The other day I was helping my wife, an elementary school teacher, move into her new classroom. I was being for the most part very helpful (if I do say so myself), moving large objects, hanging border around the bulletin board, and the like. But my work began to slow demonstrably as soon as my wife asked me to unpack some boxes that were stacked in the corner. As I began to open the boxes, I realized I was given the task of stocking her bookshelves with the plethora of children’s books she’s accumulated over the years. If you know anything about me and my affinity for book collections, you’d realize how great of a job this was for me, but also how long this might take me, as I stopped with each handful of books pulled from the boxes to reflect on these great stories, which I myself had grown up reading. I began to think about how much I had enjoyed them and how I think those stories had shaped me as a young boy coming of age. I also grabbed a couple of the books to bring home, realizing there were a few classics I had actually never read, even though I ought to have. So, without further adieu, here is my list of books you should have read as a child. If you haven’t read the books on this list, I think its well worth your while to take a moment and do so. It’s never too late.
1. Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen – the story of Brian Robeson, who after a plane crash, must survive in the wilderness for over fifty days using nothing but a hatchet.
2. The Giver, by Lois Lowry – I have to admit I’m a huge fan of utopian/dystopian/anything ending in “opian” society novels. I liked 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, etc. The Giver is on my list of must reads mainly because it was my introduction to the genre. It was my first experience of a seemingly utopian society and the ills that come along with them.
3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Immersed in controversy, but always a classic, Huck Finn just might have it all. It’s an incredible tale of coming of age and discovery, while at the same time providing plan fun and adventure at every turn. Add to that its historical descriptions of the south and it’s hard to argue against this one.
4. James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl. A seriously odd story. James’s parents are eaten by an escaped rhino, forcing James to live with his abusive aunts until he is given glowing crocodile tongues, grows a giant peach, wanders inside, befriends insects, and begins an adventure. For me, James and the Giant Peach makes the list because I distinctly remember it as the first time I read a curse word (“ass”) in a book, and it made me feel extremely rebellious.
5. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck. Probably my all-time favorite children’s book. The story of a young boy, his pet pig, and his father, a butcher, and the bonds developed between them. One of the best examples of a coming of age novel, and a great telling of the bond between a boy and his father. Seriously, though, you’ll shed a tear.
6. My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. The story of the maturation of young boy, Sam, who runs away from city life in New York to live in the wilderness in the Catskill Mountains. I have to admit this is one I haven’t read, but I should have. It has been stolen from my wife’s classroom and will be read shortly.
7. Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein. This one may seem a little out of place on this list, but Shel Silverstein was for me, as he is for many, the first introduction to poetry as a child. Along with Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic and Falling Up, it should be a must read for getting children interested in the genre of poetry (a genre that men should still be interested in today, but more on that later). Of course, it can also set up some rather awkward scenarios when those familiar with these come across Silverstein’s not-for-kids works.
8. Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. A boy and his dogs. If you grew up with a dog, nothing more really needs to be said. Again, you’ll shed a tear.
9. Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli. Exploring themes of racism and homelessness, Maniac Magee follows the story of an orphaned boy looking for a home. He becomes a local legend for feats of athleticism and fearlessness, and his ignorance of sharp racial boundaries in the town. The book is popular in elementary school curricula, and has been used in scholarly studies on the relationship of children to racial identity and reading. The preceding description was ripped straight from Wikipedia, as this is the second book I never read. It, however, was recommended by my fellow TTAF writers.
So there you have it. Nine books you should have read growing up. I’m sure there are many more on your list. There were many more on my own list, actually. That said, what are they? What are the best children’s books you read growing up. What should be added to this list? What should be deleted?