Once again, The Broke and the Bookish are hosting “Top Ten Tuesday.” This week’s theme is “Childhood Favorites.” Since I’ve previously posted about some favorite picture books (here and here), this list covers a few favorite chapter books from childhood. Many of these were introduced to us as read-alouds by my mother. With no TV, reading good books aloud as a family was a regular part of our routine until well into high school.
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare A Newberry Medal winning novel set in first century Palestine. Daniel bar Jamin, a young Jewish teen, lives with bandits in the hills and lives to drive the hated Roman occupiers from Israel. Eventually, Daniel’s life takes a new turn when he meets another Israelite – Jesus of Nazareth. This is no preachy or poorly-written twaddle but a gripping adventure with unforgettable characters and beautiful writing. I do kind of loathe the new cover, but oh well. Great for children or adults.
The Great Brain books by John D. Fitzgerald My brothers and I loved these books and read them over and over. J.D. Fitzgerald and his family were pioneers in late 19th century Utah. The competition between the brothers, Tom’s money-making schemes, and the family’s fun and scrapes in the still somewhat-wild West left us laughing til the tears ran freely.
The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon I must have plowed through about 60 of these mystery stories as a 9 and 10 year old. Frank and Joe Hardy are the teenaged sons of Fenton Hardy, a private detective. They constantly stumble on new mysteries. Despite the fact that these mysteries all have virtually identical plots, I loved the books and worshipped Frank and Joe. Look for the old versions (see wikipedia). Some of the mysteries were completely rewritten at a later time, while completely new (much less fun and kid-friendly) series featuring the Hardy Boys were written starting around 1980. Other than my mind turning to mush the only downside to these books was the bizarre sprinkling of 1920s slang that popped up in my grade school vocabulary. Golly gee, Chet, what a swell jalopy!
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis Duh, if I may be so blunt. My mom read these out loud to us for the first time when my oldest brother was six or seven and I was two or three. I still remember playing on the rug and listening to the story while we waited for Dad to get home. I think people often underestimate the stories small kids can comprehend – even if they don’t understand the entire arc they can enjoy individual scenes like exploring the castle ruins, hiding from siblings in a wardrobe, or battles with bad guys, particularly in the earlier books from this series. I’ve reread these at various times through life and gotten something new from them every time.
Start of the Trail by Louise Dickinson Rich Unfortunately this book is now out of print, though copies are available. This one actually belonged to my grandfather as a kid – when my great-grandparents died we inherited a lot of their library including many great kids adventure books. Other wonderful out-of-print books from the same stash include Green Treasure by Ross, The Lost Kingdom by Bryant, and High Trail by Breck. Based in large part on Ms. Rich’s real life experiences in backwoods Maine, this is the story of a high school-aged boy from a remote area of Maine bordering on Quebec. He receives his guide license and spends the summer guiding “sports” (tourists) on expeditions deep into the wilderness, finding mysteries, adventures, and comedy along the way as he follows in the footsteps of his Ranger father. This book encapsulates so much of what I love about the north woods and the wilderness trips we regularly took as a family. I still re-read it occasionally.
Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith One of our favorite family read-alouds of all time. Jeff Bussey joins the Union Army at 16. Over the next several years he faces battles, loses friends, joins the cavalry, infiltrates a troop of Confederate raiders as a spy, faces illness, travels, finds love, explores the Cherokee country of Oklahoma and gets into one hilarious scrape after the other. This is a great adventure story, high comedy, and a remarkably fair and compassionate look at both sides of the Civil War all at the same time.
The Boxcar Children series Who hasn’t read these? I wanted to be Benny, idolized Henry, and never could figure out how someone could have violet eyes, nor how anybody could stay exactly 6, 10, 12, or 14 over that many summer vacations. Our library had a bookcase full of these and I must have read the first 80 or so.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson Much drawing of treasure maps ensued. And of course, there’s always Kidnapped by the same author.
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe I think Sutcliffe must be the most under-read novelist of the 20th and 21st century. Her young adult fiction is fantastic, accessible for anyone from 10 (when I first read it) to adulthood. Sutcliffe’s plots are amazing (all historical fiction set in ancient Britain) and her powers of description draw you straight into another time – she makes you feel marsh grass whipping in the salt spray, smell peat fires, feel the rising terror of wolves pursuing in the driving snow, taste hot oat cakes with honey on a cold winter’s night. If you haven’t tried her work before, The Eagle of the Ninth series is a great place to start.
The Little Britches series by Ralph Moody I’ve mentioned these stories before. Over six or seven books Ralph Moody records his life from the time he was a little boy on a ranch in Colorado into adulthood. Another favorite family read aloud full of hard work and true adventures and vivid family life. Some of the advice Ralph’s father gave him still pops up in my mind today.
Of course there are many more books there just isn’t space to describe. How could you even begin to pick, from the sillier lovable books like Ramona, Fudge, Homer Price, Encyclopedia Brown, and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, to favorites such as Swallows and Amazons, Calico Captive, and Caddie Woodlawn , to classics like Cheaper by the Dozen, The Swiss Family Robinson or Almanzo Wilder? I can’t.
My husband grew up with French children’s fiction and hadn’t encountered most of these books. Since we met I’ve shared many of my favorites with him (Little Britches, The Eagle of the Ninth, Treasure Island, Rifles for Watie, The Bronze Bow…). He’s loved every one of them and begged for more – a sure sign of good books that stand the test of time from child to adult.
What were some of your favorites?