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Children's Classics: Linda's List of Favorite Children's Books

St. Nicholas Magazine  §  The Tuckers  §  Donna Parker

Windy Foot  §  Five Little Peppers  §  "What Katy Did" Links

Beautiful Joe: A Dog's Own Story, Marshall Saunders
Like many of the older books on this list (Call of the Wild, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, etc), this story of an abused dog who finds a kindly home wasn't originally written as a children's book, but has become one due to subject content. Beautiful Joe, a dog's version of Anna Sewell's earlier Black Beauty (also relegated to children's book status in the modern world), has its "claim to fame" as the first Canadian best seller and was written in response to a contest sponsored by the American Baptist Society. The Centennial anniversary volume, put out by Applewood Books, is the most complete version of the story that I can find (although it's missing one chapter added in the 1907 edition). There's a sequel, long out of print: Beautiful Joe's Paradise, about a boy's quest in "animal Paradise" to find his unjustly killed dog, and a similar book, Golden Dicky, chronicles the life of a pet canary.
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Kate Douglas Wiggin
Rebecca was also a best-seller (general, not children's, fiction) the year it was published; the little girl who keeps her individuality despite the times and a stern aunt has been a favorite ever since. When poverty-stricken but creative Rebecca Randall goes to live with her two aunts in "the Brick House" in Riverboro, Maine, she has a chance at schooling and a future, but also influences many others. There's also an out-of-print sequel, New Chronicles of Rebecca, which includes stories about the Simpson family and Emma Jane Perkins.
Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher
First serialized in St. Nicholas magazine starting in 1917, this wonderful novel about overprotected little Elizabeth Ann, who learns to have confidence in herself after she's separated from a smothering aunt and sent to live with other relatives at a farm in Vermont preceded The Power of Positive Thinking by many years. In this era of emphasis on self-esteem, the story is still relevant and contains memorable characters you'll remember long after you finish the story.
The Good Master, The Singing Tree, The Chestry Oak, The Open Gate, Kate Seredy
Seredy writes with great affection about farmers, people she considers the true aristocrats of society, whether in the first two novels about Kate and Jansci, cousins living on a vast ranch on the Hungarian plain and taking place in pre- and World War I Hungary, or in the latter two, taking place during World War II, one in Hungary and the other in the United States. The Open Gate, written right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, exhibits a sense of patriotism some would find extraordinary today. The Good Master won a Newbery Medal. Her novel The White Stag, about the legend of Attila the Hun, also won a Newbery Medal.
Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Jack and Jill, Under the Lilacs, Louisa May Alcott
Still enjoyable after all these years, despite some preachiness of style, due to Alcott's lively characterizations. Girls still empathize with Jo March's restlessness and Janey Pecq's efforts to tame her wayward emotions. Lilacs is lesser Alcott, but still okay. Also of interest may be Alcott's volumes of girls' short stories such as A Garland for Girls and Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag and general tales like The Spinning Wheel Stories.
Lad: a Dog and most of Albert Payson Terhune's other collie novels
Terhune writes great dog yarns in the expansive prose of the time (again, these novels were written for family consumption, not for children) which may daunt some readers, but the word-lovers and dog-lovers will adore him. Some other titles you may find in used bookstores are Gray Dawn, Bruce, Treve, The Way of a Dog, My Friend the Dog, Lochinvar Luck, Collie to the Rescue, Wolf, The Book of Sunnybank, Buff: A Collie (which includes the much anthologized short story "One Minute Longer"), and the two Lad sequels, Further Adventures of Lad and Lad of Sunnybank. The Terhune Omnibus is also a great find.
Heidi, Johanna Spyri
People forced to subsist on a sugary movie Heidi (who is almost always blond!) for years will find in the novel a self-reliant little girl of great determination despite her simplicity, and an open, friendly child despite the emotional neglect of her early years. Spyri describes the alpine beauty of Heidi's world with breathtaking delight. Two sequels, not at all bad, Heidi Grows Up, following Heidi's adventures at boarding school and later teaching, and Heidi's Children, were written by Spyri's translator, Charles Tritten.
The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling
Containing the famous stories of Mowgli, the boy raised with the wolves as one of their own. Jungle Book also features the stories "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" and "The White Seal," both well made into half hour animated tales by Chuck Jones, and "Toomai of the Elephants," among others. There also exists, in some collections, including Grosset & Dunlap's All the Mowgli Stories, a story called "In the Rukh" which is a story of Mowgli grown up (actually the first Mowgli story ever written).
An Alien Music, Lynn Johnson
A more recent novel about a girl who joins an space expedition to leave a dying Earth and found a new colony. This is a realistic book intended for older readers with an engaging, independent heroine that addresses the problems of pollution in a creative way.
What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School, What Katy Did Next, Clover, and In the High Valley, Susan Coolidge
Victoriana alá Alcott, but with a lively cast of characters both male and female. Impetuous Katy Carr is tamed by an injury and later conquers her handicap, goes off to boarding school, and later makes the Grand Tour of Europe. Memorable characters along the way include the mischievous Rose Red. Clover follows the adventures of Katy's younger sister out in the "Wild West"; In the High Valley is a sequel to Clover. Katy and her friends/schoolmates play games that I doubt adults would find easy today! Check out the "Katy" links above for links to all the books and the one short story online.
National Velvet, Enid Bagnold
If you've only seen the excellent MGM movie, you may be surprised at the additional aspects and depth of the story about an English teenage girl who wins an undisciplined horse in a raffle and trains it to run in England's greatest steeplechase, the Grand National—the novel contains another Brown sister, an inheritance for Velvet that involves more horses, a difference in Mi's background.
Bambi, Felix Salten
No cute and cuddly Disney this; Salten tries hard not to anthropormorphize his deer. Additional characters, including a once-tame deer named Gobo, adds further depth to the tale, and man's influence on the forest, especially hunting, is featured unflinchingly. There's a sequel, Bambi's Children.
A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, The Moon by Night, Meet the Austins, And Both Were Young, Camilla, Dragons in the Waters, An Acceptable Time, The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas, The Anti-Muffins, Arm of the Starfish, A House Like a Lotus, The Young Unicorns, A Ring of Endless Light, Troubling a Star, Madeleine L'Engle
L'Engle's stories are full of interconnected characters, and you'll find characters crossed over from the Murry family stories to the Austin family stories to the O'Keefe children stories. All strong in family values and faith without preaching and advocating "One True Religion." The Murry family stories and, occasionally, the O'Keefe children stories involve some science-fiction elements.
Any book by Lois Lenski, especially her regional novel series (Strawberry Girl, etc) and historical novels (A'Going to the Westward, Indian Captive, Ocean-Born Mary, etc.)
Sadly, most of these books, except Newbery winner Strawberry Girl and the newly rediscovered Indian Captive are out of print and only to be found in older libraries and library book sales. They portray an America with many more regional differences than in this homogenized television age, with ethnic backgrounds often emphasized. The publisher is Lippincott and some titles to look for are: Judy's Journey, Cotton in My Sack, Prairie School, San Francisco Boy, Shoo-Fly Girl, Texas Tomboy, Blue Ridge Billy, Deer Valley Girl, Blueberry Corners, Bayou Suzette, and Corn-Farm Boy. The historicals are especially good--some other titles are A Little Girl of 1900, Bound Girl of Cobble Hill, and Puritan Adventure.
The Call of the Wild, Jack London
Yet another story intended for family consumption and now in the ranks of classic children's tales. This is story of Buck, a crossbreed St. Bernard/collie, stolen from his California home and taken to the Yukon during the Gold Rush to be a sled dog. The classic adventure tale is probably now considered too violent for children, but is true to actual life in the Yukon at that time.
Any book by Marguerite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague, Born to Trot, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, etc.)
Horse-crazy young girls will especially enjoy them, but they are usually fascinating to all children. Both Misty and Brighty of the Grand Canyon were later made into movies; the former stands the test of time pretty well. Two novels, Cinnabar, the One O'Clock Fox and Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin do not involve horses and are historically based. Born to Trot includes a novel within a novel (One Man's Horse) so popular that it was later published separately. Dear Marguerite Henry is a letter collection and Album of Horses and Album of Dogs portraits of various breeds. Sadly, her final two novels Misty's Twilight and Brown Sunshine aren't quite up to standard.
The Horsemasters, Don Stanford
Perfect gift for the girl who begs for a pony, this book, taking place at a top-notch British riding school, shows how much fun—and how much work—owning a horse and riding properly really is. The narrative gallops along so well you might not notice you were learning about horseback riding and equine diseases along the way as you follow American girl Dinah and her multinational compatriots. (Disney made this book into a movie in the early 1960s, with Annette Funicello in the lead role, but the movie story is nowhere as compelling.)
Pride of the Moor, Vian Smith
Another out-of-print "find," this novel about daydreaming Mark Wonnacott, a daydreaming West Country farm boy whose love for an elderly racehorse and the foal she eventually bears brings radical changes to his family and way of life, is beautifully written with excellent imagery and characters.
The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Dodie Smith
Similar to, yet different from, the Disney feature—the key points remain the same, but some situations are interestingly different: for instance, there are 97, not 99 puppies in the novel, Perdita is not Pongo's mate, Cruella deVil has a husband, and she also owns a Persian cat who helps take revenge on her in the end. (There's a sequel as well, The Starlight Barking.)
John Verney's Callendar family books: Friday's Tunnel, February's Road, Ismo, Seven Sunflower Seeds, Samson's Hoard
More finds now out of print, these by turns comedic and then suspenseful novels about an English family involved in espionage were popular in the sixties. Unfortunately the engaging young protagonist in the first two novels turns into a twit in the penultimate one!
Lassie Come-Home, Eric Knight
Those accustomed to the treacle the TV series could turn out in its final seasons and in the two sequel series, will be surprised by this moving story about a Yorkshire collier who must sell his son's beloved dog to feed the family and of the couragous dog's weary 1000-mile journey home to rejoin the boy she loves. The excellent 1942—MGM movie follows the book almost word-for-word in several scenes.
Mary O'Hara's trilogy My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming
Again, books that because of their subject matter have been relegated to "children's" status. Much more than horses covered here--faith, nature, family relationships, marriage, the struggles to keep home and hearth going. (If you're interested in the real-life inspiration for the Goose Bar Ranch of the fictional McLaughlins, try to find a copy of O'Hara's Wyoming Summer, or her autobiography, Flicka's Friend.)
The Ruby in the Smoke, Shadow in the North, The Tiger in the Well, and The Tin Princess; also The Golden Compass The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
Pullman writes young adult Victorian-era thrillers with a breathtaking sweep of plot that puts many modern best-sellers to shame. Tiger in the Well could give any Robert Ludlum novel a run for its money. Readers who become involved with Sally Lockhart's story, however, may be disappointed that Sally makes only a "cameo" appearance in Tin Princess. The final three books are a compelling fantasy trilogy called, "His Dark Materials," featuring an alternate Earth disturbingly like our own.
K.M. Peyton's Flambards trilogy: Flambards, The Edge of the Cloud, and Flambards in Summer
Story of the old guard hunting aristocracy in England facing the World War I era done so well as a 13-part British TV miniseries back in 1978 that I'm hard-pressed to say if the books or the series is better. (Check out my Flambards page for details on the series.) The novels have a very unsatisfying sequel, Flambards Divided.
Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink
Fans of the Little House books will also love this novel about a pioneer girl and her family in 1860s frontier Wisconsin. Young Caroline "Caddie" has been allowed to run wild with her brothers and the children have adventures with Indians, schoolmates, and even a snobby city cousin. The sequel, Magical Melons, is also good. Like Ingalls, the stories are based on real-life experiences. Disney did a not-bad film version a few years back, starring Emily Schulman as Caddie.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods and sequels Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, The First Four Years, On the Way Home, and West from Home
In the 1930s, journalist Rose Wilder Lane persuaded her mother Laura to write down some of her childhood memories in book form. Thus Little House in the Big Woods was written, founding a series of childhood classics. Although the "Little House books," as they became known, are not the total autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, they are an accurate portrait of pioneer life by someone who lived the happy times and hardships. (For biographies of Laura, try Donald Zochert's Laura).
These classics were followed just recently by two series of sequels about the Wilder family's later life in Mansfield, Missouri. The eight novels by Roger Lea MacBride, a friend of Rose Wilder Lane, concern Rose's adventures growing up on Rocky Ridge Farm. These try to follow the storytelling form of Laura herself and are generally excellent. (They are Little House on Rocky Ridge, Little Farm in the Ozarks, In the Land of the Big Red Apple, On the Other Side of the Hill, Little Town in the Ozarks, New Dawn on Rocky Ridge, On the Banks of the Bayou, and Bachelor Girl.) There exists also an vile, extremely fictionalized eight-part series of stories by Thomas Tedrow ("The Days of Laura Ingalls Wilder") that involve Laura in all sorts of Politically Correct (in the worst sense of the term) events--these novels should be avoided at all costs.
Some years ago three series of "Little House" novels by Maria Wilkes and Melissa Wiley were initiated by Harper, the first concentrating on the childhood of Laura's mother Caroline, beginning with the excellent Little House in Brookfield; the second about Caroline's Scottish great-grandmother Martha (Little House in the Highlands); and the third concerning Caroline's mother Charlotte, starting with Little House on Boston Bay. (This last is the weakest of the lot, but may improve with time.)
A Gathering of Days, Joan Blos
This rather slow-moving, but realistic diary of a New England girl during the early years of the American revolution is a detailed portrait of life in that era.
Frances Hodgsen Burnett's Victorian classics The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and Little Lord Fauntleroy
The first novel is the ageless story of a spoiled English girl and her sickly cousin whose lives are transformed by a change in attitude due to the healing influence of nature, but the two others have often been needlessly accused of "sugariness" due to sappy movie adaptations. However, although instilled with Victorian morality, both of these novels are a lot tougher than their reputation credits, especially the hero of Fauntleroy, who suffered malignment for years due to his mode of dress and long curls. Recent movie version of both Garden and Princess have been generally true to the books, although some major tweaks were made in the latter (the location is moved to New York City and Becky is now African-American) that do not distract from the story. Note: A Little Princess was originally serialized and then published in a shorter version, Sara Crewe.
Five Little Peppers (and How They Grew), Margaret Sidney
For the true lover of Victorian excesses, the loving, resourceful but almost-too-good-to-be-true Peppers are the ultimate in experiences. The close-knit Peppers: sturdy Ben, motherly Polly, mischievous Joel, dependable David, and adorable Phronsie. Numerous sequels abound, including Five Little Peppers Midway, Five Little Peppers Abroad, Five Little Peppers at School, The Stories Polly Pepper Told, Five Little Peppers in the Little Brown House, and a book for each of the five children, Ben, Polly, Joel, David, and the overly-adorable Phronsie.
Roller Skates, Ruth Sawyer
A book I didn't discover until I was an adult and fell in love with anyway, about ten-year-old Lucinda Wyman, left to explore the world of late 1890s New York City while her parents are abroad for her mother's health. Who can forget Tony Coppino, Trinket, the Princess, Uncle Earle, and all the other wonderful characters cramming this treat of a story? There's a sequel, out of print, called The Year of Jubilo, in which Lucinda and her brothers must pull together to keep the family solvent after their father dies, but it lacks the joie de vivre of the original although it remains a good read.
Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson
Terabithia, with the death of one of its major characters, has become one of the most maligned children's books of the past 20 years, and is a standout tale of the friendship between two dissimilar yet similiar children; Jacob involves the rivalry between two sisters in a tough, uncompromising way that is still immensely readable; the Chesapeke Bay setting is a plus.
The Peterkin Papers, Lucretia P. Hale
A Victorian classic renown for the silliness of the major characters, the offbeat Peterkin family, who are always doing things wrong. Some people can't stand the perpetually idiotic Peterkins, but others revel in them.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, Bette Bao Lord
Delightful story of the Americanization of a small Chinese girl who, in 1947, becomes a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. When young "Bandit," rechristened "Shirley," arrives in the United States, she feels like an outsider at school until the love of baseball unites her with her classmates.
Anne of Green Gables, etc., L. M. Montgomery
When a talkative, inventive red-haired orphan girl is sent to live with peppery, strict Marilla Cuthbert and her reclusive, shy brother Matthew instead of the boy they had requested, neither know what to make of her—but they soon come to love the unpredictable child—as did Anne's original audience. Modern readers still fall in love with the irrepressible Miss Shirley. The initial novel is followed by seven sequels, the final few having to do with Anne's children, but the original remains the most engaging.
Escape to Witch Mountain, Alexander Key
Disney made a credible, if slightly cutesy movie of this novel in the early 70s with two young actors (the newer version is pretty bad); the original novel is more for older children, a much grittier tale, with teenage protagonists and assistance from a Catholic priest. An excellent thriller with SF elements. Try also Key's The Forgotten Door.
Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan
Short, sweet, and extraordinary, the deservedly praised story of a mail-order bride from Maine who moves to the prairie to marry a widower with two children. Comes with two sequels both inspired by the television movie based on the novel.
Addie Across the Prairie, Addie's Long Summer, Addie's Dakota Winter, George on His Own, and Addie's Forever Friend, Laurie Lawlor
The best part about the Lawlor books is that they don't flinch in showing some of the more odious aspects of pioneer life, instead of the "wonderful sunny adventure" themes in some pioneer fiction—in Addie's Long Summer, for instance, before relatives come visit, Addie and her siblings have to clean the outhouse! Most of the books, as the titles indicate, are told from the point of view of Addie Mills, but George on His Own follows the adventures of Addie's often annoying brother, struggling to decide what to do with his life.
Catherine, Called Birdy, Karen Cushman
The delightful diary of a 14-year-old girl growing up in medieval England and trying to outwit her father, who is determined she be married. She's a bit more "90s" than any medieval girl would be, but it's all great fun--and takes the bloom off the "romance" of medieval life. Cushman also has another medieval themed novel, The Midwife's Apprentice, and a gritty "49ers" story, The Ballad of Lucy Whipple.
The "Main Street" Novels, Ann M. Martin
Flora and Ruby Northrop, orphaned after an automobile accident, are taken by their grandmother "Min" to live in her hometown of Camden Falls, a small Massachusetts town where Min and a friend own a sewing store called "Needle and Thread." So begins the "Main Street" series by Babysitter's Club veteran Ann M. Martin. Flora and Ruby befriend Olivia, whose grandmother is Min's partner, a girl who has skipped two grades in school, and Nikki, a shunned girl who lives on the outskirts of town with her little sister, brother, mother, and alcoholic, abusive father. As the series follows the girls, we also follow the lives of Min's neighbors: an elderly African-American man, an elderly couple about to be separated due to the wife's Alzheimer's disease, a young Asian couple just starting out, a doctor's family, and a young man with Down Syndrome who's getting ready to start his adult life. Immensely readable for all ages.
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