I sell children's books for a living, and read almost nothing but. The first does not necessarily cause the second, as books for children and teens are better than anything in the world.
Today would have been Lloyd Alexander's 90th birthday.
After Oz and Narnia, the fictional world that dominated my tween years was Prydain. I have spent many, many hours there, reliving the adventures of Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper; Dallben, his wizard master/mentor/father/friend; Prince Gwydion; scattered Gurgi; cranky Doli; Fflewddur Fflam and his crazy harp; and, best of all, Princess Eilonwy. She was the character who taught me about strong female characters. Sure, Lucy and Susan and Dorothy and Ozma had chops - but Eilonwy was special.
She was smart, and brave, and kind, and loving...and cranky, and impulsive, and stubborn, and often wrong. She was flawed. She was known to throw a tantrum or go on a rant or fly off where she wasn't supposed to go. She was a teenager. She was real. She was GLORIOUS.
Mr. Alexander let his characters screw up. He let them discover things for themselves, even if the discovery was heartbreaking. He took us to those hard or sad places and let us see that you could live through them. His older characters stand back and let his younger characters make mistakes. His world feels real because the emotional situations in it are real. Watching Taran and Eilonwy grow and change and screw up and fall down and get back up again was vital to my emotional growth, and I do not say that lightly.
I got to meet Mr. Alexander once, at the bookstore where I used to work in Pennsylvania. I had only ever met one author before, and was shy and uncertain. It was an informal event, and I hung back a long time, unsure of what to say. Finally, there was only one thing to say.
"Thank you for Eilonwy," I managed, and he smiled.
"It was my pleasure."
No, Mr. Alexander - it was mine.