Favorite Books

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.

Tomi Ungerer: The Hat, Crictor, Orlando.

Maurice Sendak: In the Night Kitchen, Higglety Pigglety Pop (yes, I left out Where the Wild Things Are, as I’m not that fond of the book).

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.

Robert McCloskey: Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings, Lentil, One Morning in Maine.

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.

Lois Lenski: Cowboy Small, Policeman Small, The Little Airplane.

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.

Robert McCloskey: Homer Price, Centerburg Tales.

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.

Ursula K. Le Guin: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore.

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).

J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King.

George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, At the Back of the North Wind, The Light Princess.

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.

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.


21 thoughts on “Favorite Books

  1. Christopher,
    Good list. I’d place C.S.Lewis/Tolkien/MacDonald at the top. Also, you might consider adding ‘The Two Princesses of Barmarre”(sp?)and the “Peter Pan and the Starstuff” (series). I am 16 years old, and yes I’ve been reading without hugging the TV for years!

    Thanks for considering my suggestions.
    By the way, will you ever have “printed” books not kindle? I like to hold pages in my hand.

    • Hi Rena. Thanks for stopping by. You’re right: Lewis/Tolkien/McDonald should definitely be at the top, but I’m afraid I didn’t order the list according to quality. The order of the books was dictated more by me merely glancing over the contents of my personal library and seeing what was there. Those three, however, are my three most favorite authors (with GK Chesterton coming in close at their heels). I have never heard of the two books you mention. Thank you for the recommendations. I’ll put them on my to-be-read list.

      As far as printed books, yes. I’m almost done with those. I have a couple more hours work of formatting the files and then they should be available. However, these days, I seem to have run out of free hours…

  2. Hah! I just figured out why I love your writings! Or, perhaps not why but it makes sense! You love the same authors I do!!!!! You left off The Horse. And His Boy… and it finally occurred to me why I kept thinking your title sounded so familiar! I have been listening over and over and over and… to the entire series once dramatised by Focus on the Family (Excellent, if you can obtain it, btw.) Have you read any of G.A. Henty’s books??? I don’t know how old your boys are, but they are great historical fictions. Those and George MacDonald were the first Kindle books I got. I thought I was in book heaven!!!

    • Yeah, that title was an unanticipated nod to CS Lewis. Great author. No, I haven’t heard the audio series, but that sounds like a great idea for a family road trip. Yes, I’ve read quite a few of the GA Henty books. I still enjoy them at my age and I’m planning on introducing them to my boys when they get a bit older (they’re still at the Mercer Mayer stage). George MacDonald is amazing. That reminds me: I need to add his Lilith and Phantastes books.

  3. Sorry about the typos… trying to type on kindle.. also I thank you for all the suggestions – some I haven’t heard of or read yet!

    • I love recommending books. Navigating a library is kind of like navigating a minefield, in my estimation, but there are some fabulous books out there.

  4. Wanted you to know, from our family’s experience, that girls of ages enjoy Rosemary Sutcliff books as well! Thanks for all the great recommendations. Some are already family favorites … appreciate the recommendations for new books to explore as well!

    • Sutcliff is a great author! I still enjoy reading her books, even after all these years. Have the girls read the Bagthorpe books by Helen Cresswell? Very British, but your family’s Scottish background might resonate with them.

  5. I loved the Prydian Chronicles when I read them as a preteen and I’ve read them several times since. I’ve picked up a few for my son, who is 12. My favorite Alexander series was Westmark, though; with the Vesper Holly books taking second.

    • Yeah, Prydain is a wonderful series. One of the best. I’ve read the Westmark books, but I must confess I’ve never heard of the Vesper Holly books. Also by Alexander? I’ll have to check those out.

  6. I’m a little bit devastated that Two Swords for a Princess is out of print, our family copy was lent to a friend and never returned… Oh well, at least I have the author name now. Great post!

    • Terrible to hear you lost your copy! I hope you find a replacement. Perhaps used on Amazon? I found a hardcover there for 24 dollars. Bit pricey…

  7. Just been scouring your website again. It’s been ages… About books. Have you read any of Gene Stratton-Porter? My favorite, so far, is Laddie: A True Blue Story. It is written from a six-year-old’s point of view. It’s wonderful! I thought it was about a dog, but it isn’t…!
    I am going to re read Storm in Tormay this summer. I bought it for one of my students on nook. She is moving to Dominican Republic, and couldn’t take the physical book with her. She had started reading but wasn’t able to finish before she left, due to all the homework..ahem!
    I hope you are well.

    • Yes, I’ve read a fair number of her books. She doesn’t write in one of the usual genres I seek out, but I’ve always found the quality of her writing voice unusual. There’s something lyrical about it. Very compelling. I haven’t read Laddie, but I’ve read the Harvester and Freckles.
      Thanks for still finding Tormay interesting enough to re-read. You should be awarded a medal of valor or something. I’m slowly tinkering with another Tormay story (Fen Gawinn, older and trying to figure out what happened to her real family, combined with the sceadu who we left in the tunnels at the end of the trilogy, etc). Hopefully that will come together before too long.

  8. I did finish the re-read and found its richness just as rewarding. The story stands the test of time. Until the new heaven and the new earth there will be the darkness of shadows that tries to obliterate the light, but God’s holy wind spirit will ultimately dispel all dark. It seems like the dark is winning more battles, though. For now. We need a few more Owains and children unafraid to search for truth.

    • I’m glad the story stands up to a re-read. That’s always the test for me with my favorite books. The light in the darkness was one of my over-arching themes that I tried to thread through the plot. If it was good enough for Tolkien…

      Speaking of Owain, he’s in my current work. The main character is Fen Gawinn, but Owain and Sibb certainly do appear it. They’re some of my favorite people. Family was another deliberate theme in the trilogy, and I wrote the Gawinns to be the strongest portrayal of that: as well as the single chapter featuring the farming family in the third book, the Duke and Duchess of Dolan, and the Farrows.

    • Yes. Great series. I just added it. By the way, did you see the Kickstarter he just did for an animated episode of Wingfeather? A couple of the guys working on it with him are ex Veggie Tales people. Should be good.

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