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I can pinpoint the exact day I became a dragon book kid. It all began in a Waldenbooks in the mall. Remember those weekend days as a kid when taking a trip to the mall was the highlight of your week? I’d be counting down the days until I could spend my quarters on Mike & Ikes at those glass jar candy dispensers, eat a Wetzel’s Pretzel with a Coke, flip through CDs and DVDs at FYE, scour Game Time for an elusive Final Fantasy action figure, and of course, spend the majority of my time wandering the aisles of Waldenbooks.
Oh Waldenbooks, how I miss you.
On this particular day in Waldenbooks, I was having a Hard Time finding a new book. I was 9 years old and had not discovered the bookish internet yet. The extent of my computer time back then included playing Minesweeper and taking care of my Neopets. The only ways I knew how to find good book suggestions were through my CosmoGirl magazine subscription, recommendations from family and friends, or taking on the daunting endeavor of reading all the backs of the books in the independent reader and YA sections of the bookstore.
Having read through countless book blurbs that day without success and feeling grumpy and dissatisfied, I was on the verge of calling it quits. It’s a terrible feeling to leave a bookstore empty-handed.
It was at this very moment that my mom passed me the book Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. This particular copy was the 2002 edition that includes a collection of gorgeous illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi (author and illustrator of The Spiderwick Chronicles with Holly Black).
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As I flipped through the pages of this book, I felt myself tumbling down a rabbit hole. This story whispered of adventures on a strange planet called Pern where acid rain called the Thread fell from the sky. Dragons and their riders protected the planet by burning the deadly rain in the air before it could land and spread amongst the vegetation (think the toxic spores in Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind). In Dragonflight, we meet an unlikely girl named Lessa who gets chosen as the dragonrider to one of the last remaining queen dragons.
Rifling through the book’s pages, I felt an inner tugging towards this story. It’s hard to put into words; it’s that feeling you get when you just know this book feels right. This book feels like me. This is the day I became a dragon book kid. I had discovered my first bookish niche.
Reading Dragonflight felt like a defining moment in my blossoming life as a reader. I remember coming across challenging words while reading it, like “nonchalantly,” so I kept a dictionary with me to consult whenever I tripped over these new words. A few weeks later, our school passed out the list for our school-wide spelling bee, and I saw that pesky word “nonchalantly” pop up again. Startled by the coincidence, I reexamined the handout. There at the top lay a note that the words had been drawn from none other than Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight. It was a sign. I was meant to read this book.
After devouring many of the sequels in McCaffrey’s The Chronicles of Pern, I moved on to Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons and The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series and Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina awaited me next. During my college years, a group of friends and I even formed a book club after bonding over our mutual love of Eragon.
Becoming a dragon book kid helped establish me within the world of fantasy books. It led me to new bookish niches tucked within fantasy, including fairy tale retellings and fantasy romances. These began to shape me as both a reader and a person.
Reflecting back on these moments fills me with both nostalgia and affection for the young reader I used to be. Finding my feet as a dragon book kid felt monumental and defining to me at the time, and it still does. This nudged me to begin considering the idea of bookish niches.
While the term “niche” has a few different meanings, my application of the word harkens back to my high school days in AP Environmental Science when I learned what a niche means in regards to ecology. National Geographic defines a niche as “all of the environmental factors and interspecies relationships that influence the species.” When I think of bookish niches, I think of them as the assortment of books, authors, and genres that influence someone and contribute to how they see themselves as both a reader and a unique individual.
Just last year, my son pulled all of the books off my bookshelf (as toddlers are wont to do). Sitting contentedly atop a mountain of books, he informed me that I have “too many scary dragon books.” Despite the years and my half-hearted attempts to weed my collection, I’ve still clung to my dragon books.
Recently, I retold the story to my mom of that fateful day in Waldenbooks when she found Dragonflight for me. She said she didn’t remember it very well. I replied that sometimes inconsequential things we do can mean everything to somebody else. So thanks, Mom. Thanks for suggesting I read Dragonflight. I learned I was a dragon book kid that day, and I think it’s safe to say I still am one now.