Book Chat

Essential Childhood Reading

Around the beginning of 2012, I updated my neglected GoodReads account (look me up!  My username is ladykatie32).  I used my Reading Log that I’ve kept since 2008 and looked up the books I’d read and gave them ratings.  As I was updating my current reads, I started browsing through readers’ reviews and exploring other books that were similar (addicting–just like!).  One way or another, I came across The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald and its sequel The Princess and Curdie.  How did I miss these books?  I remember the Disney movie vaguely, and I know that MacDonald influenced such authors as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, E. Nesbit, and Madeleine L’Engle.

I ordered the two books (for free!) to my Kindle, and promptly put them at the top of my To-Read list.  It got me thinking… what books should be categorized as essential childhood reading?  That period of time after picture books but before Gossip Girls and Hannah Montana invade the mind, when you start discovering how vast the world of reading can be and become voracious.  (Although, obviously, I never think picture books should be outgrown.)  I suppose I’m thinking of post-Early Reader and pre-Young Adult literature.

And maybe, I’m also thinking of classic literature, the foundation pieces for all other writing.  The fluff has its place too (I was obsessed with The Babysitter’s Club and will always love that series, even if I don’t necessarily think it’s “literature.”)

So I made a list:  Essential Childhood Reading.  Mostly because the idea caught my fancy, but also in part so I don’t forget!  I want my future children to have a well-stocked library before adding their own favorites.  At least, that’s my excuse for being obsessed with children’s literature at age 24, with no children in sight!

So I added all my favorites to the list plus a few that I discovered later that I wished I had read as a child.  I find that I was drawn to fantasy and nature, which I think are pretty universal themes for children’s literature.  Also, when you find that special author, almost anything they write is wonderful–so it’s easier to just list the author, rather than their entire bibliography.  And maybe George MacDonald should make the list?

Anyway, here’s my own personal list (in no particular order):

Essential Childhood Reading

Anne of Green Gables series, by L.M. Montgomery (and anything by L.M. Montgomery)

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling

Anything by Roald Dahl

Anything by Edward Eager

Anything by E. Nesbit

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle  (and anything by Madeleine L’Engle, especially the Austen Family books)

The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton

The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver (too mature, maybe?)

Obviously, this list is extremely biased and personalized, although I think a lot of people probably share the same life-changing foundational books.  Am I leaving out anything obvious?

What would be on your list?

4 thoughts on “Essential Childhood Reading

  1. I loved Lois Lenski books when I was a little girl – really showing my age, I guess. Also loved Beverly Cleary. When I was in 2nd grade I had chicken pox & in the packet of work sent home to me by my teacher was Cleary’s book Betsy’s Little Star. (Funny the things a person can remember sooo many years later…) At one of my former schools the library was disposing of old books & I was able to get a copy of Betsy’s Little Star which now has a space on a shelf in my bedroom. 🙂


  2. I think I would definitely peg The Poisonwood Bible as too mature…maybe late high school early college? And I think your list belies your personal preference with a tendency toward fantasy. 🙂 I hated fantasy books as a child until I read Harry Potter, and it’s still not my go-to genre.

    What about some Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls Wilder? And maybe other historical fiction like Number the Stars?


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