Childhood Reading - Making Up for Lost Time
May 20, 2015 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Help me experience the reading I missed out on as a child.

I don’t have fond memories of books from early in life. If I read the books everyone else did while growing up, I’ve long since forgotten them. But lately I've been catching up on some of the more popular titles, and they by and large hold up pretty well.

So: what are the books that you read as a child (or were read to you) that stuck with you, books you think every child would (should?) have read, books you will pass (or have passed) onto your own children? Anything from newborn-appropriate up to and including YA is fair game. (I have seen these previous posts.)

Some of what's on my list:
Where the Wild Things Are
Harold and the Purple Crayon
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Phantom Tollbooth
Goodnight Moon
The Velveteen Rabbit
Roald Dahl
The Little Prince
Pat the Bunny
Number the Stars
The Hatchet
The Outsiders
Where the Red Fern Grows
The Westing Game
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Thanks in advance!
posted by xenization to Media & Arts (60 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. Everything by LM Montgomery, really.
posted by something something at 6:05 AM on May 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

The Great Brain series
posted by vacapinta at 6:06 AM on May 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

My Side of the Mountain
Andrew Henry's Meadow
Anything by Judy Bloom
posted by bondcliff at 6:06 AM on May 20, 2015

A Wrinkle in Time, and all its sequels.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:10 AM on May 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

Miss Rumphius was my favorite picture book and it's still great.
posted by chaiminda at 6:12 AM on May 20, 2015

The first few Dr. Dolittle books are delightful. After a while they get a little bit much, but you can also read them between other things because they're pretty much episodic. It helps to keep in mind that they were written in WWI as deliberately silly Victorian pastiche, instead of children's stories actually written in the Victorian era, which are very different.

I see that you have Roald Dahl on your list but I would be remiss in not pointing you to Matilda specifically, as this is one of those books that children who grow up loving to read books love especially much. I think it would be appropriate given your goals.

I'll have more but my library is currently occupied by a sleeping guest.
posted by Mizu at 6:13 AM on May 20, 2015

For picture books: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

For YA lit: His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman. I'll also second A Wrinkle in Time.

Oh, and this may be too obvious, but what about Harry Potter?
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:18 AM on May 20, 2015

A few delightful children's authors I discovered as an adult:
Diana Wynne Jones - Amazing, clever fantasies, often with a good dose of humor and big-heartedness. It's hard to pick just one, but Howl's Moving Castle is a good start, as is the Chrestomanci series.
John Bellairs - these are very formulaic spooky tales, but in the best way, and the settings are really engaging (rural Michigan in the 50s, generally loner kids hanging out with spry elders). Start with The House with the Clock in its Walls. As a bonus, most were illustrated by Edward Gorey.
posted by veery at 6:20 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Chronicles of Narnia
The Earthsea Trilogy
The Hobbit
posted by MsMolly at 6:22 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just thought of a few others:

Watership Down (one of my favorite childhood books)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Holes by Louis Sachar

For Rats of NIMH and Watership Down, especially the latter, you should watch the movies after you read the books. The 1978 adaption of WD is really great.

Also Shel Silverstein's children's books. The Giving Tree is probably the most well known. All things Dr. Seuss are a must read as well.

On preview: Yes, I totally enjoyed Chronicles of Narnia as a kid, and the Hobbit (as well as Lord of the Rings) are definitely something you should read if you haven't already.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:27 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Everything by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary and Lois Lowry.
His Dark Materials Trilogy.
The Giver / Gathering Blue / Messenger / Son
The Little House books
The Booky Trilogy (possibly hard to get your hands on)
Picture books: Everything by Robert Munsch and Dr. Seuss.
They're not actually kids books, but pretty much every teen in my generation read the Flowers in the Attic books.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:29 AM on May 20, 2015

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
The Boxcar Children
The Giver
The Borrowers
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (NB: I was a serious kid.)
posted by Yellow Silver Maple at 6:30 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Charlotte's Web
The children's books of Daniel Pinkwater. (He includes a lot of references to obscure artists and musicians; some of his young readers reportedly ran with it and got very good at textual analysis.)
The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew canon
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:31 AM on May 20, 2015

Some books that I think are formative and likely to appeal to many children:

Jane Langton's Hall Family books, especially The Swing In The Summerhouse, The Diamond In The Window and - most particularly! It made me who I am today! - The Fragile Flag.

I loved and was terrified by most of the John Bellairs books, but I would particularly recommend The Face In The Frost, which isn't set in his usual worlds and is extremely funny as well as scary. Of the others, I like The House With The Clock In Its Walls and The Curse of the Blue Figurine best.

The Last Unicorn and The Folk of the Air are sort of adult books, but they - especially the former - are perfectly suitable for kids.

Of course, you must read Daniel Pinkwater's The Snarkout Boys And The Avocado of Death. Any Pinkwater will do, but the city that he describes in that one - despite being written for comedy - really shaped how I wanted my adult life to be.

Some other books I loved that I think have a lot to them: Lloyd Alexander's Time Cat, A Hawk In Silver by Mary Gentle, The First Two Lives of Lukas Kasha, many of the Oz books, Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books generally, especially the And All Between ones, Norma Fox Mazer's I Trissy and Saturday the 12th of October (very seventies "problem" novels but extremely vivid).

A book I hated but that has stayed with me and that is far more than just a kids' book (it's a very "kids" setting, with magical wind-up animals and a journey, but it's big and melancholy): The Mouse and His Child. Caution: I found it so upsetting when I was eight or so that my father had to stop reading it to me, and a recent reread was also kind of traumatic.

Some YA that I read as an adult that struck me as amazing and powerful - highly recommended : The Kingdom books by Cynthia Voight. I started with The Wings of A Falcon which is the darkest and most adult. Elske is also pretty grim. They are really remarkably adult books emotionally, with really difficult choices and a kind of political realism that still haunts me.

Three books that educated me tremendously, really about the cost and seriousness of social change and about how elites will always resist democratic change (but in a child-appropriate way): the Westmark series, particularly The Kestrel. I just found those shattering when I was 11ish, and I still find them very smart. The characterization is great. The first one is mostly about a Strong Female Tomboy Character and is a lot lighter than the others. (The Kestrel is about guerrilla war, and was an invaluable guide to understanding politics as an adult.)
posted by Frowner at 6:34 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Charlotte's Web and books by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables, etc). And a huge vote for Judy Blume, who was a game changer for my childhood.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:35 AM on May 20, 2015

(Also, in an indirect way, the Bellairs books (and the Gorey books that I subsequently read) are basically How To Be Gay, The Eccentric Version, and that was really helpful to me.)
posted by Frowner at 6:35 AM on May 20, 2015

The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. That's the series that contains The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, and more. A great fantasy series that I'm looking forward to reading with my son.

Seconding the Dark is rising series.

Finally, Bridge to Terabithia. Warning: It made me sob with abandon well through high school.
posted by telepanda at 6:38 AM on May 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Oh! The Redwall books! That's what was on the edge of my brain for the past 30 minutes.
posted by Mizu at 6:40 AM on May 20, 2015

Oh, and excuse the tangent, but I read Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH as a kid and loved it. I'm in biomedical research now, and one day a few years ago, something clicked and I realized that the Mrs. Frisby NIMH was the same NIMH funding the research I was working on, and oh my god I'M THE BAD GUY IN Mrs. Frisby!!.... :/

Totally gotta go back and reread it.
posted by telepanda at 6:42 AM on May 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell, a poet who wrote a book that I read so often as a child that I was startled and thought I had dreamed it when I found a copy years later and read it again and found it as beautiful and good.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:49 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is fun! One more I should have mentioned earlier: A Little Princess. Never realized it was the same author as The Secret Garden. It taught me a lot about inner grace.
posted by telepanda at 6:51 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

To Kill A Mockingbird. It is so much from a child's POV that it is equally YA and adult.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:54 AM on May 20, 2015

The Laura Ingalls Wilder books. When I drive cross country, I always think of them heading out to the territories and living in the side of a hill. When I am cold, I think of that bleak and frozen winter where they ruined their hands making improvised firewood. And when I am hungry, I think of the huge suppers at Alonzo's family's home.

Also, the biggest fattest volume of Grimm's stories you can find.
posted by mochapickle at 6:57 AM on May 20, 2015

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, absolutely.

The Witch Of Blackbird Pond.

Nthing Anne Of Green Gables and all the sequels.
posted by Amy NM at 7:03 AM on May 20, 2015

Julie of the Wolves
posted by Sassyfras at 7:04 AM on May 20, 2015

The Three Robbers, written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer.
A dark but delightful book: "Tomi Ungerer summed up the moral of the story as, 'Whatever the color of money, it is never too late to make good use of it,' an intriguingly ambivalent statement that serves as a good indication of the playful, unconventional, sometimes provocative and always entertaining nature of this author."

It is also where I learned what a blunderbuss is.
posted by Kabanos at 7:19 AM on May 20, 2015

Some northen European:
Pippi longstoking
Bibi by Karin Michaëlis (out of print, find a library or gutemberg)
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 7:20 AM on May 20, 2015

The once and future king.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 7:21 AM on May 20, 2015

If you were an introverted child, you might like the book Mandy.

I read a lot as a kid, like literally never not reading, and Mandy was the first book (maybe one of the only books) that really hit me in the feels, so to speak. I went back and read it a few years ago when I found it at the library and I realized wow, yeah, I was a super introverted little kid.

Other than that, I see you already have Roald Dahl listed. Make sure you get his weird little short books, too, like George's Marvelous Medicine and Esio Trot.
posted by phunniemee at 7:34 AM on May 20, 2015

Make Way for Ducklings
Millions of Cats
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel
The Little House
The Fire Cat
posted by Melismata at 7:36 AM on May 20, 2015

Glad that Prydain is already mentioned, and the Great Brain, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - consider them all seconded!

To your list I would add Island of the Blue Dolphins. I SO wanted to be Karana when I was young.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:37 AM on May 20, 2015

Randall Jarret's The Bat Poet was a favorite gift from a favorite aunt of mine and holds up exceptionally well for adult reading.
posted by Wilbefort at 7:55 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Picture books:
Dr. Seuss (particularly the longer ones like I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew or Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book)
Beatrix Potter
anything you can find by Russell Hoban (the Frances ones are the easiest to find, but you might also look for How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen or The Sea-Thing Child)

Chapter books:
anything by Astrid Lindgren. (The Pippi Longstocking books are the most popular, but perhaps the least interesting. Ronia the Robber's Daughter is my favorite.)
anything by Eleanor Estes
Winnie-the-Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner
Alice in Wonderland
Tove Jansson's Moomin books
The Secret Garden
A Little Princess
The Jungle Book
The Silver Crown (by Robert C. O'Brien, who also wrote Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH)
Swallows and Amazons
posted by Redstart at 8:00 AM on May 20, 2015

I didn't find it till I was older, but I would have loved My Antonia.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:23 AM on May 20, 2015

I remember having fun reading The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder as a kid. No idea how dated it is now in 2015.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:41 AM on May 20, 2015

Norma Klein
Paula Danziger
Eleanor Estes
The Betsy-Tacy books
Louisa May Alcott
Marguerite Henry
Every horse book I could find
The Weetzie Bat books.....
posted by brujita at 8:50 AM on May 20, 2015

The 20th-Century Children's Book Treasury is great for this. For $28, you get 44 children's classics in color, but the trick is they've been reduced in size, so they're really better for adults than kids. Just casting about randomly for other classic children's lit that I've enjoyed as an adult, I thought Fog Magic held up pretty well.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:24 AM on May 20, 2015

Coming from a slightly different perspective here, because my childhood reading was kind of weird (I was a super-fast advanced reader as a kid, and had a quirky take on the world, so a lot of the classics bored me silly until I grew up more, if that makes sense). So this is a list of a couple books I DID like, and a couple books I know that I WOULD have liked if they'd been released when I was a kid. When I was in the picture book stage, I also favored books that were a little esoteric; either never-never-land-ish, or a bit crunch-granola-hippie-ish. So:

* Seconding The Animal Family upthread.

* Henry The Explorer. Someone read this to us in my class in preschool; it's a kids-eye perspective on an event - a kid decides he wants to play "explorer" and makes a bunch of paper flags and sets off into the woods, "exploring". (If you're an adult you also get that he got carried away and Mom got worried when he came home late, but it's all good.) this inspired me so much that when my school set up a pretend game where we could play "explorer" in a playroom ourselves, I also got carried away and ended up sneaking out of the room and down the hall and up the stairs into a secretarial pool before anyone noticed me.

* Shazira Shazam And the Devil. A weirdly dark tale for kids, but I dug it.

* I actually read Watership Down when I was ten and dug it, but not everyone would call that a kids' book. But Richard Adams also wrote a legit kids' book, The Tyger Voyage, with a couple of Victorian Explorers who just so happen to be tigers heading off to sea on a journey to meet pirates and gypsies and all sorts of stuff.

* I found Your Own Best Secret Place as a tween, right when I had just found my own such place of the kind being celebrated in the book. That's one of a number of books by the same author/illustrator combination; I've read two of their others and dug them too, but that one was the one that hit me in the feels as a kid. It also probably influenced my current adult tendancy that, if I find any such place in the world that it looks like "oh this is a place where the local kids come to chill out," I leave it alone and don't even go inside.

* Zeek Silver Moon pretty much screams "hippies wrote this", but I was born in 1970 and so I really liked it.

* I didn't come upon Soonie And The Dragon until I was in my teens, but found it really sweet. In fact, my very first AskMe was an identify-this-book where I was trying to remember the name so I could get it as a grownup.

* Finally: there is Tuesday, which I discovered in my 20's when my mother was taking a course in "childrens' books" as part of an attempt at getting a masters' Degree. She had this lying around the house when I came home for a visit, and I picked it up and started flipping through it. Five minutes later mom walked in the room and I looked up at her wildly and said "I MUST HAVE THIS." She sent me a copy for my 25th Birthday and a roomful of 20-somethings was reduced to helpless giggles flipping through it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 AM on May 20, 2015

I read Lloyd Alexander as a 4th or 5th grader and it basically turned me into a sci-fi/fantasy fan for life.

Dr Seuss - Fox in Socks is worth reading aloud and our toddler currently loves Curious George which is a classic.
posted by typecloud at 9:45 AM on May 20, 2015

Oh! I totally forgot - just about any of the Tintin books. Yeah, they're dated and, products of their time, but they're also goofy fun.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on May 20, 2015

The Blue Sword
The Hero and the Crown

Both are by Robin McKinley.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:12 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Wind in the Willows. (And make sure you get a copy with the "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" chapter - some editions leave it out, and that's a shame because it's gorgeous.)
posted by darchildre at 10:30 AM on May 20, 2015

Oh! And The Neverending Story!
posted by darchildre at 10:32 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Black Beauty and Thunderhead by Anna Sewell
Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys series by various authors under the Franklin L. Dixon pen name
Jane Yolen's excellent books (so many....)
The adventures of Remi by Philip Schuyler Allen
The adventures of Perrine by Hector Malot
The adventures of Tom Sawyer and of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
David Copperfield and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights by the Bronte sisters
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Grimms' Fairy Tales
The Complete Fairy Tales of George MacDonald
Andrew Lang's Complete Fairy Tale books (color series)
1001 Arabian Nights

Just some of the things I read as a kid. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
posted by Lynsey at 11:14 AM on May 20, 2015

Are you open to non-fiction? The science/nature/nerd kids in my school read all the memoirs by Gerald Durrell - he had a remarkable childhood growing up with an idiosyncratic family in Corfu. (How can you not love a book called "My Family and Other Animals?")
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 11:22 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I loved the atmosphere and happy endings in Frances Hodgson Burnett's books, A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and The Secret Garden. England in the 1800s.

I loved the family relationships and the adventures in Elizabeth Enright's Melendy Family series. New York in the....30s?

I loved The Pink Motel

I hated the Little House series, although my sister loved it and I vividly remember trying to read the first book of the series and picking out the words I could read ("a", "and", "the"), that is one of my first memories.

Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories form a web of memories from my childhood so much so that hearing or reading the words "O my best beloved" gives me chills (good chills).

I loved Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse. I checked it out of the school library more often than was reasonable and once, when a mother/volunteer was checking me out, she made me read a section of the book to her to prove it wasn't beyond my reading level. Ha.

Enchantress from the Stars is like Star Trek for kids. Apparently it still has a huge cult following, which I understand because reading it as a young girl in the early 70s was really empowering for me, not to be cliche.

One of my favorite teachers read us The Gammage Cup, by Carol Kendall, and oh how I loved reading hour. There's a sequel, too, The Whisper of Glocken.
posted by janey47 at 11:47 AM on May 20, 2015

Seconding Daniel Pinkwater. I took Young Adult Novel out of the library about 26 times in my grade year. Found an old copy to share with my son last year. Also the Snarkout boys series is awesome.

Anne of Green Gables

For humour you can't beat the MacDonald Hall series by Gordon Korman or the Bugs Potter series.

Beverly Clearly's Ramona Books

I also remember Claudia being a big one for me, but rarely hear anyone else say the same. Sometimes a book just hits the right note at the right time.

My mom used to read me the Smiling pond books, and I loved those.

And I loved kid mystery series:
Nancy Drew
Famous Five (Enid Blyton)
Trixie Belden
Eric Wilson's children's mysteries set in Canadian settings.

Also I also loved Enid Blyton's books about a boarding school as a kid. I remember my dad liked reading those and commenting to me about the high drama ("They've hidden a cat in the dorm," he told me once at dinner, "will they be caught!?!?").

For picture books, I remember as very evocative:

Ferdinand (he just wants to sit and smell the flowers!)
In the Night Kitchen
Richard Scary's books
posted by chapps at 12:38 PM on May 20, 2015

Beaverly Cleary!
Also read many many of the books above :)

Will add (series):
The Indian in the Cupboard
So you want to be a wizard

I took a college course in Children's lit, which was fun. The Wind in the Willows was very very good, as was Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:53 PM on May 20, 2015

Bread and Jam for Frances, and all the others in the series.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:56 PM on May 20, 2015

Maniac Magee
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

(They lean a bit heavy)
posted by WeekendJen at 2:20 PM on May 20, 2015

The Dark Is Rising
posted by tardigrade at 3:23 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Little House on the Prairie et al.

The Boxcar Children!!!!!!!

The Giver and accompanying books

anything by Louis Sachar, Jerry Spinelli, and Lois Lowry (esp. Number the Stars... plus The Giver of course)

Harry Potter, depending on how old you are, was a massive part of younger people's childhoods
posted by raspberrE at 5:17 PM on May 20, 2015

Seconding Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

Harriet the Spy
the Encyclopedia Brown books
posted by kristi at 6:36 PM on May 20, 2015

Oh, and for your teen suspense dramas don't forget to stock up on Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:47 PM on May 20, 2015

Oh, I forgot Peter Pan! That should definitely be on your list.
posted by Redstart at 7:18 PM on May 20, 2015

Everyone already said most of my favorites, Mrs. Frisby, The Animal Family and The Bat Poet, Great Brain... I just have one or two more that I love so much.

The Very Persistent Gappers Of Frip by George Saunders and illustrated by the incomparable Lane Smith.

Z Is For Zachariah by Robert C. Obrian who did Mrs. Frisby.

Beauty by Robin Mckinley.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:22 PM on May 20, 2015

Monkey Puzzle and The Snail and the Whale.
posted by Admira at 9:29 PM on May 20, 2015

Sideways Stories from Wayside School were fun and weird. I enjoyed them. My other recommends have already been mentioned (Bridge to Terabithia; Charlotte's Web; Where the Red Fern Grows; Secrets of NIMH; Encyclopedia Brown)
posted by hydra77 at 10:54 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also remember Claudia being a big one for me, but rarely hear anyone else say the same.
YES! I loved the Claudia books. I checked those out of the library so many times as a kid!

Nthing Betsy-Tacy, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Little House, Bruno & Boots, Harriet The Spy, Encyclopedia Brown, Norma Klein

The Poky Little Puppy
Amelia Bedelia books
Anastasia Krupnik books
Caddie Woodlawn
posted by SisterHavana at 4:03 PM on May 21, 2015

Z for Zachariah is more "YA" than kids' book, but is still awesome. (There's a film version due out this year!)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:27 AM on May 22, 2015

« Older Steel drums/Pop Music   |   Getting A Tow-Hold Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.