Literary First Loves

Here in Workman HQ’s Kids Collective, we are always considering BIG questions. What scares you the most? (Enter Julie Winterbottom’s Frightlopedia) Who would sell more girl scout cookies: William Shakespeare or Frederick Douglass? (One point for Who Wins?) How does a Frisbee fly? (Thank you, The Book of Wildly Spectacular Sports Science) These are tough, right? We never would have thought the toughest was yet to come as we neared Valentine’s Day: Who was your literary first love? This question stumped the biggest brains and the biggest hearts that make up our kids department, and frankly, we’re not surprised. Was our literary first love Logan, a.k.a. Mary Anne’s boyfriend in The Baby-Sitters Club series, or the awesome female characters who made up the American Girl series?

While we’re left to contemplate this monumental debate, we hope you enjoy the spirited responses below.

♥  Paddington Bear from Michael Bond’s A Bear Called Paddington Bear

Paddington was my first friend crush. He’s so brave and independent. Plus he likes marmalade, which as a kid felt so cool and sophisticated to me. I aspired to be that bear. I even asked my parents for a toggle hook coat. None of my real friends will ever live up to Paddington.

—Justin Krasner, Associate Editor of Children’s Books at Workman

♥  Clarence Yojimbo from Daniel Pinkwater’s Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars

When I was nine years old, I was obsessed with Clarence Yojimbo, an extremely minor character in Daniel Pinkwater’s 1979 classic Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars. Yojimbo only shows up in a couple of scenes and should probably be the least memorable part of the book, but I absolutely idolized him. A folk-singing outlaw biker who hung out with monks, Yojimbo was in some ways a nonsensical combination of late-seventies counter-cultural signals—but he was also from Venus! I’d met so many fictional characters from Mars (including the titular Alan Mendelsohn, of course), but never before one from Earth’s sister planet. The fact that Yojimbo was a bit of a con artist, ripping off the book’s narrator to get gas money to New York, sailed right over my head. I wanted to meet Clarence Yojimbo. I wanted to be like Clarence Yojimbo. I was nine, and didn’t know how to go about it, but like any self-respecting nine-year-old boy, I was busy planning for the future.

If things had gone differently for me, perhaps I would have grown up to ride in a biker gang. Instead, it would be many years before I stopped telling people I came from Venus.

—Hal Johnson, author of Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods

Burl from Cynthia Voigt’s Jackaroo

I loved reading Cynthia Voigt books when I was a kid. The way that she draws you into her stories and gets you to love her characters is remarkable. The story centers around Gwyn, an innkeeper’s daughter who doesn’t want to follow the path that everyone expects her to take. She ends up donning the disguise of Jackaroo, a legendary Robin Hood type of character, and fighting the rich to save the poor. I wanted to be Gwyn. She was so daring and clever and noble and so much fun to read about. Burl was one of the workers at the inn and, throughout the book, Gwyn begins to fall in love with him. So, naturally since I wanted to be her, I had a big crush on Burl, too. He was sweet and noble, just like Gwyn. And he saves her life in the end, which is always makes a character a little more crush-worthy. But the thing that I really liked about Burl was the admiration and respect that he had for Gwyn as the interesting, brave, vibrant person she was. That’s something that we all deserve.

—Larissa Hopwood, co-author of Move!

Klaus Baudelaire from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events 

It’s hard for me to think of my first crush on a character when I am surrounded by my daughter Rowan’s current literary love, Klaus Baudelaire. After a particularly rough year, I decided that it was time to introduce her to the tragic, clever, marvelous, brave, and witty Baudelaires. Klaus, the middle child, is an avid reader, and his knowledge and curiosity, combined with the inventing skills of his older sister and the biting skills of his younger sister, save the children’s lives time and time again. Klaus gets discouraged sometimes as the kids go on their journey. I think that’s something that Rowan could relate to as she was reading. And I think that’s why we get so attached to characters. They help us to feel less lonely as we are going through tough times. It’s exciting to watch Rowan connect so strongly with characters in books. Being able to witness someone else go through that process is wonderful.

—Larissa Hopwood, on behalf of her daughter, Rowan

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