Recently, I finally finished a beloved book series, The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, by James A. Owen. I discovered the series about seven years ago, and beginning with Here, There Be Dragons, I’ve never looked back until I finished The First Dragon. Yes, it is a fantasy series, but aimed at younger readers, it takes the readers into adventures in the imaginary worlds of the most well-known and best writers of literature. Not only into those worlds, you travel there with the writers themselves. I can’t imagine a better series to introduce children and adults to some of the best authors that have ever written.
But rather than write a whole review of the books, I had something else in mind with this post. After I posted a glowing review of the series on my FB page, an Aussie friend asked me for some book recommendations for her 13 year old, and asked if this series would be good reading for her son. I agreed that it would be a wonderful series for her kids to read, or for her to read aloud to the younger ones. In this case, her son has already read The Lord of the Rings, so I know he can easily handle this series.
Perhaps some of you would have chosen to ask if they’d read Harry Potter to judge their reading habits, but as much as I enjoy HP, the real way to judge a person’s reading habits is if they’ve read Tolkien. No contest. And this is no slam against you if you’ve never read LOTR, but in the case of kids, it tells you what length and subject matter they can handle. While LOTR has serious themes and storylines in it, it is never gratuitously violent or bloody. And Tolkien is… well, Tolkien. HP may be awesome fun, but Rowling is no Tolkien.
Ok, enough of that. I became interested in the subject of good reading for my friend, and suggested that I could take the time to go through my own books and make a list. However, as some of you know, I have a huge book collection, so not only did it take a little while, but I came up with a very large list. So, I told my friend that I was upgrading her list to a blog post, because some of you out there might be interested, also. With all the reading and studying I have to do for school, even at the beginning of the semester, I knew this would take me longer than originally planned.
My list includes some books that are on the Newbery Award list, but I decided to provide the link to the official list, which should be especially useful to Aussies, because they don’t have the Newbery Awards over there. If you’ve never heard of them, the Newbery Medal is awarded to one book every year, which is considered the best contribution to children’s literature in that year. Most years, they award several Newbery Honor awards, as well, for the runner-ups. I’m also including the link to the Caldecott Medal winners, which are awarded to the best illustrated children’s book of each year. I was raised on Blueberries for Sal and The Polar Express, so even your younger children can get in on some reading fun.
Just one warning to all parents and readers… these books are my favorites and those of my friends and family, but that doesn’t mean some of them don’t have serious themes. A few of them, I haven’t read for many years, and just remember them being wonderful, but I may have forgotten a serious element that you will object to. Quite a few of these are fantasy, but many are not. If you have objections to stories about magic or tales of fantasy, that’s your call. No matter what I recommend, you should use Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble’s websites to read other reviews or just read the blurb on the back of the book. You should always know what your kids are reading, no matter what I say about these books. That awareness will allow you to have good conversations with your children, or decide whether your child can’t handle that type of subject matter yet. YOU know your children best, so make your own decisions about these books, please. 🙂 Happy reading!
Louisa May Alcott – Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins (or the Aunt Hill), Rose in Bloom, An Old-Fashioned Girl – Of course, everyone has heard of Little Women, but how many people have ventured beyond Alcott’s most well-known book? I tend to prefer Little Men to Little Women, because of the antics of the boys, and her writing quality goes downhill in Jo’s Boys. But the latter three on this list… I might possibly love them more than the first three. If you’ve never read the duology of Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, then you need to, and An Old-Fashioned Girl is a wonderful story of how the Country Mouse met the City Mice and helped them out by being herself. Who doesn’t need a story like that to help them through life?
Alan Armstrong – Whittington – I think this one is a Newbery Honor book, and though I don’t remember much, I remember that it was a really good book.
L. Frank Baum – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Ozma of Oz, The Tin Woodman of Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, etc.. – Most of us were raised on the movie version of Wizard of Oz, but the original book and the rest of the series is even more magical for any child’s imagination, and I read and reread many of these when I was a child. Baum had a marvelous imagination, and when I was a child, I was enthralled at the idea of all kinds of queer creatures and objects coming to life in Baum’s stories.
Jeanne Birdsall – The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street – It’s been a while since I read the first one, but I still need to get my hands on the rest of Birdsall’s books about the Penderwicks, because they’re a fun-loving and charming family that remind of what it was like when our children played outdoors with animals and each other, rather than staying inside on their computers.
Michael Bond – A Bear Called Paddington, Paddington Helps Out, etc.. – I read these for the first time, recently, and especially for younger children, the unthinking mischief of Paddington will be charming.
Carol Ryrie Brink – Caddie Woodlawn, Baby Island – Caddie is the most famous of Brink’s books, as she won the Newbery Medal for it, but if I’m honest, I’ll say that my copy of Baby Island is so worn out that it lost its cover long ago. The premise that two little girls could be shipwrecked with a boatload of babies to look after, and end up on a desert island… What’s not to love?
Frances Hodgson Burnett – A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, The Lost Prince, Little Lord Fauntleroy – Burnett is another author that gets short shrift over what I consider her best book. I grew up reading The Lost Prince, and as much as I love A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, the adventures of Marco and The Rat were just as fascinating, if not more so. And if your children (girls AND boys) have been raised on the movie versions of her books, then I tell you now that they NEVER get the story right concerning these books. Shirley Temple is amazing, but her movie version of A Little Princess is all wrong, and the same goes for The Secret Garden. Every child should read these books, and fall in love with the correct version of the story. Also, I never read Fauntleroy until I was in my twenties, but I found that story charming and great fun, as well.
Susan Butler – The Hermit Thrush Sings – It has been many years since I read this one, so I should probably reread it. Amazon refreshed my memory… this is a dystopian tale from before The Hunger Games and other books became popular. It’s a world where people live in numbered villages and very few people go out of the villages, because the animals are so dangerous. Leora is a young girl who is different in a world where they’re expected to be perfect physically and think in the same way. Amazon says it’s for age 12 and up, but I think younger readers can handle it… I don’t remember anything too dark for them.
Beverly Cleary – Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Runaway Ralph – I loved reading the Ramona books, when I was younger, and even further back, I know I read the Mouse books. Beverly Cleary is the voice of my childhood, and even the movie version of Beezus and Ramona is pretty good. These can be read by any age group, and parents will enjoy them as well.
Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games trilogy – Since I don’t jump on every bandwagon of popularity, it took a recommendation from my cousin to get me to read these, several years ago. I enjoyed them so much that I’ve read them several times since then, though my younger brother doesn’t see the attraction. They’re a set of books to make you think, when you consider how our world of reality television affects our lives, and every parent needs to decide for themselves if their child can handle the violence of the Games. Also, I’ve heard about Collins’ other books, the series about Gregor the Overlander, but I haven’t read them. Always worth taking a lot, however.
Caroline B. Cooney – The Ransom of Mercy Carter – All American kids were raised on the stories of cowboys and Indians, and westerns… at least, they used to be. Not only was I raised on Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey (the best of the American Western books), but when I was in high school, I read everything in the Native American non-fiction section of the library. Without arguing with anyone on the treatment of the American Indians, I read every book of non-fiction and fiction that I could get on the subject, at the time. And that brought me to Cooney’s tale of Mercy Carter, which is based on a true story. Cooney’s books are normally more like The Face on the Milk Carton, which I have never read, but her other books are supposed to be good. The true stories of how some Americans were kidnapped and/or ransomed by the Native Americans, back during pioneer days, covers a lot of territory… some of them never returned to their families and some took the opportunity to be ransomed or to escape. Cooney wanted to explore the whys and wherefores behind Mercy Carter’s own story, and crafted this book as a result. You won’t be disappointed.
D. M. Cornish – Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy: Foundling, Lamplighter, Factotum – Cornish’s trilogy has a flavor of Charles Dickens to his writing, complete with his fantastic drawings and a glossary of his world. A world where monsters exist and are a serious danger, and young Rossamund is in the middle of it. The title of the trilogy is a little off-putting, I suppose, but the reason for it is more innocuous than you might realize. If your kids already read fantasy, then this may be for them, because it was written for young teens, or even pre-teens. While looking for an age recommendation on Amazon, I saw a write-up that said a grandparent had bought one of these for their 9 year old grandson. If you have a serious reader, who likes fantasy, on your hands, this series will be for you.
Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of Four, etc.. – These titles are only a few of the books or short stories that Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes. By now, we know that the movies and TV shows have enduring popularity, but everyone should look back on the books that began it. Readers of any age should be able to handle them, though the younger ones might be a little unnerved by The Hound of the Baskervilles. I was warned to not read it after dark, but I did it anyway, and was prepared. I’m not sure that my younger self would have been ready for it, though.
Sharon Creech – Ruby Holler, Chasing Redbird, Walk Two Moons, The Great Unexpected – These books are for any age, and though I don’t remember specific details of all of them, they’re very much along the lines of Caddie Woodlawn and other adventures for any age. Sometimes the stories contain magical elements, but several of them involve children in reduced circumstances, going through adventures they never expected.
Alison Croggon – The Books of Pellinor: The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow, The Singing – I would describe this series as slightly Tolkienesque, though not as good as Tolkien, of course. You can see where the description of the Hulls were probably affected by what we know of the Ringwraiths, and yet, this is still Croggon’s own amazing tale. Maerad is raised as a slave, having no knowledge of her background, until Cadvan rescues her. In a world of magical Bards, she must learn to control her powers and use them to save her world. I originally found the first book in a YA section in a Borders (remember Borders?), when YA could be for pre-teens, also. I’d guess these are for age 10 and up.
Karen Cushman – Catherine, Called Birdy; The Midwife’s Apprentice; Matilda Bone; The Ballad of Lucy Whipple – With several Newbery Honor mentions and one or two Newbery Medals to her name, Cushman’s books are for any age. If your kids like some history, several of her books are set in the 1400’s or 1500’s, while Lucy Whipple is (I think) during the pioneer days of America.
Charles Dickens – The Pickwick Papers – I didn’t start reading Dickens until recently, though I always knew OF him, because the characters in Little Women loved his books. So, if you get the chance, start your kids on these classics early, even if you have to read them aloud and do all the voices. I think Pickwick could be handled by most ages, but some others might wait a little while because there are some darker themes in Little Dorrit, Oliver Twist, and Bleak House. And for the record, the recent BBC mini-series versions of some of these are amazing, and were helpful to me in getting into the story before reading them.
Julie Andrews Edwards – Mandy, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles– In case you didn’t realize it, this is the Julie Andrews of The Sound of Music fame, and a published author, in her own right. My favorite is Mandy, which is the story of a young orphan girl who adopts a little house for her own, to fix it up, and where this project leads her. An adventure for any age, boy or girl.
Elizabeth Enright – Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze, Thimble Summer – I have only vague recollections of when I last read Thimble Summer, but this book won Enright the Newbery Medal for her story of Garnet’s special summer. Spiderweb was always one of my favorites, though, with the Melendys embarking on a summer of solving riddles and looking for clues, searching for the treasure at the end of the line. At one point, I realized that there were other books about the Melendy family, but I’ve never actually read any of them. But anything written by Enright will keep your children happily enthralled for their own summer.
Walter Farley – The Black Stallion, Man O’War – I have read the books, somewhere along the line, but these were more my older brothers line of reading. I always enjoyed The Black Stallion movie, but I was more into reading other horse books. Farley wrote many more, and they’re well-loved by girls and boys alike, so look them up!
Jean Craighead George – My Side of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves, etc.. – Again, my memories of Julie are very vague, as I was probably younger than ten years old when I read it. It won the Newbery Medal. But my favorite was the story of Sam in My Side of the Mountain, and how he learned to survive in the wilderness, even to the point of making friends with several animals and carving himself a home inside of a tree. Doesn’t every child, at some point, want to live in the wild and have their own hawk for a pet?
Elizabeth Goudge – The Little White Horse, Linnets and Valerians – It was sometime in my twenties when I came across The Little White Horse in a Borders bookstore, and I was caught from the very first word in the story. Any age could read this story of young Maria Merryweather and how she returns to her family home to discover an adventure in involving unicorns, lions, and a somewhat magical friend of hers. Who knew that an argument over favorite colors, pink or red, could cause so much trouble? I look forward to reading this with my own children, some day, and it didn’t take me long to go looking for Goudge’s other books. Actually, she’s written several books for adults that I haven’t read, but some of which I still would like to. However, Linnets and Valerians was also written for children, and it’s a charming story of a group of siblings that move to a village with their stern uncle and wondrous things begin to happen around them.
Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows – Like a lot of kids, I had seen the Disney version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Adventure, but for some reason, I don’t remember ever actually reading this book. And then I discovered Robert Ingpen, and I never looked back. Ingpen is an amazing illustrator from Australia (I learned this long before I went to AUS), and I fell in love with his version of Wind in the Willows. My family loves books with beautiful illustrations, and I would happily own any story that Ingpen had illustrated. While reading, it amazed me that I could not have read this wonderful book, despite loving the Redwall books as much as I do. So, don’t neglect this story, but find Ingpen’s version, if you can.
Shannon Hale – The Goose Girl, Princess Academy, Book of a Thousand Days, etc.. – While aware that Hale has written several other books, including two more that are supposedly a trilogy (?) that go with Goose Girl, I’ve never read the rest of the books of Bayern. That’s no slam, I just never felt the need to find them, when I finally heard of them. As I love re-tellings of classic fairy tales, I was delighted by this book’s ability to flesh out the story of the princess who had to become a goose girl, and then how she triumphed over her adversity. On the other hand, Thousand Days is a story of a servant girl who befriends a rich girl, and they are locked into a tower together for seven years. I think I read somewhere that it was based on a fairytale by Grimm, but I was never aware of it when I read it. Excellent reading for girls AND boys, because the boys need to be convinced that just because a girl is the main character doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story! I read plenty of adventure stories with boys involved when I was growing up, so the boys shouldn’t miss out on all the other adventures available.
Rachel Hartman – Seraphina – Fairly recently published, I’m looking forward to when Hartman’s sequel is published, which will continue the story of Seraphina, who struggles to hide her own dangerous secret, amidst the intrigues of the court, in a world where humans and dragons are still struggling to find peace with one another. This one can be read by the pre-teens, also.
Marguerite Henry – Misty of Chincoteague; King of the Wind; Stormy, Misty’s Foal – Do you remember that I mentioned horse books that I preferred to the ones my brothers were reading? While there were others, we read our way through Henry’s books about Chincoteague and the wild ponies that lived there. My older brother and I wanted to go there and see them for ourselves, and reading about them was the next best thing, for Chincoteague is a real place, even if most of the horses were fictional.
James Herriot – All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All – Do your children like animals? Or are you a grown-up animal lover? Herriot’s books were written for any age, and tell the true story of his own veterinary adventures in the Yorkshire countryside, though the names are changed. He doesn’t pull any punches with stories of cows in labor and some of the things that happen to the animals around him, but the language was never bad, and we read these repeatedly, when we were growing up. Still do. You can also find picture books of his dog stories, if you’re looking for something for the really young kids. Every person should have a steady diet of James Herriot’s veterinary tales.
Brian Jacques – Redwall, Mossflower, The Long Patrol, Marlfox, Martin the Warrior, Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, etc.. – I was visiting my cousins in New York State, when I was in my late teens, and they introduced me to the books of Brian Jacques. While I was there, I read through an entire shelf of his books, and as soon as I returned home, I began to add them to my own collection. The adventures of the animals of Redwall Abbey and Martin the Warrior are full of thrilling battles, delicious feasts (you’ll be drooling, I promise you), and fascinating riddles. I spent most of twenties in waiting for the next book to come out, every year, and when I found that Jacques had died, my heart just about broke. No more new stories? He was only three books into his Flying Dutchman series, too, which while not as awesome as Redwall, was very good. And I own a copy of The Redwall Cookbook, too, because life without shrimp ‘n hotroot soup would be extremely dull. Take your children to Redwall, and they’ll thank you for it!
Rudyard Kipling – The Jungle Book, Just So Stories – Like most of us, I grew up on the Disney version of Kipling’s book, but I did eventually read his collection of stories about Mowgli, and probably should read them again. Like Dickens, these are classics that every child should read, and teens should be torn away from the horrors of the YA Paranormal Romance section in the bookstores. Give them some GOOD stuff to read!
Louis L’Amour – To the Far Blue Mountains, Ride the River, Jubal Sackett, Sackett’s Land – While not every L’Amour book may be for children, my brothers and I (and my mom and uncles before us) were raised on these Westerns, especially the Sackett books. While his The Walking Drum is one of my favorites, it’s heavier reading than the Sackett books, and there’s nothing wrong with the language, nor are you subjected to unnecessary bedroom scenes. No, L’Amour knew they weren’t needed. His books were about pioneers and cowboys, mainly, but some were set in more “recent” times. You can’t go wrong with this author, though every parent should, of course, keep a close eye on what they’re having their child read. : )
Madeleine L’Engle – A Wrinkle in Time, The Wind in the Door, Many Waters, etc.. – Growing up, I was creeped out by the picture on my brother’s copy of Wrinkle in Time, which is probably what kept me from reading it until I was in my twenties. But knowing that L’Engle had won a Newbery medal for it, I eventually persevered and read her main five books and then a few more. Her books are very interesting, well-written, and… well, they can be quite strange. The fantastical parts, at least. They follow Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace as they travel into the unknown to save their father. I find her books making me wonder if she believes in a Creator God, or if she’s just trying to make her readers think about what is out there. Many Waters is a foray into a time-travel visit to the time of Noah, so she definitely delves into the ideas of faith, what is in the cosmos, and what is inside ourselves.
Andrew Lang – The Blue Fairy Book, The Crimson Fairy Book, The Violet Fairy Book, etc.. – I love fairy tales, especially when I don’t have to “dissect” them for any English Literature classes. I think I actually own all of Lang’s color books on my Kindle, but it’s not the same as having them in your hand. His series of fairy tale collections is a must for anyone who loves fairy tales.
Jane Langton – The Fledgling (Hall Family Chronicles) – Not for the first time, I found out that the one book I’ve read by a particular author was only one of a series, but I’ve never gotten around to finding or reading the rest. I just know that this book won a Newbery Honor award and it was about a little girl who discovered she could fly and made friends with the local geese. Or that’s what I remember about it. And if I could have a super power, I’d want to fly, and when I was younger, I dreamed about flying. So, this book was right up my alley, as a child.
Lois Lenski – Strawberry Girl, Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, Betsy-Tacy – I only vaguely remember Strawberry Girl and I’m not even sure if I ever read Betsy-Tacy, but that means that I read them when I was very young. I was always reading above my age level, and these are wonderful books for children. But if you read my comments above concerning Mercy Carter, then you’ll realize why I had to pick up a copy of Indian Captive. Both are extremely well-written, but go in totally different directions, both geographically as well as story-wise. Lenski is a must-read author for children of most ages.
Gail Carson Levine – Ella Enchanted, Ever, Fairest – I don’t have that many pet peeves, but if there’s one thing that annoys me, it’s when a fantastic books is made into a really, really, really bad movie. Why would anyone go read the book, if they’ve seen a perfectly dreadful movie? Doesn’t matter that it was my first introduction to Anne Hathaway, NEVER EVER let your child go see the movie version of Ella Enchanted. Because the BOOK was a Newbery Honor book and was an amazing re-telling of the Cinderella story, with an unforgettable finale. Yes, the premise of the story is that she has an obedience spell cast upon her, as a child, and she can’t disobey anyone who knows it. It’s a fantastic story, and it still has one of my favorite endings to any book for young people. And what the movie did with it! Excuse me while I go cool off… Before I forget, all of Levine’s books are wonderful, so pick up any you can get your hands on.
C. S. Lewis – Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Horse and His Boy, etc.. –With the arrival of the Narnia movies in theaters, a new generation was introduced to the beloved stories of C. S. Lewis. But no one should stop there, because The Chronicles of Narnia are so much more amazing than the movies could ever be. Any age can read them, and they’ll read them again and again. I certainly did. While I never went banging on the walls inside my closet, I have known people that did so, because of reading these books when they were children. What child wouldn’t want to discover a new world from the back of their wardrobe? According to Lewis’s books, boys can be total brats but learn to be brave and strong, girls can act silly or be selfish and then learn to do right… and you can’t change the past, but you can choose different actions to have an effect on your future. These adventures are for girls and boys of all ages, even for the grown-ups! I still love reading about Aslan, Tumnus, Puddleglum, Trumpkin, and many, many others.
Yes, I know, I had to call a halt. I plan to finish up soon, I promise! But since I began this post back in January and then got tied up with school, it’s about time I posted it… wouldn’t you say so? The rest of my list of authors are already waiting for me to fill in the blanks, in another post, but after wracking my brain to writing about over 30 authors, I need a short break. Remember, this is not a complete list, and there are many, many more wonderful books and authors out there! Take advantage of all the sources online to see what others think of the individual books and be fully aware of what your kids are reading, and I truly hope that this list will help you turn your children into avid readers with imaginations that know no boundaries.