January 28, 2023

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True Life: I was a dragon book kid

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I can pinpoint the exact day I became a dragon book child. It all started in a Waldenbooks mall. Remember those weekend days as a kid when a trip to the mall was the highlight of your week? I’d count down the days until I could spend my quarters at Mike & Ikes by those glass candy dispensers, eat a Wetzel’s pretzel with a Coke, flip through CDs and DVDs at FYE, and scour the season for an elusive Final Fantasy action character , and of course I spend most of my time wandering the aisles of Waldenbooks.

Oh Waldenbooks how I miss you.

On this special day at Waldenbooks, I was having a hard time finding a new book. I was 9 years old and hadn’t discovered the bookworm internet yet. The scope of my computer time at that time included playing Minesweeper and taking care of my Neopets. The only ways I’ve been able to find good book suggestions have been through my CosmoGirl Magazine subscription, recommendations from family and friends, or the daunting task of reading all the back covers of books in the independent readers and YA sections of the bookstore.

After reading countless blurbs that day without success and feeling grumpy and dissatisfied, I was about to quit. It’s a terrible feeling to leave a bookstore empty-handed.

At that very moment, my mother handed me Anne McCaffrey’s book Dragonflight. This particular copy was the 2002 edition, which includes a collection of beautiful illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi (author and illustrator of The Spiderwick Chronicles with Holly Black).

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As I flipped through the pages of this book, I felt like falling down a rabbit hole. This tale whispered of adventures on an alien planet called Pern, where acid rain called Thread fell from the sky. Dragons and their riders protected the planet by burning deadly rain in the air before it could land and spread through vegetation (think of the poisonous spores in Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind). In Dragonflight we meet an unusual girl named Lessa who is chosen to be the dragon rider of one of the last remaining dragon queens.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki cover

As I flipped through the pages of the book, I felt an inner pull to this story. It’s hard to put into words; It’s that feeling you get when you just know this book feels right. This book feels like me. That’s the day I became a dragon book kid. I had discovered my first book niche.

Reading Dragonflight felt like a pivotal moment in my blossoming life as a reader. I remember coming across challenging words while reading, like “casual,” so I kept a dictionary with me to consult when I stumbled across these new words. A few weeks later, our school distributed the list for our school-wide spelling checker, and I saw that pesky word “casual” pop up again. Startled by the coincidence, I checked the handout again. At the top was a note saying the words came from none other than Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight. It was a sign. I should read this book.

Handling Dragons book cover

After devouring many of the sequels to McCaffrey’s The Chronicles of Pern, I moved on to Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons and The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Next up were Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series and Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina. During my college days, a group of friends and I even started a book club after we bonded over our shared love of Eragon.

Becoming a dragon book kid helped me establish myself in the world of fantasy books. It led me to new book niches hidden in fantasy, including fairy tale retelling and fantasy romance. These began to shape me both as a reader and as a person.

Thinking back to those moments fills me with both nostalgia and affection for the young reader I once was. Finding my way as a dragon book kid felt monumental and formative to me at the time, and it still does. That got me thinking about the idea of ​​book niches.

Cover of the Eragon book

While the term “niche” has a few different meanings, my use of the word dates back to my high school days at AP Environmental Science, when I was learning what a niche meant in relation to ecology. National Geographic defines a niche as “all environmental factors and interspecies relationships that affect the species”. When I think of book niches, I think of them as the range of books, authors, and genres that influence someone and contribute to how they see themselves as a reader and a unique individual.

Just last year my son pulled all the books off my bookshelf (like toddlers are used to). Sitting happily on a mountain of books, he informed me that I have “too many spooky dragon books”. Despite the years and my half-hearted attempts to sort out my collection, I’ve still stuck with my dragon books.

I recently told my mother the story of that fateful day in Waldenbooks when she discovered Dragonflight for me. She said she didn’t remember it well. I replied that sometimes trivial things we do can mean everything to someone else. So thank you mom. Thanks for the suggestion to read Dragonflight. I learned that day that I was a dragon book kid, and I think it’s safe to say I still am now.