This is a list of classic books, both old and new or “instant classics” for the younger set. Some are suitable for reading aloud (esp. the ones marked as best for 4-8 yr olds), and all are suitable for most ages over 8. Even older teens might like the ones marked for younger readers. Because these are “classics,” the age boundaries are more for reading/comprehension level, rather than a guide to content, with some noted exceptions. You will most likely see one or more of your favorites on this list – if not, they may be on Part II, or Part III or I simply forgot them. As I was compiling this list, I had forgotten how many of these books I owned as a child (and still have!), and how many I had bought for my girls. Feel free to leave a comment or a “post” in the Meebo box (that one is private for my eyes only) if there are books that were your favorites that you’d like to share.
They make a fine library for any young teen, including boys. Although they may not have the patience at first glance for the “classics,” (how many middle school guys would sit down and read Little Men? <grin> ), there are plenty here to interest them – books on war, dogs, wolves, adventure, etc. Classics are often a great way to get reluctant readers going, as they have stood the test of time. If you have a “reluctant” reader, try to “vet” the books ahead of time to see if the writing style is not too cumbersome, or is at a level suitable for your reader. There is nothing more frustrating and will turn off a child to reading faster than a book that’s too difficult, either in content, vocabulary, or writing style. Also, consider reading aloud, even to teens – they love the time and attention, and it gives you an excuse to reread an old favorite, or find a new one. I did it with both my girls. I still read occasionally to my 14 yr old, although my health prevented me from doing it every night, so it fell away somewhat.
I invite you to look through the list, and find some that might make suitable reading or read-a-loud stories to share. What I did find sad was that although many of these classics are still in print, it was hard to find a book description or review on Amazon, my main source for such material. They seem to think that classics don’t need a description – but many are either unfamiliar to some people, or they can’t recall the age group, or thy may just need a refresher.
Also, check the editions to make sure they are not audio books or abridged versions, unless you want an abridged edition – many of the “older age” classics are available in various age editions. Some of the greatest classics are available in reprints of the original, or as beautiful new editions, with gorgeous illustrations, in hardcover, and even boxed sets. Some of the classic series are also available in boxed sets. If there are more than one book to a series, I tried not to cover those, or too many books by a single author, with a few exceptions of those that are perennially popular. As usual, this list is my own, and as such, is arbitrary in choices, but I tried to include a wide variety.
I’ll start with my all-time favorite (next to Anne of Green Gables of course…)
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan
Ages 9-12. “Grade 3-6-Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan (Scholastic, pap. 1986) is an exciting, suspenseful tale of Norwegian children and their contributions to protecting their town’s gold during the German occupation in 1940. Convinced that the Germans will try to steal their town’s considerable wealth of gold bouillon from the banks, the townsmen decide that it must be removed. Since a group of adults can’t remove the gold without the Germans finding out, the townsmen develop a daring plan involving the children. In teams, the children will carry the bouillon on their sleds down to the river where one of the townsmen will load them onto his ship to take to the United States. Various problems arise as the children begin to carry out this plan, but they are resolved. ” Library Journal
This book was one of my favorites as a teen – I found copies and gave them to both my daughters, to make sure the tradition continues.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Ages 9-12. “After reading this book, I guarantee that you will never visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or any wonderful, old cavern of a museum) without sneaking into the bathrooms to look for Claudia and her brother Jamie. They’re standing on the toilets, still, hiding until the museum closes and their adventure begins. Such is the impact of timeless novels . . . they never leave us. E. L. Konigsburg won the 1967 Newbery Medal for this tale of how Claudia and her brother run away to the museum in order to teach their parents a lesson. Little do they know that mystery awaits!” Amazon
Secret Agents Four by Donald J. Sobol
Ages 9-12. “Donald J. Sobol, author of the beloved Encyclopedia Brown series, weaves a wonderfully funny and entertaining mystery in Secret Agents Four. With his characteristic wit and elegant, compact prose, Sobol takes the reader on a adventurous journey with four wacky “secret agents” who are trying to save Miami from a terrible fate. I loved this book as a kid. Re-reading it as an adult convinced me that Sobol’s work is as current and enjoyable as any fiction for young readers available today. If you love adventure and mystery, this book is for you.” Amazon Customer Review
Escape from Warsaw (Original title: The Silver Sword) by Ian Serraillier
Ages 9-12. “This little book is based on a true story, and it’s one of the most exciting and amazing stories to emerge out of the heartbreak of World War II. It’s an incredible narrative about one family’s tragedy and redemption, and the lives that they touch along the way. The will to live and survive, among even the youngest children in the family, is incredibly moving and inspiring. I read this story nearly 30 years ago when I was not yet a teen, and it stayed with me. I’ve read it often since and shared it with many friends, including a few Poles who found it very touching and encouraging…a great source of national pride. At times, the story will take your breath away. I would give it more stars if I could…it’s that good.” Amazon Customer Review
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
Ages 9-12. “Although the copy sitting on my shelf is the dog-eared Scholastic version of my youth, not this new edition, I feel that every child who has ever looked at a horse with wonder, seen it as a thing of beauty and nobility, or dreamed of having a horse of his or her own, should read this excellent series, beginning with this very book.
A fascinating and fantastical story of sea rescue, perseverance, and courage, as well as a peek into the world of horse racing half a century ago, these stories, despite being written in 1941, have a timeless quality that will always capture the heart of any adventurer.” Amazon Customer Review
National Velvet by Enid Bagnold
Ages 9-12. “The timeless story of spirited Velvet Brown and her beloved horse has thrilled generations of readers. And now the republication of this classic story in a fresh, up-to-date package will charm confirmed fans while captivating new ones. Fourteen-year-old Velvet is determined to turn her untamed horse into a champion and personally ride him to victory in the world’s greatest steeplechase, the Grand National.” B0ok Description
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Ages 6-10. “Johanna Spyri’s classic story of a young orphan sent to live with her grumpy grandfather in the Swiss Alps is retold in it’s entirety in this beautifully bound hardcover edition. Heidi has charmed and intrigued readers since it’s original publication in 1880. Much more than a children’s story, the narrative is also a lesson on the precarious nature of freedom, a luxury too often taken for granted. Heidi almost loses her liberty as she is ripped away from the tranquility of the mountains to tend to a sick cousin in the city. Happily, all’s well that ends well, and the reader is left with only warm, fuzzy thoughts. Spryi’s story will never grow wearisome–and this is a very appealing edition.” Amazon
This version is an abridged one – the original is for older, more mature readers.
The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling
Ages 9-12. “No child should be allowed to grow up without reading The Jungle Books. Published in 1894 and 1895, the stories crackle with as much life and intensity as ever. Rudyard Kipling pours fuel on childhood fantasies with his tales of Mowgli, lost in the jungles of India as a child and adopted into a family of wolves. Mowgli is brought up on a diet of Jungle Law, loyalty, and fresh meat from the kill. Regular adventures with his friends and enemies among the Jungle-People–cobras, panthers, bears, and tigers–hone this man-cub’s strength and cleverness and whet every reader’s imagination. Mowgli’s story is interspersed with other tales of the jungle, such as “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” lending depth and diversity to our understanding of Kipling’s India. In much the same way Mowgli is carried away by the Bandar-log monkeys, young readers will be caught up by the stories, swinging from page to page, breathless, thrilled, and terrified. (Ages 9 to 12)” Amazon
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Ages 12 and up. “Gr 7 Up-The archetypal sea-faring adventure story is given another rousing and dramatic rendition in this quickly paced abridged entry in Hodder’s top-flight Classic Collection series. The critical plot and subplot threads have been beautifully retained, and all the classic lines like “shiver me timbers” have been included.” School Library Journal
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
Ages 4-8 (as a read-a-loud). “All children, except one, grow up.” Thus begins a great classic of children’s literature that we all remember as magical. What we tend to forget, because the tale of Peter Pan and Neverland has been so relentlessly boiled down, hashed up, and coated in saccharine, is that J.M. Barrie’s original version is also witty, sophisticated, and delightfully odd. The Darling children, Wendy, John, and Michael, live a very proper middle-class life in Edwardian London, but they also happen to have a Newfoundland for a nurse. The text is full of such throwaway gems as “Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter Pan when she was tidying up her children’s minds,” and is peppered with deliberately obscure vocabulary including “embonpoint,” “quietus,” and “pluperfect.” Lest we forget, it was written in 1904, a relatively innocent age in which a plot about abducted children must have seemed more safely fanciful. Also, perhaps, it was an age that expected more of its children’s books, for Peter Pan has a suppleness, lightness, and intelligence that are “literary” in the best sense. In a typical exchange with the dastardly Captain Hook, Peter Pan describes himself as “youth… joy… a little bird that has broken out of the egg,” and the author interjects: “This, of course, was nonsense; but it was proof to the unhappy Hook that Peter did not know in the least who or what he was, which is the very pinnacle of good form.” A book for adult readers-aloud to revel in–and it just might teach young listeners to fly. (Ages 5 and older).” Amazon
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
Ages 10 and up. “One of the world’s best-loved stories of shipwreck and survival, The Swiss Family Robinson portrays a family’s struggle to create a new life for themselves on a strange and fantastic tropical island. Blown off course by a raging storm, the family—a Swiss pastor, his wife, their four young sons, plus two dogs and a shipload of livestock—must rely on one another in order to adapt to their needs the natural wonders of their exotic new home. Inspired by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, this classic story of invention and adventure has fired the imaginations of readers since it first appeared in 1812. Freely translated over the years, with major sections excised and new subplots added, the novel is published here in its original English translation, fully restored for a new generation of readers.” Book Description
Ages 4-8. “Oliver Twist is a desperate orphan. A gang of thieves takes him in and teaches him to steal, but then he is caught. What will become of poor Oliver Twist? Kids can find out in this easy-to-read chapter book adaptation of the Dickens classic.” Book Description
NOTE: Many of the older classics are available in abridged or rewritten versions for various ages, thus heightening awareness of great literature from an early age. I recommend reading to the kids books that they will read in high school or as an adult. Or play a game of Children’s Authors version of the old card game – “The Children’s Authors Card Game features 13 writers who have touched children’s imaginations through their delightful books. Rule card included. Authors include: Dr. Seuss,,A. A. Milne, Meindert Dejong, Rudyard Kipling, Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll, Charles Perrault, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Brothers Grimm, Joel Chandler Harris, Issac Bashevis Singer, Beatrix Potter, J. M. Barrie.”
Playing this game introduced us to some of the authors on this list like Singer, Harris, and Dejong.
Oliver Twist (Penguin Classics) by Charles Dickens and Philip Horne
Ages Y/A and adult. “Novel by Charles Dickens, published serially from 1837 to 1839 in Bentley’s Miscellany and in a three-volume book in 1838. The novel was the first of the author’s works to depict realistically the impoverished London underworld and to illustrate his belief that poverty leads to crime. Written shortly after adoption of the Poor Law of 1834, which halted government payments to the poor unless they entered workhouses, Oliver Twist used the tale of a friendless child, the foundling Oliver Twist, as a vehicle for social criticism. While the novel is Victorian in its emotional appeal, it is decidedly unsentimental in its depiction of poverty and the criminal underworld, especially in its portrayal of the cruel Bill Sikes, who kills his kindly girlfriend Nancy for helping Oliver and who is himself accidentally hung by his own rope.” Merriam Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Ages 9 and up. “Sparkling with mischief, jumping with youthful adventure, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer is one of the most splendid re-creations of childhood in all of literature. It is a lighthearted romp, full of humor and warmth. It shares with its sequel, Huckleberry Finn, not only a set of unforgettable characters–Tom, Huck, Aunt Polly and others–but a profound understanding of humanity as well. Through such hilarious scenes as the famous fence-whitewashing incident, Twain gives a portrait–perceptive yet tender–of a humanity rendered foolish by his own aspirations and obsessions. Written as much for adults as for young boys and girls, Tom Sawyer is the work of a master storyteller performing in his shirt sleeves, using his best talents to everyone’s delight.” Book Description
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Ages 9-12 and up. “A horse is a horse of course unless of course the horse is Black Beauty. Animal-loving children have been devoted to Black Beauty throughout this century, and no doubt will continue through the next. Although Anna Sewell’s classic paints a clear picture of turn-of-the-century London, its message is universal and timeless: animals will serve humans well if they are treated with consideration and kindness.
Black Beauty tells the story of the horse’s own long and varied life, from a well-born colt in a pleasant meadow to an elegant carriage horse for a gentleman to a painfully overworked cab horse. Throughout, Sewell rails–in a gentle, 19th-century way–against animal maltreatment. Young readers will follow Black Beauty’s fortunes, good and bad, with gentle masters as well as cruel. Children can easily make the leap from horse-human relationships to human-human relationships, and begin to understand how their own consideration of others may be a benefit to all. (Ages 9 to 12).” Amazon
Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
Ages 6 and up. “Set against a backdrop of frozen canals in a winter wonderland, the year’s most exciting event in a little Dutch village is about to take place. But will Hans Brinker and his sister Gretel, with their hand-carved wooden skates, be able to compete against their well-trained young friends who own fine steel blades?” Book Description
“HANS BRINKER was my best boyhood dream. Could I, if I tried terribly hard, become somebody like him? What a shame that hardly anybody knows Hans Brinker anymore. I am delighted that he is being brought back to life.” Lewis Smedes, Fuller Theological Seminary
The Moffats by Eleanor Estes
Ages 9-12. “Who else but a member of the Moffat family could, during kindergarten recess, accidentally hitch a ride out of town on a boxcar? Or wind up trapped in the breadbox outside the delicatessen store? Or kindly offer to escort the Salvation Army man to his destination–only to accidentally bump him out of his own horse-drawn wagon? The Moffats is a paradigm of old-fashioned family fun. Four children and a hard-working widowed mother live together on New Dollar Street in the village of Cranbury. Their seemingly quiet lives are studded with almost daily unexpected adventures, with droll results.
This charming book has been making readers smile for over half a century. It reflects a gentler era, when the jolly chief of police had time to sit on the curb to hear a little girl’s “crimes” and a little boy’s escapade on a train was not cause for media panic, just a simple redirecting by the agreeable engineer. Eleanor Estes, author of the Newbery Honor book The Hundred Dresses, and Caldecott medalist Louis Slobodkin (Many Moons) make a lovely team in this story of benign humor and sweet times. (Ages 8 to 12).” Amazon
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
Ages 12 and up. “Jay Berry Lee is happy until the summer he is 14 years old and discovers monkeys living in the creek bottoms near his parents’ homestead. Set in the late 1800s, Summer of the Monkeys traces the boy’s adventures as he attempts to capture 29 monkeys that have (it turns out) escaped from the circus. With somewhat dubious help from his grandfather, and over the objections of his mother, Jay goes about discovering that monkeys are much smarter and harder to catch than he thought possible. Woven into this story is a second theme about his physically disabled sister and the family’s attempts to find money for an operation. As funny and touching as Wilson Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows, this book will appeal to the young reader who has always wished for the freedom to run wild through the woods with nothing more pressing to do than find another rabbit hole–or escaped monkey. (Ages 12 and older).” Amazon
Hurry Home, Candy by Meindert Dejong
Ages 9-12. “The dog was lost. He had no name, and no one to love him. He has only the silent, empty countryside, and a few crumbs and bare bones he could pick up. He had only himself, and he was afraid. Along the way, the little dog found a few friends, people who gave him shelter for a while, but always he moved on — until he found a place he could call home forever.” Book Description
The Wheel on the School by Meindert Dejong
Ages 9-12. “Grade 4-7-This 1955 Newbery Award-winner by Meindert Dejojng, set in a small Dutch fishing village, tells the story of a young girl and her simple composition about the storks that build their nests in neighboring villages. When the children wonder why the storks don’t nest in their village, the stage is set for a dramatic challenge against all odds.” Amazon
Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer
Ages 9-12. “The story takes place in New York City in the 1890s, during the year of 10-year-old Lucinda’s “orphanage.” That’s Lucinda’s term for her situation when her parents go to Italy and leave her in the care of Miss Peters and Miss Nettie. Lucinda, enjoying her freedom, explores the city on roller skates and makes friends wherever she goes. She reads Shakespeare with her uncle, puts on her own production of The Tempest, creates a magical Christmas for a little girl from an impoverished family, helps a family protect their fruit stand from attacks by rowdy boys, and has picnics in a vacant lot , among other adventures.” School Library Journal
All-of-a-kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Ages 9-12. “There’s something to be said for a book that makes you wish you’d been part of a poor immigrant family living in New York’s upper east side on the eve of World War I. Sydney Taylor’s time-honored classic does just that. Life is rich for the five mischievous girls in the family. They find adventure in visiting the library, going to market with Mama, even dusting the front room. Young readers who have never shared a bedroom with four siblings, with no television in sight, will vicariously experience the simple, old-fashioned pleasures of talk, make-believe, and pilfered penny candy. The family’s Jewish faith strengthens their ties to each other, while providing still more excitement and opportunity for mischief. Readers unfamiliar with Judaism will learn with the girls during each beautifully depicted holiday. This lively family, subject of four more “all-of-a- kind” books, is full of unique characters, all deftly illustrated by Helen John. Taylor based the stories on her own childhood family, and the true-life quality of her writing gives this classic its page-turning appeal. (Ages 9 to 12)” Amazon
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Ages 9-12. “”It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time,” Milo laments. “[T]here’s nothing for me to do, nowhere I’d care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing.” This bored, bored young protagonist who can’t see the point to anything is knocked out of his glum humdrum by the sudden and curious appearance of a tollbooth in his bedroom. Since Milo has absolutely nothing better to do, he dusts off his toy car, pays the toll, and drives through. What ensues is a journey of mythic proportions, during which Milo encounters countless odd characters who are anything but dull.
Norton Juster received (and continues to receive) enormous praise for this original, witty, and oftentimes hilarious novel, first published in 1961. In an introductory “Appreciation” written by Maurice Sendak for the 35th anniversary edition, he states, “The Phantom Tollbooth leaps, soars, and abounds in right notes all over the place, as any proper masterpiece must.” Indeed.
As Milo heads toward Dictionopolis he meets with the Whether Man (“for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be”), passes through The Doldrums (populated by Lethargarians), and picks up a watchdog named Tock (who has a giant alarm clock for a body). The brilliant satire and double entendre intensifies in the Word Market, where after a brief scuffle with Officer Short Shrift, Milo and Tock set off toward the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the twin Princesses, Rhyme and Reason. Anyone with an appreciation for language, irony, or Alice in Wonderland-style adventure will adore this book for years on end. Amazon
” I read [The Phantom Tollbooth] first when I was 10. I still have the book report I wrote, which began ‘This is the best book ever.'” Anna Quindlen, The New York Times
“A classic… Humorous, full of warmth and real invention.” The New Yorker
This is a great one to sneak in some learning, especially math. It explains things in a clever, funny way.
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
Ages 9-12. “One night, the sounds of New York City–the rumbling of subway trains, thrumming of automobile tires, hooting of horns, howling of brakes, and the babbling of voices–is interrupted by a sound that even Tucker Mouse, a jaded inhabitant of Times Square, has never heard before. Mario, the son of Mama and Papa Bellini, proprietors of the subway-station newsstand, had only heard the sound once. What was this new, strangely musical chirping? None other than the mellifluous leg-rubbing of the somewhat disoriented Chester Cricket from Connecticut. Attracted by the irresistible smell of liverwurst, Chester had foolishly jumped into the picnic basket of some unsuspecting New Yorkers on a junket to the country. Despite the insect’s wurst intentions, he ends up in a pile of dirt in Times Square.
Mario is elated to find Chester. He begs his parents to let him keep the shiny insect in the newsstand, assuring his bug-fearing mother that crickets are harmless, maybe even good luck. What ensues is an altogether captivating spin on the city mouse/country mouse story, as Chester adjusts to the bustle of the big city. Despite the cricket’s comfortable matchbox bed (with Kleenex sheets); the fancy, seven-tiered pagoda cricket cage from Sai Fong’s novelty shop; tasty mulberry leaves; the jolly company of Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat; and even his new-found fame as “the most famous musician in New York City,” Chester begins to miss his peaceful life in the Connecticut countryside. The Cricket in Times Square–a Newbery Award runner-up in 1961–is charmingly illustrated by the well-loved Garth Williams, and the tiniest details of this elegantly spun, vividly told, surprisingly suspenseful tale will stick with children for years and years. Make sure this classic sits on the shelf of your favorite child, right next to The Wind in the Willows. (Ages 9 to 12).” Amazon
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Ages 9-12. “Everyone in town thinks Meg is volatile and dull-witted and that her younger brother Charles Wallace is dumb. People are also saying that their father has run off and left their brilliant scientist mother. Spurred on by these rumors, Meg and Charles Wallace, along with their new friend Calvin, embark on a perilous quest through space to find their father. In doing so they must travel behind the shadow of an evil power that is darkening the cosmos, one planet at a time.
Young people who have trouble finding their place in the world will connect with the “misfit” characters in this provocative story. This is no superhero tale, nor is it science fiction, although it shares elements of both. The travelers must rely on their individual and collective strengths, delving deep into their characters to find answers.
A classic since 1962, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is sophisticated in concept yet warm in tone, with mystery and love coursing through its pages. Meg’s shattering yet ultimately freeing discovery that her father is not omnipotent provides a satisfying coming-of-age element. Readers will feel a sense of power as they travel with these three children, challenging concepts of time, space, and the power of good over evil. (Ages 9 to 12)” Amazon
Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
Ages 9-12. “We’ve all done it. In the frigid depths of winter we’ve wished we could be magically transported to someplace warm and sunny. But most people don’t have genius parents who just happen to be working on a scientific experiment with time travel at the moment of our wish. Sandy and Dennys Murry, the “normal” boys in a family of geniuses, suddenly find themselves trudging through a blazing-hot desert, seeking a far-off oasis for shade. Their desperate wandering brings them face-to-face with history–biblical history. Soon they’re feeling right at home with Noah and his family. Even so, the urgent question is, how will Sandy and Dennys get back to their own place and time before the floods–the many waters–come? As they begin to cross the invisible border into adulthood, the twins must confront their ability to resist temptation and embrace integrity.
In Many Waters, Madeleine L’Engle continues the Murry family saga, which includes A Wrinkle in Time; A Wind in the Door; and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which won the American Book Award. L’Engle’s mystical mix of science fiction and fantasy, time and space travel, history, morals, religion, and culture once again urges her many adoring readers to stretch their minds and hearts to understand why the world is the way it is. (Ages 9 and older)” Amazon
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Ages 8-12. “Ages 8-12. Thirty-two years before it was made into a movie, Harriet the Spy was a groundbreaking book: its unflinchingly honest portrayal of childhood problems and emotions changed children’s literature forever. Happily, it has neither dated nor become obsolete and remains one of the best children’s novels ever written. The fascinating story is about an intensely curious and intelligent girl, who literally spies on people and writes about them in her secret notebook, trying to make sense of life’s absurdities. When her classmates find her notebook and read her painfully blunt comments about them, Harriet finds herself a lonely outcast. Fitzhugh’s writing is astonishingly vivid, real and engaging, and Harriet, by no means a typical, loveable heroine, is one of literature’s most unforgettable characters. School Library Journal wrote, “a tour de force… bursts with life.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books called it “a very, very funny story.” And The Chicago Tribune raved, “brilliantly written… a superb portrait of an extraordinary child.” Amazon
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
Ages 4-8. “This is one of the seminal books of American children’s fiction. First published in 1881, eleven more volumes followed in the Pepper series, making Harriet Mulford Stone Lathrop internationally famous (as Margaret Sidney.) The series still enjoys wide readership today. It’s the story of how the Peppers cope with poverty and difficulty, always with courage and cheer, after the death of Mr. Pepper.” AudioFile
“The Peppers’ good spirits, their love for each other, and their pleasure in simple homemade fun still charms me…. I wish them a long and happy life of at least another hundred years.” Betsy Byars
Aesop’s Fables by Aesop
Ages 4-8 and up. “Beautifully designed, this lush, oversize volume showcases Pinkney’s (The Ugly Duckling) artistry in grand style. There’s a king’s ransom worth of material here, as Pinkney serves up more than 60 of the ancient Greek slave-philosopher’s fables. Aesop’s wisdom spills across the pages as freely as Pinkney’s glorious watercolors, alight with the many creatures who people the tales, from fiddling grasshoppers and diligent ants to wily foxes, clever crows, brave mice and grateful lions. Each of the vigorous retellings concludes with the kind of succinct moral that centuries of readers have come to expect (e.g., “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched”; “You are judged by the company you keep”). And whether the homilies concern a wolf in sheep’s clothing or sour grapes, the timeless virtues resonate as freshly as the day they were minted. Pinkney brings his considerable talent to bear on everything from thumbnail animal portraits to sweeping full-page vistas of hearth and woodlands, and his detail, delicacy of line and subtle palette create an elegant foil for the simple parables. If there’s room on the shelf for only one picture book version of Aesop, this could be it. All ages.” Publishers Weekly
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Ages 12 and up. “Fighting off a pack of starving wolves, wrestling alligators in the swamp, romping with bear cubs, drawing off the venom of a giant rattlesnake bite with the heart of a fresh-killed deer–it’s all in a day’s work for the Baxter family of the Florida scrublands. But young Jody Baxter is not content with these electrifying escapades, or even with the cozy comfort of home with Pa and Ma. He wants a pet, a friend with whom he can share his quiet cogitations and his corn pone. Jody gets his pet, a frisky fawn he calls Flag, but that’s not all. With Flag comes a year of life lessons, frolicking times, and achingly hard decisions. This powerful book is as compelling now as when it was written over 60 years ago. Read simply as a naturalist study of the Florida interior, it fascinates and entices. Add the heart-stopping adventure and heart-wrenching human elements, and this is a classic well worth its Pulitzer Prize. Earthy dialect and homespun wisdom season the story, giving it a unique and unforgettable flavor, and N.C. Wyeth’s warm, soft illustrations capture an era of rough subsistence and sweet survival. (Ages 12 and older).” Amazon
Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
Ages 9-12. “Pollyanna’s eternal optimism has made her one of the most beloved characters in American literature. First published in 1913, her story spawned the formation of “Glad” clubs all over the country, devoted to playing Pollyanna’s famous game. Pollyanna has since sold over one million copies, been translated into several languages, and has become both a Broadway play and a Disney motion picture.” Book Description
“When orphaned, eleven-year-old Pollyanna comes to live with austere and wealthy Aunt Polly, her philosophy of gladness brings happiness to her aunt and other unhappy members of the community.” Card catalog description
This is an old-fashioned one, but I recall it fondly.
My Friend Flicka by Mary O’hara
Ages 9-12. “Suddenly Ken heard the sound of horses coming near the house and started up so quickly that the leg of his chair tangled with the leg of the table and he went sprawling on the floor, then scrambled up and over to the window. . . . Ken leaned out the window as far as he could to see the last of them as they went down the Green, just jog-trotting . . .
“Ken . . . what are you doing?”
He scurried back to the table and made it true before he answered, “I’m doing my arithmetic.”
It seems Ken can’t do anything right. He loses saddle blankets and breaks reins . . . but then comes the worst news yet: a report card so bad that he has to repeat a grade. How can you tame the dreamy mind of a boy who stares out of the window instead of taking an exam? Enter Flicka, the chestnut filly with a wild spirit. Over the course of one magical summer, both will learn the meaning of responsibility, courage, and, ultimately, friendship.” Book Description
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Ages 9-12. “Every kid thinks about running away at one point or another; few get farther than the end of the block. Young Sam Gribley gets to the end of the block and keeps going–all the way to the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. There he sets up house in a huge hollowed-out tree, with a falcon and a weasel for companions and his wits as his tool for survival. In a spellbinding, touching, funny account, Sam learns to live off the land, and grows up a little in the process. Blizzards, hunters, loneliness, and fear all battle to drive Sam back to city life. But his desire for freedom, independence, and adventure is stronger. No reader will be immune to the compulsion to go right out and start whittling fishhooks and befriending raccoons.
Jean Craighead George, author of more than 80 children’s books, including the Newbery Medal-winning Julie of the Wolves, created another prizewinner with My Side of the Mountain–a Newbery Honor Book, an ALA Notable Book, and a Hans Christian Andersen Award Honor Book. Astonishingly, she wrote its sequel, On the Far Side of the Mountain, 30 years later, and a decade after that penned the final book in the trilogy, Frightful’s Mountain, told from the falcon’s point of view. George has no doubt shaped generations of young readers with her outdoor adventures of the mind and spirit. (Ages 9 to 12). Amazon
Frightful’s Mountain by Jean Craighead Craighead George
Ages 9-12. “Fans of Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain (a Newbery Honor Book) and On the Far Side of the Mountain will be delighted to return to upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains for the conclusion of her trilogy, which appears 40 years after the first title’s publication in 1959. Written because a young fan asked, “What happened to Frightful?” this volume tells how Sam Gribley’s peregrine falcon–that’s Frightful–has to make her own way in the world after Sam is forced to release her. Although told in the third person, the story is developed entirely from the bird’s point of view. George’s narrative follows the falcon through a series of dangerous adventures (involving DDT, electricity lines, and unscrupulous bird traders, to name a few) as she learns to depend on her own instincts. The environmental message is slightly heavy-handed, but it’s wrapped in an enjoyable story from a much loved and astoundingly prolific author. You don’t need to have read the earlier books to make sense of this one, though it may help. (Ages 9 and older).” Amazon
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Ages 9-12. “Miyax, like many adolescents, is torn. But unlike most, her choices may determine whether she lives or dies. At 13, an orphan, and unhappily married, Miyax runs away from her husband’s parents’ home, hoping to reach San Francisco and her pen pal. But she becomes lost in the vast Alaskan tundra, with no food, no shelter, and no idea which is the way to safety. Now, more than ever, she must look hard at who she really is. Is she Miyax, Eskimo girl of the old ways? Or is she Julie (her “gussak”-white people-name), the modernized teenager who must mock the traditional customs? And when a pack of wolves begins to accept her into their community, Miyax must learn to think like a wolf as well. If she trusts her Eskimo instincts, will she stand a chance of surviving? John Schoenherr’s line drawings suggest rather than tell about the compelling experiences of a girl searching for answers in a bleak landscape that at first glance would seem to hold nothing. Fans of Jean Craighead George’s stunning, Newberry Medal-winning coming-of-age story won’t want to miss Julie (1994) and Julie’s Wolf Pack (1998). (Ages 10 and older)” Amazon
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Ages 9 and up. “At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: “Instead of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.” When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella’s life and well-being seem in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery, trying to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ve ever read.
Gail Carson Levine’s examination of traditional female roles in fairy tales takes some satisfying twists and deviations from the original. Ella is bound by obedience against her will, and takes matters in her own hands with ambition and verve. Her relationship with the prince is balanced and based on humor and mutual respect; in fact, it is she who ultimately rescues him. Ella Enchanted has won many well-deserved awards, including a Newbery Honor. (Ages 9 to 14).” Amazon
This was a fun one to read aloud – I enjoyed the book – a great new independent Cinderella!
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards
Ages 9-12. “What on earth is a Whangdoodle? A “fanciful creature of undefined nature,” it was also once the wisest, kindest, most fun-loving living thing in the world–until people stopped believing in it. When that lack of faith became widespread, the last of the really great Whangdoodles created a special land full of extraordinary creatures: furry Flukes, the sly High-Behind Splintercat, and the wonderful Whiffle Bird. But when an open-minded professor–the one adult who still believes in the Whangdoodle–joins forces with three children with active imaginations, they become an unstoppable team on a fantastic and sometimes terrifying journey to Whangdoodleland.
Readers who have explored Narnia, Oz, or Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory will be thrilled at this new destination–a marvelous land that will inspire and stimulate creative and scientific minds. And who better to expose young readers to new ways of seeing, smelling, and hearing than Julie (Andrews) Edwards of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music fame? Her lively and clever style pulls readers along effortlessly; she, like the professor, is one grownup who can teach children never to close their minds to possibility. (Ages 9 to 12).” Amazon
My daughters loved Julie Andrews books – what could be better than a book by Mary Poppins? They also loved her “Mandy.”
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Ages 9-12. “The story starts out simply enough: Jess Aarons wants to be the fastest boy in the fifth grade–he wants it so bad he can taste it. He’s been practicing all summer, running in the fields around his farmhouse until he collapses in a sweat. Then a tomboy named Leslie Burke moves into the farmhouse next door and changes his life forever. Not only does Leslie not look or act like any girls Jess knows, but she also turns out to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. After getting over the shock and humiliation of being beaten by a girl, Jess begins to think Leslie might be okay.
Despite their superficial differences, it’s clear that Jess and Leslie are soul mates. The two create a secret kingdom in the woods named Terabithia, where the only way to get into the castle is by swinging out over a gully on an enchanted rope. Here they reign as king and queen, fighting off imaginary giants and the walking dead, sharing stories and dreams, and plotting against the schoolmates who tease them. Jess and Leslie find solace in the sanctuary of Terabithia until a tragedy strikes and the two are separated forever. In a style that is both plain and powerful, Katherine Paterson’s characters will stir your heart and put a lump in your throat.” Amazon
The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg
Ages 9-12. “A powerhouse sixth-grade Academic Bowl team from Epiphany Middle School; the art of calligraphy; the retirees of Century Village, Florida; a genius dog named Ginger; and a holiday production of “Annie” all figure heavily in the latest book by E. L. Konigsburg, who has produced a Newbery Medal-winning children’s tale to rival her classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which won the Newbery Medal almost 30 years ago. The new book centers around a group of four brilliant, shy 12-year-olds and the tea party they have each Saturday morning. Konigsburg’s wacky erudition and her knack for offbeat characters make this a funny and endearing story of friendship.” Amazon Review
This is one I found from the Children’s Author’s Game (see Part II).
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Ages 9-12. “Imagine coming upon a fountain of youth in a forest. To live forever–isn’t that everyone’s ideal? For the Tuck family, eternal life is a reality, but their reaction to their fate is surprising. Award winner Natalie Babbitt (Knee-Knock Rise, The Search for Delicious) outdoes herself in this sensitive, moving adventure in which 10-year-old Winnie Foster is kidnapped, finds herself helping a murderer out of jail, and is eventually offered the ultimate gift–but doesn’t know whether to accept it. Babbitt asks profound questions about the meaning of life and death, and leaves the reader with a greater appreciation for the perfect cycle of nature. Intense and powerful, exciting and poignant, Tuck Everlasting will last forever–in the reader’s imagination. An ALA Notable Book. (Ages 9 to 12)” Amazon
Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
Ages 9 and up. “The Newbery Award-winning novel from the author of Across Five Aprils and No Promises in the Wind comes her most beloved story of a girl’s coming of age.” Book Description
“After her mother’s death, Julie goes to live with Aunt Cordelia, a spinster schoolteacher, where she experiences many emotions and changes as she grows from seven to eighteen.” Card catalog description
This one I still remember well – I loved it as a teen. It stayed with me for many a year.
Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
Ages 9-12. “Grade 3-5–Virginia Sorensen’s 1957 Newbery Award winner (Harcourt, 1956) is [a] loving family saga about Marley, brother Joe, their parents, and their friends. When Marley’s father returns home from World War II a broken man physically and spiritually, her mother decides that the family needs to leave the city for an extended visit to Grandma’s house in the country. The tale [is of] of a year in the life of this family as the father slowly regains his strength and confidence. The year is filled with small miracles from the first spring blossoms to the healing of their beloved neighbor, Mr. Chris. So many children today have parents who are part of the war effort overseas that this somewhat old-fashioned, half-century old story is still relevant for youngsters today.” School Library Journal
Plain Girl by Virginia Sorensen
Ages 9-12. “An Amish girl, Esther feels like “one black bird against the sky” in her plain clothes. So when she’s forced to attend public school she’s terrified. She fears the new world she must enter, fears the way she sticks out next to other kids, and–most of all–fears she may do what her brother did: run away and join the sinful but great wide world she’s only just discovering.” Book Description
This is another book I read as an older teen – a quiet little book, about acceptance.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Ages 9-12. “Scott O’Dell won the Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1961, and in 1976 the Children’s Literature Association named this riveting story one of the 10 best American children’s books of the past 200 years. O’Dell was inspired by the real-life story of a 12-year-old American Indian girl, Karana. The author based his book on the life of this remarkable young woman who, during the evacuation of Ghalas-at (an island off the coast of California), jumped ship to stay with her young brother who had been abandoned on the island. He died shortly thereafter, and Karana fended for herself on the island for 18 years.
O’Dell tells the miraculous story of how Karana forages on land and in the ocean, clothes herself (in a green-cormorant skirt and an otter cape on special occasions), and secures shelter. Perhaps even more startlingly, she finds strength and serenity living alone on the island. This beautiful edition of Island of the Blue Dolphins is enriched with 12 full-page watercolor paintings by Ted Lewin, illustrator of more than 100 children’s books, including Ali, Child of the Desert. A gripping story of battling wild dogs and sea elephants, this simply told, suspenseful tale of survival is also an uplifting adventure of the spirit. (Ages 9 to 12)” Amazon
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Ages 9-12. “At age 11, Caddie Woodlawn is the despair of her mother and the pride of her father: a clock-fixing tomboy running wild in the woods of Wisconsin. In 1864, this is a bit much for her Boston-bred mother to bear, but Caddie and her brothers are happy with the status quo. Written in 1935 about Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother’s childhood, the adventures of Caddie and her brothers are still exciting over 60 years later. With each chapter comes another ever-more exciting adventure: a midnight gallop on her horse across a frozen river to warn her American Indian friends of the white men’s plan to attack; a prairie fire approaching the school house; and a letter from England that may change the family’s life forever. This Newbery Medal-winning book bursts at the seams with Caddie’s irrepressible spirit. In spite of her mother’s misgivings, Caddie is a perfect role model for any girl–or boy, for that matter. She’s big-hearted, she’s brave, and she’s mechanically inclined! (Ages 9 to 12)” Amazon
Another of my perennial favorites – this is a funnier version of the Little House series – sort of a Tom sawyer for girls.
Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink
Ages 9-12. “Twelve-year-old Mary Wallace and her ten-year-old sister Jean survive the wreck of an ocean liner on its way to Australia and manage to make it to a seemingly deserted island in a lifeboat with four babies.” Card Catalog Description
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Ages 9-12. “MacLachlan, author of Unclaimed Treasures, has written an affecting tale for children. In the late 19th century a widowed midwestern farmer with two children–Anna and Caleb–advertises for a wife. When Sarah arrives she is homesick for Maine, especially for the ocean which she misses greatly. The children fear that she will not stay, and when she goes off to town alone, young Caleb–whose mother died during childbirth–is stricken with the fear that she has gone for good. But she returns with colored pencils to illustrate for them the beauty of Maine, and to explain that, though she misses her home, “the truth of it is I would miss you more.” The tale gently explores themes of abandonment, loss and love.” Amazon
A great, quiet book about the strength within.
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
Ages 8-12. “Meet Ginger Pye, the smartest dog you’ll ever know. Jerry Pye and his sister, Rachel, feel pretty smart themselves for buying Ginger. It was the best dollar they ever spent. Ginger steals everybody’s heart . . . until someone steals him!” Book Description
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
Ages 10 and up. “This story of a tragically injured young silversmith who ends up hip-deep in the American Revolution is inspiring, exciting, and sad. Winner of the prestigious Newbery Award in 1944, Esther Forbes’s story has lasted these 50-plus years by including adventure, loss, courage, and history in a wonderfully written, very dramatic package. It’s probably not great for little guys but mature 11-year-olds or older will find it a great adventure.” Amazon
Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Ages 9-12. “A pioneer boy, brought up by Crow Indians, is reunited with his family and attempts to orient himself in the white man’s culture.” Card Catalog Description
Although many of these books have been made into movies, I purposefully left those off for now – I will do a matching list later. But I wanted to focus on the books, and encourage kids to read, rather than just watch the movie version. Enjoy! Part II and III, and At The Movies for Classic Kids coming soon…