10 Great Children’s Books


In the spirit of Lizzie Skurknick’s dearly departed Fine Lines feature on Jezebel, a list of 10 great books I loved before I turned 13:




Robin McKinley’s Beauty 

I still love this book. I own it and reread it every time I get sick or sad. I loved, as a little girl, that the heroine starts out being extremely plain, intelligent, and bookish, and that those are the reasons people like her. Everyone appreciates irony! I can’t actually remember the first time I read this, but I do remember that afterwards I wanted every book I read to be exactly like it. Cynthia Voigt’s On Fortune’s Wheel came close. And maybe Catherine, Called Birdy.

Although the character is interesting and independent, she isn’t sassy. There’s no you-go-girl thing getting shoved down your throat, maybe because no one ever tells Beauty what to do or not do because she’s a girl. There’s not much of anyone telling her what to do, period. By and large, she quietly keeps her own counsel. The story isn’t about empowering little girls; it’s about a good, brave person becoming heroic in the face of some tough circumstances (of course, in this case, those circumstances are: hairy monster extorts father…but still).


Roald Dahl's The Twits

I mean, if I have to pick only one Roald Dahl book, it’s obviously going to be the mean-spirited one.


Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Montecristo

Is this a children’s book? No. Should children read it? Hell yeah. Why? VENGEANCE. Ok, so maybe this book is not made of sunshine and rainbows, but whatever. It’s important to learn when it’s appropriate to hit people back. My parents let me read pretty much whatever I wanted (I read the largely-inappropriate Baltasar and Blimunda when I was 14, to the consternation of my poor aunt, who was like, “uuuummm, guys, you know there’s a lot of sex in that right?”) and I turned out fine. 

Anyway, The Count of Montecristo isn’t about sex. It is about Edmund Dantes being a BAMF and Fernand Mondego being driven to suicide for our cathartic entertainment. It’s totally wholesome. 

My grandpa bought this for me when I was 11, along with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I guess he figured that since I’d been watching telenovelas with my Abuela since birth, a little pregnancy-faking lover-having spouse-murdering drama was hardly going to shock me. He would have been right, except for Mrs. Danvers: the human equivalent of a large spider crawling out from under your pillow. I didn’t sleep soundly for a month. My parents were…grateful. 


Lois Lowry's The Giver

Sob. That is all.

Well, not really. Lois Lowry won the Newberry Medal twice. Once for this, and once for Number the Stars and I remember staying up way, way late to finish both books. I used to sleep in an overly air-conditioned room and I have this memory of laying there flipping pages, in my cold, cold pink sheets, trying to move as little as possible so I would stay warm. And my bedside lamp gave off only a small orb of light, so it always felt like night and sleep were pressing in on you. Still, I stayed up reading. They’re not even adventure books! Lois Lowry can have my first-born.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Yeah, there’s Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown and whathaveyou, but it was Sherlock Holmes who made me into a lifelong mystery reader. I used to take the most awkward train ride possible on the MTA (that’s a lot to say) in order to visit the Mysterious Bookshop when I lived in NY. I loved Sherlock before Hercule Poirot, who, I’ll be honest, I loved more. It’s funny that both of these characters got killed off at some point. I was so devastated when I read Curtain, that I could never enjoy a Poirot mystery again.  

Bonus: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes is the best TV you've never seen or heard of.

L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables

There is absolutely nothing anyone can say about Anne that hasn’t already been said. I wish I had red hair. I’m sorry. Auburn.

Scott O'Dell's Black Star, Bright Dawn

I think I have the distinction of having read every novel Scott O’Dell ever wrote. I should probably list my favorite as Island of the Blue Dolphins, because I absolutely ganked that whole plot when I was 9 for writing class (oooh, plagiarism), but I’m going to go with the one about the girl who competes in the Iditarod. Grueling! Plus, being from a tropical island, the setting was more novel.

Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials Trilogy)

Look: I like a sort of heartbreaking ending in a children’s book. Life is heartbreaking. Things don’t work out all the time. On this alone, The Golden Compass has Harry Potter soundly beaten. But, this isn’t a competition between children’s fantasy novels. I loved Harry and I loved Lyra, and I loved the Pevensies. I was so disappointed with the lack of success the movie adaptation of this book found. It’s a beautiful piece of writing at any age: it takes on serious ideas without condescending to its audience or becoming leaden and clumsy (I’m looking at you, Sophie’s World).

And, as with most of my favorite kid-friendly books, women be havin’ adventures. There’s flying and witches and warrior bears. Lyra is as unflinching a girl as you’ll ever find in fiction. And she has, basically, an animal familiar. I have always wanted an animal familiar. It would probably be a hedgehog, though. That would be embarrassing.

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time

Remember how much you loved Wrinkle, and how increasingly weird things got in the sequels until suddenly we were talking about Noah, and WHAT?

LOVED IT. Don’t you ever say anything bad about Madeleine L’Engle. She’s crazy. She’ll do anything.

I think it’s important to note that I totally had a crush on Sandy and Dennis. From the book jacket of Many Waters. I looked at it just now though and I was like, “ugh, totally not my type”. I bet they grew up to look like Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Not good.

Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game

This is a puzzle-book. One that I was totally bewildered by. I’m not smart that way, so I was lost right there with the characters at all times. What makes this novel great is those characters. And there’s so many of them! Turtle is the only one I remember clearly, because she was a habitual shin-kicker. I think I took this up for a while? But my little brother was already too big to put up with it? Maybe that’s why he tried to stab me with that pen that time?

If you didn’t nearly kill your sibling, you probably don’t really like him.

Here are 45 more books you should have read as a child/teenager, but now you won't because you're OLD.


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