For the Love of Books (And 5 Books I Hope My Kids Will Read)

Throughout October, we’re going to periodically talk about books because
a) books are rad and b) we’re raising funds for a 5 Kids ComeUnity project, A Girl With A Book,
which will put books in the hands of Kindergarten through
Second Grader boys and girls at Title 1 (high poverty rate) elementary schools.
To learn more and to join our effort, please see A Girl With A Book.

My aunt and uncle kept The Joy of Sex low on a bookshelf in their old Portland home. I found it when I was 11. My cousin, who was 12, and I surreptitiously slipped it off the shelf, stuffed it in my shirt, and tore up the long, wooden staircase — clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp — to her bedroom to pour over the detailed drawings with our eyes wide and our hands over our giggling mouths. We were very sneaky, and no doubt our parents didn’t suspect a thing. 

I’m not sure our giddy, shocked delight was the kind of joy the author had in mind when he wrote the book, but, truly, the title delivered. At any rate, The Joy of Sex was, in my preadolescent mind, a much better book than Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Too Afraid to Ask, which my parents kept low on a bookshelf at our house, because Everything You Always Wanted to Know didn’t include any pictures at all and, therefore, was definitely not everything I always wanted to know.

I found Clan of the Cave Bears on my grandmother’s bookshelf when I was in high school. I took it home for safekeeping because my sweet grandmother shouldn’t have access to that kind of trash. That kind of awesome, awesome trash. Eventually, I had to steal the entire series of books from her. For her safety. 

I’m a giver.

Or a taker.

Same same.

Regardless, books opened whole worlds to me, and not just the mildly naughty or nefarious worlds. No; books were my friends. My educators. My confidants. My escape. My solace. My sighs of relief. My open doors. My welcoming arms. My constant companions. 

Ah, books. How I love you.

Books taught me I’m not alone, that stories can set us free, and to look for the wild, weird places inside us because those are paths that teach us grace and lead us to each other and help us find our way home together. 

Books taught me to look for the magic in the hidden places. And to long for the Village. And to believe my people are out there, too. 

So, to honor the books, and to promote books for others, and to steal book ideas from you for my kids, and to pay penance for stealing my grandma’s Clan of the Cave Bears series (which I eventually returned) (a little more dog-earred in certain sections, but whatever), I’d like to share with you my 5 favorite books as a kid.


5 Favorite Books From My Childhood
I Hope My Kids Will Read


ALittlePrincess1. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgsen Burnett

“Whatever comes,” she said, “cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.”

“Perhaps to be able to learn things quickly isn’t everything. To be kind is worth a great deal to other people…Lots of clever people have done harm and have been wicked.” 


endersgame2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

“Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.” 

“I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not “true” because we’re hungry for another kind of truth: the mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about someone who lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about oneself.” From the Introduction 


narnia3. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

“All shall be done, but it may be harder than you think.” 

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.” 


4. PrincessGoblinThe Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

“Seeing is not believing – it is only seeing.” 

“People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less. I doubt if you would have believed it all yourself if you hadn’t seen some of it.” 

“It was foolish indeed – thus to run farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in at his leisure; but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.” 


5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

WrinkleinTime“Wild nights are my glory!” 

“We do not know what things look like, as you say,” the beast said. “We know what things are like. It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing.”

“But a planet can also become dark because of “too strong a desire for security … the greatest evil there is.” Meg resists her father’s analysis. What’s wrong with wanting to be safe? Mr. Murry insists that “lust for security” forces false choices and a panicked search for safety and conformity. This reminded me that my grandmother would get very annoyed when anyone would talk about “the power of love.” Love, she insisted, is not power, which she considered always coercive. To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.” – Madeleine L’Engle on A Wrinkle in Time


Your turn! I’m assembling a list of books for my 8-to-12 year old kids to read.
What’s one of your favorite childhood books… and why do you love it?
Also, because it makes me giggle, what books did you sneak off a bookshelf? 😉



P.S. THANK YOU so very much to those of you who’ve already donated to A Girl With A Book! 

So far, we’ve raised $998, enough to benefit one Title 1 school! I’m so proud of us! ESPECIALLY because we’re seeking many, small donations of $5, $10 or $15, which is both harder and awesomer because it requires greater involvement from our whole, amazing community. Please consider joining our effort by 1) making a donation of any size and 2) sharing the campaign with others. Together, we can make a difference in the life of a kid. Because a kid with a book is a powerful thing.

P.P.S. Thank you, too, to Chapters Books and Coffee, the independent, family-owned book store partnering with our 5 Kids ComeUnity on the Girl With A Book project. 

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63 responses to “For the Love of Books (And 5 Books I Hope My Kids Will Read)”

  1. The Railway Children; anything by Enid Blyton for younger children especially The Wishing Chair and The Enchanted Forest books

  2. I have only read the most recent comments and agree with so many of the recommendations (I loved l. M. Montgomery, Frances hodgson Burnett, Ursula le guin, Garth nix, tamora pierce)

    Other recommendations that I haven’t seen:

    The Blue Sword – Robin McKinley
    The forgotten beasts of eld – Patricia A McKillip
    Dragon Sword and Wind Child – Noriko Ogiwara
    Rowan of Rin – Emily rodda (perfect for 8yos)
    The dark is rising -Susan cooper
    The silver brumby – elyne Mitchell (for horse loving kids)
    Willard Price’s ‘adventure’ books. Some like Gorilla Adventure, Arctic Adventure were really great. Others not as good. A great series for kids that like animals.

    For the 12 plus yo
    Looking for Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta
    Saving Francesca – Melina Marchetta
    Really good ya books that deal with things like family, depression, first love, identity and belonging. They are a good read for an adult too. I think you would like them.

  3. Harry Potter books (all of them), all of the Narnia books, The Hobbit & The Lord Of The Rings, Astrid Lindgren’s masterpieces “Ronia The Robber’s Daughter” and “The Brothers Lionheart”, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea-series, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne- and Emily-series… at least! 🙂

  4. Wow! Where to start? I love so many books and have such dear friends in each one….
    Winnie the Pooh books by AA Milne (not Disney)
    Lord of the Rings
    Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde is one of my guilty pleasures)
    Stranger in a Strange Land
    Podkin of Mars
    1984 (I read dystopian books before they were popular, lol)
    Grendal (the story is better from this perspective)
    My dad had a great collection of SciFi books that I snuck into my room to read. I found out later than he was glad to share them and we had great discussions. My kids read anything with words, lol and sometimes they will even share with me.

  5. Oooo, my favorite topic! Glad I waited a while or I would be overwhelmed with what to suggest. Many have already been named. So, some that I didn’t see mentioned:

    1. All things William Joyce, especially the Guardians of Childhood series… we couldn’t put them down!
    2. The richly illustrated Selznick novels, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck.
    3. Madeleine L’Engle’s Meet the Austins series (Meet the Austins, The Moon by Night, The Young Unicorns, A Ring of Endless Light, and Troubling a Star). The Austins are related to Meg of A Wrinkle in Time.
    4. Someone mentioned Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series- excellent!
    5. I remember loving The Black Stallion series.
    6. Soon will be getting into Anne of Green Gables. Loved that series.

    If anyone has an Asperger kiddo, I just came across a great series that tells stories from the perspective of an animal trying to figure out human behavior. Things like facial expressions and tone of voice are described very concretely as the animal learns how to be with humans. We read Elska from The Horse Diary series and we are going to try some of the Dog Diary series as well. Elska was brilliant and fun to read.

  6. Oh, don’t forget “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler!” Also, “Are you There God? Its Me Margaret” That one is about puberty but also a religious identity crisis–it eventually influenced my decision to convert to Judaism before I got married. It had such a huge impact on my thinking as an adult–I just felt that it was so important to have a religious identity growing up, even if one day you questioned and changed (I grew up Catholic all the way). Amazing how books from your childhood can influence your development!

  7. Sorry my comment is off topic a bit. But your post gave me a marvelous idea! I did not read as a child. To be honest, probably because I was required to be an adult most of the time. There was no energy left for imagination. So now as an adult, I only read what I have to for school. But I’ve often wished a read for pleasure, I just couldn’t ever find any “adult” books to interest me. As I read your post, and especially the C.S.Lewis quote, I had an inspiration! I will use the list of books you mentioned, plus the others suggested, and begin reading….what I didn’t get to do as a child! I’m so excited!! I have been on quite a healing journey over the past few years, and this endeavor, this privilege shall be part of it!

    • Your story makes me sad. Sad like I felt when I heard the phrase that there were children who “didn’t have a place at the table.” They didn’t ever eat together to know what it was to have a regular place to sit.

      I think reading like that would be an amazing, smart, wonderful way to do something as an adult that should have been part of youth. I still love to read young adult fiction. I still read to children. In fact, I thought I would be doing that every week by now, but instead I am still working. Another way to enjoy that childhood you missed, you could read to children somewhere. A hospital, a homeless shelter, an elementary school. Then you get to experience the silly stuff like “The monster at the End of This Book.” Or “Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

      Bless you and may you find true joy and more as you read.

  8. Oh I almost forgot:

    Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

    I read it to my then 8 yr old and we both laughed out loud a lot! Great book for kids with big imaginations and that love words/language.

  9. LOVED the 5 books you chose.
    One thing I loved about A Wrinkle In Time is the protagonist wasn’t beautiful, and she had a lot of faults, and she was quirky and not only was that okay, she was celebrated. How I love Meg!

    I would also add the Little House on the Prairie books. Family and search for adventure are central. Not so long ago, but such a different world.

    The Phantom Tollbooth – get those little ones thinking outside the box!

    • As I was reading the comments, I couldn’t believe I forgot:
      Everything by Roald Dahl (I still tear up whenever I think about Danny the Champion of the World)
      Everything by Beverly Cleary.
      Eventually, Judy Blume – esp. Blubber (deals w/ bullying)
      And, of course E.B. White (Charlottes Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpeter of the Swan)

  10. ALL of the Narnia books
    Magic by the Lake by Edward Eager
    Earthseed by Pamela Sargent
    Judy Blume’s books, especially Are you There God, It’s Me Margaret and Tiger Eyes (good for pre-teen girls)

  11. Love your list! (And also Clan of the Cave Bear — YES!).

    A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite favorites too. I would also add to your list:

    1) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. This book fits nicely with your theme. My favorite quote: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

    2) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

    3) The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Not sure if this series appeals to kids nowadays… My 13-yr old is an avid reader, but unfortunately she could never get into this series.

    My sneak-and-read book was Fear of Flying by Erica Jong.

  12. I don’t have a list of favorites but these are ones we read recently that made us laugh or think or completely absorbed us.
    Some are better for the 8-9 set and some for the closer to 12 group.

    The Marvelous Benedict Society
    The Magician’s Elephant
    The One and Only Ivan
    Tuesdays at the Castle
    The Wizard of Oz (all 14 in the series – get the Books of Wonder by Harper Collins editions to get beautiful full color original artwork)
    The Search for WondLa
    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
    Fortunately, the Milk
    Because of Mr. Terupt
    The City of Ember (not the sequels though)

  13. So if you ever thought talking to your kids about drugs was not necessary or would just be too hard, definitely read Candy Shop Wars by Brandon Mull. It’s such an easy way in to a hard conversation and a totally enjoyable book as well.

    Also by Mull is my all time favorite – Fablehaven. I’m not really a fan of Fantasy books but this was wonderful.

    Like the rest of everyone I read and enjoyed Boxcar children most especially because Warner was our local elementary school teacher. She put local references in her book (was there a story about a boat at Pomfret landing?) and we have a boxcar museum in town that I was then able to show my kids. Super fun connection.

  14. Ooh I love recommending books!

    Diana Wynne Jones – anything by her! Maybe start with Howl’s Moving Castle, or Charmed Life. Wacky plots like nothing else, crazy imaginative, though her stuff is usually preferred by people who are already fantasy fans.

    Hilary MacKay – The Exiles or Saffy’s Angel. Sweet, hilarious books about families that are not perfect but are exactly wonderful.

    Patricia C Wrede – Dealing With Dragons. A princess decides she doesn’t want to get married off so goes out seeking adventure, finds a dragon to work for, an enchanted forest, and a very sensible witch.

    Northern Lights/The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman) – the anti-Narnia in some ways, but I love both Narnia and this trilogy. And it lead to me reading Paradise Lost at 14…

    Brief mentions: Tamora Peirce, Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett (can you tell I’m a fantasy/scifi fan?)

    And books I shouldn’t have read – well, I had read “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel” so I decided to read all the Heinlein my brother had. Including “Stranger in a Strange Land”. I was about 11. It was a bit more than I thought I was getting!

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