(Started: 10/89. Updated: 4/93. Webified and updated: 3 February 1999. Small changes and cleanup: 4 November 2002)
A work-in-progress. Still to be added: info on when I read each book and when I liked it; publication dates; etc. (will have rating as kid/as adult; - for rating means didn't read then.) At this point, it's fairly unlikely that I'll ever actually add such info, alas.
Age ranges: I think most of these books would be appropriate for 8- to 12-year-olds, but I don't really know for sure.
Didn't read as a kid. Last Slice is a collection of really good (and usually very funny) fairy-tales-with-twists. She has written stories for everyone from very small children (such as the bedtime stories collected in Past Eight O'Clock) to adults (A Touch of Chill is mostly adult horror, though it could be read by kids). Her most famous books, the series that starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Black Hearts in Battersea, does little for me, though I do like the fact that it's set in an alternate history without ever explicitly commenting on the alternateness. Her stories are quirky, funny, chilling, moving, and occasionally just baffling; I love many of them. They work well out loud, too. "The Third Wish" is one of my favorite stories ever. The link above is to a review I wrote of her short-fiction collections.
I loved the first couple Prydain books, but lost interest as the series got progressively darker, more philosophical, and less action-oriented. I didn't like the last one much; I think it was another case where I was too young for it when I read it. Haven't read his other series. Fortune-Tellers is set in West Africa, with lovely, lush illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman.
Lovely, rich, somewhat sad story that many kids might find too slow and too ambiguous; I read it as an adult.
I read this because of the film. It's been so long that I don't even remember if I liked it or not, but I think I did.
I didn't read this as a kid. A great book, and one that most people haven't read because of the Disney movie (also the play). Well worth reading, though it might be a little dry for kids (a lot of subtle Barrie humor and Victorian social satire), especially kids who've seen the movie and are expecting the same amount of action.
I read all 14 of the Baum Oz books, but none of the 30 or 40 written later by other authors. I don't remember the names of most of them. I enjoyed them a lot, though they started to blur together by the end. I haven't yet read Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.
House is a great, eerie mystery/supernatural story, though it doesn't stand up well to adult reading. Bellairs wrote lots of others, too, most notably the "adult" The Face in the Frost (which isn't as good as House).
And several other kids' science fiction books, but this was the best.
About growing up in the mid-1800s (I think). Kind of similar to the Little House on the Prairie series, which I never managed to get through.
Again, I don't remember much about these except that I read them after seeing the films and I think I liked them.
As with some other 5-book kids'-book series, the first book was a little too young for me, and the last a little too grim, but otherwise I greatly enjoyed them. The series is about two boys who discover a tiny green planet orbitting the Earth. Cameron also wrote several other fairly good books, but I don't remember them at all.
The Alice books are two of the best books ever written, imo, for any age group. I don't know how well Snark works for younger children (I encountered it in high school), and I suspect a lot of it would go over their heads, but the basic plot would probably come through. It's a little long for poetry, but I like it a lot.
Straightforward kids' sf, not bad. I didn't enjoy most of the rest of his, including the Prince in Waiting trilogy and Wild Jack.
Actually, I think I did read this, long ago. It's yet another book that's been almost completely superseded by the Disney movie. From the little I've re-read recently, it's worth reading.
These are among my favorite children's books. The first is a little young, and isn't necessary for the others; in fact, I didn't finish it until many years after I read the others. And as with some other series, the ending gets pretty dark.
A boy helps out a witch on her evening constitutional; she gives him a magic chemistry set, which leads him into (and gets him out of) all sorts of trouble. One of the limericks from The Limerick Trick still runs through my head now and then, all these years later.
I am the cheese is a very disturbing, but very good, adventure story which plays some strange games with identity and reality; I read it in high school and found it chilling. The Chocolate War is also good, though in an entirely different way, and is much more widely known.
Dahl's stories are often darkly humorous, and the repetition from story to story can get old after a while. But these two are great, as is some of his adult fiction. Danny, the Champion of the World keeps being recommended to me, but I haven't yet read it.
What can I say? Brilliant. A classic.
Diary is about a girl who goes to stay with relatives in Scotland, who are trying to set up a hoax about a sea monster (like the Loch Ness monster). The trilogy is good, interesting children's sf, about England after the Changes, when everyone starts to hate machinery of all kinds. Dickinson is best known as a mystery writer for adults (Hindsight is excellent), and also wrote The Blue Hawk for children, which I'm told is good but I've never read.
This was one of my favorite books for a while when I was about five, but that may only have been because I liked its title. I guess my parents must have read it to me. On re-reading as an adult, I found the book kind of odd; a lot of it is dedicated to teaching American kids about "the traditions of that plucky land [Holland, and] its quaint customs" (to quote the jacket copy from the 1945 edition).
This book disappeared from my local library soon after I returned it. I've been looking for it ever since. It was really goodabout a boy who wakes up with no memory in a very strange place. He slowly discovers who and what he is. Dragt is Dutch, and popular in the Netherlands, but I don't know much more about her than that.
Fun, if a little repetitive, kids' fantasy. Lots of wordplay and literary references keep them interesting. Most of the books are loosely connected to each other. All of Eager's characters love the works of "E. Nesbit," but I always enjoyed his books more than hers.
Not one of my favorites, but not bad. Normal kids-growing-up stories, mostly pretty funny. I think there were other books in the series, but I don't think I read them.
Great books for kids who are gaga about horses. Also in that category are Misty of Chincoteague (which I read in college and didn't enjoy much) and Black Beauty. There are twenty or thirty of the Black Stallion books; I got bored and gave up after ten or so. Incidentally, though I really liked the first couple of books, I hated the movie.
Trillions is about tiny crystals that fall from the sky. Grinny is about a scary old woman who comes to stay with a family, claiming to be a relative. Both are good but not superb.
Eleanor Roosevelt said it better than I could: ". . . it is one of the wisest and most moving commentaries on war and its impact on human beings that I have ever read." Also available is Anne Frank's Tales from the Secret Annex, selections from her fiction; it's not nearly as good.
A story about a kid who's accidentally blinded, and the guide dog he gets (named Leader). Another favorite-story-for-a-yearI spent weeks after reading it walking around with my eyes closed trying to f ind out how it would feel to be blind.
Nearly all of her books are interesting, and have a lot of good things to say about nature and naturalism. She's probably most famous for My Side of the Mountain, which I don't think I ever read. Cock Robin is an environmental murder mystery. I loved Falcon as a kid, but I was a bit disturbed by some of the implicit (and explicit) attitudes toward girls and women it displays when I re-read it in college. I didn't like Julie as much, but it is definitely well-written.
Another classic eclipsed by the Disney movie (which I've assiduously avoided). I don't think the book was ever among my real favorites, but I've always been fond of it.
Great depiction of life in medieval England from a kid's point of view.
The fictionalized autobiographical story of a young girl in Poland at the beginning of World War II who's shipped off to the Russian steppes with her family.
Time was my all-time favorite book for a year or so. I enjoyed the few others of his juveniles that I read, but I missed most of the famous ones (such as Starman Jones, Tunnel in the Sky, Space Cadet, The Rolling Stones, and so on).
Code was another one of those favorite-books-for-a-year. The others were fun but got repetitive after a while.
Wonderful, hilarious picture books, almost impossible to find.
Eridan is an sf murder mystery for kids, set on another planet, with very good female characters. There are two books about Morrow, but I forget the title of the other one. Both were good, if not especially original. Hoover has written at least two other books that I never read.
I've only read the first of these (in high school), but there's a whole series. I think the first one works pretty well on its own. It certainly has an entertaining premise: a vampire rabbit who drains the juice out of vegetables...
Fantastic, wonderful, little-known kids' books. My mother introduced me to these. Alphabet doesn't stand up real well to later reading, though it does have a lot of neat things in it. Muffin Man was very confusing at first, but I loved it every time I read it. I didn't discover Smugglers until adulthood; it's very entertaining nonetheless.
Another of the best books ever written, for any age group. I've read it about twelve times, and understood more of it every time.
Nearly all of Key's books were really good, fascinating sf. The only ones I don't recommend are Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain, because he took the entire concept and much of the specific plots from one of my favorite authors, Zenna Henderson. For a much better treatment of the same ideas (though not oriented toward children), look at Henderson's Pilgrimage: The Book of the People (Avon Books, 1961.)
I only read a couple of these as a kid, but I enjoyed what little I read. They're fairly standard fairy tales, from many different cultures, but are often more explicit and less sweetness-and-light than the usual for-little-kids versions.
Can be read as reasonably straightforward (but really good) children's fantasy, but have a lot of more adult references to things like Transcendentalism and New England history. Apparently, Langton is well-known as an adult author.
One of the best books there is about being a teenager and trying to be a human being too. I didn't encounter it 'til college, alas. I cry every time I read it.
The trilogy is great. Almost everybody's heard of at least the first one. Many Waters is a more recent (1987, I think?) addition, and imo nowhere near as good as the others. It takes place between the second and third of the trilogy. Austins was really good, which surprised me a lot because when I read it I wasn't interested in anything but sf and fantasy, and I only read it because it was by L'Engle. Most of the later books about the Austins, and the books which combine the characters from the two sets of stories, weren't as interesting to me as a kid, but Ring is lovely for older people, a nice exploration of loss and growing up (it's aimed at teenagers). Many Waters contains a very helpful pair of timelines connecting the characters from the two sets of books.
I didn't notice the Christian allegory here until after the second time I'd read the whole series, when I saw the animated movie of the first book. I immediately decided the whole series was awful. It took me until high school to realize that I don't mind allegory if it's this exciting and well-written. There are many debates about the correct order of the books; the above is the traditional ordering, but recent editions put them in internal chronological order, with The Magician's Nephew first. I think I've read that that's the ordering Lewis wanted; all I can say is that if I'd tried to read them in that order, I'd have given up partway through Nephew, which imo is the dryest of the set.
MacDonald is interesting, though of course old-fashioned. The only one of his I read as a kid was The Golden Key, which I liked even though I didn't understand it. Which is still true, actually. I've read twice now that at least parts of At the Back of the North Wind should be read aloud, but I didn't find it particularly compelling in that regard.
A boy, a donut machine on the rampage, and a skunk. Among other things. I don't think I read the sequels, More Homer Price and Centerburg Tales. Also the author of Make Way for Ducklings and Bluberries for Sal, as well as the Henry Reed books.
McKillip is best-known for the Riddle-Master of Hed series, which didn't work for me when I finally read it in college, and for The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, which is lovely but slow. Stepping from the Shadows, which nobody's ever heard of (I've only ever seen three copies of it) is a superb coming-of-age story, probably best for high-school students. The other books listed above are fun and good reads; not among my very favorite books, but good stuff. I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't read anything she's written since about '91; I need to rectify that.
This was a lot of fun when I was a kid. It's about a war between the pushcarts and the trucks in New York City. Doesn't stand up well to modern adult reading, though.
Well, obviously. Who didn't like the Pooh books? I don't think I ever saw the movie, which was just as well.
Norton has 40 or 50 juveniles out, and is still writing. I only read ten or fifteen (as a kid), but enjoyed most of those. I found much of her science fiction (as opposed to fantasy) too slow-paced to get through, though. Never read the Witch World series.
Two short books, combined in one volume as Bedknob and Broomstick. The basis for the Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Really fun magic adventures, with sort of low-key British humor that many modern American kids may not quite get, but with enough action to cover for that.
I probably read this three or four times. Much better than the movie loosely based on it. Good sf for kids.
A delightful picture book about a 6-year-old girl who doesn't want to grow up to marry a prince; proto-feminist without being preachy.
Dark and disturbing story of kids playing in a make-believe world.
Pène du Bois wrote lots of little-kids' books, and several juveniles. He illustrated most of his own books (and some other peoples' as well). His books are usually very funny and adventurous. Most people have read Balloons, but very few that I've met even know about the others. Alligator Case and Policemen are really for younger kids than most of the stuff on this list, but I like them so much I couldn't resist putting them on here. I didn't particularly like Porko von Popbutton, The Amazing Bandicoot, The Giant, or Squirrel Hotel, but nearly everything else I've read of his, even the picture books, was great. Much of it also stands up well under repeated later reading.
Pinkwater's books are hilarious, bizarre, and occasionally kind of scary. Lizard Music and Fat Men from Space were the only two I read as a kid, but I re-encountered him in college and have been a fan ever since. He's written something like fifty books, mostly picture books like Blue Moose (I think he often does his own illustration) but several for older kids. Borgel and Baconburg Horror are brilliantly funny, especially when read aloud. The prequel to the latter (The Snark-Out Boys and the Avocado of Death) isn't as good, sadly, but Baconburg Horror works just as well without reading the first one first. Alan Mendelsohn, Boy from Mars is a popular book of his, but I didn't think much of it when I read it during college. Young Adults isn't bad, but is far from his best. Pinkwater also wrote the comic strip Norb.
Raskin is a wonderful author. Westing is an extremely good, very complex mystery. The others are sort of mysteries, but sort of surreal and sort of fantasies. Very hard to classify, but very good and usually very funny. Figgs was a little too old for me when I first read it, and I didn't like it as much as the others, though now I like it a lot. She does some of her own illustrations, and is known as an illustrator of others' books.
This series was apparently based on a radio and TV series that aired in the 1950s. It's very outdated, and very boys'-adventures-in-space oriented, but I enjoyed the two that I read.
Inspired nonsense tales for kids. Two volumes. Delightful. Work well out loud if the audience is in a silly or childlike frame of mind. Didn't read as kid.
A wonderful book about a ten-year-old girl (one of the best characters I've come across in fiction) in New York City in the mid-1890s. Again, I don't know if modern kids would like it, but I liked nearly everything about it when I read it in college.
Okay, so this is for younger kids than most of the rest of this list. But hey, if adults can still enjoy 'em, why not list 'em?
Interesting and dark story about using operant conditioning on kids.
I think this series was for slightly younger kids. Kind of silly science fiction. I remember it as being really funny.
Egypt Game was another one of those temporary favorite books. I enjoyed all of these a lot, except the end of the trilogy, which didn't turn out at all the way I wanted / expected it to. She wrote several other books that I never read.
Very short mystery stories, lots of them, in which the little boy with a mind like an encyclopedia figures out who must have done it because they made a slight verbal slip of some kind. Sort of mind candy, but I read all of them.
About a girl who moves to the Connecticut colony and befriends an old woman whom everyone thinks is a witch. Think I liked it as a kid, but have little memory of it now.
Another classic that I remember enjoying but not much else about.
A lovely picture-book, a story about winter and spring.
The first two were once available in (I think) Maurice Sendak-illustrated editions, but I've since found a text-only version of Old Pipes, which is still a really nice story. These two work well as children's stories. Bee-Man is an odd but interesting fairy tale that I encountered during college, also available in a Sendak-illustrated edition. Stockton is best-known as the author of "The Lady or the Tiger?"
A wonderful idea: write a book about a kid who's pestered by a bully. Then write another book, covering approximately the same events, from the point of view of the bully. I really liked these, though it may have been more for the surprise of the viewpoint shift than anything else.
Picture book: a delightfully silly little girl living in the Plaza Hotel in New York.
My parents read me these when I was in second or third grade. I loved them, and they've probably strongly influenced both my writing and my reading ever since. Tolkien is incredibly good at writing the sounds of language, and in fact these books grew out of a family of languages that he invented (which eventually became various kinds of Elvish). I'm sure these will always be among my favorite books. I should add, though, that many people can't stand them, or consider them heavily over-hyped.
Great set of pro-gay, feminist fairy tales, all set in the same fictional region and with overlapping characters. A little younger-oriented than the rest of this list, but I couldn't resist listing it. Published by Alyson Wonderland: "Books about kids with lesbian and gay parents." Didn't read as kid.
A bunch of interesting, well-drawn, sometimes spooky picture books.
A set of about eight books about the Tillerman family and their friends. Dicey's Song is superb (and yet another case where reading the second book before reading the first works well); the others are merely good.
Picture books. Fun ones. Read 'em.
I think Stuart Little was my favorite (about a tiny boy who looks a lot like a mouse). I can't think of the names of any others at the moment.
Yet another temporary favorite. This book, unlike some of the other fantasy I've mentioned, was satisfying; the good guys win, and even learn something in the end. I also liked the fact that poetry is magic in the world the boys go to.
Another series which eventually started to get monotonous. In every book, Professor Bullfinch told headstrong Danny and his friends Joe and Irene to think before they acted, and in every book Danny got them into trouble with his impulsive actions. But, like many such series, they were fun while they lasted.
Another series. I read the only two I ever found, out of thirty or forty in the series. This, like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, was written by lots of writers and published under one house name. They were re-writes of the old Tom Swift, Sr., books, and had a little of the extreme right-wing propaganda taken out but not much. Still, good clean fun conservative adventures for pre-adolescent males, if you like that sort of thing.
There must be fifty or sixty of these by now. I somehow never got into the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, but these were my equivalent. Definitely mind candyevery time, the Three Investigators would find something that looked like supernatural activity, and every time it would turn out to be someone faking. A lot like Scooby Doo in that regard, but not usually intended to be funny. This series explicitly had several authors, so I had to look around the children's section of the local library a lot to find them. All these books have blended together in my mind over the years.
Children's classics that I either haven't read or wasn't thrilled with:
I never read the rest of her books, including Little Men and Jo's Boys. I read Little Women because it was praised in The Diamond in the Window. Worth reading, but not one of my favorites.
I can't think of any titles offhand, but she wrote a bunch of kids' adventure books, including over 20 about "The Five," four siblings and their dog. I only read one of them, which didn't impress me. But they were generally well-regarded when they were written.
I never read it, but certainly a classic.
I only read excerpts from this until college, when I read the whole thing. I didn't think it was great, but I know a lot of kids like it.
All the children in the Edward Eager books love E. Nesbit, so (since I liked those books) I thought I'd give her a try. The one or two that I read I didn't enjoy much, partly because the 19th-century British atmosphere made a lot of it hard to understand. The only other title I remember offhand is The Phoenix and the Carpet. The blurb for the edition of Five Children and It that I own says: "Between [the ages of] nine and twelve is a good first time for it, but plenty of children read (and have read) it at eight, and aged people in their sixties still re-read it . . ."
Talk about classic. I never saw the movie. The book wasn't that impressive, but I liked having read the books of some of the famous Disney films.
I don't remember this very well. I think I read it because it was a classic.
The usual. I don't think I was overly impressed by these, but they weren't bad, and they're certainly classics.
Recommendations from friends and others:
Fairly good kids' fantasy, though I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected to from the reviews I'd seen.