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The Book That Changed My Life: A Galloping Good Story

The Book That Changed My LifeDear Mrs. Henry:

You probably don’t remember me. It’s been a long time — forty-five years, can you believe it? — since I last wrote you. I was in fourth grade then, and my teacher Mrs. Rouse (I’m pretty sure I wrote you about her last time) assigned the class your book Misty of Chincoteague. I didn’t want to read it. Even though I was growing up in rural Illinois, I didn’t like horses. They scared me. But Mrs. Rouse scared me more. Reluctantly, I opened the book…and fell into your story. I couldn’t bear to stop reading. I couldn’t bear to come to the end.

Reading your book, Mrs. Henry (may I call you Marguerite?), was like falling through space, like jumping off my own planet to visit someone else’s. Who knew there was a place in the world where wild ponies frisked along beaches and old men said, “Consarn it,” and ate fried quahogs? (What even is a quahog?) I can’t pinpoint exactly what your book meant to my particular life. Maybe it had something to do with the ending, about breaking away and living free. Or maybe it was just a galloping good story. But with my heart and imagination overflowing, I sent you a letter. I had to. Who else knew Misty and Phantom as I did? Who else understood them so truly and deeply?

And you understood me, didn’t you, Marguerite? You knew what I was feeling. Weeks later, I arrived home to find a package on the kitchen table. The return address said “Naperville.” (You lived in Illinois, too!) Ripping off the brown-paper wrapping, I pulled out a copy of Misty of Chincoteague. I opened the cover. There was your signature and — I whooped, I whirled — Misty’s! Her very own hoofograph.

Nowadays, sometimes, I get mail from young readers. When I do, I glance over at Misty sitting on my office shelf. I recall that wild, trembly feeling I got when I tore away that brown paper. The feeling that I was now part of your world…and you were part of mine.

Then, Marguerite, I pick up my pen and write that reader back. I always write back. You and Misty taught me that.

xx,

From the May/June 2018 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference. For more in this series click the tag Book That Changed My Life.

Candace Fleming About Candace Fleming

Candace Fleming is the winner of the 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Award for The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and 
the Fall of Imperial Russia and the 2009 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Award for The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. Her latest book is The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell (all Schwartz & Wade/Random).

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