The Five Most Influential Books Guiding My Early Life

In honor of Book Lover’s Day on August 9th,  it seemed like a good time to talk about books and some of what they have meant to me over the years.

My reading adventures began at a very early age. Diagnosed with a bone disease at age two and going on crutches and then into a wheelchair for several years at age three, my mother took it upon herself to develop a love of books and reading with me, starting at a time earlier than I can remember. By the time I entered school, I was already reading several levels ahead of classmates.

Looking back, I readily recall five books that not only changed my life, but also continue to influence the interests, choices, and decisions I make today.  And that is why I am such a staunch supporter of children’s literacy, advocating reading to children from the earliest age, helping them to get started reading, and then continuing reading with them well after they are reading on their own to show continued interest and guidance.

          “Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.”  – George Bernard Shaw

The five books most instrumental in guiding my life were –

  • “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper. I do not know how many (hundreds?) of times this story was read to me and later by me over the years, but the lesson for a young boy in a wheelchair was clear – “Never give up and you can make it over the mountain, too!”
  • “The Legends of Davy Crockett” put out by Walt Disney. Looking back, the story may have been sanitized a bit by Disney, but the examples were clear, and what better early hero for a young boy growing up in the 1950s than Davy Crockett. His motto became a guide thru later life – “Be always sure you’re right – then go ahead.”
  • “Hammond’s Nature Encyclopedia of America” from 1960. This large book, ordered thru the mail by my Mother, complete with 320 original painting illustrations became my introduction and foundation for the study of the natural world, with detailed pictures and information on everything from minerals and rocks to every classification of animal, geography, trees and plants, climate and more. It was the largest book I had ever seen. I lived with this book in my lap, studying all the wonders of nature, forming a life-long interest and passion.
  • “The Boy Scout Handbook” – This book became my constant study guide for years thru the Boy Scouts, ultimately reaching the rank of Eagle Scout. Thru this book and the scouts, I learned independence, leadership, and a way of life built on character and service to others, while also greatly advancing my interests in the natural world, the wilderness, and conservation.
  • “Two Years Before the Mast” – A memoir written by the American author Richard Henry Dana Jr. and published in 1840, captivated my imagination like no other book I had read before. By this time, I had already read “Moby Dick”, “Tom Sawyer”, and “Huckleberry Finn”, all beloved classics, especially those and others by Mark Twain, my favorite storytelling author. But I was familiar with all those stories before reading the books. “Two Years Before the Mast”, recalling a two-year sea voyage from Boston to California on a merchant ship starting in 1834, was a fresh story and greatly impressed upon me how powerful and fun storytelling could be.

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” – Marcel Proust

That is why I love books and developing a life-long love of reading with children. Books have quite simply and profoundly impacted and changed my life.  An old saying goes — “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  I believe the same about books.

I can see clearly now how these five books have worked together, each contributing their parts, to both form the foundation and heavily influence my “The Adventures of Little Red Bear” stories, combining nature and conservation themes with good old-fashioned family and Boy Scout values, with white-knuckled fun and adventurous storytelling to keep it interesting. Mark Twain helps a lot, too.

So – Happy Book Lover’s Day!  I encourage you to make a nice cup of tea (or beverage of choice) and sit down with a good book today.  And if there is a little one around, grab them up for a reading session, too. If open to suggestions, check out “The Adventures of Little Red Bear!”  Just sayin’.

Thanks as always for reading and visiting with us!

Be the reason someone smiles and reads a good book today!  — Jim (and Red!)  🤠 🐻

If you enjoyed this piece, you may also enjoy → “I Will Greet This Day With Love In My Heart”.

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“So it is with children who learn to read fluently and well: They begin to take flight into whole new worlds as effortlessly as young birds take to the sky.” — William James

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”     — Jacqueline Kennedy

Meet Little Red Bear & His Friends —  “Once Upon A Time In A Very Special Woods . . . .”

Old-fashioned, Family-friendly Stories and Fun for All Ages! 
About an Uncommonly Special Bear and His Friends.

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10 thoughts on “The Five Most Influential Books Guiding My Early Life

  1. Totally agree. My parents got my brother and I a lot of books growing up. They used to read to us before bed. I still have most of my childhood books because they had a huge impact on my life. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for visiting with us and for your kind comments, Auden! I still have many of my childhood books as well, enjoyed over the years by my older sister’s five children and then by my own. Books truly are timeless! 🤠 🐻 ❤️


  2. James, your illness as a child reminds me of a young Robert Louis Stevenson, who also was homebound and dreamed great dreams; wrote great stories as he grew. I LOVE Little Engine That Could! It’s a metaphor to me of never giving up despite the odds. Bet you had a coonskin cap like Davey Crocket -:D!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for visiting, Cat! Very close with your guess. I did indeed have a “coonskin”, given to me by my uncle Paul who was later instrumental in teaching me how to tie my own flies and fly fish and conservation of the outdoors. So I did truly have the skin for many, many years, but it never reached the stage of being made into a cap. LOL! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a truly touching blog James. I applaud your mother for instilling a love of reading at such a young age, something I am trying to do with my little guy. I love the quote “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” -Cicero

    I remember as a child my mother reading the Little House on the Prairie books. She would read them until I fell asleep. Some of my earliest memories with books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for visiting, Carmela! I honestly do not remember how early my Mother started reading to me, because as long as I can remember — she was. A great gift that I tried to pass on to my own four children later. It’s never too early to start reading to little ones, and more and more research indicates the importance of continuing to read WITH them long after they are reading on their own. 🙂


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