So, I know I'm remiss here in my continued non-posting of the promised "Mama Lunch" column, but: I have to write instead about what Birdy and I are reading, because these are simply some of the best books there are. Period. And, oddly, they're all by authors who are much more famous for other books: Roald Dahl for his full-blown ogre-addled magic-infused fantasy fiction; Madeleine L'Engle for her incomparably riveting, weirdo-buoying, sci-fi Wrinkle in Time series; and Joan Aiken for the villain-and-orphan-filled Wolves of Willoughby Chase series which, more than any other books, best represent the time in my life when all I wanted to do was curl up with a book. (Which is different from now how? I guess I mean the very profound 12-year-old version of that.) But these are kinder, gentler books--books perfect for younger kids who are, yes, reading mostly on their own, but who still like to curl up in an arm crook for a pajama-clad cuddle and a chapter or two aloud at day's end. I mention that because these are books that an 8-year old could read alone, but they're strangely tricky in that British/weird-humor/old-fashioned-language way. I recommend reading at least the first two chapters aloud, to acclimate them--by which point you'll be fully engrossed anyways and will want to keep reading.
Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. A boy and his dad plotting to steal some pheasants really might not sound like your ideal plot, and I understand. But this is a lovely and wonderful book--about a parent and child, about loss, and about the nuanced complexity of right and wrong. "Who are the actual bad guys?" Ben wondered, when he and I read it years ago--but he already knew.
Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle. This is such a delightful, gentle book, and it's got this fantastically smart and observant girl narrator, which I love. An orphan, slow-paced family drama, nice kids, deliciously excellent writing--all the makings of a perfect reading experience, if you ask me. The others in the series are a little "grown-uppy," but I'm sure they'd be great for older kids.
Arabel's Raven by Joan Aiken. A young girl adopts a badly behaved bird named Mortimer who loves diamonds and guitar music and the stairs, which he eats. It's a little like the Paddington series, in terms of wacky misadventures and hilarious hijinx, but it is so laugh-out-loud funny that Ben is always putting his own book down and creeping over to listen. I love reading it because the language is great, the absurdity and chaos are pitched just right, and I am never, ever bored. There are more of them, and I bet they're all good, but we're just finishing this first one right now.
And now: share away. I have *so many* books on my library request list thanks to all your fantastic recommendations last week. I am thrilled. Thank you, as always.
I love "Danny, Champion of the World." "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is way up there too. Can't wait to find the other titles. If Finn doesn't enjoy them, my niece certainly will.ReplyDelete
My daughter just turned 9 and The Twits is one of her favorite books. We do a lot of sometimes reading on her own and sometimes reading aloud.ReplyDelete
A book I wanted to see if you knew about is The Wilder Life. I haven't really started it yet, but my husband told me about it. The author lives like 2 years of her life in Laura Ingalls Wilder's homes doing things Laura would have done. I know you like the Little House books so I think this might be up your alley!
Yay! Just in time for summer vacation. Have just started Little House series and loving it, but you already know about that one :-)ReplyDelete
Hey! I'm reading Danny Champion of the World to my 9-year-old RIGHT NOW! (And we just finished reading The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which did not disappoint my grownup self and was still pretty much my favorite book ever).ReplyDelete
Since one of my main objects in having kids was to read them the books I enjoyed when I was a kid, I am frantically scrambling to cram in everything I possibly can before my son gets to old to be read to. I'm hoping I still have another year...but I'm guessing that eleven will be the cutoff date. Sob. I will then be forced to make him procreate at once so that I can start reading to his children.
I will look at those and add one more to this category. Ronia the Robbersdaughter (maybe Robbersdotter)by Astrid Lindgrin (a.k.a. author of Pippi Longstocking). Thanks for the ideas.ReplyDelete
Thanks, guys! sunygrrl, I have not heard of that book, and just added it to my library queue! Melospiza, I feel the same way. And casio, Birdy just finished and loved Ronia! I should add that one, since it's another where the author is so famous for something else. Have you ever read The Brothers Lionheart? That book changed my life, at 11 or 12. . . xoReplyDelete
LOVE Meet the Austins, and I really recommend The 24 Days Before Christmas by L'Engle too. It is about the Austin family and how they slowly lead up to Christmas by doing one Christmasy thing each day...and are waiting for their new baby sibling to be born! Thanks for your recommendations.ReplyDelete
Reading about the Austins prompted some interesting conversations with my daughter, since those poor kids tend to get a lot of spankings. I just forwarded this post to her because I know she'd love that last book on your list. Thanks for the suggestions!ReplyDelete
No Flying In The House, by Betty Brock. I'm not sure there is a more sweetly appealing book from my childhood--a little magic, a little sadness, a wonderful tiny dog...the 1970s cover is so much better than the ones on Amazon, but it's a delightful little book no matter what.ReplyDelete
Oh, please read "Freddy goes to Florida" and the twenty-something other books by Walter Brooks. We haven't found a series so engaging since we finished the Little House books. These are delightfully written stories about the adventures of a smart and silly band of farm animals. Really wonderful for both the mama and the kids!ReplyDelete
Oh, this discussion couldn't have come at a more perfect time! I have just started looking for some new books for my 8-1/2 year old to read -- she's coming to the end of Beverly Cleary's Ramona series and finished the Pippi Longstocking books before that. I will check out all three of your recommendations and all of the ones listed in the comments so far.ReplyDelete
Just when I thought this blog couldn't get any better, here's a whole treasure trove of age-appropriate book recommendations that I know she and the rest of our family will just love!!
I can't tell you how much I loved Madeleine L'Engle as a kid. The Austins were the tops, although I loved Wrinkle adoringly too. Anyone got a suggestion for a 6.5-year-old who is very sensitive to suspense but is a good reader and loves reading chapter books alone or with me? I can't remember Pippi that well--will she do?ReplyDelete
I loved reading "Clementine" by Sara Pennypacker with my daughter. There were many laugh out loud times spent with her while reading this book. We've read the other Clementine books as well, but though the forst one was the best.ReplyDelete
I'm so glad you posted this because I have a book I've been wanting to recommend to you but I needed a good segue, especially since I almost never comment here: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen. It is such a beautiful book about a family learning to live off the land, about family dynamics, and narrated by a girl. I LOVED it as a girl and re-read it periodically as an adult.ReplyDelete
Danny was one of my favorite books as a kid and I just finished reading it to my nearly 6 year old, who almost wept when the book ended. Have you read The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Dahl? Beautiful, sad, poignant. Perhaps more for Ben's age, though.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett is awesome. I read it with my oldest last summer. There are 3-4 books in this series and they are awesome. We are on the last book now, so I'm thrilled for ideas once we've finished it. Thank you!ReplyDelete
What the WHAT? The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a SERIES??!!! I LOVED that book as a kid and I had no idea Joan Aiken wrote more. Well, it's off to the bookstore for me. I may be 40 years old ont he outside, but a 12-year-old bookworm still resides within.ReplyDelete
Dominic by William Stieg! It may be a little difficult for an eight year old to read on his/her own because there is such a rich vocabulary, which as an adult made it such a pleasure to read. We had to pull out the dictionary a few times, but my daughter was enthralled. When we finished, she actually cried because it was over and she loved it so much. My husband was confused, but I knew then I had raised a true reader for life!ReplyDelete
I'm in the same boat as Robin; I have 6 year old twins who are pretty advanced readers but still need younger subject matter. I will definitely try Arabel's Raven, that looks right up their alley. Thanks Catherine!ReplyDelete
Thanks for all the recommendations! My three and six year old boys love the very innocent and amusing Noisy Village books by Astrid Lindgren (The Children of Noisy Village and Happy Times in Noisy Village), and we all enjoyed the Dr. Doolittle books by Hugh Loftig as well.ReplyDelete
Now we're on a double-e kick: Eleanor Estes's Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye and Elizabeth Enright's Melendy Quartet (The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, etc.) (note: in the early chapters of The Saturdays a kidnapping and a running-away episode are retold, so perhaps not the best for the sensitive reader reading on his/her own?).
We are re-reading Arabel's Raven right now, and it's just hilarious. It does require one's best channeling of all those British sitcom voices to read aloud with proper hilarity, however, so do your homework before you pick it up. I'll definitely check the others you recommend. And don't forget the original Winnie the Pooh books- such deep thoughts and wistfulness, and all kinds of layers of humor.ReplyDelete
The Mysterious Benedict Society. Go read it for your own self first and then decide if the suspense feels right for your particular reader/listener. A rich story full of surprises and intriguing characters.ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing kid book recommendations! My son is only 3 and no book is life-changing at this point. I will have to put this list in a time capsule somewhere.ReplyDelete
Just made your lentil soup (with balsamic vinegar) from Dalai Mama for the first time. We stirred swiss chard in near the end, and oh! it was delicious! Your recipes never disappoint. I plan the menus here and my husband executes the recipes, and he never bats an eye when I say a recipe is yours because we've come to trust your culinary opinion without doubt.
We just finished "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon." Gorgeous stories within stories of a chinese girl and her quest to find happiness for those around her. It took our breath away. It may be the most beautiful book I've ever read.ReplyDelete
My son and I just LOVE to read! It is one thing that he ALWAYS wants to do. I would suggest the Magic Tree House series, Edward Eager's series that starts with Seven Day Magic and continues with The Well Wishers, the Time Garden, Magic by the Lake, Half Magic and more, Mrs. Pigglewiggle stories (we all could use a Mrs. Pigglewiggle in our lives ), A Wrinkle in Time, et. al., the Danny Dunn series, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (about Greek Titans and Olympians), the Phantom Tollbooth, "Ology" books (e.g., Egpytology, Dragonology), the Warriors series (about cats living in a clan society), Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and actually, all of the E.L. Konigsburg books (for older readers), Judy Blume (same), The Borrowers, Harriet the Spy, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (the book far exceeds the movie!), Holes, by Louis Sachar, Bridge to Terabithia, Jerry Spinelli's books, the slightly subversive Calvin and Hobbes, Narnia, The Boxcar Children, Beverly Cleary’s books, Crispin, The Egypt Game, and Min-Yo and the Moon Dragon, which has lovely illustrations. Enjoy! -Diane @ Philadelphia.ReplyDelete
Oh, and how could I forget Little Women, Little Men, etc? -DIane @ Philadelphia.ReplyDelete
When my husband brought home Kon Tiki - the book about the recreation of a primitive ocean voyage from South America to Fiji - to read to our 6 year old son, I thought he was aiming a little high.ReplyDelete
But, the book is full of adventure and ocean animals and nautical whatnots and man, they are both eating it up.
Thanks to everyone. I've put Arabel's Raven on our list, and thanks for the reminder about Edward Eager, whom I remember from my own childhood and whose books I think aren't too suspenseful for my sensitive little soul of a 6.5-year-old. She's currently gobbling the Magic Treehouses up at the rate of 2-3 a week, and that's with school in session, so in a few weeks, with more time, we'll need more books! And my word verification is eptica, which sounds vaguely literary and magical and therefore fitting.ReplyDelete
Oh, and by the way, I'm a college English teacher, and I'm so thrilled about all this reading happening. I teach composition, and I can always tell which of my students of both traditional age and returning adult age are readers by their writing.
Half Magic. I can't remember who wrote it but I read that one a million times. Very Funny. The other series I loved was The Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell. The first book in that is Ordinary Jack. My 8 yr old son likes the Borrowers, too. The Burling Game. My son also liked the Mysterious Benedict Society. One I also reread was Aggie, Maggie and Tish - again I couldn't tell you who the author was. My grandmother was a librarian at the Queensborough Public library and she used to bring us all of the discards.ReplyDelete
Oooh, oooh - I remembered two: The All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor and The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. (the latter might be better for slightly older kids).ReplyDelete
We love the Moomin books by Tove Jansson. The books are full of adventures and philosophical musing. The drawings are beautiful. There are comics and picture books as well as the main series of books. My daughter has a little crush on the vagabond Snufkin.ReplyDelete
I have an 8 year old daughter and thank you for these recommendations. She has read Danny, Champion of the World and we love Roald Dahl books!ReplyDelete
I'm loving the "food on Monday, books on Friday" format! Really, my two favorite things. And thanks for taking me back to the summer I was 12 and spent every possible moment in the comfy rocker/swivel chair in our living room, sitting sideways with my legs dangling over one arm, inhaling books.ReplyDelete
Can't forget The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which is probably my favorite book ever but is actually a little difficult to read out loud just because of Dickon's accent.
Also, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. And I second both "The Saturdays" and "All of a Kind Family" mentioned before.
Finally, did you know there is a Newbery award winner called "Catherine, Called Birdy" by Karen Cushman??
The Carbonel books by Barbara Sleigh - wonderful.ReplyDelete
Also, Mistress Masham's Repose by TH White.
Actually, I think that everything republished by the NYRB Children's Collection is terrific - the above are available there...
I loved loved loved Joan Aiken when I was a kid - can't wait to share with my daughter.
It warms my heart to discover all my fellow Joan Aiken fans -- I always felt like I was the only one who knew of her.ReplyDelete
You might enjoy The Happy Hollister series by Jerry West, if you can find them. Definitely from another era, but fun nevertheless.
Two books in our house that have fallen apart from re-reading: The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart and Shadow Castle by Marian Cockrell. The Little Broomstick is atmospheric and suspenseful and Shadow Castle is full of magic.
First of all, Catherine, I love your writing! Now that I've gotten that out of the way, how about some Daniel Pinkwater, like "Lizard Music?" I loved so many of the books on this list, and I'm thrilled to see all the wonderful suggestions. I wish I could think of more...ReplyDelete
My nine year old recently loved "The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles" by Julie Andrews. Thanks for the great suggestions, just in time for summer!ReplyDelete
For Ben to enjoy, and for Birdy to come creeping over to listen: The Oracles of Delphi Keep Series, by Victoria Lauri, http://oraclesofdelphikeep.com/,ReplyDelete
truly enjoyable, as a mom I had to speed read ahead because I simply could NOT wait to find out what happened. Book Three of Series is about to be released. I HIGHLY recommend!
Some of our favorites (I am sure I am forgetting many of them):ReplyDelete
Igraine the Brave by Cornelius Funke, I won't try to describe it because I don't want to give any of it away. It is a favorite of everyone in my house. We have given it as a birthday gift many times as well.
Betsy Tacy, Betsy Tacy and Tib ... etc Delightful stories of school aged best friends and the games they play
Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, this book would be wonderful even if it wasn't so subtly pro reading.
James Herriots Treasury for Children, not a chapter book but a collection of short stories simplified from Herriots other books with illustrations for the younger reader
This is so oddly exciting....should I be this excited by all of the these wonderful book recommendations? YES! My 8 year old...she tried to convince me today that she was 8 1/4...is in love with Dahl's stories and we will check out this new one. Our favorite (so far) is BFG. Thank you - thank you - thank you!ReplyDelete
Two gentle, enjoyable books: Family Grandstand and (my favorite) Family Sabbatical, by Carol Ryrie Brink. I never read her Caddie Woodlawn, so these would go with your lesser-known books of well-known authors. Sadly out of print, but available used or probably from libraries. The second one is particularly funny as the family takes a year in France and does things like celebrate Thanksgiving with Campbell's soup, that being the only American food they can find for the holiday. Simply suburp, as one character says.ReplyDelete
My 9-year-old is reading/we're reading together "Mrs Pepperpot" by Alf Proysen. It's kind of Pippi Longstocking-ish (that Scandinavian influence!) and utterly delightful. My daughter also likes Roald Dahl (particularly the BFG - her first language is French but we read it together in English and she totally "got" it, despite the made-up words!) and even enjoys Famous Five books (though she finds the language quite hard). I'm intending to start her on the Milly-Molly-Mandy series (Joyce Lankester Brisley) which, though old-fashioned, remain adorable and sweet (she's already read a "My Naughty Little Sister" compilation and loved them).ReplyDelete
It seems we're very much in the British literature (probably because I'm British, duh), so Paddington and Winnie the Pooh (the originals, not the Disney version) are also firm favourites, but those she reads on her own.
My younger daughter, who just turned 7, can read the Mr Men (Roger Hargreaves) books - I find them hilarious too (our favourites: Little Miss Naughty and Mr Tickle).
Great ideas! Have an older girl and younger son, try to find titles that will please both. Some we especially liked were Lucy Hawking's 'George's Secret Key to the Universe', Brian Selznick's 'Invention of Hugo Cabret', Annie Barrows - Ivy and Bean series would be perfect for Birdy, Elizabeth Winthrop's 'Castle In The Attic' and the sequelReplyDelete
Battle for the Castle'(although if reading at bedtime I skip certain scary parts in these), Kate DiCamillo's EVERYTHING...most people have seen the Desperaux movie, but not read the book (the movie was awful) the book is a gem as is her "Incredible Journey of Edward Tulane" and 'Magician's Elephant' and Birdy would love her "Mercy Watson" series...both my kids loved Lois Lowry's Gooney Bird Greene books and I loved that those books made them want to write! Ok enough for now, thanks for your suggestions too...should do this again maybe monthly? Great idea!
Around the same time I read Danny Champion of the World to my son, I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. There are so many surprising similarities between the two--a dead mother, a father and son against the world, good vs evil--but their real strength is in the portrait of love between parent and child. They slayed me.ReplyDelete
I loved many of these as a girl too, but am equally excited to find new 'classics' with my 8 yr old daughter. I second the Sarah, Plain and Tall series. Clementine too! We both really enjoyed The Penderwicks series. The third book just came out.ReplyDelete
For earlier readers Cynthia Rylant's two series about The Lighthouse Family and The Cobblestreet Cousins are lovely. I loved her book The Blue Hill Meadows too.
The whole family (5 yr old son too) loved the audio version of Lois Lowry's The Willoughbys, as well as most I mentioned above plus Pippi.
Does anyone have other favorite audio books for kids?