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Classics for Children: Ten Books that Every Child Will Love
We all remember those childhood days, when we would curl up with a good book and visit a different place in the world. New locations, interesting people, and different times would come to life and when we reached the last page we would set it aside, sorry for it to be over. Even now, we like to go back to those stories and the friends we met there again, reliving all of the same feelings and experiences from when we were young.
Here are some of the best classics that will touch every child's imagination, and make a reader out of even kids that seem to be allergic to books. And they might even bring out the child in us all.
'Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this!'--Marmee
Louisa May Alcott's biographical story of the four March sisters growing up in New England during the Civil War is lovable, delightful, and at times, even profound. There's Meg, the pretty one, who end up marrying a good man and raising a family. Then Jo, with her headstrong, reckless ways and her love of writing. Happiness seems to want to elude her, but that only makes her happiness with Mr. Baehr that much more satisfying. Beth lives a quiet, gentle life that is cut short, but she demonstrates how much beauty one person can add to the world. Last of all Amy, with her dreams of being a famous artist and pretty. Though neither dream is ever realized, she learns that their are other kinds of happiness that are even better.
These March girls are far from perfect. They complain about the war that takes their father from them, vanity and pride surface at moments, and there is even a quarrel that ends in a nearly fatal accident. But the most lovable thing about them all is that they learn from their mistakes, and with the loving guidance of their mother and father, they become strong, admirable women. We watch them go through the pangs of growing up, with it's awkward moments, beautiful friendships, and complicated romances. By the end of their story, you know and love each of them for not only the woman she has become but also because you know where she's come from.
There are two sequels to Little Women, one called Little Men and the other Jo's Boys. There have also been three movies made that are all entertaining and delightful. My personal favorite is the 1949 version with June Allyson, Peter Lawford, and Elizabeth Taylor.
The Railway Children
Written in 1905 by Edith Nesbit, The Railway Children is the story of three youngsters whose father is taken away to prison on false accusations of treason. This means that Roberta (or Bobbie), Peter, and Phyllis, along with their mother must leave their comfortable city home and live a humbler life in the country. There the children discover the nearby railroad tracks and become fascinated by the trains that come by every day. New friends and adventures are around every corner for them, and they have their fair share of lessons to learn, but the best thing of all comes when their father returns to them with his innocence proven, and they can once again be a family.
The English prose style is delightfully quaint, and all of the characters are endearing. Even though it is not well known any more and may be hard to find, it's definitely worth the search. Several film versions have been made of it, with the most famous being the one from 1970.
Forget every sappy film rendition you ever saw, Heidi is a beautiful story of a little girl brimful of loyalty and love. Originally written in Swiss German in 1880, it as become the most famous and beloved piece of Swiss literature.
Heidi is a delightful protagonist with the gift of making friends wherever she goes. Whether it's Peter, the humble mountain goat herder, or his blind grandmother who Heidi longs to read to, or Klara, the little wheelchair bound invalid, she reaches out and touches their lives so selflessly. But most beautiful of all is her relationship with her grandfather as she reaches past his harsh exterior and wins him over, softening his rough edges with her gentle love.
A Revolutionary War adventure makes Johnny Tremain not only a gripping read, but an educational one. You meet Paul Revere, Samuel and John Adams, and Otis Warren as members of the Sons of Liberty, as well as witnessing the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington. Boys especially will love details on militia drilling and army life, all given from the perspective of a young man, but there's lots of girls who will also enjoy this book. Johnny also learns a great many character lessons along the way, suffering a bad accident that maims his hand because of his pride, and learns the real meaning of loyalty, friendship and patriotism.
The Little Minister
Be ready to find yourself in stitches. J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, scores big in this novel about a freshly-minted young minister who moves to a small parish in Scotland, living there with his mother. Gavin Dishart tries to establish himself as an upright, honorable pastor capable of shepherding his small flock, and wins the admiration and respect of the villagers. Then along comes Babbie, an impish gypsy girl who steals his heart against his will, causing countless problems for the little minister. Of course, true love wins in the end, and after their troubles have been cleared up, Gavin and Babbie begin their "happily ever after."
There is so much going for this story-- rolling Scottish dialogue, a priceless sense of humor, and a charming, innocent romance with a surprising twist at the end. It's a great book to share, as reading aloud brings out the dialects, and the laughs are always better shared. Unfortunately, it's been mostly forgotten (as has the 1934 film) so it can be difficult to find, but well worth the search.
Anne of Green Gables
Everyone's favorite redhead is unforgettable. Lucy M. Montgomery's classic tale is set on the beautiful Prince Edward Island, with a cast of characters that is unique and lovable. When Anne Shirley is mistakenly sent to aging siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert of Green Gables (they wanted a boy), the hilarity and touching story takes off. Her lively imagination, sensitivity, and volatile temper make for some entertaining scrapes, and watching her grow up is sheer delight. The dreamy-eyed child becomes a beautiful woman, with all the accompanying joys and heartaches.
There are actually eight books in the series; Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne's House of Dreams, Anne of Ingleside, Rainbow Valley, and Rilla of Ingleside. Somehow the story never becomes stale, moving from Anne's childhood through her marriage to Gilbert Blythe (watch the video for a bit of the irony), and focusing more on her children in the last three books. Sullivan Entertainment made a trilogy based on the books, with the first two being very good. The third has it's merits, but it takes a great deal of liberty with the plot lines.
A Girl of the Limberlost
This is a story I've read and re-read from my grandmother's first edition that she got when in high school. Elnora, who is fatherless and despised by her mother, decides to attend high school, in spite of having no money, and living miles away from the city. Her pluck and determination are inspiring, as well as her compassion for an orphaned waif who she befriends. In the end, reconciliation with her mother is found, and the arrogant city students who initially despise her learn that sometimes, it's not a person's clothes or books that matter, but rather their character. There is also a neighbor couple that are excellent supporting characters, showing Elnora the love and tenderness that she doesn't find elsewhere.
Another fascinating part of this story is the setting. The Limberlost swamp is almost a character and an integral part of Elnora's past and present, adding a hint of atmospheric mystery. It is more thoroughly explored in the sequel Freckles, but you can still learn a lot from A Girl of the Limberlost.
For a bear of very little brains, he sure is a lovable one. There are two volumes about Pooh, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, as well as two volumes of poetry, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. Pooh's adventures with his anthropomorphic friends have been translated into many languages and made into a famous Disney movie. The innocence and simplicity of the stories make it very appropriate for younger children, but even adults will fall in love with the rich prose and memorable characters.
Even if you grew up with the Disney film and never got around to the books, you should take the time to visit the Hundred Acre Wood. It may very well be the best vacation you've taken in a while.
Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos
Perhaps you've never heard of this epic of American history, but I humbly submit that fame does not a classic make. You will laugh much, and learn much from it. For instance, did you know that Benjamin Franklin had a pet mouse that lived in his fur hat and was actually responsible for much of the wisdom he dispensed? Did you even know that Ben Franklin had a fur cap on his head at almost all times? I have pictorial proof of the fact.
See that? You've already learned something.
It has all the components of a classic. Satire, irony, wit, and an unforgettable man, er, mouse to guide us through the story of the great Ben Franklin's later life. So give it a try. You won't be sorry.
The Secret Garden
Mary Lennox is an arrogant, spoiled child when she is sent to live with her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor in England. She finds a cousin there, Colin, who is also an arrogant, spoiled child. Somehow, out of this unlikely cast (with an excellent list of secondary characters) Frances Hodgson Burnett makes an enjoyable story with mysteries abounding at every turn. First, there is the over-grown garden with a gate that's been locked for years. Then the old house, full of dark hallways and strange wailing in the night time. And there's her uncle, Archibald Craven, who has a hunch in his back and a scowl on his face.
But as the orphaned Mary begins to make the abandoned garden beautiful, she herself begins to blossom. She makes friends of the servants and Colin, and even manages to bring a smile back to her uncle's face when he finally comes home. The story has inspired several film adaptions and a musical.