I recently reread Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I first read this book about 40 (!) years ago and although I didn't recall the plot precisely, there were many things about the experience of reading that book that I have retained over the years.
Meg is one of the most memorable protagonists from any book I read as a child. She was strong and willful and awkward and smart, unsure of how she fit in her world -- all characteristics that I identified with.
There were scenes from the book that I've remembered, such as when the children travel to Camazotz and first see the conformity of the townspeople: all of the houses look alike, all of the children bounce their balls at the same time, all of the mothers open their doors and step outside in unison. Driving through many suburban cookie-cutter neighborhoods reminds me of this scene and makes me giggle thinking that there might be some controlling blobby brain dictating their movements. (One could argue that conformity in our society is enforced through marketing and consumerism, rather than some monolithic dictatorial presence, but I think that is a different post.)
But, what I recalled as I read this book were all of the wonderful words that I encountered for the first time when I read this novel when I was 9. Sure there were the scientific words like tessaract that I wasn't even sure existed. A tesseract is, of course, a real word. Although it is theoretical, you'll find an entry in Wikipedia about tesseracts. But, I can't say that I've ever had the opportunity to use tesseract in my writing or daily speech. But, there were other words that I vividly remember looking up in the dictionary and desperately trying to figure out how to use them: wraithlike, antagonistic, raucous, sonorous, propitious, sadist, inexorable. As I came across each of these words I was reminded how I would get up from my favorite reading place and traipse into my grandfather's room to look up the new words in his dictionary. Each word was mysterious and powerful and I wanted each of them to be mine.
A Wrinkle in Time was the first book that I remember challenging me and it may have been the book that made me into a real reader.
What was the book from your childhood that made you love words and love reading?