My First Favorite Book


Every reader I know has a favorite book, one that he can’t help gushing over. Ask me about mine and I’m no different. My eyes wander off into a fantasy land and I’ll start talking too fast, trying to stuff as many thrilling details (without giving away the good parts) into a single breath before you panic and run away to read something safe, like Dan Brown. It’s a weird combination of car salesman and religious zealot, and it’s all because of the love of a book. Every time I’m invited to speak to a school group or book club, the question comes up. But today someone asked me a slightly different question…what was my first favorite book!

When I was young, there weren’t malls everywhere. Going shopping was a planned event that took up the entire day and usually required dressing up. On the occasional Saturday, my parents would drive us into the city to go shopping at the big department stores. Thalheimer’s, Belk and Miller and Rhodes were bastions of glittering treasure, and deep in the heart of these stores was always a book section. I would spend forever choosing the one book that I’d been told I could buy, and nothing attracted me more than books by Marguerite Henry. She wrote a series of wonderful children’s books about famous horses like the Goldolphin Arabian and the Lippizan stallions. But the one that held my heart, the first book I remember treasuring, was Misty of Chincoteague.

Misty of Chincoteague tells the story of a very special Assateague pony and the family that adopted her. For those few who don’t already know about it, Chincoteague and Assateague are islands off the coast of Virginia. Assateague is a wildlife preserve that is home to herds of wild ponies. In order to keep the population at healthy levels, members of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department round up the ponies, herd them across the channel to Chincoteague and hold an auction to raise money. In the story, Misty was a foal sired by Pied Piper, out of a dam called Phantom, two horses that could never be rounded up no matter how the men tried. I loved the story for many reasons, not least of which was the title. I spent a number of years utterly convinced my parents had named me for the pony instead of the song.

I’m much older and wiser now, and have different books that I’d call my favorite. But Misty of Chincoteague nevertheless holds a special place in my heart, and always will. I read it to my son, and I plan to read it to my niece when she’s old enough to understand. My son didn’t love it the way I did (his first favorite book was the Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda) and my niece may love something else entirely. But I still look forward to offering my favorite to her. At least she won’t believe she was named for a pony. A lost Russian grand duchess, now…

What was your first favorite book?


24 comments to My First Favorite Book

  • I would go in spurts of reading as a kid. I remember Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators being big with me for awhile and Poe’s various tales of horror, but the first book I truly loved, one that clearly influenced me enough to get into genre fiction, was Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy. I don’t even recall the tale in that much detail anymore (it’s been almost 30 yrs since I read it), but I have images in my mind that will never go away.

  • I read mostly history books and encylopedias (Worldbook was my favorite) when I was young. However, my first favorite fiction book would have to be the original telling of Buck Rogers- not the TV series with Twiggy, but the original book. It had Buck travel to the future to help humans fight a rebellion against “Mongol” aliens. It was great fun and sparked my interest in Sci-Fi.

  • I remember loving the old Encyclopedia Brown books (this was late 70s) and reading a lot of biographies and archaeology books. And of course, in fourth grade, my friends and I “found” The Hobbit and were ruined for life. A friend and I then tried to read LOTR and immediately collaborated on a horrible ripoff of both The Hobbit and LOTR that took us until 8th grade to finish. I still have it, and it’s funny and horrible.

  • I don’t really think I had a favorite book when I was younger. But I seem to remember being very into the Boxcar Children series of mysteries for a few years. I think I read up to #109, or so?

  • Well, aside from the first children’s books I’d read like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and things like that, the first book that sticks strongest in my mind and always pops up when people talk about their firsts would have to be The Elfstones of Shannara.

    I can actually still remember the time I got it. It wasn’t till later that I read the first part of Stormbringer (and then the rest of the Elric series when I bought them) The first two books of the War of Powers by Vardeman/Milan, one of the Green Star Saga novels. It’s not to say that I hadn’t read some fantasy before or that I wasn’t into fantasy already. I was roleplaying maybe a couple years before that and my Mom had let me stay up on school nights while my younger cousins had to go to bed so that I could watch The Martian Chronicles miniseries. I’d also read some Xanth novels before this point, the first being The Source of Magic. Still, this book sticks in my head as the first big fantasy novel that I not only read cover to cover but picked out myself.

    It was the cover that first caught my eye. We were in a Kroger doing our grocery shopping. We didn’t have a lot of money back then–heck or at any time truthfully–yet I really wanted this book. It was the young man with the glowing “something” in his hand, which had to be the Elfstones mentioned on the cover, and the ranger-like bowman standing at the ready with this mysterious, cloaked girl with reddish hair standing behind them, their backs to a closed oak door set into a stone wall, while they looked across what looks to be a bridge, wariness plain on their faces. What were they waiting for? What were those stones going to do? Who were these people? I had to find out. It didn’t help matters when I read the little excerpt on the first page. I took the book to my Mom, who I think was also sort of intrigued by the cover, and I begged to get it. It was one of those “I really gotta have it” moments and she eventually put it in the cart.

    I think I started reading it as soon as we got home. It was epic. Having read Xanth novels, which are far more personal in some respects, this was what I thought of as the next level. Granted, I’d never read Tolkien (didn’t read those till much, much later), but I loved the heart pounding chases and escapes, the battles, the alliances and betrayals, the powerful demon creatures, the gathering of the armies of the races to battle the demon hordes, the nick-of-time arrivals of units, and it was the first book I’d read that had a bitter-sweet ending. I think I was twelve.

    I’ve still got the book. It’s seen better days. I’ve read it dozens of times and the cover’s now being held on with masking tape. The lower corner of the cover is gone, and one of the pages in the back is torn but still readable because both halves are still attached to the spine. It’s been in many a book bag and is possibly my first real favorite as far as fantasy novels go.

  • Emily

    When I was very little it was the Velveteen Rabbit–a book I still LOVE today. Then, I started really reading a lot more in about 5th grade. And I read the stuff on my mom’s shevles, which was a lot of horror. I read a lot of Steven King, and Clive Barker (and frankly I think I was too young to read the Damnation Game when I read it, but oh well).

    Then, in high school, I ended up loving Piers Anthony’s “For Love of Evil” out of the Incarnations of Immortality series. My mom got me “Being a Green Mother” first, I don’t know why she picked it up for me while she was at the bookstore, but she did. Then I read the whole series, and I loved the one about the devil. It also made me feel smart because I was in hs and “got” the Dante references. For someone who eventually went on to grad school in English lit (yes, I know Dante is Italian) it makes sense that “getting” that reference at that age would delight me.

    Now, my favorite is Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett. Really, any of his books with Vimes I love. But, this one I’ve read over and over, and I teach it (which is hard because I have to fight the impulse to say “isn’t this so cool!?!” when that isn’t really a productive discussion leading question.)

  • @Stuart – Loved the Three Investigators books. Not sure how it came about, but it became a big thing for Mom to read them aloud to my little brother, my step father and me when I was maybe 13 or so. I ended up finding them again a few years later at the library and reading some of them again. Now I can’t find them at the library hardly at all. I think the main library here has maybe three of them. I’d love to see those revived somehow.

  • Early on I’m sure Clifford the Big Red Dog, The Cat in the Hat, and Curious George were favorites, though I don’t recall exactly when. The first conscious favorite was when I found Lloyd Alexander’s “The Black Cauldron.” After reading this, I searched for more Fantasy and found “The Hobbit.” After that, it was David Eddings’ Belgariad.

  • One of my daughters loved Misty of Chincoteague; can’t remember which one. My first favorite book was ARE YOU MY MOTHER? My first favorite that was something other than Dr. Seuss or Richard Scarry was probably Sterling North’s RASCAL. I loved LOTR and was darkly fascinated by the Thomas Covenant books, but for a long time my favorite fantasy books were the three Fionavar books by Guy Gavriel Kay. Then I read TIGANA and that became my favorite. Still is, probably.

  • I’d have to say, once I got into reading, at a pretty young age – at the insistence of my older brother who forcibly sat me down and demanded I read something and then tell him what I had just read to make sure I was actually paying attention to the words on the page – the first book I remember really immersing myself in was A Cricket In Times Square. Encyclopedia Brown soon followed.

    But then, just a short while later one of my uncle’s came to visit and he was so excited about these books about Hobbits. So, my older brother read The Hobbit and then passed it to me. I remember a really big snow storm on Easter back in the early 1970s. We were in the car on our way to my mother’s parents for Easter dinner (an obligatory annual event) and my brother read aloud the first sentence of the chapter A Long Expected Party. Hearing the eleventy-one reference was all I needed to know I had to read these books.

    And that was it. To this day, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion stand as my favorites.

    Next came Narnia, then The Earthsea Trilogy. After that I stumbled across this Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke and that launched my interest in Science Fiction. Andre Norton is the one who brought me back into Fantasy with her Witch World books (which are really a combination of fantasy and science fiction), just in time for Lord Foul’s Bane and the rest of the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I was sick at the time and in the hospital for a week. I had just bought the first book and my mother went out and found the next two and brought them to me in the hospital. I read through them in a day and a half. It hasn’t been easy but I’m holding out until the 4th and final book of the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is published before I launch back into that series. Knowing how much foreshadowing Donaldson does, I know I’m going to have to re-read the first 2 trilogies to refresh my memory.

    As for Tigana, I just purchased that recently since I’ve heard so much praise for it. At the moment I’m reading Brian Ruckley’s Godless World trilogy so Kay’s book is in the TBR pile.

  • Mickey

    As soon as you mentioned Misty, my eyes welled up in glee! Before fantasy, I was a real pony girl, and that book was one of my absolute favorites. But my ultimate favorite was probably good old Black Beauty.
    Once I discovered fantasy, my three favorites were Harry Potter, Deltora Quest, and Eragon. I the main characters of each book the triumvirate of awesome (though I don’t think I used the word triumvirate).
    I always loved fairy tales, folklore, and mythology and lately its all I have been reading.

  • Mikaela

    Ooh. I read Misty of Chincoteague too :D. I found a copy , can’t remember where :).

    At that age, I read a lot of horse novels. And Sue Harrison’s novels. I still have them somewhere. And The Long Ships by Frans G Bengtsson.

    But favorite novel? I cannot really say.

  • I’m a second-generation fantasy and science fiction reader, so I was exposed to a lot of my dad’s books and it’s a real haze as to what my first favorite book was. I don’t think I actually got into Dad’s collection until I was about nine or ten. I remember reading THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY and a few random Amber books by Zelazny in fifth grade.

    But when I was eight, two books came into my life and I don’t know which was first: Tamora Pierce’s IN THE HAND OF THE GODDESS and Robin McKinley’s THE BLUE SWORD.

    IN THE HAND OF THE GODDESS was probably my true first favorite (even though it wasn’t the first in its series, I remember that my dad grabbed it off a library shelf and said, “You’re taking this out”), but THE BLUE SWORD has remained my favorite of all time, especially as I’ve grown up.

    Before that, I was all over fairy tales and mythology (especially Greek), because collectively, they were the prototype for my love of fantasy.

  • Megan Haskell

    I loved Misty! I also collected horse figurines when I was little, and I had one of Misty from the Breyer horse collection…

    I was a voracious reader when I was a kid (still am). In fact, my Mom had to ground me from reading in order to get me to do my chores. I’m not kidding. You can ask her. So I had a lot of favorites.

    In elementary school I remember loving the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books. I read a ton of them. I also remember reading the Hardy Boys. In 5th or 6th grade I read The Hobbit and then LOTR, which got me started on fantasy. Then I was on to dragon stories, particularly Anne McCaffrey’s books. In high school I got hooked on the Anita Blake series. In retrospect, I was probably too young to be reading Laurell K Hamilton, but my Mom had no idea what they were about other than vampires. Between Anne Rice and LKH, I became addicted to urban fantasy (not that Anne Rice would have necessarily considered herself and urban fantasy writer, but I digress) and haven’t looked back since!

  • I haven’t read Misty in long time. I’ll have to get it out of the library.

    My first favorite book was Indian Captive by Lois Lenski. I still re-read it every couple years. I love her illustrations, too.

  • Dino

    Fur Magic by Andre Norton.
    The first book I bought for myself, at a RIF program at school.
    Andre signed that copy for me many years ago, and while I have quite a few books that are more valuable, few are closer to my heart.

  • Sarah

    Oh Misty! It’s been years since I read Marguerite Henry, but even now, finding a fellow Misty of Chincoteague fan makes me want to squeal with glee and hug you. I got to see the Outer Banks last summer and the whole point of the trip for me was to see the ponies on the islands even if we weren’t on Assateauge itself. Hans Brinker and the Silver Skate was an early favorite too – I didn’t read it to myself, but my mom read it over and over as a bedtime story. I can still picture the little sister walking up and down to keep from freezing to death while her father is having brain surgery inside the cottage. I was horribly disappointed this year when I found a copy and re-read it. Apparently my mother had read me a highly edited version in which she skipped all the boring, moral lectures on how to be a good child and got to the good stuff. (Go Mom!)

    And the Crane Wife picture book by an author I can’t remember. It had beautiful watercolor illustrations and I would read it over and over. I couldn’t explain to myself then why I liked such a sad and beautiful story and I’m not sure I could now, but I am sure it fed my love of fantasy.

    LOTR, sci-fi and fantasy didn’t happen for me until I was in my teens when a kindly librarian literally led me by the hand out of the children’s wing of the library and far back into the adult stacks where all the Sci-Fi was kept in a little alcove of its own. Bless you, librarian. I wish I knew your name.

  • All the horse books in THE BLACK STALLION series…
    Misty of Chincoteague too …
    If it had a horse in it, I read it.
    You made my eyes tear up…

  • Tom G

    Huckleberry Finn, the author’s name escapes me at the moment. HA! Serious, great book.

  • Daniel, I didn’t read Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day until I was an adult, working with preschoolers. My students loved it, but I dissolve into tears every time. That and The Polar Express. I love ’em, just can’t read them out loud.

    Megan said, I had one of Misty from the Breyer horse collection…
    I still have mine!!! It’s in a box at my mother’s house, right next to my King of the Wind figure. 😀

    Sarah said, …but even now, finding a fellow Misty of Chincoteague fan makes me want to squeal with glee and hug you!
    *hugs* You know, when I lived in Virginia I used to beg my parents to take me to Chincoteague for Pony Penning, but somehow there was just never a chance. Now I realize they were afraid they would end up taking a pony home…

  • I was going to say I had no real favorites, but then I thought of a few. The Lord of the Rings came almost immediately to mind, as did Bored of the Rings. Others include Stranger in a Strange Land; Farmham’s Freehold; Red Moon, Black Mountain; The Grey Mane of Morning; Sioux Spaceman; The Illearth War. One of my most recent favorites is Much Fall of Blood by the trioka of Eric Flint, David Freer, and Mercedes Lackey. However, it’s only available as an e-arc from Baen books.

    And speaking of as yet not really available books, there’s a new story on Baen’s Bar Slush, The Conjure Man. Needs a bit of fleshing out and could be profitably expanded to 100,000 words. So I might be in on the very beginning of another favorite book. I hope so.

    There you have a few of my favorite books.

  • I remember reading Misty of Chincoteague, but I can’t remember anything about it. I also remember reading a lot of Beverly Cleary when I was in elementary school. I devoured the Ralph Mouse books, but I thought the format of Dear Mr. Henshaw was more clever.

  • Megan Haskell

    Misty – You made me think back to where my horse collection is now, and I bet my mom still has it all! I’m going to have to ask her…

  • Hey! I read that book…I can even remember where! I was at the Naval Commissary in Philly waiting for my mom to finish shopping! I loved that book!