Being a children’s librarian, I’m often asked for children’s book recommendations, and even more often, I am asked about my favorite books from my childhood.
As we know, lots of books don’t hold up over time, so I need to refresh my list and preferences with new favorites.
My favorite picture book as a child was: “The Little House” by Virginia Lee Burton. The version that I had came in this big book of children’s stories, and even though there were hundreds of stories in that book, this was what I came back to again and again. I just loved the passage of time and how something that is forgotten can be remembered and salvaged again.
Nowadays, the story is still sentimental to me, but I wouldn’t really call it my favorite picture book anymore. That belongs to “The Heart and the Bottle” by Oliver Jeffers. Thinking through the similarities, they both think about loss and re-growth in interesting ways. I would say that The Heart and the Bottle is one of those treasured picture books that are truly for all ages, as I think adults and specifically me, have really benefitted from that story.
My favorite book of children’s fiction was a tie between “Caddie Woodlawn” by Carol Rye Brink and “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery. I used to check out Caddie Woodlawn from my school library again and again. And I read all of Carol Rye Brink’s work as a child. I loved Caddie. I think I equated her to my Felicity American Girl doll, and I loved that she was an independent girl trying to be a person in a world that only saw her one way. I have yet to reread this book as an adult, but I know that this is a not great book that only lightly touches on racism against American Indians and really not in an edification way, just to show how much worse Caddie and her family could have been.
Anne of Green Gables was the dream. I longed for a bosom buddy and a childhood friend that would tease me and then fall in love with me. I wanted to be brave and daredevil and maybe get in a bit of trouble.
Nowadays, one of the books that I most often recommend because of the love of magic represented in it is “Circus Mirandous” by Cassie Beasly. I love how there is a breakdown between those who believe in magic and those who don’t. I remember reading it in a few sittings and really wishing that I could see the magic represented in the book. I just got the sequel and I can’t wait to check it out.
My favorite YA book as a child was “The Face on the Milk Carton” series! Oh man, I really loved these books. I was super obsessed with the idea that your whole life could be different than you thought it was. It really intrigued me in this way of tapping into people’s fears about crime and identity and how that had so many ramifications. I was a super sentimental kid and often loved to read “bummer books” that made me cry for hours. While it sounds traumatic, I feel that it helped me process uncomfortable feelings about growing up.
Nowadays, my favorite YA book is “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson. I truly love this book. I read it on my lunch breaks at my first real library job and would sit in my car and cry. I loved the world that Jandy built, I longed to see the art in real life and live in a world where museums would build in my head. I love the sorrow and grief that the twins experience, and how that changes their lives and also the room for rediscovery.
After writing this post, I realized that most of my book choices involve grief and loss and crying. While these topics seem sad and they are, it is also important for all kids to know that they are seen and can process trauma in literature. We all sometimes need a good book and a good cry. Let me know if you want them together, I have a book for you!
I am also often asked to recommend books, but don’t believe I have ever been asked about favorite books from my childhood. I also loved The Little House picture book. My favorite novels were Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott, which I preferred over Little Women, as scandalous as this confession may be, and Up a Road Slowly, by Irene Hunt. I haven’t read Eight Cousins in years, but a few years ago I did revisit Up a Road Slowly and found it didn’t have the appeal it had when I was younger. Of course, that may be due to the fifty year span between readings and the difference between being 12 and being 62. These days, I honestly cannot name one absolute favorite as there are so many books that I love. A recent picture book that I like very much is Tell Me a Tattoo Story, By Alison McGhee, but there are plenty of others I like just as much. For juvenile fiction I very much like Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks series.
I do understand about stories not holding up over time, but people do like to share their childhood experiences with their own children and I appreciate that, too. It does annoy me, however, when parents and grandparents insist on making kids read the same books they read when they were young and won’t consider anything new. As if there have been no new books written in the last fifty years!