Updated on March 5, 2015
Twirly’s Top Ten: Kid Book Edition
I don’t remember much about elementary school (pathetic, I know). I remember the names of all of my teachers, the Enya song we listened to while doing our morning math facts in fourth grade, and the diorama I made of a Native American wigwam. But what I remember most is library time.
The first time my teacher set us loose in the library, it was Candy Land. I once walked around, reverently dragging my fingers along the spines of books that I just couldn’t wait to read. Stacks of books left with me, to be returned the next week. I once waited in line in that very library to get an Arthur book signed by one of the illustrators. It was a very special place.
It’s been said that the stories you read as a child shape you in ways that other books cannot. I read so many books as a child, was influenced by so many voices, and am better for it.
So, without further ado–and in no particular order–my favorite books (and series) from childhood:
1. Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) – I know what you’re thinking. “What a cop out.” I am part of the “Harry Potter generation.” I eagerly waited for each book to be released. I stayed up all night to read them so that they couldn’t be spoiled for me the next day. But it’s more than that. I’m reading them again, and am realizing what a genius J.K. Rowling is. The later books are long, yes, but every detail is vital. She draws on a rich background of real mythology, and combines them with her own fiction. The whole series has a distinct structure. I’ll stop fan-girling now, except to say that this series is worth re-reading as an adult.
2. Redwall and associated titles (Brian Jacques) – Many of my friends remember Redwall as a cartoon series that ran on PBS, the website for which can be found here. At the end of each episode, author Brian Jacques would introduce himself and encourage viewers to read the books. Jacques was prolific in his life, but the series came to an end with his passing in 2011. I read a number of them on long car rides and rainy days, never able to get enough of Matthias, Lord Brocktree, or Martin the Warrior. Be warned: some of these books are not for the faint of heart.
3. Magic Attic Club series (multiple authors) – Perhaps the most girly on this list, these books followed the adventures of a group of girls who discover a golden key to their neighbor’s attic. From there, they find costumes, and a mirror that takes them back in time. I remember them being fun stories that got my imagination running, which is always ideal for readers of all ages.
4. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (William Steig) – Let’s be honest: I haven’t read this book since I was in third grade, and even then it was read to me. I don’t remember a lot about the plot, but I know that the title and author have stuck with me for over a decade. That says something, doesn’t it?
5. The Princess Tales (or anything else by Gail Carson Levine) – Another genius, Levine takes classic fairytales and gives them her own flair. I owe my childhood desire to be a princess to her, not Disney. She’s most famous for her award-winning Ella Enchanted, a retelling of Cinderella; the series mentioned above is a collection of shorter, equally worthy works.
6. Little House on the Prairie series (Laura Ingalls Wilder) – Many a book report–complete with poorly drawn illustrations–do I owe to Ms. Wilder. She opened my mind to the trials of living in a different time, a different place–even in the side of a hill. A more-than-worthy replacement for the Captain Underpants series, if I may say so.
7. Frindle (Andrew Clements) – Ah, Frindle. The story of a boy who makes up a word that gets into the dictionary. I always found this story inspiring, probably because it was my first introduction to the versatility of language, the way that it could change and grow like a living thing. At the same time, it showed me how each and every word in English has a backstory, a history. I always found that beautiful. Clements is also responsible for a number of other worthy titles.
8. Magic Tree House series (Mary Pope Osborne) – I am proud to claim responsibility for getting my nephews hooked on these books. Jack and Annie of Frog Creek Woods, Pennsylvania stumble across a treehouse that takes them back in time. They participate in major historical events–the building of the Eiffel Tower, Pompeii, even the first Olympics! If you’re looking for books that are fun and educational, look no further. They might be formulaic to adult ears, but children love learning from them. Don’t believe me? The website has fun quizzes that my nephew aced at age five.
9. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) – Every child ought to be introduced to a few of the classics. Alcott’s story of a family of daughters was perfect for me.
10. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (Beverly Cleary) – I enjoyed all the books about Ramona Quimby. She was a quirky girl my own age, with a big sister. I especially enjoyed her teacher, Mrs. Whaley–whose name was “Whale” with a Y for a tale!
Honorable mention goes to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, a book that I never actually read, but did make up a song about to drive my sister crazy.
What were your favorite books in elementary school?