Sunday, January 22, 2012

18 Essential Books for 18 Years of Childhood

I think you all know how much I love books and lists. Put those together, and I simply cannot resist.

I’ve shared various book lists before, but just today I decide to create my own very short essential list. One fiction book for each year of childhood. (Yes, I cheated and listed a couple series or trilogies. I also left out plays, poetry, myths, and non-fiction.) I chose books that would be varied and rich in message, meaning, and ideas as well as delivery. These are the kind of stories that a reader could think about and mull over for years to come. Books that could stir up discussion and debate between child and parent or student and teacher.

Last time I shared an even shorter essential list, one reader commented that as fun as it is to make our short lists, aren’t we glad that our children in reality can read thousands of wonderful books before they leave childhood behind forever?! And that we have years of books ahead of us as reading adults?

Without further ado:

1. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

2. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (or The Little House) by Virginia Lee Burton

3. Tales of Beatrix Potter

4. Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall

5. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

6. Babe: The Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith

7. The Chronicles of Narnia (series) by C. S. Lewis

8. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

9. Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

10. Little Britches and Man of the Family by Ralph Moody

11. Animal Farm by George Orwell

12. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

13. The Hunger Games (trilogy) by Suzanne Collins

14.  Watership Down by Richard Adams

15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

16. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

17. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

18. Perelandra by C. S. Lewis


What books would be on your list, and why?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your book list! We have read and LOVED many of these. I would have to add the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as well. I have to ask about your inclusion of Hunger Games. I started it but had to put it down as I was too disturbed by the premise of the book. I know there are a LOT of people who love it, but to have it be one of the top books for childhood, I was surprised. Is there something I missed by putting it down too soon?

Julie in St. Louis

Anonymous said...

thank you for the list, heidi! i cannot wait to check into all the books and head to the library! enjoy your week! i LOVE hearing about your days, just so you know.

jamie in michigan

Lora @ my blessed life said...

Great list, Heidi!!

Heidi said...

Julie~ I wouldn't assign it before 8th grade and I would certainly keep a child's maturity and sensitivity in mind, but, yes. I don't know when I've thought more about a book/series and found so many layers, meaning, and discussion material. I STILL think about it all the time. History, human nature, leadership, modern culture, and even spiritual allegory. I am so looking forward to discussing it with my boys. But I'm also totally okay with anyone not wanting it on their own list. :)

Hannah said...

Wow, brave endeavor, Heidi! I'm afraid I'd dither endlessly over the idea of just ONE per year. Your list is excellent, though.

I think I'd swap out the Little House on the Prairie Series for one of the ages 6-9 books. I submit that they're important not just as their own stories but also as cultural touchstones in American society. You know how someone (SWB?) talks about children needing to be familiar with what it means to "cross the Rubicon," etc.? I think LHOP is a similarly unmissable part of American mythology (and I mean mythology in its broadest definition).

Other candidates:
Brave Irene
The Hundred Dresses
The Scarlet Letter
The Great Gatsby
Pride and Prejudice
The Hiding Place

Heidi said...

Hannah~ You raise a good point. What is the purpose of the book list (or each individual book)? I wish I had the eloquence to share why I chose each one. It would be interesting to make several different lists for various categories. I wasn't particularly choosing books of GREAT literature, or for cultural relevancy, but those would both be excellent reasons to put a book on the list. I purposely chose Babe rather than Charlotte's Web, even though Charlotte's Web would have been better from a cultural literacy point of view. My list was more about character and themes for discussion.

Book lists are so deeply personal. My own children won't like some of my choices, and will love other books that I don't care for. For that reason, I plan on having them participate in other groups and classes for literature reading and discussion, or even have literature and writing mentors so that they aren't hindered by my personal taste and lack of knowledge.

For instance, I didn't care for Little House on the Prairie when I was growing up. (I LOVE Little Britches, though, and I think it is an astounding series for teaching character...especially for boys.) And I slogged through The Hobbit and never went on to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Levi has read all four. :) My mom read Dickens and Victor Hugo, but she couldn't get through Pride and Prejudice because she hated the petty women and endless dialogue. So I never read it growing up. :)

BTW, I love Brave Irene, and I could see The Hundred Dresses on my list. Amos and Boris or The Real Thief by Steig could be on there, as well, in the younger years.

Laura at By the Bushel said...

Always read your blog because there's always a book post on the horizon. One I've found an essential book is 'The Adventures of Dr. Doolittle'. It's precious, endearing, imaginative. I love how the people on the island are simply so loving to him. He carries out a job, but is torn by his missing his own home. Such a sweet story.
(We got your rain...Thanks) :)

April said...

Great list! There are so many good books! Although I loved Judy Bloom and Beverly Cleary, The Hiding Place impacted me the most when I was growing-up. My silly, all-time, favorite childhood book is called "Christina Katerina and The Box".

Rebecca said...


I read your intro. and decided I would quickly think about a list of my own before seeing yours and see how they matched up.

2 through 5 re EXACTLY the same (I chose the Little House) and seven as well. And 7 too.

I also had James Harriot on my list, the Diary of Anne Frank and my daughter would say The Terrestria Chronicles...she LOVED that.

Also The Great Escape-but I am partial to that because my grandfather wrote it.

Thanks for the list~ I always enjoy your suggestions!

Rachel P. said...

Little House on the Prairie Series and Black Beauty.

Kristina M said...

I love and appreciate your book lists. I use the lists for myself because I was not a reader of books until adulthood. Thank you!

Tsh @ Simple Mom said...

Great list, Heidi! I can't imagine being forced to narrow down my list of books for age 1-18 to just 18 (sounds like a nightmare, actually). But one(s) I would add to my list for sure are all 7 Harry Potter books (that is, if I can count them as one). Really astounding literature—well-written, tons of plot and character development and maturity which gives plenty of conversation fodder (particularly between parents and kids), and really... just an amazing story line. I loved watching Harry mature over the seven books. Some of my all-time faves. (And I think you would like them!)

Heidi said...

Rebecca~ I tried to look up The Great Escape and there were a couple books by that name (and lots of movies :)). Which one did your grandfather write? (Or who is your grandfather?) I'd love to check it out. Thanks for mentioning the Terrestria Chronicles. I had never heard of it and I think my son would LOVE it. I'm just trying to bite the bullet and spend $50 on it now.

Tsh~ I bet I would enjoy them once I got into them. For some reason, though, what I know of the story (which admittedly isn't much) doesn't appeal to me at all. I'm not much of a fantasy reader. For instance, I just couldn't get into The Hobbit. I think I'm too reality-based or something. Or maybe I just don't have a good enough imagination. ;-P

Yevette said...

I would have to add the Little House on the Prarie series and the Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings trilogy. My 3rd grader and 1st grader have been enthralled by both series (as I have, again). After reading aloud the Chronicles of Narnia, we dove into the Little House series, and now are into the Tolkien books. My children constantly talk of all three series! I don't comment much but I continually enjoy your blog!

Nicole H. said...

I would add The Boxcar Children series and any Madeleine L'Engle books (I think I read "Troubling a Star" 15 times!). And, I would agree with Heidi's caution that the "Hunger Games" series would not necessarily be appropriate before 8th or 9th grade. With that said, I loved the entire series and couldn't put it down. I used to teach H.S. English and would love to go back to the classroom just so I could teach this series! In my head I have written curriculum that compares/contrasts "The Hunger Games" trilogy, "Lord of the Flies" and "Animal Farm"!

A great list that I will come back to for reading with my own children! Thanks!

Tsh @ Simple Mom said...

Heidi, if it helps, I'm totally not a fantasy reader at all. Never got into Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit either. The HP books are different, though.

I actually heard a professor explain it this way: HP appeals to more "mainstream" readers than do books that typically appeal to mostly fantasy readers for one main reason: they're set in a parallel world, not an alternate world. LoTR, Hobbit, Narnia, etc. all happen in completely different imaginary worlds. HP takes place in our world—they live in London, wear mostly normal clothes, vacation in Egypt, drink coffee, etc. We "muggles" just don't see the magic because they hide it.

Somehow, this subtlety makes all the difference. I couldn't pinpoint what it was until I heard it explained like this.