Some of these were my favorites when I was a kid; others are my favorite children's books now. This list was actually a lot harder to make than I expected -- there's just so much genius out there in the kiddie libraries!
They're not the epitome of great literature, and the stories all blur together in my memory. But I loved these books as a kid. Besides, stories about freakishly cool memories never really get old (and generally involve solving totally creepy crimes). Basically this set me up for my future fangirling over Psych.
9. Abridged Classics
If I'd known what book-eating was when I was younger, this totally would've applied. I only remember a handful of them plus a few random illustrations (my grandma and mom, between the two of them, owned the entire collection) (side note - those were really cool illustrations!). A good way to introduce proper literature to kids who'd be forever turned off if you started them with the real thing. I mean, I was a bookish child, but I barely made it to chapter six of Black Beauty before shelving the thing forever. This is why there are different reading levels.
8. Royal Diaries
These were the girly, royalty version of the "Dear America" and "My Name is America" books. My favorite was Anastasia until I learned the true story... and then I was freaked out for a really long time before restoring my love for the not-Disney movie and giving up on figuring out the real story. After that debacle, the one about an Egyptian princess was my favorite. I don't remember who it was, sadly. Maybe Cleopatra? But that doesn't sound right. (Side note: these books taught me that the powder used to whiten the face in historical France was terribly poisonous. In hindsight, maybe the makeup use in these books had something to do with my own late-blooming interest in makeup...)
LATER: I looked up these books on GoodReads. Besides a sudden urge to find these and reread them all NOW because gosh my childhood! The history! I loved these books! *le sigh* ...Right, ahem, besides that, I found the one I was remembering as my favorite: Jahanara, from India. All I can remember is the cover and the fact that it was my favorite. Honestly, that toxic-makeup bit's the only story detail I can remember from any of this series. Sad day.
7. Nancy Drew
Yes, I can see this for the cut-and-paste serial fiction it is. But in middle school, I lived, breathed, and slept the girl detective. Not the movie or the reimagined new books or comic book knock-offs -- no way! I loved the Nancy Drew who was in college and had a perm and a boyfriend named Ned, whose first few books were written by the actual "Carolyn Keene," Mildred Benson. I did many (many) book reports on Nancy's adventures. (And still get the jeepies when I remember the one involving locked-in-the-closet-with-a-black-widow. Thank the good Lord for Bess and her impeccable timing!)
6. Tuck Everlasting
Confession: I saw the movie before reading the book. Actually, I had no interest in the book until my second or third viewing of the library DVD. Man, I love that movie! Anyway, I was surprised by how different and yet how amazing the book and DVD both managed to be. I reviewed this book here: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. (Warning: it's one of my oldest reviews.)
5. Andrew Clements
I discovered Andrew Clements when I received his The Report Card as a birthday or Christmas present (I don't remember which). I proceeded to collect the rest of his books over holidays and birthdays, and still have all except a few of the newest. They're all similar, I'll admit -- stories about a middle schooler who does something spectacular and it becomes a big deal all over town. But for an average kid struggling to fit in and feel normal and not be bullied, well, Big Deal SuperKids were exactly what I wanted.
I discovered this as an audiobook collecting dust in the library in Okinawa, Japan. I proceeded to download it to my computer from the library CDs and listen to it five times until getting a new computer caused issues with the files... at which point I bought the paperback and tried to buy the audiobook directly from the company, except I had problems with their website. This is the book that got me hooked on Gail Carson Levine, fairy tale spinner. And this is the book that far surpasses her much better-known companion novel, Ella Enchanted (nothing like the movie at all.) Basically: READ IT.
|The version my teacher read|
|The version I own|
3. The Trumpet of the Swan
My teacher in fourth grade read a chapter of this every day after class while we waited for the bell to ring. I never forgot the story, and when I found this book on the Gottwals shelf, I couldn't believe my luck. Despite my very different taste in literature now, I reread it and decided it's still just as great a classic. (Hint: It's by the author of Charlotte's Web. Except, to be honest, I like it better.) If I could get every kid I teach to read one book, this would probably be it.
(Later: Apparently there's a cartoon movie of this book AND a symphony! How did I not know this?!)
2. With a Name Like Love
This was one of the five books I read last year as an INSPY Judge for the Literature for Young People category. In fact, it won. Let me tell you a little secret: this was the book I was least looking forward to and put off until last. Another secret? It's the only nomination that made me cry. One more: even my brother loved it. This book is a heart-wrenching, nitty-gritty, reach-down-into-real-life-and-pull-out-art masterpiece.
|The version I borrowed from the library|
|The version I finally got into my bookshelf|
1. The Ordinary Princess
Warning: This book is so awesome, it's nearly impossible to get a hold of. Actually, it's so hard to find because it's sadly out of print. Has been for years. But I found it in the same place I found Fairest -- the air force library in Japan. I checked this out more times than any other book, and I actually read it -- sometimes more than once -- every time. (I tend to check books out and then run out of time to actually read all of them. This is the kind of book you make time for, even if you've already read it more times than you remember.) I think I might miss that book in that library more than any other non-person I miss in Japan. It took me a long time to find this book for an affordable price here in the States, and I found it as a paperback with a different cover than the library hardback I wanted, but I did eventually find it. I lent it out to an elementary school girl once and realized this is the one book I'm terrified of losing to my borrowers. I doubt I'll ever let someone borrow it again, I'm so possessive. If only one book could go to college with me, it'd be this one. I'm 100% not joking, I love this book so much. The writing is simplistic and the story is predictable. But it's so sweet and the characters are adorable and original and even just the foreword by the author makes me feel like I've been transported to a different time, when princesses and fairy tales were still being invented and brand-new in the world.