Most of us never met Ray Bradbury, but he reached into our brains sometime between seventh and eighth grade, and he changed them. School officials probably put his books on their reading lists because his writing didn't have much explicit sex or violence, and because he generally used the kind of simple clear language that was accessible to kids. He got in under the radar. He seemed harmless enough, right? Just some stories about spacemen and haunted carnivals.
But to us, to those who read him at an early age, he was the first person who let us in on the secret. That life is strange and gorgeous and terrible. It would break our hearts, one by one. His stories taught that nothing is safe and nothing is without beauty. He was a sad, lyrical voice in our head that stayed with us through friendless lunch hours in the library, and late into the evening, long after midnight, after our parents stopped fighting and went to bed.
He was the first adult who didn't lie to us.
And we, millions of us, loved him for it.
(Photo by Alan Light, used under Creative Commons license. Information here.)