Today, I spent a couple of hours with my daughter, age 6, and my son, age 16, in the library as they chose some books to read this summer. Browsing both the children and the young adult sections really brought back wonderful memories of summertime’s spent with my nose buried in a book—one right after the other or reading 2, 3, or 4 books at a time! Oh, what fun days those were, and my childhood was undoubtedly the start of my becoming the voracious bookworm that I am today!
Looking through all the different books and helping my kids choose things to read made me think of all the many books that I loved to read (and reread) while growing up, so I’m going to list my 10 most favorite children and young adult books from when I was younger.
Oh, and I know there are so many excellent children and young adult books that have been published in the past couple of decades, but all the books on my list were published well before 1990 (many are definitely classics!) since that’s when I grew up and read them. Wow, I know by age 12 or 13 I was reading “adult” books anyway since I had read pretty much everything our local library had in the children and young adult section! So, I may have to do an entirely different post of the children and young adult books that I’ve read and thoroughly loved as a grown up that have been published during this century, haha!!
What are your favorite reads from your childhood and teenage years? I’d love to hear what they are!
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (1970)
Judy Blume was one of my favorite author’s when I was growing up: I loved Freckle Juice, Blubber, and all the books in her “Fudge” series. But, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was really relatable to me, especially at the time I read it. My parents were going through a very nasty divorce, dragging me in the middle of a huge custody battle, and although I didn’t have to move to a new home like Margaret, I did suddenly have to leave the school I’d been attending since kindergarten and all my friends. Unlike Margaret, I had a difficult time at first making new friends because I was very shy and didn’t find it easy to talk about personal stuff like boys or bras. Plus, my mom had never talked to me about periods (or anything else embarrassing) but just told me to read a book if I ever asked questions, so I was really unsure of myself and all the changes happening in my prepubescent body, which made me feel even more awkward those first couple of months in my new school as I overheard all the girls gossip and giggle about their crushes and all that girlie stuff. So, I did what I always did and found my friends and knowledge in books. For me, reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret came at the perfect time; I totally got Margaret and her conversations with God, and I felt that when she was talking to God and sharing her innermost fears about her family, friends, getting her 1st period, her crush Moose Freed, that she was talking to me, no, that she was me! Honestly, this book was my guide to puberty and helped me through the hard time of my parent’s divorce. It opened doors to conversations with my mom that I was too terrified but so, so needed to have! Maybe it’s not the best book ever written, but I wholeheartedly thank Blume for giving me Margaret when I needed her the most!
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)
Although I loved all The Chronicles of Narnia books, this is my favorite book in the series. Lewis brought to life such a wondrous, magical world with Narnia that I used to hope that every closet I opened (since I didn’t have a wardrobe) would somehow have the ability to transport me straight to Narnia. Back then, it was my equivalent of Hogwarts! It had all the elements I loved in a story—fantasy, mystery, siblings: Lucy, Peter, Susan, and Edmund that I so envied since I was an only child, talking animals, witches, intrigue, self-sacrifice, and the beauty of friendship. I will forever be enthralled by this story and will never be too old for fairy tales as perfect as this one!
The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973)
I love this book because, by the time I read it, I have to admit I had fallen head over heels for Disney’s movie presentation of princess fairy tale, so I “thought” this would be that kind of fairy tale. Oh, was I very wrong, and that made me love the book even more! It’s a fairy tale but so, so much more! The Princess Bride has everything a true fairy tale should—a beautiful princess, true love, a brave, handsome hero, a prince, villains, evil, poison, pirates, hunters, beasts, fighting, passion, and that’s just to start! The story’s structure and how it’s presented to the reader is absolutely magical! Goldman writes his story as if he is telling an “abridged” version with just the good parts of the original story written by S. Morgenstern that his own father told him as a child. But, there is no S. Morgenstern! And no original story! So, the genius of the book is that it’s a fictional story about another story! It’s just so uniquely written! And it’s so humorous even when it’s dark and tragic. And of course, the characters are so lively and rich that you almost believe they are real or based off some true life historical character. Buttercup for all her frivolity at times is brave and strong like a real princess should be and of course, beautiful. Who can forget Inigo Montoya (or not love him?) or handsome Westley (I have a thing for pirates)? This is just an excellent, fantasy adventure…I think I need to reread it soon!
Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary (1955)
For the longest time in my childhood, Beverly Cleary was my favorite author. I read everything she wrote, and I have enormous respect for her as an author. Beezus and Ramona was the very first chapter book that I remember reading all by myself when I was in kindergarten, so it holds a very special place in my heart! My daughter and I are reading the series now, and it has reminded me of how much I loved Ramona and used to laugh so much at her crazy antics. Every book in the series has its hysterical moments, and I probably should have just listed the series as a favorite, but Beezus and Ramona was the one that started my love for the books, so it’s super special to me. When I was younger, I loved all the mischievous things that Ramona did, like baking her doll in her sister’s birthday cake, coloring in a library book, taking just one bite out of dozens of apples, and running around wearing bunny ears for really no good reason because 1) it was just so funny to me 2) I would never have done anything like that since I wouldn’t have thought of it and would have been too terrified of getting in trouble! Now as a parent, I hope the books don’t give my daughter any crazy ideas! Ramona’s antics and Beezus’s frustrations with her, as well as the love the two sisters have for one another, is one reason this book is such a great read!
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Conan Doyle (1894)
My granddaddy gave me this huge book when I was in 6th grade and had mono and couldn’t go to school for a month. It was his copy, and I still have it on my bookshelf today. The only mysteries that I had read before I fell utterly in love with Sherlock Holmes (and yes, I am completely in love with BBC’s Sherlock) was the Nancy Drew series and Trixie Belden series. I still love Nancy Drew…Trixie Belden, not so much! Oh, but when I read my first Holmes short story, which was “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” it was love at first read. After that, I practically inhaled the entire Sherlock Holmes canon: 56 short stories and 4 novels. Then I immediately reread them all. In my mind, there was no one else as intelligent as Holmes, and I was riveted by his cleverness, keen observation, and powers of observation, as well as his many quirks. And of course, who can fail to love Dr. Watson? These were the stories that led to the great love of mysteries and suspense novels that I have today, so I love Sherlock and Watson dearly!
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)
Charlotte’s Web may be a children’s book, but I have reread it and enjoyed it as an adult so many times—reading it to both my boys several times when they were younger, and it was one of the books my daughter checked out today to read this summer (fingers are crossed she wants to read it together), so I truly believe it’s a book for all ages! This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, not taking account the wonderful story and outstanding characters. White has a brilliant use of style, language, and creates his story so wondrously—as an English teacher, I would have to rank it high on my list just because of the perfection of his writing! But beyond the beautiful writing, the story is just as beautiful! The tale of Wilbur the pig saved from death as a runt by sweet, gentle Fern and then befriended by the kind, wise, intelligent spider Charlotte who vows to help Wilbur from becoming the next Christmas ham is both humorous and sadly touching. It’s a magical tale full of very important life lessons: love, the meaning of friendship, loyalty, miracles, self-sacrifice, grief, and death. This tear-jerker will always be a classic that everyone, young and old, should read!
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
When I read and studied To Kill a Mockingbird in school, it was a turning point in my life. Before reading it, I had my future mapped out with plans to become a doctor and had been reading every medical book that I could get my hands on. Yet, when I was introduced to sweet, innocent Scout, Atticus Finch, and Harper Lee’s silky sweet prose as she writes a powerful story of injustices, social inequality, racism, rape, coming of age, integrity, and the courage to stand up and face head on scary wrongs (because that’s what good people do), my life was forever changed. It was then that I decided that I wanted to teach English literature because narratives like this, besides being an utter joy to read, have the power to be life changing. Lee uses her words to weave the theme of courage throughout this classic book without being preachy, and that is a theme that is still as applicable today as it was 57 years ago. This classic is timeless, graceful, and still so powerful. Thank you, Harper Lee, for changing my life because it would be so utterly different if I had not read this amazingly, wonderful little book!
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
A Wrinkle in Time is the first fantasy/sci-fi book that I can remember reading, and I remember thinking how brilliant the book was! I think when reading it the 1st time what really impressed me was how the book had a female character, 13-year-old Meg Murry, who was brave (even when she doubted her own courage and strengths), smart, and so complex while going through all the feelings and awkwardness of puberty! I admired her tremendously! And, I really loved the entire Murry family: Meg’s parents, both scientists, her twin brothers, Sandy and Dennys, and her little brother Charles Wallace, a child prodigy. I especially loved Charles Wallace! The characters in this book were just fantastic, which is another reason it is another childhood favorite. Oh, how can you not love a book with characters named Aunt Beast, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Witch? Especially when you get to know more about the “3 W’s” and the part they play in the book! Most importantly, I was completely enchanted by the world that L’Engle created even though there are many parts of the story that are dark, scary, and full of pure evil. But, the magic is not just in the good versus evil conflict but in the many other lessons within the story that fill you with wonder and knowledge when reading it. I’m still in awe of this book.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
I probably can’t count how many times I read Little Women as a child and a teenager, and the appeal now I’m an adult to reread it is still strong. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are such strong, well-crafted characters and being an only child I envied the 4 sisters their loving, devoted, and sometimes rocky relationships, so I loved to imagine I was part of the March family. The book is certainly not perfect, but the romantic in me was drawn to the story of these four young women growing up, seeking their path in life, and discovering themselves. Except for Beth, of course. Even now when I reread the book, I sob when Beth dies and feel as if I have lost a part of myself. Maybe because that’s because I identify most with Jo, the voracious bookworm, and writer, so like myself, and Beth’s biggest champion—I think when you read a book and so strongly identify with a character then the book cannot help but become a favorite. I’ll admit that Little Women might be hard to read, especially today when other young adult books (Harry Potter, for example) are much more thrilling and exciting, but there is something to be said about the poetic and romance of a classic literary masterpiece. In fact, I adore Little Women so much that in 16 years of teaching American Literature, a portion of Alcott’s amazing work has been on my syllabus every single year. It’s just that important to me that students today read even a snippet of this book—and yes, some hate it, which I can totally live with, but it is the students who fall in love with this book and read it and then reread it that makes my heart joyful, and my job so worthwhile!
Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery (1908)
There was just something about Anne Shirley that captured my heart when I was younger. When I first read Anne of Green Gables, I immediately had to read the next book in the series and the one after that until all 8 books were finished—and then I immediately reread them; I must have read this series at least 15 or more times in the past 32 years! The magic of reading the series was losing myself in the island of Avonlea, and I spent hours imagining that I was Anne having my own adventures and misadventures on Prince Edward Island. I identified so strongly with Anne since I am so like her with our shared love of reading, vivid imaginations, wild fantasies and dreams, and admittedly, over-talkativeness. The series follows Anne from childhood to young woman to wife and mother, and I admit that the earlier books are my favorite until the last two in the series; however, Montgomery writes with such wit and humor but heartbreak too that all the books are enchanting and charming. I can’t imagine a childhood without Anne of Green Gables bringing joy to the heart!