25 Favorite Children's Books
Stories for children: What to read, and when to read it
What follows is a trip down memory lane: How I paged my way through the early 1990s in children's literature.
The 25 books on this list are grouped by grade level. These were the books I discovered, then read and re-read in those years.
I'd recommend these titles to any older reader looking for a nostalgic kick, or as gifts to any younger reader looking for something new to devour. Many of these books remain classics, and not all of the titles are strictly-for-children.
Harry Potter is not on this list, but only because the Hogwarts mania didn't hit until late high school for me, so I did not experience those works from a child's perspective.
Instead, I had to rough it (relatively speaking) when seeking out summer and after school reading.
Now, on to the mysteries, the fantasies and the tales of robots, spaceships, princesses and pioneers that enthralled me most as a child.
Discovering classics: 8th grade
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
I vividly remember how the words on the page came alive to me after I picked it a blue-covered illustrated volume off a high shelf at a public library. I read the first chapter or two standing up — the text was that enthralling. Oh, poor Mrs. Bennett, ever to be laughed at, two centuries on and counting.
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
This is no Christmas Carol. It's a coming of age tale that is darker and less syrupy than most of Dickens' work. Pip begins as a lonely, fearful — nearly haunted — child. He grows into some measure of jaded self knowledge only after tangling with a world full of mixed motives and letdowns of every kind. Sometimes, it appears, you just can't go home again.
Science fiction: 7th grade
I, Robot, Isaac Asimov
A short book by Asimov on black holes and the life cycle of stars had caught my attention in elementary school. I returned to devour his fiction.
Sphere, Michael Crichton
Children's fiction chart toppers: Your picks
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Fantasy: 6th grade
Dragonsong, Anne McCaffrey
The book is a stepping stone into a larger series about a planet with a strange past — Pern — populated with dragons and human space colonists (who have returned to a lifestyle out of the dark ages).
The Seventh Princess, Nick Sullivan
Alanna: The First Adventure, Tamora Sullivan
History and horror: 5th grade
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
Moccasin Trail, Eloise Jarvis McGraw
The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Dorothea Jensen
Pet Semetary, Stephen King
Let me just say, I wished I hadn't. I was so creeped out, I went back to reading Christopher Pike's Chain Letter and, worse, Sweet Valley High.
Hard times: 4th grade
The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Pilot Down, Presumed Dead, Marjorie Phleger
Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
Series craze: 3rd grade
The Magician's Nephew, C. S. Lewis
It's hard not to love the Chronicles of Narnia. This "first" book in series (chronologically) might be my favorite.
The Secret of Shadow Ranch, Carolyn Keene
Can't recall what the secret was, but this was the Nancy Drew mystery I cracked open most often.
Meet Samantha: An American Girl, Susan S. Adler
Absorbing historical series, but the loudest lessons the American Girls series imparted about our society's class and wealth differences came not from the books, but from noting the lucky few girls at school whose parents sprung for the then $80-odd Samantha doll. Me? I enjoyed a much cheaper paper doll collection. Wardrobes were supplemented with my own colored pencil sketches.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Betty MacDonald
How else to answer the question of whether seeds planted in the dirty ears of naughty children will actually sprout?
Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, Ann M. Martin
Many hours were lost to the books in the Baby-Sitter's Club series. I nearly had the repetitive character exposition in the first chapter memorized.
Chapter books: 2nd grade
Beezus and Ramona, Beverly Cleary
The details of where I was — and what the weather was like (rainy) — the afternoon that I was handed my first Ramona book. I quickly learned the first rule of reading chapter books: you should not bother to retell every funny incident to your mother as you read it. With this tale, that process would take a year.
Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery
This is one of the most dog-eared and well-loved books of them all. I wanted to be Anne: red hair, green hair, cropped hair — it wouldn't have mattered.
The Princess and the Goblin, George Macdonald
Facing hordes of tender-toed goblins, footsie becomes a legitimate means of mortal combat.
Word play: 1st grade
Fox in Sox, Dr. Seuss
"Would you like some new, blue goo...?"
Alexander and the Magic Mouse, Martha Sanders
The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams
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