I had a good childhood.
I think it's important to start with that, because I did. My parents divorced when I was young -- I barely remember them being married -- but I knew they both loved me and would do anything for me. My mom made sure I had structure in my life and that I got my homework done; my dad let me stay up late and watch scary movies. At Mom's house, I ate regular, healthy meals; at Dad's house, I ate a lot of sugar, fast food, and the occasional awesome seafood thing he cooked. With my mom, I played with Barbies and and rode my bike all around; with my dad, I played in thunderstorms and lived in a neighborhood where you could tell the time of day by how many gunshots you'd heard.
In spite of the different life I had with each parent, I knew they both wanted to protect me, even if they had different ideas of what kind of protection I needed. But as far as I could tell, neither tried to protect me from one of the things that shaped little Jodi most: books.
Once I learned to love to read (about third grade), I loved to read. My mom took me to the bookstore and library often, and I know she was paying close attention to what I picked out, but I don't remember her telling me no on anything, either. In middle school, I grew to rely on the school librarians for recommendations; I spent all my mornings before class upstairs in the library because it was quiet and the librarians would talk to me about the books I was reading. (I wish I remembered their names. I want them to know how important they were to me.)
Because of all these influences in my life, and all these people who encouraged my reading habit, I was able to learn about other people's lives from the safety of home/school/wherever.
From WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS (Wilson Rawls) and countless books by Bill Wallace, I learned about the pain of losing a pet long before I had to experience it myself.
From I AM REGINA (Sally M. Keehn), I learned about violence, kidnapping, scalping (!), and overcoming incredible grief.
From ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY (Mildred D. Taylor) and NUMBER THE STARS (Lois Lowry), I learned about racism and family.
From ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS (Scott O'Dell), I learned about survival and self-sufficiancy. I learned about grief and loneliness and the power of hope.
In seventh grade, my English teacher (Mrs. Talmadge -- yay, I remembered a name!) read WAIT TILL HELEN COMES (Mary Downing Hahn) to the class. It changed my life. Why? The. Ghost. Was. Real. (Previously, all the "ghost stories" I'd read had a logical scientific explanation. I was crushed by the absence of real ghosts, as you can imagine.) This book made me want to write. In fact, the very first story I ever wrote was a shameless copy of WTHC, which I showed to my mom and teacher. They were both proud of me, in spite of the whole shameless copy thing.
After that, my world split wide open with books like WINTER OF FIRE (Sherryl Jordan), A WRINKLE IN TIME (Madeleine L'Engle), THE GIVER (Lois Lowry), and THE BLUE SWORD and THE HERO AND THE CROWN (Robin McKinley).
I read all of these books in elementary/middle school, though some are aimed at an older audience. These books had post-apocalyptic scenarios, absolute evil, killing children, dragons, kidnapping, epic battles. There was kissing, awkwardly sexy situations, and one overwhelming and life-changing message that stayed the same no matter what book I was reading, and no matter how dark or scary the book's story:
None of these books traumatized me. None of them caused me to lose sleep -- (Mom, don't read this part) except for the normal reading under the covers with a flashlight, or lying awake replaying scenes from the book in my head -- and none of them desensitized me to the horrors of the real word. Rather, they helped prepare me for the real world, and showed me new ways of thinking. Reading about lives I would never -- could never -- experience helped shape me into a more sympathetic and loving person, because I'd experienced those lives through fiction.
These books have darkness. Books I read for school have darkness.
The darkness does not win.
As I said at the beginning, I had a good childhood. There were sad parts, scary parts, and parts of incredible joy. Lots of children grow up knowing only one kind of life, whether that's a good or bad or in between life. I had two lives in the real world. Books gave me hundreds.