Books for Children of All Ages


While doing some Win­ter Sol­stice shop­ping, I ran across the loveli­est lit­tle book, A Keep­sake Jour­nal of Books Read to Me, by Emi­ly Elli­son. It’s for par­ents and grand­par­ents to record the books read to and with their chil­dren. I do wish I’d kept such a jour­nal for Katie—and that my moth­er had kept one for me! It would be inter­est­ing to look back at that list today.

Books have always been an impor­tant part of my life—I can­not remem­ber a time when I didn’t want to go to the library week­ly at the very least! In turn, I read to Katie from the day she was born, some­times just what­ev­er I was read­ing, some­times some­thing I’d cho­sen espe­cial­ly for her—fairy tales, poems, nurs­ery rhymes, what­ev­er was at hand. She’s nev­er once, in her entire life, writ­ten in any book that wasn’t a col­or­ing book or work­book, prob­a­bly because she was taught to respect books from infan­cy. She nev­er tore up books or dam­aged them in any way, despite her pater­nal grandmother’s dire pre­dic­tions of what a baby would do if you gave her books! She’s always had her own books, but also has been allowed access to my bookshelves—I tried to read Beowulf for the first time when I was about 6 years old, in Mom’s old high school lit­er­a­ture book, so why not give her the same oppor­tu­ni­ty?

Look­ing back at the books I loved most, and those I’ve shared with her and intend to share with her as the time comes, I found myself want­i­ng to go back and revis­it some old friends. I know I missed some that oth­er folks cite as clas­sics, so I fig­ured I’d read some of those, as well. Then I ran across a fea­ture about the West­ern Canon Jr. that every child should read, and not­ed the dif­fer­ences (and sim­i­lar­i­ties) in the books var­i­ous peo­ple includ­ed in their own rec­om­men­da­tions. I’m curi­ous, now—what would you rec­om­mend?

Our List

  • Tamo­ra Pierce’s works have been very pop­u­lar in our house­hold since Katie dis­cov­ered them. They’re clas­si­fied as teen books, but Katie had no prob­lem read­ing them at 9 and cer­tain­ly enjoyed them.
  • If you haven’t heard about the Har­ry Pot­ter books you must have spent the last few years under a very iso­lat­ed rock. We’ve enjoyed them, although I don’t quite think they’re as incred­i­ble as some folks do — but they have got­ten many kids to read who weren’t inter­est­ed in any print­ed mat­ter before, and that’s cer­tain­ly laud­able.
  • Per­son­al­ly, I find Diana Wynne Jones to be a bet­ter writer than J. K. Rowl­ing, but she isn’t as well known. Katie real­ly enjoyed the Chrestom­an­ci series.
  • Graeme Base’s Ani­malia is one of the best alpha­bet books ever. A friend of the fam­i­ly gave it to Katie before she was even born—her very first book.
  • Love You For­ev­er by Sheila McGraw and Robert N. Mun­sch is a mar­velous­ly sap­py book. Since this wasn’t pub­lished until (I think) some­time in the 1980’s, it obvi­ous­ly isn’t one I remem­ber from my own child­hood, but it’s a love­ly one for any par­ent and child.
  • Good­night, Moon by Mar­garet Wise Brown
  • Mrs. Pig­gle Wig­gle by Bet­ty Mac­Don­ald
  • Debra Barracca’s Taxi Dog books
  • Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood. We checked this book out of the library, attract­ed by the beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions by Don Wood, the author’s spouse. Katie loved it so much we bought our own copy, and it’s a good thing we got the hard cov­er edi­tion, as it has been read many times!
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Mau­rice Sendak (and just about any­thing else by him).
  • Who could for­get Dr. Seuss?
  • Amelia Bedelia by Peg­gy Parish
  • Roald Dahl’s books upset many par­ents and edu­ca­tors to no end, and have been doing so for years! They’ve been banned so fre­quent­ly that the recent movie ver­sions of James and the Giant Peach and Mathil­da were many people’s first intro­duc­tion to him. He has many more excel­lent books, though!
  • One Kit­ten is Not Too Many — this is out of print, but it’s one I’d got­ten at a book fair when I was in first grade, loved, and passed on to Katie in turn.
  • The Won­der­ful Flight to the Mush­room Plan­et by Eleanor Cameron. I loved the sto­ries about Mr. Bass.
  • The Bor­row­ers by Mary Nor­ton
  • The Sto­ry of Doc­tor Doolit­tle by Hugh Loft­ing. I love the ver­sion illus­trat­ed by Michael Hague.
  • The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia by C.S. Lewis. These can be read on so many lev­els by chil­dren and adults that they have a per­ma­nent place of hon­or in our library.
  • The Hob­bit by J.R.R. Tolkien. One of my favorite teach­ers, Ms. Keifer, gave me a copy of Lord of the Rings set when I was in sev­enth grade with one caveat—after I fin­ished them, I had to pass them on to some­one else who would enjoy them. I went out and got my own copy right after pass­ing them on, and added The Hob­bit, which I enjoyed even more.
  • Wiz­ard of Oz by Frank L. Baum, and all the sub­se­quent books. I’m very glad I read the sto­ry before I ever saw the movie—I still much pre­fer the book!
  • The Three Inves­ti­ga­tors series by Robert Arthur were our of print, but thank­ful­ly they’re being reprint­ed! The first in the series is The Secret of Ter­ror Cas­tle. I remem­ber them being labeled as “Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Inves­ti­ga­tors” when I read them, but it seems that bit has been edit­ed out now.
  • Judy Blume is great for all pre-teens to teenagers, but be sure you read her books first. They deal very can­did­ly with some issues, like sex and mor­tal­i­ty, and you may want to dis­cuss the books with your kids. I remem­ber kids who would nev­er have read any oth­er book pass­ing dog-eared copies of For­ev­er around our mid­dle school because the book had been banned.
  • The Lit­tle Prince by Antoine Saint-Exu­pery is mag­i­cal. I didn’t encounter it until a col­lege French class, but I made sure Katie had a copy (in Eng­lish) on her shelves when she was born.
  • Any­thing and every­thing by Madeleine L’Engle, but espe­cial­ly the Wrin­kle in Time series. There are more books in the series now than when I was child — they are:
  • The Adven­tures of Sher­lock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • Lit­tle House on the Prarie and its sequels, by Lau­ra Ingalls Wilder.
  • Lit­tle Women and Lit­tle Men by Louisa May Alcott.
  • The Princess and the Gob­lin by George Mac­Don­ald. I didn’t dis­cov­er MacDonald’s fairy tales until I was grown, but I’m catch­ing up!
  • Col­lec­tions of folk/fairy tales, mytholo­gies, nurs­ery rhymes, games, etc. from all over the world. Any time I find anoth­er col­lec­tion, I get it. I fond­ly recall read­ing through the children’s sec­tion of the Gads­den, Alaba­ma pub­lic library and absolute­ly thrilling to the ways dif­fer­ent cul­tures explained the same things, like what caus­es light­ning, or how the world was cre­at­ed.
  • Old Tur­tle by Dou­glas Wood. I can pret­ty much count on find­ing a beau­ti­ful book any time I stop by the Uni­ty Church’s book­store on Cham­blee Dun­woody Road, and this is one of the many books I dis­cov­ered there.
  • Most of our fam­i­ly has been read­ing Diane Duane’s Wiz­ardry series late­ly — and we’ve all enjoyed them. There are four books now, with a fifth out soon. So You Want to Be a Wiz­ard? is first, fol­lowed by Deep Wiz­ardry, then High Wiz­ardry and A Wiz­ard Abroad. The kids are eager to be read the two adult books set in the uni­verse, as well — The Book of Night With Moon and To Vis­it the Queen (and as soon as I can find my copies, which have gone miss­ing, they will).
  • Any of Leslea New­man books for chil­dren, includ­ing Belinda’s Bou­quet, Heather Has Two Mom­mies, and Too Far Away to Touch, are good ways to gen­tly intro­duce your chil­dren to the conept of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty. Belinda’s Bou­quet deals with accept­ing the fact that we’re nat­u­ral­ly all dif­fer­ent sizes and shapes, and accept­ing that our bod­ies won’t all be the same. (New­man has writ­ten anoth­er nov­el on this sub­ject for ado­les­cents, Fat Chance.) Belin­da has two moth­ers with no father evi­dent, but it’s pre­sent­ed in a very mat­ter-of-fact man­ner. Heather Has Two Mom­mies is, of course, infamous—it’s the sto­ry of a lit­tle girl who has been told by her preschool teacher that she can­not have two mom­mies, that it sim­ply isn’t possible—but she does. And Too Far Away to Touch is a love­ly book about los­ing some­one you love to a fatal illness—a gay uncle lost to AIDS in this case, but it is a good intro­duc­tion to talk­ing about any loss with a child. Michael Willhoite’s Uncle What-Is-It Is Com­ing to Vis­it!! and Fam­i­lies : A Col­or­ing Book are also very good. Ama­zon seems to think some of these books are no longer avail­able, but I have found them at Out­write Books in Atlanta (404–607-0082).
  • Katie intro­duced me to Lloyd Alexander’s books after she read The Book of Three at school. We’re adding the whole series to our library: The Black Caul­dron, The Cas­tle of Lyr, Taran Wan­der­er and The High King.
  • The Lit­tle Princess by Frances Hodges Bur­nett was very spe­cial to me as a child—one of the first real hard­back books I owned that wasn’t a “baby book.”
  • My much-bat­tered copies of Hei­di by Johan­na Spyri and Hei­di Grows Up by Charles Trit­ten sit on Katie’s book­shelves now. They got banged up from being clutched as I climbed trees to read in peace away from my younger sib­lings, from being stuffed into a bag on my bike when I rode out into the woods, from being smug­gled under the cov­ers and read with a flash­light. I think I may have to buy new copies if Katie loves them as much as I did.
  • Socks by Bev­er­ly Cleary, along with the rest of her many books, are always big hits.
  • Ursu­la LeGuin’s Catwings books:

    I’d nev­er real­ly thought of LeGuin as a children’s author, but Katie has fall­en in love with these books about a fam­i­ly of kit­tens born with wings.

  • You couldn’t real­ly go wrong by begin­ning with sev­er­al dif­fer­ent trans­la­tions of the Bible—lack of knowl­edge of the Bible, espe­cial­ly the King James ver­sion, is sim­ply crip­pling if one plans to study much west­ern lit­er­a­ture. We aren’t Chris­tians, but have a King James, a Chidren’s Liv­ing Bible (a gift from my child­hood), a New Inter­na­tion­al Ver­sion and (my favorite) George M. Lamsa’s trans­la­tion from the Ara­ma­ic text. We also have Asimov’s Guide to the Bible — an excel­lent ref­er­ence. (I know, most peo­ple prob­a­bly don’t have or need so many ver­sions, but most of these are due to the fact that I was brought up in a fun­da­men­tal­ist fam­i­ly, and didn’t leave Chris­tian­i­ty until I was an adult.)
  • Then, of course, you’d need to add a col­lec­tion of the works of William Shake­speare. I think you need them in their orig­i­nal form, but there’s a col­lec­tion of the sto­ries retold for chil­dren that’s also a good intro­duc­tion for young­sters.
  • Some of my absolute­ly favorite pas­sages for read­ing aloud (to chil­dren and adults) come from Mark Twain. I’d love to have a com­plete col­lec­tion of Twain’s books, but for now we make do with A Con­necti­cut Yan­kee in King Arthur’s Court, The Cel­e­brat­ed Jump­ing Frog of Calav­eras Coun­ty, and Oth­er Sketch­es and a few oth­ers.
  • Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Won­der­land and Through the Look­ing Glass are cer­tain­ly a require­ment for a full lit­er­ary child­hood!
  • Actu­al­ly, you pret­ty much need sev­er­al ver­sions of the Arthuri­an cycles, as well. For kids, T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone is a safe choice. For teens, I real­ly like the twist Mar­i­on Zim­mer Bradley put on it with The Mists of Aval­on. Katie read that one at 10, so it isn’t too dif­fi­cult for a mature pre-teen.
  • You could also safe­ly print out lists of New­bery and
    and Calde­cott medal and hon­or win­ners and find every sin­gle book to be a gem.

Books for Parents

There are a cou­ple of books I’ve read for par­ents and/or about chil­dren and par­ent­ing in gen­er­al that I thought I’d rec­om­mend.

  • Intel­li­gence and Gift­ed­ness : The Con­tri­bu­tions of Hered­i­ty and Ear­ly Envi­ron­ment (Jossey-Bass Social and Behav­ioral Sci­ence Series), by Dr. Miles D. Stor­fer. This is not some­thing you’ll run across on the paper­back rack at Winn Dix­ie, okay? In fact, I’d prob­a­bly nev­er have run across it, except that I met Dr. Stor­fer at a Men­sa con­ven­tion while I was preg­nant, and attend­ed a ses­sion at which he spoke. The book pulls togeth­er an incred­i­ble amount of research on intel­li­gence and nature vs. nur­ture. One of the things that fas­ci­nat­ed me was a com­par­i­son of child-rear­ing prac­tices in var­i­ous soci­eties that are believed to con­tribute to the devel­op­ment of gift­ed­ness. The book is very, very dry, though, and cer­tain­ly a more schol­ar­ly tome than what I’m usu­al­ly reading—the foot­notes, bib­li­og­ra­phy, etc. prob­a­bly make up half the pages! But it is worth­while if you are curi­ous about gift­ed­ness and how to cre­ate an envi­ron­ment that encour­ages its devel­op­ment.
  • Pos­i­tive Dis­ci­pline
  • I’ll Tell You a Sto­ry, I’ll Sing You a Song by Chris­tine Alli­son. I found a copy back before Katie was born, and it was invalu­able for find­ing the words to songs I almost remem­bered from my own child­hood.
  • Cir­cle Round: Rais­ing Chil­dren in God­dess Tra­di­tions by Starhawk, Anne Hill and Diane Bak­er. A won­der­ful resource with an expla­na­tion of major pagan hol­i­days and sto­ries, recipes and craft activ­i­ties for each of them. There’s a great web­site that accom­pa­nies the book, too.

Sites About Children’s Books

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