The best books from my childhood

As a kid, I was always reading. I remember going to the library with my mom and coming home with an armful of books stacked up to my chin. I did normal kid things, like watching TV and playing video games, but I devoted the most time to reading.

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Here are some of the books I enjoyed reading over and over again in elementary and middle school. It has been over a decade since I read some of them, so I’m a little vague on the details, but I remember reading these books repeatedly.

Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman

In second grade I decided I wanted to be a meteorologist when I grew up (which didn’t happen, but that’s a story for another day). I was fascinated by severe weather and this book was right up my alley. Night of the Twisters tells the story of Dan, who is home alone with his baby brother when a tornado barrels through. The action is all up front, and he spends the rest of the book trying to find his mother and friends in the severely damaged town. I was old enough to think about how terrifying this would be, and it instilled a sense of deep respect and fear of the forces of nature in 8-year-old me.

The Jewel Kingdom Series by Jahnna N. Malcolm

This young reader fantasy series is one of the first I remember becoming obsessed with. Four princesses live in four different kingdoms, and each is associated with a different jewel/power. I remember the last book in the series came with a special charm bracelet, and I wore the crap out of that thing!

Various American Girl series by various authors

I was the proud owner of a few American Girl dolls and I was an avid reader of the books as well. My favorite doll and character was Molly, who grew up during World War II. While age-appropriate, the books introduced difficult topics like war, poverty, and class differences that appear in American history. I tried to look for these books online, but they, like my American Girl dolls, have been discontinued! (Call me old-fashioned, but the “vintage” covers look so much better than the modern ones.)

Island and Everest Series by Gordon Korman

Other books relating to nature were these two trilogies. Island tells the story of a group of kids who becomes stranded on an island after a storm capsizes their boat. In the Everest series, a group of young, elite climbers attempts to climb the world’s tallest mountain. In both series, there is danger, desperation and death. I read these page-turners over and over again.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Throughout this series, the nefarious Count Olaf hatches plans to steal the fortune of the Baudelaire orphans. However, as the series progresses, things become more complex and sinister. What is VFD? Who started the fire that killed the Baudelaire parents? The series held my attention as I got older and I still have them on my book shelf. Snicket’s writing breaks off into humorous asides and tangents and I learned quite a few fancy vocab words from the books (for example, “a tenebrous hue”).

Spellfall by Katherine Roberts

I fell in love with this book, and I think it opened the door to many other fantasy books. After finding a spell, a girl named Natalie is whisked into a magical, mysterious world. She soon finds that this world is in trouble and she must race to save it.

The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

Harry Potter is my shit, but it wasn’t always that way. I picked up Sorcerer’s Stone in the fourth grade but thought the first chapter was really boring, so I put it back down. (That’s my one regret in life.) Luckily, I gave it a chance in fifth grade and the rest is history. I’ve read the series countless times…so much that some of my copies are starting to fall apart. I truly feel like I grew up with Harry Potter (like everyone else) and the series will remain in my heart forever.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

A boy genius kidnaps a fairy police captain and demands a ransom; thrilling adventure ensues. The memorable characters and seamless blending of reality, fantasy, action, and science fiction make this book (and the books that follow) lots of fun.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda doesn’t fit in with her family, so she escapes with books, knowledge, and school when she’s not playing pranks. Turns out, she has incredible telekinetic powers, which she uses to defeat the evil school principal Ms. Trunchbull. This is a classic book that all book lovers should read, I think. For a few weeks after reading this book in second grade, I was convinced I, like Matilda, had mind control powers. Alas, they still haven’t revealed themselves.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

An ordinary girl finds out she’s the princess of a small European country and hilarity ensues. (Full disclosure: I spent about 15 minutes looking for the country of Genovia on my globe.) Mia Thermopolis is an awkward freshman and awkward things happen to her, but she lives in New York City and was in high school, so I always thought that was super cool. A “coming of age” tale with a princess twist.

Lionness Quartet by Tamora Pierce

Alanna wants to become a knight, so she chops off her hair, binds her breasts and kicks butt. These books were recommended to me by my neighbor, who was about 5 or 6 years older than me, with the caveat “your mom should read these first to make sure they’re appropriate.” Well, my mom was taking too long to read them, so I sneaked them out of her room and read them anyway. There were definitely some blush-worthy moments, but nothing a determined young reader couldn’t handle. This series introduced challenging gender norms before I even knew what gender norms really were, and I was a faithful Tamora Pierce reader for years after reading this series.

What books did you like as a kid?

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Recently read: ‘100 Places Every Woman Should Go’

New York City. Morocco. Brazil. If you’re looking for travel inspiration, this is it.

I purchased 100 Places Every Woman Should Go from a used book store and even though it’s a bit old (published in 2007) it doesn’t fail to induce wanderlust.

100 Places Every Woman Should Go

This isn’t a guidebook, although it does have some practical information like tour recommendations, addresses, and must-sees. Each chapter is based on a specific location or theme, like “Famed Chocolate Sites.” I liked to pick it up at random and see which location I landed on, kind of like jabbing my finger at a spinning globe.

While some of the places featured didn’t sound enjoyable to me, it does include a wide variety of countries and activities to please every traveler, from shopaholics and spa-seekers to nudists and hikers.

This would be a good gift or coffee table book to flip through (though I do wish it had more photos!).

A day in the life of a study abroad student

Studying abroad is full of thrilling new opportunities, but when classes start, it’s easy to get into a routine that’s not exactly “exciting.”

8 a.m.: Alarm on my phone goes off. Hit snooze and go back to sleep.

8:10 a.m.: Alarm goes off again. Hit snooze again and go back to sleep again.

8:20 a.m.: Alarm goes off again. Hit snooze and turn on light, then lay back down in bed.

8:25 a.m.: Finally awake enough to get ready for the day. Pick out an outfit from the same clothes I’ve been wearing for the past month.

8:40 a.m.: Go downstairs for breakfast, which is toast with butter or jelly and tea or coffee. It’s not extravagant, but hey, it’s free.

9:00 a.m. – noon: French class, taught by an awesome man who usually teaches linguistics at the university. We do grammar exercises, listening activities, written work and group discussions. It’s extremely difficult, and my brain feels like it’s melting afterward.

Noon – 1:30 p.m.: Free time. I can get lunch at the cafeteria (usually sandwiches), eat a quick lunch in my room (usually involving Nutella), work on homework, or take a nap.

1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.: European Integration and Politics class. We just started the second half of the course today, which is taught by a Parisian lawyer who speaks five languages.

Lille, France

After class, we’re free once again. On Mondays we usually have a program-sponsored event (tonight is a French and International Aperitif, which will have a sampling of wine, cheese and snacks), and typically once a week we have a group dinner with the professor from NC State. When there isn’t anything planned, I work on homework, go to the mall, walk around town, or go to a bar and watch soccer.

Now that I have this general schedule, which includes six hours of class, it’s easy to say “I’m tired,” and just hang out at the university. I have less than two weeks remaining in Lille, so I want to make the most of it. (If that means missing a homework assignment, oh well. In the long run, I think exploring Lille to the fullest will be more meaningful than preparing for a French debate about Internet pirating laws.)

I originally wrote this post for a local news website in Raleigh while I was studying abroad in Europe in July 2012.


Looking back over this post almost three years later, here are some takeaways:

  • Catch up on sleep whenever you can.
  • Eat the “free” food the program supplies (remember, you already paid for it) so you can save your money for excursions and fun nights out with new friends.
  • Go to class and do the work. Get the most out of our international education and impress the host professors.
  • At the same time, remember: This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t miss out on any unique experiences. Time management is key here. You don’t want to have to stay home to finish a paper while everyone else does something fun!

Study abroad necessities you might not know you need

I studied abroad during two summer semesters in England and France, and there were a few things I brought with me that ended up being incredibly useful. Besides obvious things like your passport, here are some study abroad necessities:

Oxford University

Shower caddy and shoes

In both dorms I stayed in, the communal showers were down the hall. With a collapsible cloth shower caddy, I was able to transport my toiletries, towel, and clothes to the shower easily. And shower shoes are a must…nobody wants foot fungus in a foreign country. You can find a collapsible shower caddy online or with dorm supplies in stores like Target.

Microfiber towel

These things are lightweight and dry quickly, plus they don’t take up a lot of space. I used mine for swim meets anyway, so it was a no-brainer to bring it along. They’re typically more expensive than a normal towel, but trust me – it’s worth it.

Beauty products (nail polish, nail polish remover, perfume)

Okay, so these products might not be necessities for you, but I brought them along and was really glad I did. I love having painted nails, so I packed mini bottles of a few shades that wouldn’t show chips easily (peach, pink, cream, etc.). Instead of a bottle of nail polish remover, I found these nifty nail polish remover wipes at the drug store – basically pads already soaked in remover. My rollerball perfume was easy to pack with the rest of my liquid toiletries because it was so small. It’s not really a necessity, but smelling good just makes me feel more put together, even if I’m running out of outfits from my suitcase.

Space-saver bags

These are really useful when packing up heavier items like sweaters. It’s a shame they can’t take away weight as well!

Laundry supplies

Shout Color Catcher Sheets are supremely useful when doing laundry. With these you don’t have to separate whites and colors, even when washing a new article of clothing. That’ll save you money at the laundromat! I also brought along a small cloth laundry bag (really just a bag with a drawstring) to carry my laundry in. Some kids in my program had to use suitcases to bring their laundry down to the washing machine, but I think using a laundry bag is much easier.

What are your study abroad must-haves?