This is a list of children’s books I wrote up when I was about 18, based on books I enjoyed reading when I was about 10–13. I have formatted the writeup but I have not edited it; it’s mostly here for reference.
First and foremost, I recommend just about anything by Lloyd Alexander. He is my favorite children’s author. I particularly recommend The Prydain Chronicles, a five-book fantasy adventure series. The individual books are called The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King. The stories are very powerful; Lloyd Alexander has a wonderful sense of drama. The High King is my favorite children’s book of all time (although to appreciate it, of course, you have to read the whole series). Alexander also wrote The Vesper Holly Adventures, another five-book series I recommend, and a number of other books.
The second author who comes to mind is Roald Dahl. In particular, I remember liking Matilda and The Witches. Also good were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and The BFG (that’s Big Friendly Giant). Dahl can be a little gruesome at times, but in creative ways—pre-teens should be able to handle him with no problem. Dahl’s stories are whimsical and strange, but fun adventures.
Some series which are good:
The Alvin Fernald series, by Clifford B. Hicks. Alvin Fernald is a young teen who is an inventor—the first book I read was called The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald, which featured about an invention per chapter. I remember loving this series, because I wanted to be an inventor when I was young. (Alvin’s inventions don’t play a role in every book, but his intelligence does).
The Danny Dunn series, a kid’s sci-fi series by Jay Williams. It was written in the ’50s, I think, so you get books like Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine, about a computer, and Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint, about a spaceship. Again, this series highlights the intelligence of Danny and his friends.
The Great Brain series, by John D. Fitzgerald, with about 10 books, the first of which is titled simply The Great Brain. The Great Brain was a young boy who lived in a small town in Utah in the early 1900s. The series is all about his adventures, mostly through entrepreneurial adventures, as I recall.
The Tripods trilogy, by John Christopher. The first book is called The White Mountains. (There was also a prequel to the trilogy, but I started reading it and never finished.) It’s fantasy/sci-fi. The main value to this series is simply its drama.
Some individual books I recommend:
The Girl Who Owned a City, by O. T. Nelson, about a future world in which all people over the age of 12 are killed off by a mysterious disease, and the children are left to fend for themselves. The heroine in this one is a very strong and resourceful character; I like her very much.
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, a whimsical adventure which also champions learning and intelligence (the hero is on a quest to save Rhyme and Reason—twin princesses who are locked in the Castle in the Air).
The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, the prequel to the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is another good fantasy adventure. (I started the trilogy, BTW, and found it boring—the reverse of the White Mountains).
The Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, about a kid who is suddenly left to fend for himself in the forest, miles from civilization. There is one gruesome scene near the end of the book, but I read it when I was about 12 and survived. The hero has great persistence and earns his survival under seemingly impossible circumstances. Gary Paulsen has written a number of other books with similar plots, but be warned that they may not all be good—my mother told me about one book of his, The Rifle, I believe, that involved an innoncent young boy being accidentally shot in the head. The Hatchet, however, has no such faults.
Another thing that might be worth trying is kid’s versions of the classics, or perhaps just the classics themselves. I remember reading kid’s versions of Jules Verne (Journey to the Center of the Earth, in particular) and Sherlock Holmes stories.
Copyright © Jason Crawford. Some rights reserved: CC BY-ND 4.0