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January 1, 2015

Jennifer S. Holland on the Best Book She Ever Got

Posted by emily

Jennifer S. Holland’s deep love for animals is apparent in all her work: bestsellers UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIPS, UNLIKELY LOVES and, most recently, UNLIKELY HEROES, which includes 37 amazing stories about the inspiring heroism of animals. Also apparent is her deep love for writing. Here, Jennifer shares that, although she was thrilled to get all kinds of books when she was a kid, the best book she ever got was one with blank pages inside it.

New books, when I was a kid, were better than candy. I remember in fourth grade, once a month, we’d get an order form with a list of new titles on it, and we could pick whatever we wanted to buy. At home, Mom would write out the check and sign in her perfectly neat script, and I’d deliver that prize to Ms. Elkhammer (later Mrs. Vitantonio) the next day. Then, one thrilling day soon, we’d come to class to see those brown boxes stacked by the teacher’s desk. When Ms. E/Mrs. V called your name, you could go up and help her assemble your precious stack. The smell of the new books, their covers unmarred and smooth pages still bound up tight, gave them such promise. I loved those days. I couldn’t wait to get home and start reading.

Holidays were also a time of books. I remember at an early birthday ripping open SWIMMY and THE STORY OF FERDINAND; at another WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS; still later it would be two or three Nancy Drew mysteries and THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, and finally the young-adult favorites that we simply called “the Judy Blumes.” Something I did then that I don’t do now is read a book over and over and over again, until I could recite passages and tell you on what page a certain thing happened. (Confession: When I graduated to Blume’s FOREVER, it was the pages with sex scenes that stuck in my mind. I think I could still turn to them. Page 85 definitely had something racy on it. Page 112, too, perhaps.)

But most memorable was a book my grandmother gave me when I was around nine years old. It was a book with lines but no words. A blank slate. I think it had a pink-flowered vinyl cover, the smell of which I can conjure up but not quite describe. Hot, sweet, dusty, plastic, maybe? Something like that. She knew I liked to write short stories --- mostly slightly mystical, overwrought fiction that, I suppose for my age, wasn’t too horrible --- and she was always my biggest fan, asking to read the latest and then raving about it to my mother. She wanted me to keep it up. So, this was my book, where my stories would live, she said. There was probably a pretty colored pen, too. The book, though, was the thing. Like those books ordered at school, it smelled special and held great promise. My promise.

And I remember my grandmother telling me something very specific after I opened the package with the empty diary inside. She said, “Keep filling those pages with stories and ideas and someday you’ll be writing articles for National Geographic.” Really. She said that. When I was nine.

Sadly, she died before her prediction came to pass. But somehow, I think she knows she was right.