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Favorite Children's Books: Jen

Posted by Jen Robinson on May 4, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Middle Grade BooksRecommendations
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JenRobinsonEarlyReader.jpg Continuing last week's discussion of favorite books, I would like to share some of my favorite titles for middle grade readers (ages 8 to 12). I've been a reader since a very young age (as is apparent from the photo to the right) It's nearly impossible to narrow down to 10 titles, out of all of the children's books out there. But here are a few of my treasured favorites, books that I've read multiple times. I've limited myself to one title per author, though many of these authors have written other books that I loved, too. Most of these are books that I own in multiple editions, because I can never resist them when I run across them. I have not ranked this list, because that would be truly impossible. It is alphabetical by author.

  • 21WXW4GJCQL._SL500_AA140_.jpgReturn to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright. I love all of Elizabeth Enright's books. Her Melendy family quartet sets the standard, I think, for kid-friendly, accessible stories about families (see my reviews of the first two Melendy family books: The Saturdays and The Four-Story Mistake). But Gone-Away Lake and the sequel, Return to Gone-Away, are magical. They epitomize summer, adventure, and things that kids find cool. They are timeless. I give the edge to Return to Gone-Away, because I love the house that the children move into. But anything by Elizabeth Enright is worth reading.
  • Maida's Little Shop by Inez Haynes Irwin. Maida's Little Shop was originally published in 1910, and was the first of a series of 15 books about the motherless daughter of a magnanimous tycoon, and her close-knit group of friends. I can't really say how these books hold up for new readers, but they were among the first books that I loved and collected. The Maida books also taught me, early, that children's books are not just for children. My grandmother introduced them to me.
  • ForgottenDoor.jpgThe Forgotten Door by Alexander Key. My review. The Forgotten Door is the book that made me fall in love with science fiction. It's about a boy from an advanced world who falls through a long-unused door into our own world, where most people are less than kind. It's a slim novel, but one that makes readers think. Key also wrote Escape to Witch Mountain.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. A Wrinkle in Time is another classic title that taught me the joy of reading science fiction and fantasy novels. The bonus with AWIT, though, is that the main character feels so very real.
  • TheGiver.jpgThe Giver by Lois Lowry. The Giver was probably the book that ignited my passion for dystopian fiction. It is also famous for having an ambiguous ending (though that ending becomes more clear in a later companion story).
  • AnneOfGreenGables.jpgAnne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I truly believe that Anne Shirley helped to shape the person that I became. There's a reason why people are still reading about her (and even writing prequels) after more than 100 years.
  • Clementine.jpgClementine by Sara Pennypacker (ill. Marla Frazee). My review. Clementine is a modern-day children's book character, one who I feel deserves a place right along with Pippi Longstocking and Ramona. Clementine is 100% real, and hilariously funny. I think that all early elementary school children should have a chance to read about her. I also enjoyed the next two books in the series, The Talented Clementine, and Clementine's Letter.
  • TheLightningThief.jpgThe Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. My review. The Lightning Thief is the first book in Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. These books are modern classics. I think that they will be read for generations. They are well-written, engrossing, funny, and filled with mythological details that never feel like lessons. The fifth and final book in the Percy Jackson series, The Last Olympian, is scheduled for publication tomorrow.
  • HarryPotter1.jpgHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling. Of course the Harry Potter books are modern classics, too. The thing that I like best about this series, apart from the fact that I enjoy reading the books, is the fact that they have turned millions of children and adults on to reading children's books. Their impact can't be over-estimated.
  • TheVelvetRoom.jpgThe Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. My reviews: here and here. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was probably my favorite author when I was growing up. Her books are filled with magic,, adventure, and memorable characters. My two favorites, The Velvet Room and The Changeling, are books that I read over and over again. The Velvet Room also houses my favorite fictional room from children's literature.

One thing that's clear to me from assembling this list is how strong childhood loyalties are. It take a lot for a recent title to push aside one of my childhood favorites. But the ones on this list made the cut. What are your favorite children's books? Are you able to find recent titles that take their place alongside your childhood favorites, or do your childhood preferences reign supreme?


Sarah writes...

What a great list! I've read most of them and Clementine, Return to Gone Away, and Harry Potter would go on my own list. I'm going to have to try The Velvet Room. It sounds like one I'd love.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for the feedback, Sarah! It's hard to make a list like this, because there are so many books that have to be left off...

I do think that you'd like The Velvet Room. The girl in the book, Robin, discovers this amazing hidden library, with a tower window seat surrounded by velvet curtains. It is truly magical (and Robin is about as real as they come as a character).

Lindsay writes...

I just read Anne of Green Gables aloud to my daughter (age 9), and I was so happy that she liked it (although maybe not quite as much as I did as a kid!) Once she got used to the language and slower pace, she really got into it and now she wants to read the sequels. She's a big Harry Potter fan, too.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I'm glad that your daughter liked Anne of Green Gables, Lindsay. It's so sad when you love a book, but it doesn't work well for the next generation (which has certainly happened to me with my nieces).

I'm not sure if I would have appreciated the sequels myself when I was 9, Anne being pretty much grown up for those books (though the ones about her kids are fun). It will be interesting to see if your daughter likes those, too.

Missy K writes...

Such a good list-- a few I have loved, some my boys have already discovered, and some I have bookmarked to check out-- summer's coming!

I have boys ages 6 and 8, and they both read independently. We also always have a family read-aloud book going. Our favorites from the last year include Redwall by Brian Jacques, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, and both Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart. The Benedict Society books are particular favorites-- wonderful, complex characters, suspense, and an emphasis on the power of truth and teamwork.

I look so forward to reading this blog-- I saw notice of it on facebook, because I am always looking for those next books to introduce. Thanks!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks, Missy! I love to hear about families that read aloud together. You've read some wonderful books together - I love the Penderwicks and the Mysterious Benedict Society books. Your boys are very lucky!

I'll bet that they'll love the Percy Jackson books within a year or two. And the timing is great for you, because all of the books in the series will be available. You might also like Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander books at some point - they can be a bit dark, but are highly suspenseful, and deal with some of the same larger themes that you mentioned.

Enjoy reading together! And thanks for reading Booklights.

Garrett writes...

I've been a fan of Diane Duane's Young Wizards series since I was in college in the 80s. The books attempt to present a coherent system for doing magic, instead of shouting random Latin, and Diane isn't afraid to kill the occasional character off in the service of the story -- no random spells missing the main character and hitting his/her pet here.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Oh, Garrett, I love the Young Wizards series. I didn't discover it until 5 or 6 years ago, which was great for me, because there were so many books already available. I have keen memories of being on a business trip to Japan, and reading Deep Wizardry there.

Thanks for commenting! I hope that I'll come up with some other recommendations that you like here, too.

Jay writes...

I also wanted to include the twilight series. Girls in my class absolutely love this series!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Jay, I wouldn't necessarily put the Twilight books on my top 10 list, but I did enjoy them, especially the first one. I thought that Stephenie Meyer did an amazing job giving Forks, WA a sense of place. And I liked the banter between the characters. In fact, I recently re-read the first book, after having seen the movie. And if that's not a recommendation (re-reading a current book), I don't know what is. What else do the kids in your class like?

Georgi writes...


I'm so glad that you mentioned Elizabeth Enright's books. They are treasures that are too often overlooked. I reread the Gone Away books several times a year, and constantly - and unsuccessfully -search for adult titles that would give me that same timeless feeling.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Georgi, it's a pleasure to hear from another Elizabeth Enright fan. I love the Gone Away Lake books SO much. I'm not sure I could come up with an adult recommendation that would give the same feel (Maeve Binchy, maybe? Or Rosamund Pilcher?). But a couple of other modern children's series that I think have at least a hint of a similar feel include Jeanne Birdsall's Penderwicks books (mentioned above), the Casson family series by Hilary McKay, and, for a slightly younger audience, the Piper Reed books by Kimberly Willis Holt. I have reviews of several of these on my blog, indexed here:

I hope that you'll visit Booklights again!

Colleen writes...

I love this list. My son was an early reader too, and it has become harder and harder to find more books for him.

He loved Rick Riordan's series, and he is eagerly awaiting the publication of the 5th book of the series in August. He also loves John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series.

Thanks for the recommendations. I just purchased Lois Lowry's The Giver and Gathering Blue. They look amazing.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks, Colleen! I haven't read the Ranger's Apprentice books, though I know that they're very popular. As I mentioned in another comment above, another series that I've seen a lot of kids really take to is the Gregor the Overlander series, by Suzanne Collins. The last couple of books (there are five) are a bit dark, but they are very well-written. And certainly no darker than The Giver.

Oh, and book 5 of Rick Riordan's series is actually out TODAY. I'll be attending a local signing this weekend.

Good luck keeping your son in books - I'm sure it's a challenge sometimes, but so worth it in the long run.

Colleen writes...

Thank you Jen ... I placed my order from Amazon so long ago. I did not realize that my order was being shipped in August because it was waiting on the release of the latest Apprentice book (which is coming out in August.) I just got off the phone with Amazon to correct that detail. You have made my little boy so happy! Thanks again!

Is that book signing in New York City? My son would be happy to attend a signing with one of his favorite authors.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I'm quite happy to have helped make a little boy happy today, Colleen. That makes me happy. I'm glad you were able to arrange to receive the book. Enjoy it!

The signing that I'm going to is in Menlo Park, CA. Looks like the closest the author will be to you on this tour is May 11 in Huntington, NY and May 12 in CIinton, NJ. His schedule is here: Hope you're able to attend!

Karen writes...

I am very glad to have another resource to use when buying books for my son. Like Colleen, I have son who devours books, has for years, and I am challenged to find appropriate books. He loved the Percy Jackson series (Rick Riordan,I am presently ordering the new one), loved Ranger Apprentice series, City of Ember series, loved the Ender's Game series, and I recently introduced him to the Raymond Fiest's Riftwar Series. It would be great to have more suggestions from parents!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for coming to Booklights, Karen. A son who devours books - what a nice challenge to have to work with.

I would second Missy K's suggestion from above of The Mysterious Benedict Society (and sequel). These are great, engaging mysteries. A fun adventure story that boys often like is Leepike Ridge, by N. D. Wilson. I also like Jenny Nimmo's Charlie Bone series (which has, I think, seven books, so there are lots of options for keeping your son busy). Also the Pendragon series by D. J. McHale, and the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix (she has lots of other fun books, too).

Hope some of those suggestions work for you. And I'm sure that if you stick around at Booklights, there will be lots of suggestions from other parents. Happy reading!

Jennifer, Snapshot writes...

Great list!

I'll have to steer Amanda towards some of these.

I had to laugh at the fact that you own mulitple editions of some.

One of my very favorite children's books (and highly underrated) is Julie Edwards' Mandy. It transported me. I bought a copy at a used bookstore a while ago for Amanda and me, but when I recently came across the same edition I had when I was a kid, I had to get it too!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Yet another kindred spirit moment, Jennifer (the multiple copies thing). I'm only like that about a few books. But for those books, I simply can't pass them up when I run across them, especially in my childhood reading edition.

Of course for your family, Mandy probably has extra resonance, too (Amanda, and all).

Heidi writes...

I just discovered this website and can't say how much I'm enjoying it. I'm a huge children's lit fan and I'm 43!! I just had to chime in on my love for Elizabeth Enright. I think I've read and reread her books well over 20 times in the last 35 years! I can hardly wait until my children are ready to really enjoy them. Likewise, Lucy Maud Montgomery books have had a HUGE influence on my life. I even went to PEI for my honeymoon! (Wasn't my husband sweet to indulge me?) And I sighed aloud when I saw The Velvet Room on your list. I distinctly remember the first time I read it. My cousin introduced me to it and it's become another book I read and reread often. In fact, I'm due for another reading myself.

Two books that I'd love to recommend that are not easy to find are "Black and Blue Magic" also by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and "The Shades" (I'm not sure of the author) and the book isn't handy at the moment.

I also love the "Voices after Midnight" by Richard Peck.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for commenting, Heidi. It's always nice to meet a reading kindred spirit. I adore The Velvet Room. And I like Black and Blue Magic, too, though I haven't re-read it in a long time. I'm not familiar with the other two, though I really must read some Richard Peck one of these days. Anyway, it's lovely to hear from someone who cares for the same books. I'm so glad that you discovered Booklights.

Rebecca writes...

I have always preferred Kiddie Lit over adult books. The characters are passionate & complex, the plots easy to follow, and best of all NO Sex. It irritates me that current Kid Lit is including sex or innuendo at least. Don't they get enough of that elsewhere in their lives? There have been so many excellent MG series over the years that it would be impossible to include them all. I would like to suggest some of the older series like Lloyd Alexander's Land of Prydain series or Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for visiting, Rebecca. I've been reading children's literature for most of my adult life, too (as did my grandmother - she was a bit of a role model for me in this area). I'm not personally seeing a lot of sex in middle grade books, though it is, of course, a topic in young adult, and sometimes tween, books. I think that giving kids a safe place to read and think about things that they're encountering in their lives is one of the important functions of literature.

Anyway, I must confess that I've never read the Prydain series, but it is on my mental list - I have the first book around somewhere. I enjoyed Cooper's books, though they aren't my personal favorites. But I know lots of people who adore them.

Thanks again for visiting Booklights.

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