This month, we’ve set ourselves an impossible task: We asked ourselves to pick a favorite children’s book and a favorite young adult (teen) book. (Note: a favorite, not the favorite. The article is an important part of speech, folks.) It really would be impossible to pick just one all-time favorite, and that’s as it should be: childhood and adolescence should be filled with so many good books that when you’re asked about them years later, several dozen spring to mind. Some of us, in fact, just blatantly ignored this “pick one” rule.
Little House on the Prairie
“This is a tough one. I’d like to pick the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series for a children’s book but the best one might be Little House in the Big Woods. Possibly. For YA…..I’ll go with The Perks of Being a Wallflower since I’ve read it four times already AND just purchased the audio version yesterday.”
But wait, there’s more: “I read The Outsiders approximately 25 times I think. Most YA books I love weren’t written when I was actually a teenager – I wasn’t even thinking about what I read then since YA books didn’t really exist the way they do now.”
“I did not like reading growing up, but when I found a book I loved, I read it to pieces, literally.
There are three books that stand out in my mind from my childhood. Red Tag Comes Back by Fred Phleger, Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, and The BFG by Roald Dahl. (Do not ask me why I loved Red Tag Comes Back so much because I can’t explain it. Apparently as a young child I identified with the struggles of a fish(?).)
As a teenager I fell in love with the author LJ Smith. My favorite series by her were The Forbidden Game and Dark Visions. I also read the Queen’s Arrows series by Mercedes Lackey over and over. I primarily read YA as an adult and I can’t pick a favorite book from recent years. I do have some favorite authors though, and you can ask me about those another time.”
Harold and the Purple Crayon
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson: “This may be the most creative book of all time. Harold is at the mercy of a crayon as they draw their way through an entire day – led by the crayon itself.”
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa: “I love this book! There’s this almost unbearable edge that author Kagawa creates via the protagonist – Allison Sekemoto – a character living on the absolute edge of a dystopian vampire society – someone you can totally root for.”
“I’m a huge nerd for mythology, so when I saw Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School I instantly fell in love. It’s an adorable story about a Valkyrie’s first day at a mortal school and how unfamiliar the culture and all of the rules are to her. At first she’s an outcast, but eventually makes some friends when she channels her negative emotions into creativity – writing about her home, Asgard. Definitely relatable for me as a creative person. And it reminded me a little of my first day of school – I kept getting into trouble because I didn’t understand all of the rules!”
And what about YA books? “I really love Kelley Armstrong’s adult novels, but I was a bit hesitant when I heard she was dipping her toe into the YA pool. However, her Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising trilogies, which both happen in the same universe as her adult series, happily surprised me! She keeps her signature style and all of the rich complexity and lore that her adult novels have, but adapts it for a younger audience.”
Cat on the Mat (1987)
“I could list several dozen children’s books, but I will limit myself to three: (1) Cat on the Mat by Brian Wildsmith, which, sadly, is no longer in the library system. It’s the story of a cat who sat on a mat and was joined by several other animals in succession; the mat got crowded, the cat made a huge hiss, and everyone scattered. (2) The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. No explanation needed, really, is there? Simple, colorful, full of pathos. (3) Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid is a recent favorite. Oliver is a little nervous about his first day of school so he decides to stop by the swamp and pick up an alligator, “just in case things got rough.”
As for middle grade/YA, I’m afraid that’s a whole separate blog post, though I will say that many of the books I thought of have an element of fantasy or magic to them: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Half Magic by Edward Eager, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, The Lion Tamer’s Daughter by Peter Dickinson, Voices After Midnight by Richard Peck, The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop, The Boggart by Susan Cooper, Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville.”
Summer of My German Soldier
“In 4th grade I moved to a new town and went to the library out of abject boredom and a serious case of friendlessness. I met the teen librarian and she went on to hand-pick books for me for the next 11 years. I read everything. But that first summer in my new town is what I really remember. Bette Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier, Robert Lipsyte’s One Fat Summer, and Jane Yolen’s Dragon’s Blood series (my first ever trilogy!). I would chill out in my parent’s waterbed, air conditioner blasting away, floating and reading and reading and floating, a little seasick maybe, but very happy.”
That’s us – what about you? Leave your favorite books from your younger years in the comments. Have you re-read them since then? Have you passed them on to any of today’s youngsters?
Special bonus: Five favorite children’s books turning 50 this year