Searching for delicious and nourishing old childrens' books.
September 15, 2021 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I often watch TV for evening downtime, but I would much prefer to be reading. Whenever I have a lovely book, my life improves. Help me find the exact type I need; old stories about families.

Books that have fit the bill exactly:

- The Railway Children
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I don't want anything complicated or "heavy" for these nightly reading sessions. The books can be pensive, though I don't like very poetic language. Must include some humour and very well-written characters. Perspective of children preferred. No fantasy for this question, please.
posted by toucan to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read these series?

All-of-a-Kind Family series, by Sydney Taylor
The Melendy series, by Elizabeth Enright (book 1 is The Saturdays)
The Children of Noisy Village series, by Astrid Lindgren
posted by mogget at 12:31 PM on September 15, 2021 [8 favorites]

The Moomin books?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

+1 for All of a Kind Family
Definitely not kid POV, but you might enjoy Shirley Jackson's Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons about parenting her spirited children. They are very funny, a little dark, and easy reads.
posted by tangosnail at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2021

The Swiss Family Robinson.
posted by SPrintF at 12:42 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Moffats and sequels by Eleanor Estes
posted by Redstart at 12:45 PM on September 15, 2021 [7 favorites]

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 12:57 PM on September 15, 2021 [10 favorites]

Thirding All-of-a-kind Family! I would also add:

-Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney

-The Story Girl and its sequel, The Golden Road, by L.M. Montgomery, about a group of cousins. Montgomery does have the occasional lyrical passage, but the fun, humor and humanity of her child characters really shine in these books.

(Also sorry to anti-recommend but I read Jackson's book Life Among the Savages hoping for light, funny reading and found myself distressed by the sadness of her life by the end, just a heads-up!)
posted by prewar lemonade at 12:58 PM on September 15, 2021 [7 favorites]

Along the lines of Heidi, Joanna Spyri wrote some other books.

Mandy, by Julie Andrews

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. George wrote some other novels, including a sequel, which you could also check out.
posted by CiaoMela at 1:00 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

In addition to Little Women, Louisa May Alcott wrote several other books about young families. The ones I remember reading as a kid are Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. Relatively progressive for their era, but obviously will reflect some dated attitudes.
posted by praemunire at 1:00 PM on September 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

The Penderwicks
posted by Ftsqg at 1:01 PM on September 15, 2021 [6 favorites]

2nding The Family from One-End Street
The Phoenix and the Carpet and Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
posted by Balthamos at 1:02 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

prewar lemonade, thank you for the dis-recommend - it's been years since I've read those books and maybe they would hit differently now...
posted by tangosnail at 1:06 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney

This is the first in a series. Per Wikipedia, there are eleven total.
posted by FencingGal at 1:08 PM on September 15, 2021

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

The Golden Name Day by Jennie Lindquist
posted by vunder at 1:29 PM on September 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Understood Betsy should hit the spot nicely. It’s the story of a shy city girl who goes to live with her cousins on their farm in Vermont and adapts to her new life happily.

Anne Pellowski’s books about Polish immigrant families in Wisconsin span a few generations and are gentle and warm.

Would a story about a chosen family work? Because dear God, did I love the book Baby Island as a child.
posted by corey flood at 1:32 PM on September 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Along the lines of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Mama's Bank Account.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:47 PM on September 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailer [spoiler]
Swallows and Amazons et seq. Arthur Ransome
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder [best food in the Little House series]
The Summer Book by Tove "Moomin" Jansson - hijinks with grannie
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:48 PM on September 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Fairchild Family Stories series is exactly what you're looking for.
posted by anderjen at 2:09 PM on September 15, 2021

Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes is ideal — parents, kids, aunts, uncles. It's a wonderful, heartwarming series of light "adventures" of an immigrant Norwegian family in San Francisco, maybe around 1910 or so.

It's the book upon which "I Remember Mama" (the play, movie, and TV series) were based. Open Library has a free online version you can borrow
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 2:16 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, memoir about a remarkable couple and their large family by two of their children, set in the early 1900s.
posted by JonJacky at 2:18 PM on September 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

There are also the Great Brain books, semi-autobiographical accounts of one of a handful of Catholic families living in a small town in Utah in the earliest part of the twentieth century. Tom Sawyer-type humor. Again, probably some dated attitudes.
posted by praemunire at 2:51 PM on September 15, 2021 [9 favorites]

Another vote for I Capture the Castle. Also, Life with Father.
posted by jdroth at 2:58 PM on September 15, 2021

Historical (WW2) written more recently: The War That Saved My Life. Chosen family.

From there, I Go By Land, I Go By Sea (P. L. Travers)

For a "1950s forever" vibe from the Stratemeyer Syndicate, there's lots of Happy Hollisters, and I think Stratemeyer had other genially mystery-solving families if that's your bag.

The Birchbark House could fit the parameters.
posted by away for regrooving at 2:59 PM on September 15, 2021

Seconding the Great Brain series, which I loved as a child. As stated, there may be outdated attitudes. Haven’t read them in almost 30 years.
posted by kellygrape at 3:15 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Anne of Green Gables and all the sequels.
posted by kathrynm at 3:27 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding the All-of-a-Kind Family books and the Melendy Family series, with the caveat that I haven't read either one in a long time and it's possible they contain dated attitudes/language that may not be appropriate.

This book is about siblings--does that count? From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:06 PM on September 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

A lot of L.M. Montgomery will fit. Ones that haven't been mentioned are Jane of Lantern Hill and Magic for Marigold.

I second the Penderwicks - the entire series is lovely but my favorites are the first three.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 5:29 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Little House in The Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Strange, often surreal, nothing like you'd expect.
Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming series.
Oh - Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee is about a kid looking for a home. It is, in my opinion, a work of genius. It's also very entertaining.
Moomintroll, of course. When you read to children, they listen. If you read Moomintroll, adults come and listen. The fishing scene is hilarious and perceptive, but there's nothing in Moomintroll that's not.
The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt by Patricia MacLachlan. One of the rare books that everybody in my family loved.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 5:36 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Beverly Clearly's Beezus and Ramona books.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 5:40 PM on September 15, 2021 [8 favorites]

+1 to Elizabeth Enright's Melendy family series, also her standalone Thimble Summer and Gone-Away Lake and its sequel are wonderful.

Noel Streatfield wrote some very good books in this line, notably the "shoes" series. Looking at that list, there are some I've never been able to find/read, but can personally recommend Skating Shoes (aka White Boots), Dancing Shoes and Ballet Shoes.

Margaret Mahy wrote some of the best family books I have ever read but many/most of them do shade into odd things happening - I would describe them more as magical realism than fantasy, but may not be your cup of tea. But The Other Side of Silence and The Catalogue of the Universe are completely non-magical. If you can bear a bit of the supernatural creeping in, I highly recommend The Haunting, The Changeover, The Tricksters, Kaitangata Twitch and Dangerous Spaces.

+1 to Beverly Cleary's books - in addition to the Ramona Quimby series there is the Henry Huggins series.

+1 also to Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:03 PM on September 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

While washing dishes remembered Madeleine L'Engle, who also wrote non-magical books - notably the Austin family books. Some of them stray into mystery/thriller territory.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:29 PM on September 15, 2021

I read The Great Brain series to my kids recently and they really loved it.

It is about mostly-white religious people living in Utah in the late 1800's/early 1900's so clearly their experience was their own and should be viewed historically, not through a 2021 lens. Think "Little House on the Prairie" but with better characters. And they are supposedly based on true events!
posted by tacodave at 6:50 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

E. Nesbitt stuff: The Enchanted Castle, Five Children and It
posted by Cocodrillo at 7:21 PM on September 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

My Life and Hard Times, by James Thurber! So incredibly funny and charming.

From the inside flap: "Widely hailed as one of the finest humorist of the twentieth century, James Thurber looks back at his own life growing up in Columbus, Ohio, with the same humor and sharp wit that defined his famous sketches and writings. In My Life and Hard Times, first published in 1933, he recounts the delightful chaos and frustrations of family, boyhood, youth, odd dogs, recalcitrant machinery, and the foibles of human nature."
posted by merriment at 7:26 PM on September 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

So many of my old favorites already mentioned! I’ll add What Katy Did and its sequels by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey (under the pen name Susan Coolidge), and Laddie: A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:19 PM on September 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Most of E. Nesbit's children's books are fantasy, but The Railway Children wasn't the only outlier: the three Bastable books, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, The Wouldbegoods and The New Treasure Seekers, fit your criteria (and have somehow, mysteriously, leapt off my shelves and onto the top of my to-be-reread stack).
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:13 AM on September 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ooh, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and sequels by Judith Kerr
posted by Balthamos at 2:25 AM on September 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Clayhanger novels by Arnold Bennet
posted by a humble nudibranch at 7:28 AM on September 16, 2021

Seconding Noel Streatfeild (note that it's feild, not field). She was one of those writers who absolutely remembered what it was like to be a child. You might also like A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes, as well as her subsequent books about her later life.
posted by JanetLand at 7:42 AM on September 16, 2021

Noel Streatfeild triggered Leon Garfield (y'can see how), who wrote a number of Dickensian child-centred books set in historical England. I remember enjoying Devil in the Fog 1966 and Smith 1967, when they came out.
posted by BobTheScientist at 10:46 AM on September 16, 2021

Thanks for correction on Streatfeild (though I did link so you'd've got there in the end). I do know better but mis-typed.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:28 PM on September 16, 2021

Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik books
posted by Constance Mirabella at 11:42 AM on September 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Booky trilogy by Bernice Thurman Hunter!
posted by yawper at 7:58 AM on September 20, 2021

« Older Blessing:Grateful::Grammar:Philosophy   |   Long-sleeve, collared, cotton shirt Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments