"When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book."
July 6, 2010 10:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm buying books for a little girl and post-dating them for her third, fourth [...] twelfth birthdays. I need book recommendations for each year of her life!

The little girl I take care of will soon be going to preschool, and while I'll definitely be in her life as a babysitter and family friend (her parents are moving just down my street), I won't be around as consistently. I want to make sure that no matter what, she's got bits of our relationship around even when I'm not there, so I'm creating a starter library of books with inscriptions that she'll get every year on her birthday.

She already has Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, both the Eloise and Olivia series, and Alice in Wonderland.

I'm fine with getting her more than one book per birthday year, but I'm struggling on some years and not sure when some books are appropriate. And, since we have a twenty year age-gap, I need some help on more up-to-date books than what I read as a kid in the 90s.

Some books I'm already considering:

2nd birthday: Birdie's Big Girl Shoes (she has a serious shoe fetish)
3rd birthday: Ladybug Girl
4th birthday: Paper Bag Princess
5th birthday: The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish
6th birthday: My Father's Dragon
7th birthday: The Wolves in the Walls
8th birthday: Coraline
9th birthday: Matilda
10th birthday: The Hundred Dresses
11th birthday: The Golden Compass
12th birthday: Island of the Blue Dolphins

Clearly the list, especially as it progresses, relies on what I read as a kid, so newer suggestions are especially welcome! As she's sort of a thrill junkie (though that might change), I'm less worried about risking it with scary books. What other great books do kids love at six, or eight, or three, or twelve? Why?
posted by zoomorphic to Media & Arts (57 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My grandmother bought me Ramona Quimby, Age 8 for my eighth birthday and I remember thinking it was the coolest thing ever.
posted by something something at 10:14 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Rats of Nimh and Redwall for the 8th to 12th range. Minor quibble - I would put the Golden Compass last on the list, it is pretty mature reading compared to the other ones you have provided.

For nonfiction: The Way Things Work, and a book on castles - every child needs a book on castles.
posted by Think_Long at 10:15 AM on July 6, 2010

I'm pretty sure this list wouldn't be complete without Goodnight Moon. Also-- anything by Judy Blume still holds up, from what I've heard.
posted by mireille at 10:18 AM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: For the ages 10-12, I would heartily recommend Catherine, Called Birdy & another of Cushman's Midwife's Apprentice

Others to consider:
EL Konigsberg's From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
The Giver by Lois Lowry
posted by pointystick at 10:19 AM on July 6, 2010

Not necessarily 'newer', and religious significance aside (because I didn't recognize it until much later, having been raised without any religious influence), but I probably read the Chronicles of Narnia 100 times as a kid, starting in Grade 3 when our teacher read us The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Shortly after that, I saw the whole series in one of those book club fliers and cried until my mom bought them for me.

I recommend that one for age 8+.
posted by torisaur at 10:20 AM on July 6, 2010

P.S. Island of the Blue Dolphins is another one I read many, many times... Excellent choice! Also, this is an awesome idea all around.
posted by torisaur at 10:21 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

A couple of books I really loved as a kid that may be appropriate here:
Mandy, written by Julie Andrews, is about a 10 year old orphan who finds a secret cottage in the woods.
Ginger Pye, about a brother and sister who track down the guy who stole their dog. Probably best for a 9 year old.
If you can find it, The Bunjee Venture, about a brother and sister who go back to the time of dinosaurs to rescue their dad who had a mishap with the time machine he was building. Good for age 8 and up, probably.
And any Roald Dahl book for kids would be perfectly appropriate. I see you have Matilda. A great choice.
posted by phunniemee at 10:21 AM on July 6, 2010

Oh yeah, and Blubber by Judy Blume.
posted by phunniemee at 10:23 AM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: Edward Eager's books (starting with Half Magic) are wonderful. The Amazon recommended age is 9-12, and I'd say that's about right.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:26 AM on July 6, 2010

I read Island of the Blue Dolphins in 6th grade. I might recommend Un Lun Dun or The Mysterious Benedict Society for a 12th grader; I enjoyed both books in college!
posted by shii at 10:27 AM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: The Little Prince is a great book to share. i think it would be appropriate around 12, and it will definitely be a re-read book as she gets older.

my favourites when i was 3 or 4 where Robert Munsch books, Harry the Dirty Dog, and Harold and the Purple Crayon.
posted by gursky at 10:28 AM on July 6, 2010

Matilda and The Golden Compass are awesome.

Some standout books from my childhood are Quest for a Maid (I read this around 10), any of the Vesper Holly books (although they are a bit repetitive; ages 9-11), Homecoming and the other books in the series (not sure about ages, probably closer to the older end of your range). Vesper Holly and Quest for a Maid are definitely stories for thrill-seekers.
posted by emkelley at 10:28 AM on July 6, 2010

Somehow I read "grade" instead of "year". Oops... I guess I can't revoke my comment, but those books are both good.
posted by shii at 10:28 AM on July 6, 2010

also, great idea! what a wonderful tradition you're starting.
posted by gursky at 10:29 AM on July 6, 2010

Is there a reason you're stopping at age twelve?

As a kid (I'm 17 now) I really enjoyed Eva Ibbotson's books, especially Journey to the River Sea and Island of the Aunts. They're probably good for ages 8-12.
posted by kylej at 10:29 AM on July 6, 2010

I read Island of the Blue Dolphins a bit earlier than 12 - maybe around 10 years old, and I agree that Golden Compass might wait for a few years. Not so much because of GC itself, but the subsequent books in the series are a little more grown-up, and if she likes them, she'll want to read the rest.
posted by heyforfour at 10:30 AM on July 6, 2010

Also, I loved Shabanu and its sequel Haveli. Also stories for thrill-seekers. Might be a little old for your age range, not sure.
posted by emkelley at 10:32 AM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: I think you've got AWESOME choices as is! I'm your age and remember pretty much all of those books fondly. Here are my additional suggestions.

I don't know a single child who doesn't love Wombat Stew and Where the Wild Things Are when read aloud with proper inflections.

When I was 5, Little House in the Big Woods was pretty much my favorite.

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Wrede is the ultimate in AWESOME, positive fantasy for little girls. It'd make a good companion for Coraline, I think. Cimorene does all sorts of things that princesses aren't supposed to do - she learns Latin, she makes Cherries Jubilee and fences, and runs away to become a dragon's princess instead of marrying a fairly silly prince. If fantasy goes over well, I'd suggest Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. That's the first book in a series about a girl who wants to be a knight, so she disguises herself as a boy to undergo training. Probably for age 11 or 12.

My dad read me A Wrinkle in Time when I was probably 9 or 10. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, The Phantom Tollbooth, and the Animorphs series were other favorites from between 8 and 12.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:33 AM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: Since you're a Gaiman fan, I'd add The Graveyard Book. I'm also a huge fan of Lemony Snicket.
And no library is complete without some Daniel Pinkwater
posted by cottoncandybeard at 10:34 AM on July 6, 2010

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
posted by Kattiara17 at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Reading the other suggestions made me think of a few others -

Child of the Owl by Laurence Yep (10-12)
Shiva's Fire by Suzanne Fisher Staples (10-12)
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (8-10)
The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner (5-7)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (9-12)
posted by ChuraChura at 10:40 AM on July 6, 2010

My wife makes it a point to look for books on this list; My daughter is 5 and loves anything by Mo Willems while my wife loved The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes as a child.
posted by TedW at 10:45 AM on July 6, 2010

My eleven year old niece just devoured a Buffy The Vampire Slayer graphic novel, if that's any help.
posted by philip-random at 10:50 AM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: What a great list!

I have to put in a strong second for some of the ones already listed: Little House in the Big Woods, A Wrinkle in Time (I would third, fourth, fifth, sixth and hundredth this recommendation), Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Blubber (I also really enjoyed Deenie and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, which should be appropriate for a 12-year-old — you might want to be just a few years older for some of Blume's other excellent novels), The Little Prince, From the Mixed Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Giver....


Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert O'Brien, was one of my favorite books around age 10 or so, as was The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden, and Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater. I had a big "animals with personalities" phase about then.

Louis Sachar's Wayside School books are fantastic, as is Holes — one of my favorite pieces of (relatively) modern children's lit.

I had to read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry for school in fifth or sixth grade and really enjoyed it.

Bridge to Terabithia is really excellent.

Also don't skip The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin.

Now I need to go re-read every book I just listed.
posted by good day merlock at 10:52 AM on July 6, 2010

All books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My favorites are On the Banks of Plum Creek, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years.
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
"Ginny and Geneva" books (there are 10) by Catherine Woolley
Books by Lenora Mattingly Weber

Also consider volumes of poetry and short stories.
posted by jgirl at 11:00 AM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: In approximate order of age propriety, from age 6 on:

Comet in Moominland, by Tove Jansson
Half Magic, by Edward Eager
The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton
The House with a Clock in its Walls, by John Bellairs
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
Lizard Music, by Daniel Pinkwater
The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin
posted by Iridic at 11:00 AM on July 6, 2010

Because of Winn-Dixie
posted by jgirl at 11:03 AM on July 6, 2010

How about Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon?
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:07 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Around age 7-8, I loved Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck. A lot of his books are fantastic, particularly the ones with Blossom Culp or Grandma Dowdel. Great for thrill junkies.

Don't forget The Secret Garden.

I spent much of my time during childhood reading, in fact - and I heartily second many of the recommendations here. I still have my entire collection of Bellairs, in fact.
posted by HopperFan at 11:16 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Ordinary Princess and The Light Princess. I fell in love with these at around age 10 as an effective antidote to sickly sweet princess stories.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:26 AM on July 6, 2010

Response by poster: This list is great so far! I'm slapping my forehead for forgetting Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice, which I freaking LOVED and still remember so vividly that I could probably recite sentences from them. Ah, the list of things Catherine would do if she were a boy: marry whomever she chooses, pee standing up.

I'm definitely adding A Wrinkle in Time, Half Magic, Ramona Age 8, Dealing with Dragons, and my own recommendations, Donald Barthelme's The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine and Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.

These are all such good suggestions. Her mother also beat me to the punch by saving many of the books from her own childhood, including Rats of NIMH, Laura Ingalls Wilder's series, the Anne of Green Gables collection, and Little Women.

Please, keep them coming. I'll update later with a finalized list, but as she gets older and I have a better handle on her reading tastes, I'll probably return to this list to get ideas for future additions.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:37 AM on July 6, 2010

Once she has reached high school age, if you continue this trend, I'd recommend The Book Thief.
posted by misha at 11:38 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Phantom Tollbooth, although I can't really decide what age it should go to. Also love the Little Prince recommendation. Loved them both as a child, I think especially because I could read them and understand them, but felt like they had another meaning I wasn't understanding (which they do, and that's why they're still fun to read even now!)
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:39 AM on July 6, 2010

Nthing the Little House books, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books, Anne of Green Gables, and the Ginnie and Geneva books. (TOTALLY forgot about those and I loved them as a kid)

Now We Are Six for her sixth birthday
The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace (These were favorites)
posted by SisterHavana at 11:46 AM on July 6, 2010

I remember really liking http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballet_Shoes_(novel)
, which a teacher read to my fifth-grade class. I liked it at age 10, so you might wanna adjust the age if you get the feeling she'll be the bookwormy type.

I also really liked: A Wrinkle in Time (for age 10-11-12),
Dicey's Song (good for a strong 12-year old reader),
and Ballet Shoes (maybe 9-10).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:00 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

My 6yo daughter is really enjoying Nancy Drew these days (I'm reading it to her). The Little House books were also popular, as audiobooks.
posted by Alt F4 at 12:00 PM on July 6, 2010

Stormy Night, by Michele Lemieux, a lovely book suitable for age 10 or thereabouts. One of the Amazon reviews accurately describes it thusly:

"During a stormy night, a young girl, probably 9-12 years old, has trouble sleeping and her dog keeps her company as she ponders life's deepest questions."

The girl asks the questions (which range from "When I dream at night, where am I?" to "And what if there's nothing after death?"), but the author leaves it up to the reader to think about the answers.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:12 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think Coraline and Matilda should maybe swap places. Also, seconding Holes. I read it for the first time in high school and still thought it was terrific.
posted by EmGeeJay at 12:26 PM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret, both by Louise Fitzhugh for age 11-12
posted by Ouisch at 1:31 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pippi Longstocking
Encyclopedia Brown
Katherine Paterson writes great late-elementary /tween books
Illustrator Mitsumasa Anno has beautiful clever younger-elementary books
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:02 PM on July 6, 2010

Two I remember loving that haven't been mentioned yet:

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Misty of Chincoteague
posted by yarrow at 6:52 PM on July 6, 2010

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy should be in the mix
posted by halfguard at 7:10 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


For when she's 10 or 11.
posted by jokeefe at 7:12 PM on July 6, 2010

Also, The Witch Family, for around 8 or 9 years old.

And: The Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet (all come in an omnibus edition along with The Railway Children, etc.)
posted by jokeefe at 7:16 PM on July 6, 2010

One more: Marianne's Dream, by Catherine Storr.
posted by jokeefe at 7:18 PM on July 6, 2010

And I know I said this already, but please do give her a copy of Harriet the Spy. There aren't many books out there that can really be called a portrait of the artist/writer as a young girl, but Harriet The Spy is one of them. Every female artist and writer I know (of a certain age) who read that book as child considers it life-changing.
posted by jokeefe at 7:22 PM on July 6, 2010

Betty Miles has several great books for when she's a little older. Maudie and Me and The Dirty Book, The Real Me, and I Would If I Could were particular favorites.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:02 PM on July 6, 2010

My father, a school teacher, had me read The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. I would have been only around 12 at the time, so although I do not remember the details of the story, I do remember being hooked on every word.

The Silver Sword narrates the journey of three Polish children who have been separated from their parents during WWII. The book does not directly discuss the atrocities of the Holocaust. Rather, this well written adventures story, provides an at times somber introduction, for children at a young age, to some of the darkest chapters of human history.
posted by flyscan at 5:25 AM on July 7, 2010

And what about Pooh?
posted by mahershalal at 5:26 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Other suggestions:

Summer of My German Soldier (Bette Green)
The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
Maniac Magee, Stargirl, There's a Girl in My Hammerlock (most things by Jerry Spinelli)
Number the Stars (Lois Lowry)
Corduroy (Don Freeman)
The Velveteen Rabbit
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:39 AM on July 7, 2010

Best answer: I was a voracious reader as a little girl, and although there are dozens of books, many already named in this thread, that I loved and read over and over in my youth, I'm here to strongly second the suggestion of a book I read just last year: Un Lun Dun by China Mieville.

I really can't properly express how strongly I am recommending this book. It's kind of a Coraline/Phantom Tollbooth/Alice in Wonderland hybrid, with an amazing female lead character and great messages that counter the 'chosen one' trope with themes of empowerment and questioning authority, in a crazy-imaginative setting. So good!!

The two protagonists in the book are 12 year old girls, so it could be a year-12 gift, but I think it could also be read at age 10 or even earlier, depending on reading level or if used as an awesome serial bedtime story.
posted by KatlaDragon at 11:05 AM on July 7, 2010

Freckle Juice, Tuck Everlasting, Ralph S. Mouse
posted by WeekendJen at 12:33 PM on July 7, 2010

Michel Ende's books, The Neverending Story and Momo, are great from age ten onwards. Specially Momo for a curious girl.

Also, from 11 on, Jules Verne. Not all, but Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea are great, specially if you find editions that are nicely illustrated.

Also, from 10ish onward, both Jack London (The Call of the Wild, White Fang) and R. L. Stevenson (Treasure Island) are great authors.
posted by omegar at 3:45 PM on July 7, 2010

I loved the books of Zilpha Keatley Snyder when I was a kid, especially The Egypt Game and The Headless Cupid. They have great strong girl characters getting into adventures with little to no assistance from the boys!
posted by that girl at 1:05 AM on July 8, 2010

I also thought of another addition, though not a novel: Shel Silverstein's poetry collections.
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:29 AM on July 8, 2010

Here are some newer books for ages 9-12. They're all sort of similar, with young female protagonists and plenty of action/suspense.

Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer
Theodosia series by R. L. LaFevers
Kiki Strike series by Kirstin Miller

And a couple of older but awesome books:

The Eleventh Hour by Graem Base -- for eleventh birthday
The Claidi Journals by Tanith Lee -- four books, age 11-12

For while she's younger, I'm generally a fan of things published by Usborne... (Warning: The puzzle books are HARD.) Maybe Then and Now?
posted by anaelith at 12:56 PM on July 8, 2010

Just found this today- books I really enjoyed as a young girl were/are anything by Elizabeth Hamilton Friermood: all about young girls/women who were getting ready to strike out on their own. (Though these might be hard to find).
Little Women- a classic, also An Old Fashioned Girl.
The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton- this one is a bit scary.
Elizabeth Enright's series about the Melendy Family. Also her Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away. Part of what makes these books so fascinating is the illustrations.
A Wrinkle In Time- sci-fi ish; this is the first in a trilogy- Madeleine L'Engle.
The Narnia Series and Harry Potter- these are great to listen to.
The Railway Children- a British series.
Kate Seredy's The Good Master and the Singing Tree- both stories about Hungary before and during WW1- absolutely gorgeous illustrations.
Magic Elizabeth- the girl in this story is about 8, staying with an elderly aunt who seems to be mysterious.
The Wind in The Willows- though the protagonists are not female, it's possible to identify with the emotions portrayed.
The Phantom Tollbooth- great for listening to, then reading on your own- 30 years later, it is one I go back to from time to time.
Dorothy Canfield's Understood Betsy- a young orphan is sent to live on a farm in Vermont (?) and discovers how to stand on her own two feet- a huge favourite of mine.
For general action and some excitement, The Swiss Family Robinson- I was about 8 when I finally got to stop taking naps and sit in with my siblings to listen while my mother read during summer afternoons.
And, for a little older, Jane Austen especially Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice.
posted by TRWebster at 12:39 PM on October 11, 2010

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