To know me is to look at my bookshelves....
1. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary - the book that started it all. Read this in Kindergarten (the second time - I had to repeat this grade due to a move that included losing my school records). Re-reading this book a couple of years ago helped me gain patience when dealing with my kids because it reminded me that little people need understanding as much (or more so) than they can understand at the time. Ramona was NOT the chose one, she was not the popular or fashionable one, she was the rest of us and that was okay with her.
2. Double Love (Sweet Valley High #1)/Secrets (Sweet Valley High #2)/Dear Sister (Sweet Valley High #6) created by Francine Pascal - I bought the first two books in the series the summer between first and second grade. My mom didn't notice that these books were rated for sixth grade (12 years) or older, she was just happy I was entertained by myself. The third book has the first "intimate" scene I have read (at age 8 - what would Ramona think?) and it has stayed with me long after I have read a ton of racier stuff - the scene where Bruce Patman gets to second base with Elizabeth Wakefield is by now the stuff of SV legend. I ended up reading any book in the series I could get at the school and public libraries and then moved on to the first eight books of Sweet Valley University by the time I hit 13 years old.
And because everything is new again, I now listen to two podcasts that go book by book through the series and we (podcast hosts and listeners alike) think - WHY DID I READ THIS STUFF? So much toxic masculinity....
3. The Fowlers of Sweet Valley (Sweet Valley Historical Sagas #3) created by Francine Pascal - this book is special to me because it was my first historical romance book and it told the story of events in French history from the French point of view without adding in American or British biases into it. This is where I learned about French resistance during the World Wars - not my history books/class. I became a bit of Francophile in my teens and ended up taking five years of French (8th - 12th grades) because of this book.
4. Kristy's Big Idea (The Babysitter's Club #1) by Ann M. Martin - this book started the series that was 180 degrees from Sweet Valley and the idealized California life in the 1980s. Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Dawn, Jessie, Mallory and the others were much more relatable to a kid growing up in NJ and PA. And surprising for kid lit in the 1980s, really diverse - disability/medical conditions (Stacey has diabetes), Asian-American family (Claudia and her family, including her grandmother who was in the internment camps of the 1940s) are just two examples of how Martin gave real girls a voice within the series.
5. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare - for me this is the story of Benedick and Beatrice and the rest of the cast is just there to witness their awesome banter and saving Hero. This is the play that made me realize I really love the enemies-to-lovers trope.