10 (OK, 15) Books that Children Should Read

TEN BOOKS THAT CHILDREN SHOULD READ, BECAUSE I READ THEM, MOSTLY AS A CHILD, AND TOTALLY LOVED THEM AND THEY SHAPED MY WORLDVIEW.

Watership Down / Richard Adams

            Imparts the value of loyalty and comradeship while representing a rich mythos and the archetypical heroic journey. The characters are rabbits. This is their Aeneid.

Children’s Homer / Padraic Colum

Beautifully and simply illustrated stories of Telemachus and Odysseus, infused with an Irish poet’s sensibilities and perfect for a child first taking the pulse of the Western canon.

Book of Greek Myths / The D’Aulaires

Introduce children to mythology with these many mesmerizing lithographic illustrations and proof that the gods are people too. My childhood would have been poor without it.

The Madman / Kahlil Gibran

The oddball on this list—half-pantheistic, half-Christian parables of empowerment and self-realization infused with Nietzschean individualism and Arabic cadences. To be read aloud.

The Blue Fairy Book / Andrew Lang

Marvelous collection of fairy tales, folk tales, and myths from all periods and all lands of the Occident. Entire series recommended. A la Bruno Bettelheim, enchantment is so useful!

The Railway Children / E. Nesbit

Four children cope with their father’s mysterious absence by becoming incidental agents in the happiness of adults around them. Suffer the little children to come to me…

The Tale of Peter Rabbit / Beatrix Potter

I grew up on Beatrix Potter’s placid tales of the English countryside, in which life is organic to the landscape. In this tale, anthropomorphic bunnies eat soporific lettuce.

The Little Prince / Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Idealistic, soulful, and sensitive to the profound complexities of affection. The only title on this list I didn’t read as a child–and wish I had. For adults, pair with red wine and Norah Jones.

Kidnapped / Robert Louis Stevenson

Frequently overlooked, this Scottish Highlander swashbuckler has shipwreck, betrayal, thick brogues, journeys through peril, and the most dashing cavalier since D’Artagnan.

The Hobbit / J. R. R. Tolkien

One very ordinary little hobbit shapes the fortunes of Middle-Earth in this picaresque fantasy adventure with viscerally high stakes, whimsy and peril alternating seamlessly.

FIVE HONORABLE MENTIONS THAT I LOVED BUT DIDN’T GOVERN MY REALITY

The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

WHAT DID MAKING THIS LIST TEACH ME ABOUT MYSELF?

I am drawn to the heroic journey, suggesting unfulfilled wanderlust and desire for autonomy.

I read mostly classic children’s literature with adult appeal, suggesting emotional maturity.

I am an individualist who is close to his family and keenly loyal to the deserving few.

I am comfortable with the literature of rugged machismo and tender sensitivity alike.

I treasure simplicity and sincerity.

I am a bit of a rustic.

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