“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” – C.S. Lewis
Although I will be an adult in only a little over a year, I am a little kid at heart. Case in point: I can’t decide whether my favorite part of babysitting is the children themselves or having fun with all the stuff that one usually puts aside sometime during elementary school – blocks, Play-Dough, and especially children’s books. As a sort of thank-you to my favorite children’s authors, I want to write and/or draw at least one picture book and children’s book someday.
The following titles are, in my mind, the top ten children’s books. (Not picture books, children’s books – picture books are awesome enough to warrant a post to themselves.) This is also the first in a series! I am not writing its posts in any particular order and they are not guaranteed to come out one after another without other posts in between, but instead will be published after I agonize quite a bit about what to include.
I think kids around five to ten years of age would enjoy these books. Many are books I loved at that age and because of that, this list is highly subjective. Feel free to rant in the comments about the favorite book of your childhood and how I probably left it out.
Note: I think these books are probably G or PG for things like swearing, sex, or violence. This wasn’t hard to determine because children’s books don’t usually feature the first two! As for violence, it’s of the sort where someone might die in a dwarven battle (cough, cough) but the author doesn’t go on and on about gory it was. Make sense?
10. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol. I love mysteries, so of course I had to include one here. This is only the first of a long series of Encyclopedia Brown books and for some reason they don’t really build on one another, so you can read them in whatever order you like! (I get frustrated when I’m reading a series and I can’t find the next book at the library. Not a problem here.) Every book has a bunch of mysteries, each a few pages long, so even kids with short attention spans (like me) are interested. And the stories aren’t babyish, either – while certainly not anything close to an Agatha Christie book, they have clever solutions.
9. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This was, I believe, my introduction to history. I was obsessed with this book and its sequels; I even dressed as Laura one Halloween. To me the best part is how, although Laura’s life in the late 1800s was different from mine in so many ways, I could still relate to her. She may live in a log cabin in a forest where bears still prowl, but she also bickers with her sister Mary and likes bedtime stories. That was one of the first times I felt a connection with a character.
8. The Borrowers by Mary Norton. When I was eight I loved The Littles series, books about tiny people who lived unnoticed by we normal people, whom they regard as giants. Then I discovered this book and realized that The Littles was a total rip-off. But why not? This is a fabulous book – the concept of miniscule humans is so simple yet allows for lots of creative explanations about their daily lives – and it’s hard to see who wouldn’t wish they’d thought of it first.
7. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. One usually expects the classics to be rather slow going but I’ve found that this book is faster-paced than many modern adventure novels. This story, with its double-crossing, murder, exploration, and gold, makes one want to sail with the crew of the Hispaniola. Or at least it did for me.
6. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Mary Lennox, nine years old and recently orphaned, goes to live at her uncle’s house, where she meets a boy named Dickon as well as her sickly cousin, Colin. She discovers a forgotten garden and the three bring it back to life. I’ve reread it many times because its theme of transformation never fails to interest me. I love the transformation of the garden from something dead to something growing, of Mary from a spoiled brat to a kind girl, and of Colin from a kid who’s convinced he’s dying to a kid who runs about.
5. D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingrid and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.
Although it is essentially a long picture book, I would rank this on par with Edith Hamilton’s much more complex Mythology. Probably half my knowledge of Greek myths comes from this great book that focuses mainly on the gods and goddesses. I love the way the authors simplify such complicated stories without making their readers feel stupid, and I also love the illustrations. Even today, if you mention a Greek god to me I’ll have a mental image of the d’Aulaires’ illustrations.
4. Frindle by Andrew Clements. Fifth-grader Nick Allen decides to replace the word “pen” with “frindle” to annoy his English teacher – but he has no idea just how big the consequences will be. I can’t think of a better book for a budding word nerd; the story makes you think about the fun of playing with language. Although the ending no longer surprises me, it still makes me tear up. It’s very sweet.
3. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary. If you’ve read this, you might remember it as just a funny book but I reread it the other day and was struck by how it is so much more than that. Yes, Ramona has misadventure after misadventure, but it also perfectly captures what it is like to be a little kid. It certainly has the wonder and happiness, but it also has the confusion and the awkwardness that can result from that. Many times Ramona doesn’t fully understand something, causing people to laugh at her. I remember what it was like to feel that way! Ramona is so realistic.
2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I sound like a big fat hypocrite for recommending this to kids because I didn’t even read it until I was sixteen. That said, I am definitely reading it to my kids when they’re young. I think it is the best introduction to fantasy, better even than Harry Potter or the Chronicles of Narnia. The protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, is one of the best reluctant heroes of all time. He likes the comforts of home, has doubts, meets many friends and foes alike, and ultimately becomes a hobbit who actually seeks out adventure. It’s magical, humorous, and as epic as a small book about a small character can possibly be; I only wish I’d read it when I was a little girl.
1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. You have no idea how hard it was for me to choose only one book by this brilliant author! Young Charlie Bucket lives with his extremely poor family, eating nothing but cabbages because they don’t have enough money for anything more. One day, to his amazement, he finds one of the elusive Golden Tickets that permits one to tour Willy Wonka’s legendary chocolate factory… the rags-to-riches story is like the first Harry Potter book, but better.
One thing I noticed is that – with the exception of Frindle which was published in the 1990s – all of these books date back to at least the 1960s. It wasn’t my intention to choose mainly modern classics but it’s interesting nonetheless because it makes me wonder about how much my early “reading life” was affected by my parents. Childhood favorites probably get passed down through the generations and I wonder how many of the books on my shelves were on my parents’ shelves, and maybe even on their parents’ shelves. And someday they’ll be on my children’s shelves!
If you read any of these books as a child, what were your opinions of them at the time? What are your opinions of them now?