I’ve decided to start a favorite books page. This is going to be an ongoing work-in-progress, so feel free to check back every once in a while. I aim to divide the books up into age suitability, even though that’s a chancy thing at best. Some children are precocious enough to be reading novels at a young age; some adults can hardly handle a novel. At any rate, the age divisions are my opinions. More importantly, these are all books I’ve read and loved. I highly recommend any of them. If you read one of these stories and sincerely dislike it, please let me know; I would be honestly curious to hear your perspective.
I believe the stories we read are the stories that shape us. This is doubly true and doubly important with children…
VERY YOUNG CHILDREN’S BOOKS
All the Beatrix Potter books, of course.
Dorothea Warren Fox: Miss Twiggley’s Tree.
Doris Burn: The Summerfolk. Superbly written. Brilliant illustrations.
Bill Peet: How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head, Merle the High Flying Squirrel, Kermit the Hermit. Bill Peet, I think, was an old Disney artist who, later, built a second career with children’s books. He wrote a great many excellent books. These three are just a selection.
All the Richard Scarry books (who wouldn’t want Huckle and Lowly for friends?).
Catherine Friend: The Perfect Nest.
Judy Hindley: Do Like a Duck Does.
Helen Lester: The Wizard, the Fairy, and the Magic Chicken. This is a wonderfully silly book. I need a copy for our home library.
OLDER CHILDREN’S BOOKS
First, what does “older children” mean? Teens, pre-teens? I’m not sure. So, for sake of this list, I’m assuming the child in question can read well and is not tempted to put the book down every three minutes and go hug their television. Also, please (please!) be aware of what your child is reading (and read the books yourself).
Lloyd Alexander: The Prydain Chronicles (The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, The High King). He also wrote a delightful novella titled The Cat Who Wished to be a Man.
Keith Robertson: all the Henry Reed books.
Madeleine L’Engle: I’d be a bit careful with her books. Some of her more recent novels, in my estimation, do not measure up to her earlier works. A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Meet the Austins, The Moon by Night, The Young Unicorns, A Ring of Endless Light, The Arm of the Starfish.
C. S. Lewis: The Narnia Chronicles (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Horse and His Boy, The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew, The Last Battle).
Rosemary Harris: The Moon in the Cloud, The Shadow on the Sun. Superb and humorous stories about Egypt and Canaan during the time of the great flood. As far as I can tell, these two books are out of print. That’s a tremendous shame, as they are delightfully written. If you see on at a garage sale or your church bazaar, snap it up.
Rosemary Sutcliff: She was rather prolific and wrote a great many historical fiction novels based around Celtic and Saxon history. Wonderful books for boys. The Eagle of the Ninth is a good one to start with.
Mark Hyde: The Singing Sword. This is the fictionalized story of Sir Ogier the Dane, one of Charlemagne’s knights. Lots of battles and villains and fair maidens. Not the easiest book to find. Definitely out of print. Why do the excellent books go out of print while so much trash is being published these days? C’est la vie.
Norton Juster: The Phantom Tollbooth. A brilliant book about words, a boy named Milo, and a large watchdog. This is a must-read for children. Try to avoid having this foisted on them in school (unless they have a brilliant teacher). This book should be read in a leisurely manner, allowing time for chuckles and appropriate snacks.
John Verney: Ismo, Friday’s Tunnel, February’s Road. These books are all about the Callendar family in England. Gentle, light-hearted. Verney’s books also seem to be out of print. I have to admit that compiling this list is starting to depress me due to all the wonderful out-of-print books.
Helen Cresswell: the Bagthorpe series. Very fun series of books about an English family full of odd characters. I’d advise finding and reading them in order. Ordinary Jack, Absolute Zero, Bagthorpes Unlimited, Bagthorpes versus the World, Bagthorpes Abroad, Bagthorpes Haunted, etc. There are, I think, ten books in the series. I would recommend the older, hardback versions as they are illustrated magnificently by Trina Schart Hyman. Amazing artist. Of course, the new paperback versions would be much cheaper…
Robert James Green: Two Swords for a Princess. This is a story about the Viking era, particularly in the context of Ireland. Excellent tale, but I imagine it would be difficult to come by an inexpensive copy of this book. Yep, it’s out-of-print.
Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Danny – the Champion of the World, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach. I’m not a fan of Dahl’s adult books, and I’d advise avoiding those. However, these books listed here are masterpieces, particularly the Danny book. The versions illustrated by Quentin Blake, in my modest opinion, are the best.
Daniel Pinkwater: The Magic Moscow, Fatmen from Space, The Worms of Kukulima, The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death. Pinkwater is difficult to classify. In a phrase, I’d peg him as a harmless and hilarious Dadaist. However, these are very VERY odd books. And extremely funny. At least, I think they’re funny.
Eleanor Cameron: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, Mr. Bass’s Planetoid, Time and Mr. Bass. These are marvelous books about two boys, space travel, and a home-built rocket ship. I read these many times when I was a boy. Cameron set them in the town of Pacific Grove, California, which is quite close to where I grew up.
E. L. Konigsburg: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Runaway children hiding out in a New York museum. What’s not to like?
Andrew Peterson: The Wingfeather Saga. This series starts with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and then continues on from there. Peterson is a musician of some note, so I gather that writing novels is a second career for him. This is a wonderfully creative and fun fantasy series. Rather whimsical.
Sid Fleischman: I can’t believe I forgot to include these earlier. By the Great Horn Spoon, Jingo Django, Chancy and the Grand Rascal, The Ghost in the Noonday Sun. He was rather prolific, so there’s many other Fleischman books. Notably, he also wrote a series of books about the McBroom family, which are more appropriate for younger children (but still can be enjoyed buy older kids and adults [if the adults are wise enough]).
Robert Lawson: I’m embarrassed that Lawson wasn’t on this list years ago. He’s a rare master and the sort of writer that I will occasionally re-read, for the twentieth time, even in my elderly, near-octogenarian years. He wrote a lot of historical fiction set around notables such as Ben Franklin, Columbus, etc., usually paired with a talking animal. Wonderful stories. Ben and Me, I Discover Columbus, Captain Kidd’s Cat, Mr. Revere and I, The Great Wheel, Rabbit Hill, They Were Strong and Good. A lot of his books are out of print, a fact I find staggering, as I cannot think of a single modern author writing in that age-range who is even worthy to skulk in Lawson’s shadow.
Susan Cooper: Another glaring omission on my part. Cooper is the forerunner of the modern fantasy genre, an urban fantasist, perhaps, before anyone was even drearying up the world with that phrase. She was a student of Tolkien at university. Whether she intended to or not, she certainly follows in his footsteps with her use of myth and a wistful longing for the worlds beyond. Her Dark is Rising series is one of those sets that must be owned in order to lend and re-read and simply have on the shelf. I’m not so fond of her later books, so I’d recommend sticking to: Over Sea Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on a Tree.
Patricia McKillip: Along with Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper, McKillip is the best fantasy writer in the post-Tolkien and Lewis era. I would argue this only for her Riddlemaster trilogy. These are also must-own books in my humble (yet arrogant) opinion. The Riddlemaster of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, The Harpist in the Wind.
BOOKS FOR ADULTS
I don’t mean to infer so-called “adult content” by listing these next books under this heading. Rather, this is a list of books with older sensibilities and themes. I do not recommend these for children or teenagers. However, you know your family best, so if you feel your teenager is up for one of these books, that’s your call. Again, though, please share books as a family. There are many reasons for doing that.
Walker Percy: The Second Coming.
Robert Lewis Taylor: Journey to Matecumbe. This is an astoundingly luminous, humorous, and warm-hearted book. I think a great many people in this day of overly-sensitive nonsense would label it racist for some of its content. However, it’s a fantastic story, peopled with fantastic characters and set in the post-war South. Taylor has a unique and vivid writing voice that makes him stand out like sharp, black ink in a bland world of New Yorker-style porridge literature. He won a Pulitzer for The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, but, in my modest estimation, I consider that an inferior book to Matecumbe. One last point of interest: decades ago, an obviously crazy person at Disney produced a film version of Matecumbe (titled “Treasure of Matecumbe”). The film was milk toast at best, and bore as much resemblance to Taylor’s book as does a badly cracked patch of asphalt to a perfectly ripe mango.