn't sure if I should tell them what book I was reading because I'm sure, you know, these girls come from all these different tribes in South Africa.

They speak 11 different languages there, and I was pretty sure they would never have heard of the book, but I finally just said: Well, I'm reading, "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret," and this roar erupted in the auditorium. Every single girl there had read the book, and they were so excited and they wanted to talk about it. It just made me realize how universal the appeal of Judy Blume…

NEARY: More universal…

Ms. CABOT: …underestimated it. But I just thought, well, you know, 8,000 miles away from New Jersey, where Margaret had lived, they're not going to know it, but they totally knew. It was amazing.

NEARY: Well, you write about how real the character of Margaret is.

Ms. CABOT: Yeah, well that's the thing. I mean, she is such a real girl. Everybody can relate to her because she goes - every single thing she goes through is something that every single girl goes through, and not just, you know, wanting to fit into a bra and finally get her period but, you know, her relationship with God and trying to find out, you know, which religion she wants to be. And, you know, having fake friends and trying to fit in. I mean, she just - Judy Blume hits it. Every single beat she hits with that book. It's amazing.

NEARY: What did you read as a young girl, as a young woman, that you have a sense really influenced the way you write now?

Ms. CABOT: Wow, you know, it's amazing because I was flipping through my copy of "Shelf Discovery" right before this, and Lizzie just hit every single…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CABOT: (Unintelligible) read and loved is in this. You know, "A Little Princess," "The Secret Garden," "Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," but you know, I love - some of genre fiction I just love, like Lois Duncan, her thrillers. "A Gift of Magic" I remember reading, which is about a girl who has ESP, and I remember reading that and just being convinced that I had ESP, too, and no one had discovered it yet. And, you know, that I secretly was gifted, too, and I credit Lois Duncan with that, for really giving me that self-esteem even though, like, I totally had no talent. She made me believe that I could do it.

NEARY: Well, how does it feel to have written a book, with "Princess Diaries," that is probably having the same effect on young girls now?

Ms. CABOT: Now every girl believes that she's a princess somewhere (unintelligible)…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CABOT: I think that's great, and I think that's what teen fiction is about. You know, every kid, and this is what Judy Blume did, too. I mean, every kid feels that way, that they are alone in the universe and no one has ever felt as isolated as, you know, you do when you're a teenager. And that's what I think that teen fiction does is it makes them realize, you know what, you're not alone. There is someone out there who's feeling exactly that way.

NEARY: I have an email here that I want to read to both of you. This email, I want to see if both of you can react to this, from Heidi(ph) in Lake Tahoe. She says: I'm 40 and grew up with Judy Blume and V.C. Andrews, but now I have two boys, and I'm wondering what they should be reading besides Harry Potter. This is a very girl-centric show we're having here. So I don't know if you guys have any ideas.

Ms. SKURNICK: What's wrong with that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CABOT: Actually, I think you do have some books in here. You have "I Am the Cheese" by - Robert Cormier I think is still great.

Ms. SKURNICK: Oh yeah, Robert Cormier has wonderful books that are for and about boys. I mean, "The Chocolate War" is sort of, you know, a major - Paul Zindel is…

Ms. CABOT: Oh God, yeah.

Ms. SKURNICK: He's a great male writer, and you know, and I think all of these books are great for boys. I mean, I read my brother's books. You know, I read "I, Robot." I read a lot of Ray Bradbury. I read, you know, Tolkien, and so, I mean, I think they're just - different genres, but I think boys, you know, should read these books.

Ms. COHEN: (Unintelligible) Richard Peck in here.


Ms. COHEN: (Unintelligible) great writer for boys and girls. I love his ghosts that I have known - "Ghost I Have Been." Those are great.

Ms. SKURNICK: Yes, all the "Blossom Culp" books are great.

NEARY: Well, you know, I see, there's actually a male caller here. So I think I'm going to go to him and see…

Ms. COHEN: Oh, my gosh.

NEARY: Frank(ph) from Burlington, Wisconsin. Hello, Frank.

FRANK (Caller): Hi there.


FRANK: Thanks for taking my call.

NEARY: You're welcome.

FRANK: You know, as a teenager, one of my best friends turned me on to the book "The Illusions" by Richard Bach.

Ms. SKURNICK: Oh yeah, sure.

FRANK: And, you know, 20 years later now, as, you know, 13 years into teaching, it's still one of those - that's probably my favorite book of all time. I still have copies - copies, I have multiple copies - and I've given probably more away than I've gotten back. You know, and that's a book that really stuck with me. It gave me a lot. You know, it's a real spiritual book, and it's short and easy to read and very personal, one on one. It's like the author is telling his story first person. I just, I absolutely love that. And all of his books, "Stranger to the Ground" and "Jonathan Livingston Seagull."

Ms. CABOT: Right.

Ms. SKURNICK: Yeah, I went through a Richard Bach stage, also, because those were also books that were being sold. I think I remember that when he talks a lot about his, like, beautiful, blonde wife, and if you imagine something, it'll come to you. You know, like, if you imagine a feather, it'll come out of the ground. But I think those books you read a long time ago, they do take on, like, a special meaning.

FRANK: Yeah. I remember spending one afternoon trying to vaporize clouds and…

Ms. SKURNICK: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: All right. Well, thanks so much for calling, Frank.

FRANK: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

NEARY: Now, do you think that boys have a different relationship with books than girls, Lizzie?

Ms. SKURNICK: You know, I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: You're not even going to speculate on boys?

Ms. SKURNICK: I've become so - I mean, I've become totally resistant to talking about boys where this book is related because I thought, oh my God, like, I wrote a book about girls. Can we just talk about girls for, like, 10 minutes without talking about boys? But you know, I'm sure they have a great relationship with books, and I'm sure, like, a boy could tell you better.

Ms. CABOT: You know, I kept thinking that there were some books that I shared with my dad, and some of them you do have in here. The "I Am Cheese" and "The Man Without a Face" were some books that I brought home from the library and my dad saw laying around and picked up. And so I think that boys can appreciate some of these - he is a boy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SKURNICK: Yeah, and I have heard from quite a few men who are, like, I read these books, too, and I'm like, okay, I never said you didn't, but…

Ms. CABOT: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: All right, Meg, just before we say goodbye, is there a book that's around right now or that's been published on the last few years that you sort of see, you know - besides your own, obviously…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: …that also can be added to this shelf?

Ms. CABOT: Oh, God, put me on the spot. There are so many, you know? We are in such a golden age for YA that - where I don't think that you can find a YA book right now that isn't find a reader out there who's going to love and appreciate it. So I really don't think you can go wrong. I'm not going to name one, because there's just too many.

NEARY: All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us, Meg.

Ms. CABOT: All right. Thank you.

NEARY: Meg Cabot is the author of the popular young adult series, "Princess Diaries." And we're going to take a call now. We're going to Christine, calling from Denver, Colorado. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm sitting in my car right now with my six-month-old son, and I had to pull over because I'm so drawn to this topic, especially during the summer. I just have memories of books that I've read. But when I found out I was having a boy, I was very happy, of course, but I did - it did crossed my mind, but I can't hand down my - the books that I like…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHRISTINE: …all the books that I love. I was so disappointed. But I did find that my husband - I love Madeleine L'Engle, and "A Wrinkle in Time," I feel like it changed my life. It gave me a sense of philosophy and existential questions very young. But he read it also, and so I recommend women using it as a litmus test, just because my - I realized when my husband loved it so much, I thought, that's why we're together. That is perfect. But I did also want to say, I think some of these books, Judy Blume's "Forever," "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," Madeleine L'Engle, I love them because they weren't being taught in school.

NEARY: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SKURNICK: Mm-hmm.

CHRISTINE: They were something other and extra, and something I found in the library. And now as an English teacher myself, I'm kind of aware of that, that I - maybe we should teach the classics and let these kids find these things on their own, and they're that much more special.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call, Christine.

CHRISTINE: Thank you.

NEARY: And let's take a call now from Leah(ph), And Leah is calling from Colorado. Hi, Leah.

LEAH (Caller): Hi. Yeah, this is Leah from Grand Junction. And I was listening and just kind thinking about my experience with "Little House on the Prairie." And when I was - I think I was six, my grandmother gave me the entire box set. And I read through the whole, entire thing, and I'd have to use, like, a flashlight at night. And when my parents caught on to that, I started having to, like, bend over to use the nightlight that was in my room. But just because they really helped me, like, (unintelligible) like growing up, and like how do you interact with, like, family. Because basically, the entire focus of those books was growing up and family and living together and, like, farming and just kind of like making your way. And I was just really drawn to them. So I continually read them, six or seven times, all of them.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call, Leah.

LEAH: Thank you.

NEARY: That's one of the themes of your book, also, actually, Lizzie. And Lizzie Skurnick - let me just identify - our guest is the author of "Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stop Reading." And you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. One of the themes of "Shelf Discovery" is that idea of rereading books a lot.

Ms. SKURNICK: Oh, yeah. I mean, the "Little House," I understand what Leah is saying. I mean, I have read that, easily, 30 times. And I would routinely just spend a Sunday reading through the series. And it is true what she says. She's right. It's about family. But it's also about the formation of America, you know? Pa really goes and settles, you know, the country along with this family. And so - but I think those books really were the first books to follow a little girl, you know, from being a little girl in "Little House in the Big Woods," to being a grown-up lady, you know, with her husband, Manzo, you know, and having a baby in the first four years. And I just think you really can't resist that saga. I mean, you know, I'm just talking about it and I'm like, you know what? It might be great to go read "The Shores of Silver Lake" when I get home today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: You got to go reread.


(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Well, let's get another call in here. Megan(ph) is calling from Portland, Oregon. Hi, Megan.

MEGAN (Caller): Hi. So, growing up, I was totally obsessed with Katherine Paterson's books…

NEARY: Mm-hmm.

MEGAN: …and specifically "Bridge to Terabithia."


MEGAN: I read that over and over. And the first time I read it, I cried so hard that my pillow was wet.


MEGAN: And later on as - when I was an adult and was thinking about going to library school, I met Katherine Paterson, and was so moved when I met her that I was actually crying because her books had made such a difference in my life, and she was actually the reason I decided to become a librarian.

Ms. SKURNICK: Yeah. She's - I think Katherine Paterson's books also - I know what you're talking about with "Bridge to Terabithia," because when I just even think of the illustrations to that book, I sometimes start crying. I mean, I think Katherine Paterson was one of the first authors to really treat us like adults in that we could really understand sort of complex emotions like death and sorrow. And she did it without trying to teach a lesson. And I think it actually made it that much more powerful.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call.

MEGAN: Thank you.

NEARY: And we have an email about that. Cindy(ph) from Stow, wanted to ask about a series by Lurlene McDaniel, books about dying and death and loss. One of the big titles is "Baby Alicia Is Dying." And she wants to know are these popular? She's a school librarian, and says the girls eat them up.

Ms. SKURNICK: Yes, they do. They love those - I actually have "A Summer to Die" in my bag right now. And I have it in my bag because my friend Elizabeth keeps really threatening me to do it for the column. She's like, what's up with "A Summer to Die"? It's time to do that book. I didn't have that particular - that's not my thing. I'm much more about the sort of intergalactic travel books. But these books about death, I mean, they're just like soap operas for teens.

And there really is - you know what? I think it's that childhood is such a time of sort of violent emotions that any release is really wonderful, and it sort of allows your feel the grand import of what's happening, to read these books about death, even though all that might be happening in your life is that you didn't do that well on a math test.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Let's see if we can get one more call in here. We're going to go to Shrudy(ph) calling from Cleveland, Ohio. Hi, Shrudy.

SHRUDY (Caller): Hi.

NEARY: Go ahead.

SHRUDY: Well, I grew up - I guess - right now I'm a 19-year-old college sophomore, and I grew up at the, I guess, the beginning of this YA revolution you're talking about. The first books I really ticked up were "The Baby-Sitters Club" books. And then I quickly transitioned into the "Sweet Valley Twins" books. And I still enjoy reading, like, "Gossip Girl" and (unintelligible) new books and, of course, like "Twilight."

So, it's very interesting to see how, I guess, literature has changed. Definitely, "The Baby-Sitters Club" books were a lot more reserved than, I'd say, what "Gossip Girl" is today. So, I'd like to hear what she thinks about that.

NEARY: Okay. Thanks for your call, Shrudy, and thanks for mentioning "Twilight," which we haven't talked about yet because that's - is that really different from what you were talking about? Or is it just an extension of the kinds of books you're talking about?

Ms. SKURNICK: Oh, I think it's totally different. It's like - "Twilight" to me is much more soap-opery. And by the way, I don't mean as an insult. I mean, the books really span the gamut here. But, yes, it is different.

NEARY: One book you'd recommend before the end of the show?

Ms. SKURNICK: I'm going to stick with "Secret Lives" by Berthe Amoss.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Okay. All right. Lizzie Skurnick is the author of the book "Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading." And to read her essay on the book "Jacob Have I Loved," head to our Web site at and click on TALK OF THE NATION. Good to have you with us, Lizzie.


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