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?