As a first grader, I checked out as many books from our public library as I could pile high in my arms (with my parents’ help). As quickly as my parents could read them to me, we would head back to the library for more. I grew up with favorites including Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and the Nancy Drew mystery series by Carolyn Keene.
Having this routine of reading aloud with my parents led to a life of jubilant reading and writing. Having a routine of reading childhood favorites can be a fun way to bond with kids, and discuss how life was different in the past and how the books may be outdated. In that spirit of back to school, I surveyed the Everett Public Library staff to learn what favorite books they read starting from kindergarten through the end of high school.
That’s a tough one. There are so many. I recently read an excellent book by Jason Reynolds called Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, and I found it so much more accessible. It was an entertaining and educational read about the history of racism, racism itself and what you can do about it. I highly recommend it!
My favorite easy reader (and once again, there are so many) is called Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selnick. It’s laid out like a chapter book, so kids feel proud to read it. It’s funny! Baby Monkey, private eye, will investigate stolen jewels, missing pizzas, and other mysteries- if he can only figure out how to get his pants on. (He has a tail, of course!) As for a favorite picture book, I’d choose anything by Julia Donaldson. I can’t pick one. The Gruffalo, The Detective Dog, The Snail and the Whale, Superworm, and The Giant Jumperee are all excellent. I love them because they rhyme, have great stories and usually a surprise ending.
When I was little I remember really loving books by Gyo Fujikawa and Joan Walsh Anglund. We went through a lot of books as a family so I don’t have one favorite that stands out – just how much I enjoyed reading and being read to. The book that stands out to me most from high school was The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Not a happy read by any means, but it left a deep impression.
I loved My Side of the Mountain by Jean C. George because I was so impressed that he learned how to live in the wild from reading library books! I read it in 4th or 5th grade, so 10 or 11 years old.
Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Player Piano, which focuses on the human and social costs of workplace automation, made such an impression on me that within a month I’d read everything of Vonnegut’s I could get my hands on.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Each of five children lucky enough to discover an entry ticket into Mr. Willy Wonka’s mysterious chocolate factory takes advantage of the situation in his own way.
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery:
Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her.
If I had to choose a favorite childhood book, it would be the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved the mystical elements, and how Mary’s connection with nature and others helped her grow into herself. I also appreciated the darker, complex themes of grieving, hope and finding non-traditional family.
I read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes when I was in third or fourth grade and it really had an impact on me; in fact I remember crying while reading it. The story is about bullying, accepting differences, and standing up and doing the right thing. It is based on a real life experience the author had in school. Art plays a role in the book as well, which always appeals to me, and the illustrations done in simple but brilliant watercolor and colored pencil are still beautiful all these years later.
The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell was probably the first survival story I read, and I still like them to this day. The determination and ingenuity of the stranded young girl, Karana, was so inspiring to me. She inadvertently gets left behind when her people sail away, and is all alone on the remote island for years. She builds shelter and protection, stockpiles provisions, befriends a wild dog, and spends time watching all the animals. It is a true story of female strength, persistence, perseverance, and survival.
Nancy Drew: The Case of the Safecracker’s Secret by Carolyn Keene
This book—part of a 4 book set my late, great Aunt Judy gave me for Christmas when I was 9—got me hooked on Nancy Drew, mysteries, and reading.
Some of my favorite books from my childhood are: Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey and The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I enjoyed reading them over and over. I also loved reading them to my daughter and getting to share those memories with her.
The first series I remember reading is the Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Four orphans live in an abandoned boxcar until they are discovered by their grandfather. After moving in with him, they set out to solve a variety of mysteries. Next would be the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder following her life from a little girl living with her family in Little House in the Big Woods to her life with her husband and daughter in These Happy Golden Years. Then moving on to the Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene. I read the Hardy Boys too by Franklin W. Dixon but you know, boys.
Two other stand outs are From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg about a brother and sister hiding out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell.
If you want to know my most hated book of my childhood it would be Lord of the Flies!
One I remember loving from my pre-teen years was Grendel by John Gardner: This retelling of the Beowulf legend from Grendel’s point of view clicked with my growing sympathy for the vanquished and the idea that any story has multiple interpretations, depending on the teller.
When I was in kindergarten, I loved the Frances books by Russell Hoban; especially A Bargain for Frances. How does one get back at a conniving friend? Outsmart them, of course!
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler provides the perfect young nerd fantasy: a kid living inside of a museum. This was my favorite book in 4th grade. Imagine the thrill of living independently as a 12-year-old, making use of items at hand for comfort and survival, spending days and nights researching and studying… Sigh.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
When Harriet is encouraged to track her observations in a notebook, she does. She fills notebook after notebook with brutally honest takes on her friends and family, school and home. It’s a great outlet until the notebook falls into the wrong hands. I read Harriet the Spy at age 10, and the idea that she would write down what she observed rang so true, I immediately started doing the same. I liked writing in notebooks, but I was very bad at sneaking around and eavesdropping. I decided to not become a spy, and instead continued reading Nancy Drew books to work toward Career Plan B: girl detective.