I've added some new suggestions to this mostly-recycled list of recommended books for children. As you probably know, when you click through any of the Amazon links here,
place an item in your shopping cart (whether it's something we've linked
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Narnia, of course.
George MacDonald's The Princess and Curdie and The Princess and the Goblin make enthralling read-alouds. Amazon:
One of the most successful and beloved of Victorian fairy tales, George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin tells the story of young Princess Irene and her friend Curdie, who must outwit the threatening goblins who live in caves beneath her mountain home. Macdonald’s pioneering use of fanstasy as a literary medium had a great influence on Lewis Carroll, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L’Engle, all great admirers of his work, which has remained popular to this day. "I write, not for children," he wrote, "but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five."The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. One of the most beautiful stories ever written. (Here are two versions.) It's also a wonderful read-aloud.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Black Hearts in Battersea
Nightbirds on Nantucket
Ms. Aiken, in my opinion, went off the rails with some of the later books in the series but I love the three above, and you might like them all.
Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody. Think of this autobiographical book and its sequels as Little House with a male protagonist. Young Moody possessed what they once called "initiative" in spades. He was a cowboy, a farmer, and an entrepreneur par excellence. Little Britches makes an excellent read-aloud, along with Man of the Family, Mary Emma and Company, and The Fields of Home. (There are more titles in the series, but these are the best.)
Anything by Marguerite Henry. We hope the current disturbing obsession with vampires hasn't killed off the American girl's passion for horses and horse stories. My daughters loved Misty of Chincoteague, Stormy, Misty's Foal, Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague, and King of the Wind, among others.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. The first book of a dozen about imaginative British children who live in the Lake District, sailing about in boats and having adventures. A much-loved classic. #2 daughter has collected all twelve.
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. This book and its sequels were written for adults but teens will also fall in love with Herriot's Yorkshire and its inhabitants, both human and animal. Hilariously funny as well as dramatic and poignant. Try to save the excellent BBC series for viewing after you and your kids have finished the books. Like dessert.
Tintin in America and others by Hergé. Entice that reluctant reader with non-stop adventure, humor, and great drawings. My kids have read them over and over.
Have Spacesuit, Will Travel by Robert Heinlein. Aliens, faster-than-light travel, and sliderules. #3 son says it's the second best book ever. (Best: The Hobbit.)
The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet and others by Eleanor Cameron. Irresistible:
WANTED: A small spaceship about eight feet long, built by a boy, or by two boys, between the ages of eight and eleven. The ship should be sturdy and well made, and should be of materials found at hand. Nothing need be bought. No adult should be consulted as to its plan or method of construction. An adventure and a chance to do a good deed await the boys who build the best space ship. Please bring your ship as soon as possible to Mr. Tyco M. Bass, 5 Thallo Street, Pacific Grove, California.I rest my case.
The Tripods series by John Christopher. A riveting four-book series about what happens when horrifying aliens take over the earth with the help of mind-controlling "caps" that destroy the human will.
The White Mountains
The City of Gold and Lead
The Pool of Fire
When the Tripods Came*
(*I would read the prequel last.)
The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are enormous favorites here. (See Roger Kimball's How to Reform Primary Education.)
Also highly recommended:
Half Magic by Edward Eager. A huge favorite of daughter #4, who says Eager is like E. Nesbit, but better. See also, Magic by the Lake, Knight's Castle, and The Time Garden.
The Moffats by Eleanor Estes. Not to be missed! The Moffats books make my top-ten list of kids' fiction. The others: The Middle Moffat, Rufus M, and The Moffat Museum.
Also by Eleanor Estes and connected to The Moffats series, Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye.
The Freddy books by Walter Brooks. Silly old-fashioned American fun with a multi-talented pig as the main character. Twenty or so books in the series.
The Mouse and His Child. I found this one fascinating. Here's a blurb from Amazon:
The mouse and his child are wind-up toys forever joined at the hands. But when their mechanism breaks they are discarded, separated from the doll house where they lived and the toy elephant that the child calls "mother" (much to her chagrin). And so begins a suspenseful journey that is heartbreaking [and] thought-provoking . . .The author, Russell Hoban, also wrote the charming and funny Frances picture books. A few more great pre-school titles:
Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik. Don't let your kids or grandkids grow up without Little Bear. No need to bother with A Kiss for Little Bear, but the three in this set are required reading. Like the animated series but better.
Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. Also necessary to childhood. You have no idea how often we've finished up a house-wide search for missing keys with the phrase, "What a lot of trouble I have made for Frog."
Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown. I love this book. I've tried to link to the tiny, fur-covered edition but it's hard to tell, so buyer beware.
A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman. A tour-de-force in ballad form, in which everything is a house for something else. Infectious, in a good way.
Ox-Cart Man by poet Donald Hall. Lovely. It comes with an audio CD which I believe is read by the author.
Go, Dog. Go! Weak on plot but rich in dogs -- dogs in cars, dogs in party hats, dogs in every color of the rainbow. Toddlers can't get enough of it.
Are You My Mother?
The Runaway Bunny
The Story of Babar
Babar and his Children
The Little House
Millions of Cats
The Funny Thing
Nothing At All
Snippy and Snappy
Complete Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Angus and the Ducks
Annie and the Wild Animals
If you're looking for more ideas, please browse through all our favorites here.
While I'm recycling, here's a revised post I wrote a few years ago on how to raise an eager reader. Please excuse the didactic tone and obvious nature of the tips. :/
A child who has a positive love of reading will reap a bonanza of advantages. In addition to the sheer enjoyment it provides, voluminous reading enhances one's vocabulary, spelling, and writing skills, and may very well sharpen the cognitive faculties. And all through a pleasant, or at least relatively painless process. Conventional schooling tries to enlarge a child's vocabulary by giving him a book full of words and definitions. It tries to turn him into a writer by lecturing on sentence structure and assigning the stultifying three-paragraph essay. But avid reading covers a multitude of academic sins, because a child can't spend a couple of hours with a book every day and not absorb the nuances of the language. Instilling an early love of reading is the easy way to educate.
Some basics on raising readers:
#1: Read a lot to your kids when they're small. Tip: It's best to find books that both you and your child can enjoy. Then, when junior toddles toward you wanting to hear his favorite story again, you won't have to fight off the urge to go hide in the bathroom, because he's clutching the delightful Horton Hears a Who. Not so if it's something like, say, Volume 12: Starring the Number 12 and the Letter S of the massive, and massively unreadable, Sesame Street Giant Treasury. A story limited to words starting with the letter 'S' does not make for a riveting reading experience. (But hey, Grandma's intentions were good!)
#2: "Model" reading. Consider it your parental duty to laze around and enjoy your own books when you get the chance. Go ahead and read that twenty-book series. Twice, if you get the urge. It's for the children.
#3: Phonics and practice. When it comes time for your little ones to learn to read on their own, make sure they understand phonics. You can't go wrong with Walt Pimbley's Kung Fu Phonics or Englemann's Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Then make sure they get daily reading practice. Without practice, some kids will get stuck at the beginning, when the effort is great but the payoff is small. (I have a theory that many people who don't like to read feel that way because it never became easy for them. Why read for pleasure if reading isn't pleasurable?)
At a certain point the new reader may need a gentle push to keep going, and real page-turners will make it worth his while. Now is not the time for bland material. Mysteries work well. After a child gets through the fifty or so Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books, he will be able to read. And he will probably have learned a few new words along the way from the not-dumbed-down language of these older series.
#4 Give them the good stuff. Make it your mission to feed the kids a steady diet of good-to-great books. If books are food for the mind and the soul, why fill them up with the literary equivalent of Cheetos? In our house, Dad headed to the library every weekend and came back with stacks of great material in all genres. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. Marguerite Henry's horse books. Lassie Come-Home. A Little Princess. The Snow Queen. The Moffats. Little Britches. He brought home plenty of classics, but any book that was well written, didn't violate a child's innocence, and portrayed good and evil as such, merited a read.
CS Lewis was right when he wrote, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." There's a wealth of children's literature that can be enjoyed by adults, and if you can manage to read what your kids are reading you'll always have something interesting to talk about: favorite (and least favorite) characters, the best parts of the story, the funny or scary parts, good and bad endings, and so on. As the children get older and their reading material gets progressively more adult, the discussions will deepen. And you and your children will come to know one another better.
Good literature feeds the appetite for more, and a child who's been immersed in the good stuff won't be satisfied later on with garbage. Children who love to read will eagerly take on more difficult material as they mature. When the time comes for Plato or Shakespeare or Dickens or the Federalist Papers, these kids won't be daunted. Worlds that are closed to the non-reader will be wide open to them. So grab a great book and sit down with your kids. Neither you nor they will ever wish that time had been spent otherwise.