Children Still Read ... Don't They?
March 3, 2004 7:39 AM   Subscribe

10 Books to Feed the Imagination. Just in time for World Book Day, Lady Georgia Byng offers her favorite tomes for sparking a child's fancy. The usual suspects are here (Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman) with a couple of welcome surprises (Yann Martel and Jostein Gaarder). But tell me, MeFites ... which others did she miss?
posted by grabbingsand (47 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A little U.S.-centric, I suppose, but Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles were fundamental to my love of reading at a young age. And of course, the Chronicles of Narnia.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:51 AM on March 3, 2004

Naked Lunch.
posted by angry modem at 7:51 AM on March 3, 2004

Harold and The Purple Crayon
posted by amberglow at 7:55 AM on March 3, 2004

The First of the Penguins by Mary Q. Steele.
posted by saladin at 8:04 AM on March 3, 2004

Douglas Adams is appropriate for anyone who can read Harry Potter, I think, and a fab introduction to that kind of lunacy. In some social-conditioning ways, it might be even more valuable that Carroll -- I see more Hitchhiker's than Alice in the world today.
posted by blueshammer at 8:09 AM on March 3, 2004

Wow, Ufez, you beat me already. The Prydain books are my favorite series of all — even though I was 36 when I read the first one. My favorite imaginative children's book, though, would have to be The Phantom Tollbooth.

As for my 10-year-old, he was obsessed with the Redwall books last year, after I read the first one with him. He read all 16 books — a total of 6000+ pages — at least twice each (sometimes three times) between February and December.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:10 AM on March 3, 2004

What? No Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

Worst. Top Ten. Ever.

on preview: curse you blueshammer!
posted by Blue Stone at 8:11 AM on March 3, 2004

A Winkle In Time - Madeleine L'Engle
posted by Latitude11 at 8:11 AM on March 3, 2004

Madeleine L'Engle!
(A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, An Acceptable Time, Ring of Endless Light...)

Monica Furlong's Wise Child and its prequel Juniper were favorites during late elementary school. It's astounding to look back at them now and see how formative they were--clear influences on everything from the particulat kind of feminism I espouse to my spiritual beliefs to my aesthetic sense.

Where oh where is C.S. Lewis?
posted by hippugeek at 8:15 AM on March 3, 2004

I third Lloyd Alexander. Fabulous stuff.
posted by namespan at 8:16 AM on March 3, 2004

The Hobbit. Gotta start 'em on it early.

Susan Cooper's series: Over Sea Under Stone, The Dark Is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King (my own favorite), and Silver on the Tree.

And I'd have picked Burnett's The Secret Garden over The Little Princess.
posted by hippugeek at 8:25 AM on March 3, 2004

Third (no, on preview, fourth) Lloyd Alexander -- not just his Prydain Chronicles, but the Westmark books as well.

Also, Richard Adam's Watership Down fascinated me... I think by the time I was twelve, I'd probably read it 20 times.
posted by weston at 8:29 AM on March 3, 2004

L. M. Boston's "Green Knowe" books and Tove Jannson's "Moomintroll" books. Lloyd Alexander's books and the Redwall books were favorites, but I never felt that they compared with Boston and Jannson's books in terms of originality and general goodness.
posted by bubukaba at 8:35 AM on March 3, 2004

definitely Watership was the first "big" (in all sorts of ways) book I read.

Wizard of Oz, and Horton Hears a Who, and maybe Curious George too.
posted by amberglow at 8:36 AM on March 3, 2004

Marianne Dreams, by Catherine Storr was pretty powerful stuff when I was a kid. The rather substandard movie Paperhouse was adapted from it, with a dodgy abusive father motif. Still a damn fine book though.
posted by Swandive at 8:37 AM on March 3, 2004

The full Oz series--some of them are much more inventive and darker than Wizard.

Dahl's The BFG.

Peter Pan.
posted by hippugeek at 8:44 AM on March 3, 2004

I was also a big fan of the TinTin (flash warning) books when I was in 1st or 2nd grade. I see now via the official site that they had the 75th anniversary in January.

And as pedestrian as they were, I was a huge Hardy Boys fan for a while.

And who can forget all of the Beverly Cleary books? Essential reading for those in pre-adolescence.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:47 AM on March 3, 2004

Maurice Sendak. Some of my earliest memories of reading . . .
posted by JeffK at 8:51 AM on March 3, 2004

For those kids in need of a fantasy fix, the Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin are wonderful. They have unforgettable characters and all her stuff is characterized by lean, muscular writing that is far and above pretty much anything else in the fantasy realm.
posted by deadcowdan at 8:51 AM on March 3, 2004

The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it Was None of His Business by Werner Holzwarth, Wolf Erlbruch. A scatological tour de force.. One of the finest books about shit ever written. Made me and my kids laugh lots, anyway.
posted by jiroczech at 8:59 AM on March 3, 2004

definitely Douglas Adams, but also Neil Gaiman, Shel Silverstein, Tolkien.... and 'the King of Capri' by Jeanette Winterson.
posted by degan at 9:11 AM on March 3, 2004

The Mad Scientist's Club (and sequels).

If we're in the 8--12 range, that's also a great time to engeekerize 'em by giving them some SF to read. Early Clarke is good for this, or Heinlein juvies.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:12 AM on March 3, 2004

in additions to recs above, i'd add books by:

e.b. white
russell hoban
william sleator
john christopher
matt christopher
jack london
justin f. denzel
robert c. o'brien
robin mckinley
katherine paterson


the once and future king by t.h. white
the stone and the flute by hans bemmann
the neverending story by michael ende
the princess bride by william goldman
the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by mark haddon

and just to cross the streams :D
posted by kliuless at 9:15 AM on March 3, 2004

oh and the westing game! by ellen raskin :D
posted by kliuless at 9:20 AM on March 3, 2004

and maybe the thief of always by clive barker?
posted by kliuless at 9:23 AM on March 3, 2004

My dad gave me the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe for my 11th birthday, and took me to see Alien when I was 13, after we'd both read the book. I suspect that all explains a lot about me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:33 AM on March 3, 2004

Great choices above, especially the Narnia and Prydain series and Susan Cooper. I have fond memories of all of those. And I must have read The Westing Game about 10 or 15 times.

I also had condensed versions of lots of the classics - Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, etc. that were small squarish paperbacks with illustrations on almost every other page. Anyone remember those? I could burn a restless Sunday afternoon pouring over those books while everyone else was taking a nap.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 9:42 AM on March 3, 2004

Just a(nother) big amen to Ellen Raskin - the Westing Game is great but you can't really go wrong - and Lloyd Alexander's Westmark books. I still reread those once in a while and I can hardly wait until my kids are old enough. The Kestrel, the second in the series, is my favorite young adult book ever.
posted by lumpley at 9:53 AM on March 3, 2004

Anyone read Haroun and the Sea of Stories? It's a beautiful childrens story by, of all people, Salman Rushdie.
posted by event at 10:05 AM on March 3, 2004

yup event--it's great.
posted by amberglow at 10:09 AM on March 3, 2004

Anything by Diana Wynne Jones, who was doing magic stuff before Rowlings ever picked up a pen. The Lives of Christopher Chant is a great Harry Potterish read, and Archer's Goon is terrific, and just plain odd. I think Ms. Jones must be one of the most chronically underrated children's writers...
posted by unreason at 10:23 AM on March 3, 2004

I second The Hobbit and Watership Down. About the only other books which has survived my adulthood rereadings are Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels (some of which are available from Project Gutenberg).

And, for a few seconds there, I thought it said "... for spanking a child's fancy." and I nearly skipped the thread..
posted by wobh at 10:31 AM on March 3, 2004

The Wind in the Willows
The Little Prince
Susan Cooper and Heinlen and Asimov and Narnia absolutely.
The House with the Clock in Its Walls, The Letter the Witch and the Ring - Bellairs
The Gryphon and the Minor Cannon
The Jungle Book, The Just So Stories
Some Andre Norton and some Marion Zimmer Bradley
20 Thousand Legues Under the Sea
Tarzan, and the Return of Tarzan
Doctor Doolittle
The Animal Family

Anne of Green Gables (imagination should involve freedom from inner physcis as well as outer physics)

Mysteries are important too - my father read Rex Stout to me from 8 or 9 on... and The Phantom and The Shadow.
posted by ewkpates at 10:37 AM on March 3, 2004

Oh! And the Great Brain and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing!
posted by ewkpates at 10:43 AM on March 3, 2004

"Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman," - Richard Feynman's book of anecdotes.

This is the first novel I read, at age four. Possibly what steered me towards being a scientist.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:57 AM on March 3, 2004

What about From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg? I read that book so many times, and I thought hiding out in the museum would be the coolest thing you could ever do.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:19 AM on March 3, 2004

"Novel"? Isn't Feynman's book non-fiction?

Unfortunately several of my all-time favourite kids' books are now out of print. For instance, Mary Calhoun's Ownself, published in the mid-sixties, is a fey and beautiful little book about a little girl who believes she has a fairy inside of her, and is transformed by it.

If you're looking for a good list of kids' books, check out the Newbery Medal list of winners and honourable mentions (site here). The Newbery selection committee is always composed of librarians, and they usually select terrific books, most of which stay in print forever.

For more current stuff, aside from what has already been mentioned, I love Karen Cushman's work, especially Catherine Called Birdie, which is hysterically funny. Cynthia Voigt writes some great stuff for teenagers. I recommend L.M. Montgomery's Emily series, which although not nearly as well known as the Anne books are better from a literary standpoint.
posted by orange swan at 11:22 AM on March 3, 2004

A Winkle In Time - Madeleine L'Engle

That's a scary thought. (I loved Wrinkle in Time when i was a wee lad.)

I guess it wouldn't be a MeFi thread about imaginative writers without mentioning Neil Gaiman, who has a nice set of books for the kiddies: Coraline, The Wolves in the Wallsand The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.

I just read a Clive Barker children's book that I'm sure I would have enjoyed years ago, being the avid reader of horror books I was when I was young, Abarat, which I've heard that Disney (eeecccch) optioned the film rights for.
posted by eyeballkid at 11:25 AM on March 3, 2004

I second The Great Brain books and fifth (or whatever) the Prydain Chronicles.

Man, I've been recommending the Prydain books to people for years and never once stumbled on anyone else who read them, and now all of a sudden there's Lloyd Alexander fans everywhere. Nice.

Also: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien.
posted by gompa at 12:41 PM on March 3, 2004

I was surprised (and pleased) at how much I loved Haroun and the Sea of Stories. A beautiful book, indeed, even more so considering that the guy was on the run for his life when he wrote it.

I'm also surprised that no one (in either this thread, or the one linked by kliuless) has mentioned Eva Ibbotson. My son and I read most of her books about witches, wizards, and ghosts last year. It's interesting to me how often they parallel the Harry Potter stories (or vice versa, I guess — Ibbotson's were written years earlier). In The Secret of Platform 13, for example, you get to the magic world thanks to a secret platform in a British railroad station.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:34 PM on March 3, 2004

A list of "books to feed the imagination" that doesn't include Lewis Carroll is pointless. Any kid that doesn't get the Alice books is being cruelly deprived and should probably be taken from its parents.
posted by languagehat at 5:37 PM on March 3, 2004

I am David by Anne Holm is great. The ending is a bit too "tidy" for adult's taste - but as a way to gently introduce kids to the horrors of totalitarianism annd the Holocaust, it's very moving.

Where The Wild Things Are because it's genius.
posted by Pericles at 1:44 AM on March 4, 2004

Tomorrow When The War Began, by John Marsden. An Australian author, and a book I picked up in high school, read the entire series, and have read the series at least once a year since then. Teenagers in war time, and pretty much a set novel in nearly every high school in Australia.

Also seconding The Phantom Tollbooth, another kid's book I read annually.
posted by chronic sublime at 2:11 AM on March 4, 2004

Borges and Calvino.
posted by juv3nal at 8:28 PM on March 4, 2004

Robert Cormier: because children need to know that life's gonna suck.
posted by tyro urge at 10:05 AM on March 5, 2004

A late addition, but vital:
Bridge to Terabithia.
posted by hippugeek at 9:38 PM on March 9, 2004

I think in the "Bridge to Terabithia" category Where the Red Fern Grows but even better the Jungle Book might be better choices. I remember the Bridge, but I don't know if it was as meaningful or well written as the Jungle Book, especially in regard to how death is handled and the meaning of it to the living.
posted by ewkpates at 6:02 AM on March 10, 2004

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