If you’ve been following along with my last book post, I began this lengthy write-up for an Australian friend who wanted some book recommendations for her kids. And then it grew from there… except I got completely side-tracked by being back in school, and never finished it until recently. Or I suppose I can’t say I’ve finished it yet, since this is the other half? But honestly, I went through my entire book collection (not including what might be on my Kindle) and wrote down all the authors that would be excellent for teens and pre-teens to read. And these are all books that I enjoyed when I was a kid, or still enjoy, now that I’m a grown-up.
But if you’ve ever read any of my posts about books before, you’ll know that I have a bone to pick with bookstores that provide all sorts of fantastical books for the “young adults”, and deceive them into thinking that the only “good” reading is about vampires, werewolves, demons, and zombies. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are decent, and most of them are not. And that’s not even getting into the dystopian category, which is the new writing fad. I like to remind everyone that Barnes & Noble (and other brick-and-mortar stores) have a dreadful habit of putting a lot of the good reading in the “children’s section”. You know, the 12 and under section. Going to try and convince your teen to walk past the picture books, in order to find something good to read? But that’s where the Newbery Medal books are, as well as many other good books!
Sure, there’s garbage in the Childrens’ section, also. Every adult/parent needs to search through these books, and make good choices for their children or for themselves. There are a lot of fantasy tales out there… but there are still amazing family oriented stories like the Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall) and the Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner), with not fantasy involved. It can be done, people! And if it’s well-written, there’s nothing wrong with a retelling of a classic fairytale, or a new story about an amazing new world. Ask for advice from friends that read, and look for recommendations on Amazon and Goodreads! There are even books listing good books for children (and the one I found was printed in the 90′s, so I’m sure it has some good stuff in it.
Now, I’ll try and get off that rabbit trail and get back to work, talking about books that I love now and books that I remember loving from when I was a child. Remember, no matter what I recommend or the age group I suggest, check up on it yourself, and read along with your kids! Some of these books, I’ve read many, many times, and will continue to do so until I can’t read anymore (perish the day…). And so, continuing with my list of authors and some of their books…
Astrid Lindgren – Pippi Longstocking, Pippi in the South Seas, etc.. - Ah, Pippi… for some reason, I didn’t have a copy of the first book, when I was little, so I grew up reading Pippi in the South Seas, though I had seen the movie version of the first book and loved it. It was always excessively comical, her amazing strength, despite her size, and how she didn’t think quite the same way as normal kids and people. Just really good fun for the readers.
Lois Lowry – The Giver, Number the Stars, etc.. - I always tell myself that one day, I need to read Number the Stars. Any author that can win TWO Newbery Medals with her books, as well as several Newbery Honor mentions… her books are known to be fantastic. But for some reason, I’ve never gotten around to it, because it’s well-known that this particular book concerns the Holocaust. Serious subject, not a long book… everyone should read it, including me. However, I’ve always been fascinated by her book, The Giver. Yes, I know some of you are aware that it’s being made into a movie, but I’m very skeptical of all the trailers. It seems like they decided they needed more action, and the trailer does not seem to be completely true to the book. I love Walden Media, but I do NOT want them screwing this up. When I first read it, I didn’t know what a dystopian future was, nor am I still sure it’s even set in our future. What is understandable that Jonas is just like every child in his village, waiting to see what his vocation will be, when he turns twelve. In their world, they don’t choose for themselves, but their leaders always choose correctly, as far as the children know. He has a family that loves him and jokes with him… but only when he meets the Giver himself will Jonas realize that his life is NOT in fact, normal. This book is part of a series, now, but it stood on its own when I first read it, and I’ve never needed another. The other books to follow are well-written, especially the last one (which I thought fell flat at the end, as if an end was required, but not enough heart was put into it), but I don’t find that they tie well together, and none of them ever held the fascination of the first. You and your kids can decide for yourself, of course.
M. I. McAllister – The Mistmantle Chronicles: Urchin of the Falling Stars - I actually have three books from this series, and I’ve only read the first one. They reminded me of the Redwall books, and yet they’re not QUITE as good. However, the characters and the drawings were delightful, and I think that anyone who loves animals would enjoy the adventures involved. But like I said, keep an eye on things, since I didn’t read the sequels. : ) My opinion remains that no author can beat Brian Jacques, however.
Robin McKinley - The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, Chalice, Pegasus, Beauty, Rose Daughter, Spindle’s End - Please be warned… as much as I love McKinley’s books, I do not recommend them all. If they are not on this list, be very careful. Sunshine and Donkeyskin, especially, are NOT for children. Several of her other books are fun or strange, by turns, but the above list are my favorites. Well, except for Hero and the Crown. For some reason, her Newbery Medal book is not my favorite, but that’s not because it’s bad. My older brother really liked it, but I always found the dragon strangely creepy or dark… I can’t explain it. But this is personal preference, whereas the ones I warned you against have stuff you do not want your kids reading. Hero is actually the “prequel” of sorts to The Blue Sword, which is one of my favorites, and understandably, it won a Newbery Honor. My younger brother and I still rave about Harry’s adventures… Anyone would enjoy that one! Beauty and Rose Daughter are two different retellings of Beauty and the Beast, one having been written many years before the other, and the first was for younger readers. Both are excellent. Spindle’s End is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty and it’s probably my favorite of them all. Unless Pegasus beats it, but I’m still waiting for the Pegasus sequels. Again, some of her books are for young readers, and some are definitely NOT. Please be aware of it…
Marie McSwigan – Snow Treasure - This one is supposed to be based on a true story. I wouldn’t know, but it’s a fantastic story. Set during World War II, the country of Norway is invaded by Nazis, and the villagers must figure out how to rescue the millions of dollars in gold bullion that has been hidden from the Germans. The local children, with their sleds, are drawn into the race to save the gold bullion from the enemy, and get it safely to America. I never grew tired of this book, and eventually, the cover got worn off from too many readings.
Catherine Marshall – Christy - Loosely based on Marshall’s own time spent teaching in the Appalachian Mountains, Christy tells about a young woman from the city leaves her family to teach in the backwoods. The poverty of the locals is extreme, prejudice against her city ways is rampant, and while not set during the pioneer times, it might as well be for the little these people had. While the author writes very true to life, she doesn’t paint over the hardships… but unlike some books nowadays, she doesn’t glorify the hardships, either. Maybe “wallow” is the word I’m looking for. Some books can be very dark, because the authors seem to revel in the dirt. Marshall only tries to make you see the backwoods people through her heroine’s eyes, but people do die of disease or injury. Just be aware that an avid young reader can handle this, but you may want to read ahead of them, in case they’re not ready for it.
L. M. Montgomery – Jane of Lantern Hill, The Blue Castle, Anne of Green Gables series, Pat of Silver Bush (duology), Emily of New Moon (trilogy) - Oh, dear… I shall try my best to avoid one of my favorite “rants”. We’ll see how I do. But if you’ve read or watched Anne of Green Gables, yes, it’s a fantastic book and great movie. But you need to read the rest of the series. ALL of them. And while I enjoy the first two movies, which are an amalgam of 4-5 of the books, I have never and will NEVER watch the third movie, because it’s a load of hogwash. Gilbert does not go to war… but I can’t rant about that, because I may give away some of what happens in the later books. The truth is, I love Anne, but I love her children just as much, and it’s very possible that Rilla of Ingleside (#8) is my favorite. Rilla was Anne’s youngest daughter, if you’re wondering, and that book was set during WWI… but I won’t tell you any more because I can’t give away Dog Monday or anything else. But since I’m talking about Montgomery, please remember that these may SEEM like girl books, but they’re wonderful stories, and boys should take the time to read them, too. The mischief, the fun! And for the record, Anne may be the best-selling of her books, but she’s not my favorite character in the books. My favorite set is probably the Pat of Silver Bush duo, and probably because not only is Pat great fun, but those books contain Judy Plum. There’s never been a more amazing character, I’m quite sure. And yes, I love the Emily trilogy, as well, and everyone needs to read those, too.
But if you’re looking for a SINGLE book of Montgomery’s to read, no series or trilogy involved, it’s a toss-up between Jane of Lantern Hill or The Blue Castle. Well, the best one is definitely The Blue Castle (probably my absolute favorite book), but I can see where the younger kids may enjoy Jane, first. While both books center on characters that have been lonely and put upon for their whole lives, Jane is a pre-teen who is sent to Prince Edward Island to meet her father, while Valancy is a 29 year old spinster who dreams of love that she thinks she can never have. Don’t be deceived by any blurb that’s ever been attached to The Blue Castle… you won’t believe the incident that brings Valancy out of her shell, and the hilarity that ensues. But no matter which book of L. M. Montgomery’s that you read, one thing never changes… even in her short stories… the characters are REAL. They are so well-written that you expect them to walk off the page, and you will adore them and break your heart over them, every time. It doesn’t matter how many hundred times I’ve read some of them, my heart still cries out over certain parts, and I still laugh over others. Sit your family down and read them ALL. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Robert O’Brien – Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Silver Crown - If you’re like me at all, you were raised on not only Disney animated films, but on Don Bluth films such as The Land Before Time, An American Tail, and… The Secret of NIMH. I have no recollection if I knew beforehand that NIMH was based on a book or what, but if you’ve seen the movie, they really changed the storyline around a LOT. It’s still a good film, but concentrates on magical elements which aren’t in the story. That said, I finally got around to reading it, and it’s really a wonderful book (no wonder he won a Newbery for it), following the story of these super-intelligent rats that have made a home for themselves in the country, and how they work together with Mrs. Frisby to save her son. My memories of The Silver Crown are rather vague, but I just read a review of it on Amazon. That reviewer says that they’ve loved this book since they were 10 years old, but that it has a few mature or alarming incidents that some less mature readers might not be ready for. It all depends on your reader! But I do remember that the little girl wakes up with a silver crown next to her pillow, and must find out what it’s there for and what she’s capable of doing with it… Tantalizing, don’t you think?
Scott O’Dell – Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Black Pearl, Sing Down the Moon, etc.. - I’m pretty sure that O’Dell wrote about a million books, because I’m always coming across them in used book stores, and many are stories that I’ve never heard about. Many are historical fiction, but parents should also be aware that they do not all end happily. The one that I read the most was Island of the Blue Dolphins, and maybe some of the sadness of the book was a bit much for me, at the time… but I still liked it. What would it be like to be stranded on an island, alone, and to have to make your own clothes, a shelter out of whale bones, and befriend the wild dogs and the cormorants? And I’m pretty sure at that age, I thought the “elephant fight” was between real elephants, instead of elephant seals… but even that doesn’t change anything to a child’s imagination. You learn from these things. The Black Pearl was darker, as I remember, and tells the story of Ramon and his finding of a lustrous black pearl, which may set El Diablo after him… I don’t even remember what happens, I think I thought it was scary, at the time. It isn’t very long, however, so you can easily read through it to see whether your child can handle it. But I should perhaps mention that Island won the Newbery Medal, while Black Pearl won a Newbery Honor, as did Sing Down the Moon, which is a tale of soldiers forcing a Navajo tribe on a forced march (though I don’t know if I ever read it). Others of his stories involve Eskimos in the Iditarod, and pioneers all over America.
Baroness Emmuska Orczy – The Scarlet Pimpernel - Everyone should read this. I don’t care how old you are, this book is amazing. Yes, there are amusing movie versions, but even they never get it quite right. This is the story of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, made up of some of the rich lords of England, doing their best to save the aristocrats of Paris from the Terror, but it is also the tale of the beautiful Marguerite, married to the stupidest Englishman of them all… but is he really? Blackmail and intrigue are involved, and some of the best comedic scenes ever… I can’t even describe the wonders of this book. My older brother and I read my mom’s copy so many times that the cover came off and the book was falling apart, so we had to buy her a new one. This story doesn’t have anything too hard for the young folk to read, though the wording might be a little more formal than they’re used to. And for those that are worried about issues of a touchier nature, there is an episode with a Jew, near the end of the book, which talks about the qualities of their “race”, and isn’t very flattering. I only mention this in case your children take note of it, and you want to know what they refer to… but I had probably read the book a hundred times before I even noticed anything odd about it. All in all, a fantastic adventure/love story.
James A. Owen – The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: Here, There Be Dragons, The Search for the Red Dragon, etc.. -I’ve been reading this series for about ten years now, and the last one was published this year. It’s very sad. But it’s an amazing series, and I highly recommend it! Especially if you not only love a fantasy adventure, but love literature. Because Owen involves three famous authors, right from the start of the first book… and as the books progress, you meet more of them. In this world of the Chronicles, there are always Guardians of the Imaginarium Geographica, a book of maps of the worlds of fantasy. In every century, there are new guardians and apprentice guardians, who can travel back and forth between our world to the Archipelago of Dreams. And the Archipelago itself? It’s where all our favorite magical lands are located, and some that have never been written about. For example, the land of Prydain. But the lands are not always exactly like how we read about them, because different authors/guardians use them for inspiration, or invent their own lands. And when they invent a new land in a book, it’s very likely that a new one will appear in the Archipelago. By the final book, I was amazed at how Owen could bring characters like Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Jules Verne, and many more, to life within the pages, and keep it from being confusing! But it doesn’t start that way. With the first book, John, Jack, and Charles are swept off on an unexpected adventure after the death of their mentor… and they are thrown headfirst into a guardianship that they know nothing about. You’ll meet the talking badgers, led by the wonderful Tummeler (who always calls the scholars “Scowlers”), as well as Captain Nemo, Mordred, and the descendants of Arthur Pendragon. It’s a wonderful tale, just right for all those book lovers and literature geeks… some of whom are still only kids. Be aware that there are a few dark themes, and some characters don’t make it through the story, as a result of run-ins with the Shadowborn (think something like a Ringwraith, but different). These are great for kids, but keep an eye on them, in case they can’t handle a few scary spots or the loss of a beloved character. You should read them with your kids, if you have the time… I just LOVE this series.
Linda Sue Park – A Single Shard - Set in long ago Korea, this story is of an orphan who dreams of becoming a master potter, and even travels to the Royal Court eventually, in hopes of achieving that dream…. It’s been several years since I read this, so my memories are vague except that it’s excellent and won the Newbery Medal. I find that I get it mixed up with one of the following books by Paterson, but Amazon says it’s for Grades 5-8.
Katherine Paterson – Bridge to Terabithia, Lyddie, Of Nightingales That Weep, Jacob Have I Loved, The Great Gilly Hopkins - Not every person likes Bridge to Terabithia, and I don’t even remember all of what I thought as a child, reading it. It ends sadly, so please be aware, for your child’s sake. But the other part that sticks in my mind is how the children go to a remote location and pretend it’s their own country, and they use their imaginations to make up the adventures they have. What child doesn’t love that kind of thing? But despite it being a Newbery Medal winner, the adventures they had in their own world… I didn’t remember much about it, until I saw the movie and then reread the book. But while it may have fantastical elements, this is a story of friendship between outcasts and how life doesn’t always pass us by, when the hardships come. So, you may want to read it before your child, or keep an eye on them, in case you find them in tears at some point. Still, an excellent book. Lyddie is much more of a farm story (I think), but Nightingales is a totally different ballgame. I’m not sure whether to recommend it for the kids or not, despite it being a fascinating story about a young girl in Imperial Japan… but the twist at the end and who she marries… it’s a good story, but is it appropriate for the kids? You might need to read this one ahead of your child. Or wait. Katherine Patterson is an amazing author, so no wonder she received a Newbery Honor for Gilly Hopkins and a Newbery Medal for Jacob Have I Loved. I’m pointing this out ahead of time, because I’m completely prejudiced when it comes to Jacob Have I Loved, and want you to understand that it’s probably a good book. But I have a history of disliking most books that I had to read in middle or high school, because we had to “dissect” them so much, or even because I just didn’t like the stories. Maybe I should re-read it, but I’ve yet to get past my dislike of several books I had to read in middle school (including Jack London’s Call of the Wild). This book deals with a pair of twins, one who feels like she is the least loved, and how she deals with her growing up years. The reviews are good on Amazon, so I’m just trying to be honest… you should probably give it the chance I’ve never been able to give it. : )
Edith Pattou – East - A retelling of the tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, this story follows Rose as she lives in a land where significance is seen in the direction a child was facing when they were born. Rather than admit her child is a wild North-born, her mother hides the truth, but Rose can’t deny who she is. Eventually, she will go on a great adventure, in order to save her family, an adventure you will love to read about. Now I want to read this again, it’s been so long since I read it.
Donita K. Paul – DragonSpell, DragonQuest, etc.. -There is a genre known as Christian fantasy… I don’t know what you think of it, but some is good, some is strange. I really enjoyed this series, though it won’t stand up to Tolkien, by any means. Kale is a young girl who starts out as a slave, raised amongst a people not at all like her, sent on an adventure, where she encounters dragon eggs and then the small dragons that hatch from them. The people she meet tell her about the wonders of Paladin (you can see the parallels to Jesus), who himself is the servant of Wulder. It’s very obvious where the parallels are, and I’m not really a fan of stories that make it so obvious, because Jesus and God are… well, they’re not meant to be trivialized. But somehow, these books manage the parallels, and some of the characters like the Wizard Fenworth are enormously fun… and I love stories about dragons. So, while I think the early parts of the series are better than the later books, these are an enjoyable read, and you could probably have some interesting conversations with your children about what the author’s trying to say about us, as well as about God and Jesus.
Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson, The Heroes of Olympus - I enjoy mythology, just like I enjoy fairytales. So, I got a kick out of Riordan’s modern take on the mythology of old, both Roman and Greek. And even if these are written in a manner to imply it’s narrated by a teenager, the Percy books are still quite fun. However, I think Riordan stepped it up a notch when he reached Heroes, because he has to really work at mixing Greek and Roman mythology, and making sure the characters are believable. So, while I’m enjoying the second series more than the first, you have to read the first series to get to the second. And while I’m remembering, I started to read his Kane Chronicles, and didn’t enjoy them at all. Those are stories based on the mythology of Egypt, but I quickly stopped caring about the story or the characters.
J. K. Rowling – Harry Potter series - Of course, everyone has heard of Harry Potter. At this point, you’ve either read them all and watched all the movies… or you’ve still avoided them completely. Back in 2000, I was working in a book store and still avoiding them completely, because our store would put on really ridiculous parties for the days when a new book was published. My coworkers and I all avoided those books, because they were so popular and the kids in their costumes were SO annoying. Lightning bolts on foreheads? I didn’t know why and I didn’t care. I knew what all the covers looked like, though, and hated them. Some of you are still like this, I’m sure. Many years later, probably a year or three before the final book came out, I think I discovered that a cousin of mine, whose opinion I trust, had read and enjoyed them. I decided it was time to give it a chance, and I was hooked. You know what? They’re fun. I already like fantasy, and this was good writing with a believable world, and yes, everyone wishes they could magically make doors open and that they could fly on broomsticks. But while I truly enjoy the books, and I’m still working on getting one of my bookworm brothers to give them a chance (my less book-reading brother started them at Christmas, and then bought himself the series, reading them within two weeks), I understand the people that still avoid them. I was one of you, so I’m not going to judge… well, not much. But while they are not Tolkien by any means, they do have a very recognizable fight between good and evil, and we want for the good guys to win. If you don’t mind your kids reading about magic, then your whole family will enjoy these. Though you may want to keep an eye on them with the last book or two, because it can get pretty dark in spots. Also, for the movies… if you haven’t seen them, please be warned that the opening scenes of Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1 is really creepy and scary. I was a bit horrified, and I knew it was in the book. And that isn’t the only frightening scene with the snake in the movie (or the book), so please be cautious.
Brittney Ryan – The Legend of Holly Claus - This is such a beautifully illustrated book, don’t miss out by getting a Kindle edition, even if they do include pictures. Ryan’s book tells the story of St. Nicholas, who is the ruler of the Land of the Immortals, and he is finally asked what HE wants for Christmas. He and his wife want a child, and so Holly Claus is born… but she has a spell cast upon her at birth (rather like Sleeping Beauty). She is raised by her loving parents, but someday must figure out how to break her curse. I love this story.
Ruth Sawyer – Roller Skates - I remember loving this book, though I only vaguely remember what it is about. It won the Newbery Medal, and follows the story of a little girl who goes around New York City (early 1900′s) on roller skates, making friends, and having adventures. I was younger than 10 when I read it, which is why I don’t remember what happened at all, except that it’s a wonderful book.
George Selden – The Cricket in Times Square - Likewise, I don’t really remember what adventures that Chester the Cricket has with Mario, Tucker the Mouse, and Harry the Cat, just that it was a fun book (also a Newbery Honor book).
Brian Selznick – The Invention of Hugo Cabret -This is a good book, but technically, it isn’t very long. You see, this one won a Caldecott Medal, which is for illustrations. So, while it looks like a really thick novel, it’s mostly pictures. They’ll be fascinated to your kids, I’m sure, but I felt like I’d been robbed, when I realized the story wasn’t as long as the pages of drawings. The artwork is amazing, though, and the movie is good fun, too.
Elizabeth George Speare – The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Bronze Bow, The Sign of the Beaver, Calico Captive - Many years ago, I think my older brother gave me a copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond for my birthday, and I never looked back. Kit Tyler arrives from Barbados in the colony of Puritans in Connecticut, to their great surprise. But while she is welcomed, they are not well-to-do, and don’t understand her outgoing ways. She knows how to swim, makes friends with Quakers, and wears silk dresses. But she comes to love her family and when Kit is accused of being a witch (think like in the Salem Witch Trials), what will happen next? This book definitely deserves the Newbery Medal it won, and remains one of my favorite childhood books. Speare also wrote other books that won the Newbery Medal (The Bronze Bow) and the Newbery Honor (The Sign of the Beaver), as well as an Indian captivity tale (Calico Captive). If you want to get some historical fiction, as well as learn how the main characters strive to get along or understand those that are different from them, these are excellent reading for you.
Johanna Spyri – Heidi - My favorite version of this movie stars Michael Redgrave, Jean Simmons, and Maximilian Schell. Not Shirley Temple. Though, in a strange way, the Shirley Temple version is more true to the story. Well, maybe, I can’t remember exactly. But in the book, Fraulein Rottenmeier is a very strict lady who is not a big fan of Heidi, while the Jean Simmons version has her as a delightful woman who loves the girls. For once, I don’t care, I adore that movie. My heart stops every time Clara is left on the mountain to try and walk… Ok, I’m getting away from the point. This is a wonderful story of an orphaned girl who goes to live with her grandfather in the Alps, but when she has to leave him to go to the city, she becomes dreadfully homesick. However, she comes to love the spoiled Clara, who can’t walk, and hopes to make her better by coming to see her on the mountain. It’s a heartwarming, wonderful story that every boy and girl should read. And watch the 1968 television version of the movie… because Redgrave, Simmons, and Schell! That’s why! They’re amazing.
Trenton Lee Stewart – The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict - A mysterious ad in the newspaper brings any number of children to a building to go through lots of mind-boggling tests and riddles. The rewards for the winners? To create a society that will be able to go on a secret mission that only children can fulfill. These books are delightful, with their fascinating puzzles and riddles, with the children each finding many different ways of solving them. And after reading the trilogy, I really enjoyed the prequel, though it had less riddling and more development of Nicholas Benedict’s character. It was fascinating to see how he didn’t really believe in love, despite his extensive learning, because he had never seen love in action. You and your family will enjoy these books.
Noel Streatfeild – Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes - While Streatfield wrote several dancing stories after Ballet Shoes, that one is the first and best of the set. The story is about Great-Uncle Max (known as GUM) who brings back several baby orphans from his travels. Named Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, their family becomes poor while Gum goes away on his travels, so they set out to help their family earn some money. Along with learning to dance and act, the girls have many adventures in the process of finding out what they are good at and what they can become when they grow up. This is a WONDERFUL book.
Sydney Taylor – All-of-a-Kind Family - While this book is part of a series, they have mostly been out of print until recently, so I haven’t read them all. But my cousins and I love them. This is the story of a Jewish family in New York City, in the early 1900′s… a family with five girls. They are not precisely poor, but they are not rich, either. I grew up, delighting in how their mother makes dusting the front room into an adventure, how one of the sisters becomes so very stubborn that she won’t eat her dinner, but her parents lovingly expect obedience from her. The girls have adventures at the library and buying penny sweets at the general store, and always, they are celebrating the Jewish holidays with their family. One of my favorites was when they visiting their papa’s shop and found books that had been donated, and they took some of them home. Do these sound like very simple stories? But you see, the quality of writing is excellent, and the love of family and friendship is palpable. I wanted to sample the foods and see the book of paper dolls that they discovered… I still hope to read all of these books, someday. You should, too.
J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit - By now, you know that I compare many other fantasies to Tolkien. That’s because he sets the bar. And despite my mom being raised on LOTR and my older brother reading them through our childhood, I think I was intimidated by the scary picture of Gollum on the cover. I’m not sure, exactly. It wasn’t until the first trailer came out for the first movie, that I went and picked up a copy at the book store. And was hooked from the first word. Perhaps you think they’re too long or too wordy. Don’t be intimidated by the length, because the story is so amazing that it’s completely worth it, once you’re caught up in it. And while I love the movies, the books are so much better.
Mark Twain - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - I first read Tom Sawyer when I was very young, though I reread it a few years ago, and was amazed at all the details that I didn’t remember. The mischief that Tom would get into! I’ve since discovered that Twain wrote sequels to it, but most people don’t know of their existence, because they’re not in print. I have them on my Kindle, though I haven’t read them yet. And Huckleberry Finn is a harder read, but just as worth it. It often gets put down by certain literary critics because of how it was set in the American South when there were still slaves, and words are sometimes used that would be considered racist, nowadays. But you can make your own decisions about what you want to read and how to approach the truth about history, and how we can always treat people better and more kindly.
James Ramsey Ullman – Banner in the Sky - This Newbery Honor book follows young Rudi, whose father died trying to climb The Citadel, the unconquered peak of the Alps. Rudi would like to conquer that portion, in his father’s memory, but can he get past the heartbreak of his father’s memory?
Cynthia Voigt – Dicey’s Song, A Solitary Blue - I haven’t read all of the books about the Tillermans, but Dicey’s Song is about how she’s brought her siblings to her grandmother, and no longer has to be the one in charge. But can she figure out who she is and what to become, without her usual role? I only vaguely remember the Newbery Medal book, but some of Voigt’s other books have also won Newbery Honors, and they’re all supposed to be excellent books.
Gertrude Chandler Warner – The Boxcar Children - I didn’t get around to mentioning the Bobbsey Twins books or even the Nancy Drew books, because I don’t know if I ever read them, and remember… this list mostly includes what I own. But if your children like mysteries, those books can be looked up, also. But I grew up reading the stories about the Boxcar Children, a wonderful story about the Alden family, who make their home in a boxcar… and end up finding a grandfather. It’s been so long, I don’t remember how it happens, exactly. And while the series continues for many, many books, you may wonder how they always fall into mysteries. But why does it matter? They’re wonderful, fun books, and you’ll be glad your kids have gained such a love of reading, when they make their way through the entire series.
Kate Douglas Wiggin – Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Written in 1903, this book was beloved by Mark Twain and Jack London, amongst others, and follows the story of young Rebecca, who is sent to live with her stern spinster aunts. They are unused to having a child live with them, but are trying to help out her mother, who has many children to look after. I haven’t read this since I was a little girl, but anyone who has ever read it will tell you it’s wonderful, and you’ll be thankful to have your children reading such a classic. But the Amazon reviews even suggest that adults continue to love it, also.
Laura Ingalls Wilder – Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, Little Town on the Prairie, The Long Winter, Farmer Boy, By the Shores of Silver Lake, etc.. - Of Wilder’s 9-book series, she won Newbery Honors for five of them. I’ve been wishing I could re-read them all, but we must have worn out my mom’s copies, some time ago. These are for school age children, I don’t care what country you’re from, and American kids (at least when I was growing up) were raised on them. Yes, maybe you’ve heard of the old TV show, but I’ve never watched it. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it’s nothing like the books, not at all. I even bought the series for one of my Aussie girls, for her birthday. These semi-autobiographical stories follow Laura Ingalls’ family from Laura’s early years in the big woods until she marries, while living on the prairie. How I loved to read about Ma and Pa making and baking food for the winter, and parties with family, and making snow candy from maple syrup… and that was before they reached the prairie! On the prairie, there were locusts and Indians and blizzards and other adventures. If I recommended any series of ALL the books I’ve talked about so far… this is the one that I most highly recommend. Boys and girls. My brothers and I read them and loved them. Your children MUST read them. And I’ve heard good things about the prequel and sequel series, which were written by Wilder’s daughter, but I have never read them myself.
Patricia C. Wrede – Dealing With Dragons, Sorcery and Cecilia, Snow White and Rose Red, The Seven Towers, Thirteenth Child, etc.. - The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which includes Dealing With Dragons are SUCH good fun. While being wonderful books, they don’t take themselves overly seriously, telling about Princess Cimorene, who is tired of being a princess and wants adventure in her life. So, she runs away to live with dragons. Who wouldn’t? You and your children will laugh over them. Sorcery and Cecilia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot starts off a trilogy set in an earlier time in England, but in a world that includes magic. So, if you want to imagine your Regency era (or maybe slightly later) while wizards were around, these are for you. My recollection says the kids will enjoy them, too, though they may be a little wordier than the dragon books. Snow White is a fairytale retelling, of course, and The Seven Towers is a standalone fantasy tale that I haven’t read in years, but should be fine for young teens. Take a look for yourself and see what you think. Also, I’ve recently been reading her newest series, which starts with Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic series), and takes place in a frontier America where magic exists. She explores what it’s like to be the unlucky thirteenth child, who happens to be the twin of an excessively lucky double seventh song, and how they grow up and explore the frontier. I think a mature reader of ten years old could handle them, but again, you know your kids best.
Johann David Wyss – The Swiss Family Robinson - Maybe you’ve seen the Disney movie, which is wonderful, but the book is quite different (while still amazing). In the book, there are more kids, and much more details about the many, many dwellings that the family builds on their new home, after they’re shipwrecked. And I’m telling you, the father of the family has SO much knowledge about everything, it’s fascinating, and I always wonder what he read when he lived in a “civilized” land. But this book was written before all the countries and islands of the world had been discovered, so Wyss was able to create an island where every animal or tree or plant that he wanted could live. Penguins, flamingos, and everything else… they’re all there. But this is a classic, excellent story that every child will love reading, because who doesn’t want to know that they can survive if they’re shipwrecked on an unknown island? An excellent story.
Jane Yolen – The Devil’s Arithmetic, Briar Rose - Yolen is an interesting author. While she’s now well-known for writing a series of picture books about dinosaurs, some of her literature is much more serious. While Briar Rose is technically a Sleeping Beauty retelling, it is tied to the Holocaust and is no easy read. I’m not even positive that I’ve read it, but you’ll know best whether your teen can handle it. The Devil’s Arithmetic… now, I do remember reading that one. Set during more modern times, it tells of a young girl who has little appreciation for her grandparents’ having survived the Holocaust, but during Passover, she opens the door to symbolically let Elijah in… and is transported to the past. Along her historical journey, she begins to see signs of what she knows about the Holocaust and does her best to warn people… but they think she’s silly. She is swept away on the trains to the death camps… but will she survive to return to her family? This story is not an easy read, but no Holocaust book ever is. But Yolen takes an interesting route of showing you what the times were like, and how this young girl grows up and learns to understand her own family’s history.
Wow, I finished it! Wasn’t sure if that would ever happen!
But already, my previous book list has caused my Aussie friend to have some good memories of the book Baby Island, and how much she used to love it. This is what I’ve been hoping! That people will remember their old favorites, that they lost track of… or that they’d find new ones! So many books that showed up in our elementary school book fairs, school libraries, and the Weekly Reader style book pages that we would take home to order from! I still have an old favorite that I must have lost, but the title isn’t well-known and at the moment, I can’t remember the author. But I still remember the cover and the time travel involved, and how the teenagers went back in time and one of them got stuck in an old-fashioned elevator fancy wire elevator during a power outage… and there was a maid named Pegeen! I know that must sound idiotic, but this is the one book that always slips my memory, even though I bought it from a school Book List, and I think the author’s first name was Richard. Hopefully it will come to me later.
But while I was searching for authors by first name, I came up with this list on Wikipedia of Children’s Literature authors, and when I eventually finish this post, I may go back and see what books I missed. I’m sure there are many that I’ve read and never owned. Presently, I’m going to go see if Astrid Lindgren is on this list, because every child, boy or girl, should read the Pippi Longstocking books.
How nice! It wasn’t on this post, originally, so good thing I checked. : )
Now, I really hope that this very long list will give you some excellent ideas of what to read, or for your kids to read, and take advantage of how Amazon says that “people who bought this book also bought”, and see where it takes you. You can find some excellent reads just by seeing what others are looking at, if they’re already looking at some of the classics outside of the recent run-of-the-mill fantasy novels. Enjoy and feel free to share if I’ve missed something that I shouldn’t have!
Thanks for being patient with me!
P.S. I found it! After scrolling through pages of Richards on Amazon, I finally found Richard Peck… who wrote a lot of great books, too. Including a Newbery or two, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, the book I couldn’t remember was called Voices After Midnight. But be sure to check his books out, as well, when you’re looking for good reading!