In 100 Reasons to Love Reading, the Scholastic 100th Anthology, King and the Dragonflies author Kacen Callender writes about how Cassie from the Animorphs series became one of their closest friends. Read their essay below.
Reading can introduce you to the people you need in your life
By Kacen Callender
To be honest, I was an extremely lonely kid. For years I wasn’t accepted at the private school I attended as the Black and local student; other locals didn’t accept me because I spoke like a “Yankee,” or like a person from the States. I always felt like an outsider, and I really didn’t have any friends.
Well, I didn’t have any friends who were real, anyway.
I didn’t know it then, but books were my friends. The characters from countless stories who went on endless adventures were the people who kept me going. When I was a child, the fact that I was so ostracized that my only friends were imaginary was devastatingly embarrassing—but I’m grateful for that now. Reading teaches empathy, and I met an array of people I might not have ever met otherwise. From the time I’d reached middle school, I was the only person in my class who would yell at anyone who ever said anything homophobic, not yet knowing that I would grow to identify as both queer and trans myself. This definitely didn’t help the bullying or ostracization, but I was able to learn how to love others—and, even if I hadn’t realized it yet, I was also learning how to love myself.
My mother would read to me almost every night when I was young. Some favorites as a five-year-old were the Berenstain Bears and the Good Dog, Carl board book. As I got older, my mom would read the Animorphs series to me. This is the first time I remember being so excited about a book that I would jump up and down on the bed, screaming in excitement, arms flailing. Besides the extremely intense plot (alien slugs in brains!) and amazing cast of characters, I was really excited because Animorphs introduced me to Cassie, a Black girl who was smart and kind and loved by her friends. It was the first time I saw an author decide that someone who looked like me was important enough to be the hero who saved the world. To this day, Cassie remains one of my oldest and closest friends. Whenever I think of her, I feel a wave of courage and strength, the same feeling I’d have if someone were to remind me that I’m worthy of being loved and respected, and that I belong.
Cassie isn’t real, but the love her author put into her character is real. Cassie might not be a person outside the pages of the books I still have in my childhood home’s closet, but that love transferred from her creator and was put into words. That love spreads through every young reader who reads the books. My imaginary friendship with a series and a character became a tool of self-love. It’s the same tool I wield every time I sit down to write a book. I hope to transfer that same love in my words, and to create characters who will be friends to any reader, young or old, who needs them most.