Put the Books Down by Morgan Echtenkamp

Like many of The Nerdy Book Club enthusiasts, I come from a house that was crazy about books. Reading was always part of our daily lives.

My mom read mysteries and thrillers and my dad always had a western close at hand, which accounts for the boxes of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour paperbacks that were stacked in the basement. My brother, sister, and I always ended our day on the couch or in Mom and Dad’s bed with several good books. Our reading experiences didn’t stop there. After the last page was turned and we went off to bed, thoughts of our favorite books persistently followed us into the rest of our lives.

roxaboxenOne of the books we carried with us for years was a copy of Roxaboxen. Hearing how Marian, Alice, and the gang created their own city out of nothing but rocks inspired us. In a little over a week we had our own city built. We had to make some slight changes, limited by our supplies, but soon Bricks-a-boxen was a living, breathing city. We had stores, houses, a jail, a bakery, and a school. Each time we reread the book, we came up with a new idea to add to our brick-laden city. The moment we stepped off the school bus, we’d throw our bags in the door and eagerly race to the pine trees, where our city awaited. One of the most honorable positions I have held in my life was that of elected Mayor Morgan of Bricks-a-boxen. The influence of this great book on our childhood was so memorable that when our children were born they all received a copy Roxaboxen for their first Christmas.

In fourth grade my teacher read The Bridge to Terabithia to my class. Half of our class was in tears the day we finished the book. The magical world of Terabithia became an obsession; I couldn’t stop talking about it. Before long, the book made it into our rotation of read-alouds at home. My brother and I were outside on an adventure when we discovered the perfect place to recreate our Terabithia. We spent every free moment that summer down at the two-foot wide stream by our house exploring the magical land that had come alive in our book.

To this day, one of my brother’s favorite books is Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. After reading this book, we were constantly surviving a plane crash only to learn we were alone in the wilderness. We cut down trees (really just small twigs), hunted rabbits (but never caught any), and built a fort (a triangle of boards) with a dull, rusty hatchet my dad had let us use with caution.

After I read the Little House on the Prairie series, our old chicken coup became a hand built cabin in the endless grassland of the Midwest. My brother used his toy gun to protect us from animal attacks and provide food. My sister and I worked in a garden and took care of our beloved, though imaginary, horses. Even our family dog had a role to play, as Jack, the Ingalls family’s beloved dog. Countless hours would be spent back in time in our little house on the prairie.

These are just a few of the books that influenced our playtime growing up. Letting these treasured books seep into every crevice of our lives happened naturally; they were stories we fell in love with and that stuck with us long after the cover was closed. They inspired us to explore our world to its fullest and allowed for memorable experiences that we still cherish.

Now that I have a daughter of my own and both of my siblings have children, I often wonder what will be the great adventure books for their generation. Which gripping stories will leave them captivated as we had been, allowing their imaginations to flourish? What worlds will they want to step into and recreate? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of the same books that made such an impact on my siblings and I have the same effect on our children. With so many amazing books being published, I’m sure they’ll find some new ones too. Maybe, Liesl Shurtliff’s Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin will inspire them to create a magical fairyland with some major issues; or Ashley Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing will give them the desire to create something new; or perhaps Cynthia DeFelice’s Wildlife will send them on their own wild adventure of survival.

Our kids are still young and their current favorites involve touch-and-feel or popup books, but one of the aspects of their growing up I am looking forward to the most is watching how books shape the way they play.

Parents, teachers, and librarians, go ahead…Let them put books down. You might be surprised what will happen after the last page is turned. The experience the book provides may be far from over.


Morgan Echtenkamp currently enjoys exploring the world of good books in Blair, Nebraska (home of Bricks-a-boxen). She currently teaches middle school English and is pursuing her school library certification. When she isn’t teaching, reading, or studying, she enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads as @mechtenkamp.