In The Reading Mood

Since I was in kindergarten, my moods have directed my reading choices. I literally get a ‘taste’ for a certain kind of book the way you might get a taste for a certain kind of pie. Even when I didn’t completely understand my feelings, the books I read equalized or intensified my moods, resulting in a kind of self-directed literary therapy.

My elementary school library held mostly old, donated books but my mom/reader took us on weekly Saturday trips to pick up newer books at our local library. My moods seemed more black and white then, as did the children’s books available. There were ‘sad’ books that brought on plenty of sighing and a good cry: Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, Lois Lenski’s Strawberry Girl and the “Beth dies” and “Laurie isn’t going to wind up with Jo” parts of Little Women. I still remember the heaviness of the week I spent reading Old Yeller, which made me so sad that it took months of reading only  ‘happy’ books to get over that one fictional dog.

Any of the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace were ‘happy’ books. I read them sprawled on the sofa, under the covers or in the grass laughing as those turn of the century girlfriends lived lives that were so like mine. Noel Streatfield’s “Shoes” books (Ballet Shoes, Theatre Shoes) were happy and so were the Boxcar Children (happy, homeless orphans? God, I love fiction.) Whether reading solid, filling classics like The Secret Garden and A Little Princess or deliciously fluffy book club paperbacks with titles like Elizabeth’s Attic or Candy Striper, I stuffed myself with good mood summer books.

Looking back, my categorizing of children’s books by mood seems illogical: The Five Little Peppers were for happy times, the All of a Kind Family were for sad ones. Little House in the Big Woods? Happy. Little House on the Prairie? Sad.  Nancy Drew was happy; the Bobbsey Twins were decidedly not. The point was that the logic was mine, internal and insistent. Week by week, I chose books that spoke to my moods and left the others on the shelves. Those simple reading choices as a child urged me to listen to myself at a time when I wasn’t able to choose anything: where I lived, what I ate or how I spent most of my time.

Life grew more complex—full of my own choices. I’m a children’s writer and now read young literature as part of my work, not necessarily based on my mood.  Yet, when I read outside of work, I still get a craving for a certain flavor of book. Wistful? Ivan Doig’s The Whistling Season. Ironic? Lamb by Christopher Moore. Contemplative? I just finished Anne Patchett’s State of Wonder and felt serene about writing and the scope of life for days. The wonder of reading, in whatever form, is that there are books that fit us, that fill us—books for every person in any mood: aggravated, bittersweet, curious, drained, envious, flirty, giddy, hyper, irritated, jubilant, kooky, lonely, mischievous, optimistic, pessimistic, quixotic, relaxed, stressed, touched, uncomfortable, venomous, weepy, zany and yes, my favorite mood of all, nerdy.

Barb Rosenstock writes for children. Her latest picture book is The Camping Trip that Changed America, illustrated by Caldecott medalist Mordicai Gerstein (Dial, 2012). She’s a recent convert to the online Nerdy Book Club, but has been a member offline since kindergarten.  More info at