A dear friend suggested I write this post. We share a deep and abiding affection for Anne of Green Gables, and it seems I am always saying to her about some childhood favorite of mine, “Have you read such-and-such? I can’t believe you haven’t read such-and-such! You simply have to!”
“I could use [a list like that] now that my [8-year-old] granddaughter is an avid reader,” she said.
I’m a firm believer that the books we read as children shape us in immeasurable and invaluable ways. I know for certain that I carry all the characters of my childhood library around in my head, and I re-live their stories from time to time, sometimes by picking up the book again, sometimes just in memory. I confess, I’m frequently disappointed with the quality of children’s books these days, withe the exception of the work of authors like Kate DiCamillo, Rick Riordan, and J.K. Rowling – and the annual Newbery Award winner. Even though L isn’t quite three yet, I’ve already started reading some of my favorites to her at bedtime, like Betsy-Tacy and Little House in the Big Woods.
So. Here’s my list of childhood must-reads. A lot of these are Newbery Award winners, and for good reason. Some are obvious choices, but there’s always a chance you might have missed a few. E, who spent first through fourth grade as a missionary kid in the Congo, missed out on most of them. Admittedly, there are a lot of female main characters here, but that doesn’t mean boys haven’t loved these stories, too. Read with your kids, grandkids, or by yourself. I promise, you’ll be enriched.
The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. There is no one in all of children’s literature quite like Anne. The series takes you through her growing-up years and into adulthood on charming Prince Edward Island, Canada.
The Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery. Unknown to most Anne fans of today, L.M. Montgomery wrote over 30 wonderful books, and the Emily series is my second favorite. But I’d also recommend the rest of her books, including Jane of Lantern Hill, Pat of Silver Bush, and The Story Girl.
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. This is actually the first book in a series of mysteries. It’s also one of the first books I remember my mom reading to me. It will never cease to be one of my favorites.
The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. This charming series follows the coming of age of Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly in the fictional town of Deep Valley, Minnesota and the great world beyond.
The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These kind of go without saying.
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. I adored this book. It made me want to go live on a farm with some cousins, too.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. A total tear-jerker, but a beautiful tribute to friendship.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. This was probably the first fantasy book I loved.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien. The animated film can’t hold a candle to the book, as usual.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. This book made me wanted to visit the Met. And try to spend the night.
The Fudge books by Judy Blume. I loved every book by Judy Blume, but the Fudge books are definitely the place to begin.
The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. I think there were times I laughed until my stomach hurt, reading these. And sometimes I think L is more like Ramona Quimby than I might have hoped.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I can’t say enough about this trilogy. Sam Gribley was a hero to me. Still is.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Smart and irrepressible, spunky Harriet is always on the verge of getting herself in hot water – and does in the end, which teaches her some priceless lessons about trust, respect, and relationships.
The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The two unrelated books, both set in the England of the British Raj, will warm the heart and captivate the mind.
Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. My grandma introduced me to Geneva Grace Stratton Porter, who was once known better for her nature books than for her fiction, both of which focus on the Limberlost swamplands of northern Indiana before they were decimated by the logging industry. She’s not widely known these days, but the quality of her storytelling remains.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. This is one of those books that even Johnny Depp can’t do justice. The book will always, always be better than any movie.
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. I loved Laura Ingalls, but I wanted to be Caddie Woodlawn.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Everyone should read Narnia. That’s all there is to say about that.
I’m sure I could cite many more here, including my whole list of YA must-reads, but I’ll save those for another post.