The Littlest Bookworm

A Mama friend recently asked me to recommend some books for her fifth-grade daughter (who is reading at a ninth-grade level, but the teachers apparently want her to stick with fifth-grade books, which sounds to me like some sort of crime against learning, if not against humanity, but never mind.)

The number one thing that fostered my interest in reading, as a child, was something that is not (I’m sorry to say) very practical for the modern family. And that was this:

We didn’t have a television in the house. Ever. From the time I was born, until I went off to college.

This arrangement posed some minor problems, of course. Whenever we went to a friend’s house, we kids would park ourselves in front of their TV and stare, slack-jawed, as though it were a five-headed creature from another planet. We absolutely could not be pried away from it, for love or money or new bicycles or anything.

The trade-off at home was amazing, though. My brothers and I read and read and read until our eyes went bad, and then we got glasses and kept right on reading. On Saturdays, or during the summer, we sometimes spent all day reading. We developed a love of books that is ferocious to this day.

(This is me, at about five years old, assuming my usual position.)

My own boys have a TV in the house – that’s non-negotiable to my husband, I’m afraid – but I’m hoping they will love books, too. And I am planning to introduce them to some of my childhood favorites, when they are old enough.

Below is a list of some of the stories I loved the most when I was between the third and ninth grades, and if you’re looking for some books for your kids, you can scarcely go wrong with any of these. Most of them are considered classics, and are still in print; the others could easily be found on-line at establishments like Powell’s.

(The nice thing about series books – besides their being very lucrative for the authors, of course – is that kids get hooked on the characters or stories, which makes them more eager to go back to the library and get the next title in the series.)

Series books
Pippi Longstocking series, by Astrid Lindgren
Amelia Bedelia series, by Peggy Parish
Ramona the Pest series, by Beverly Cleary
Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series, by Betty MacDonald
The Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis
The Black Stallion series, by Walter Farley
The Wizard of Oz series, by L. Frank Baum (yes, there is a whole, terrific series of these)
Anne of Green Gables series, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Littles series, by John Peterson
The Five Little Peppers series, by Margaret Sidney

Other Books
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
Stuart Little, by E.B. White
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
The Gifts of the Child Christ, volumes I & II, by George MacDonald
Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann David Wyss
The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell

We owned many other classics, including compilations of Tales of The Arabian Nights (which were a tad ghastly, but wonderful) and Tales From Shakespeare. Such books are an excellent way to introduce those beautiful stories to children.

Giving us access to literature was the best thing our parents did for my brothers and me, next to introducing us to God.

I’m sure my list has left out quite a few great books. What are some of those you loved most, as a child – the ones you want to introduce to your kids? And let me know about any great children’s books from the last 25 years. I am not up-to-date on those!


30 thoughts on “The Littlest Bookworm

  1. As far as a new series goes (new being a relative term), my son LOVES “Hank, The Cowdog” books. They’re silly and especially fun when read in a Texas accent (mine tends toward Okie but he doesn’t know the difference)–in fact, the accent goes over so well that I end up reading his Bible stories in “Hank’s voice”. It’s quite interesting imagining Jesus or Peter being from the deep South, bless their hearts. =0) He also loves Judy Moody and we’re just starting the Henry Huggins/Ramona books.

    As always, thanks for the suggestions!

  2. One of my most vivid memories of my youth is watching you and your brothers staring slack jawed at a tv set…you really could not be pried away. It taught me that I would make sure my kids watched enough tv that they would not be fascinated by it so much when they are in its presence.

    Believe it or not we cannot get Piper interested in the Pippi Longstocking books…yes that is strange I know.

    • Oh my gosh, you make me laugh so hard. YOU were more around the era when Dad would bring home the school’s TV and VCR on the weekends, and we would rent either The Apple Dumpling Gang, or Ladyhawk. Every single weekend.

  3. I love your list Cathy! I would add to it, now that I have boys, the Ralph the Mouse and Henry Hudgins series by Beverly Cleary. We are also on our 2nd time through the Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing/Fudge series by Judy Blume. We’ve enjoyed the Magic Tree House Series. I think that Im looking forward to introducing the Wally McDougle series to them, its Christian and will appeal to their silly sides 🙂 Im on a roll now….my kids LOVED Bunnicula/Howladay Inn/Celery Stalks at Midnight by James Howe. Okay I’ll stop. Not sure at what age its appropriate, or if everyone will even think it is, but Spencer is loving Harry Potter, and its pulled him into reading longer chapeter books.

    • Oh, man, thanks for the suggestions! I’d never heard of any of those new ones. Yeah, I read a lot of Beverly Cleary, too.

      I read the first Harry Potter years ago, and wasn’t as impressed as everyone else was…but I can certainly see why kids would love them!

  4. I love your lists–those titles bring back happy memories of the hours logged, on whatever horizontal surface was not occupied by a sibling, with my nose buried deep.
    My favorite series were “Curious George” and “Ramona The Pest”(which I mostly devoured as a five-seven year old who spent most of the time sick or in the hospital).
    I believe I even read the Wizard of Oz series! Whoo! Good times!

    • Oh, yes, I loved Curious George, too.

      We used to go to the Salem Public Library a lot (this was when it was pretty new) and spend what felt like hours there. They had all those reclining chairs, etc., and I would pretend all the books belonged to me. 🙂

  5. First, I agree with your sentiment in the opening paragraph — a teacher that wants a kid to dumb down their reading to stay with their age group ought to be slapped! Well, maybe not slapped (don’t want to be accused of teacher abuse… I am married to one, you know), but that is just really a stupid attitude for a kid to have.

    I like a lot of your book recommendations, and I do agree with Wendy that Harry Potter is very good for kids at the right age, and the right age changes as you progress through the series. Also, I loved Wrinkle in Time, but it’s not a single book — Madeleine L’Engle has about 4 or 5 total that are all about the same family but focus on different children in each book with completely different time related stories. (Just recently found out about the 5th book — the collection can be found as a boxed set at Costco.)

    I also like some of the detective type stories when I was a kid, but my kid’s look at them like they’re dated now and don’t get into them. The Harby Boys of course is on that list, but there was also a family of kids called “the Happy Hollisters” with 5 kids that solved mysteries together (I think they were geared younger than the Hardy Boys). My favorite kid mystery series though was “Jupiter Jones and the Three Investigators”, a teenage mystery set that was actually pretty detailed (though nothing like a Harry Potter). The mystery of the stuttering parrot — “to-to-to be or not to-to-to be, that is the question” — got me going on those. (Turns out that 222B was an address involved in a clue…. trivia that sticks…..)

    Fun stuff. Ok, I guess I am a reader after all. A reader stuck in a fast paced society where I really don’t have time to read like I’d like…..

    • I really out to read what I right before I post…. The Harby Boys? And it was the teacher with a stupid attitude, not the kid…. Dohhh!

    • Oh I forgot about the Hardy Boys! We’ve read them outloud to the boys, at least the ones we have. Need to start checking them out now. Also, the Boxcar Children!

    • See, you ARE a reader!
      I read the Hardy boys, too, and more Nancy Drew…I forgot about her. I’ve never heard of Jupiter Jones!

      I read several of Madeleine’s books, although I can’t remember which ones. I don’t think I knew there were 5, though.

      I LOVE that so many of these books are still in print!!

  6. I’m so proud that Jordan and I are already reading so many that you listed!! Yay!! But I had completely forgotten about Pipi Longstocking. How did this happen!?!? I’m honestly considering going to the library immediately after work/school and checking one out. It’s raining here and there isn’t much else to do anyway before I head off to the gym tonight!!

  7. I hope this does not get thrown! I homeschool my children and I love this list. Love it! My kids loved all the books by Patricia St. John, which isn’t on your list (Tanglewoods Secret, Twice Freed, Star of Light, etc). I never used to like books .I hated reading. Hated it. It was so boring to me. So when I became a home school parent 5 1/2 years ago now, I started reading all the classics with my kids. Books like the Little House series (watched this show all the time as a kid), Heidi, the St. John’s books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s web, and so many more I can’t name here. I feel like I’m getting an education all over again. These are books I never even read in school so you can imagine what kind of world this has opened me up too. I love books now and I love reading, especially to my kids because I get to relive it all through them.

    • You did not get thrown! Yeah! Maybe you fixed the gremlins. 🙂

      I am not familiar with the St. John’s books…maybe those are from the last 20-30 years? I am so glad you love reading now. It’s funny…I NEVER used to like to read out loud, because it slowed me down too much; but I honestly love reading out loud to my boys, and can’t wait until they’re old enough for the George MacDonald books. (If you haven’t read those, please do so! C.S. Lewis called MacDonald his “master.”)

      So glad I finally found you!

  8. Far as I’m concerned, Pippi Longstocking was the first feminist. At least in my life. Her books were eye-opening for me and I really do view them as being, for me, one of the more influential series of books.

    You posted a great list of titles. You can hardly go wrong.

    • Yvette! I was honestly thinking about you last night…thinking I needed to pop in and see how you’re doing!

      I loved Pippi so much. Almost think I need to go re-read her. ‘Cept this darn un-read stack keeps growing…


  9. I agree with your brother about the picture. I HAVE to have a copy!!! Also I am making copies of the list of books, to give to all my teachers and the many parents who ask me. what should my kid read?
    Just finnished the Mind of a fighter ( got it in the air port) . No I have not read Unbroken, I can’t find any place that has it (sold out)
    dad, who loves you so much, and you are still as cute as the picture when you where five

  10. Can we still be friends if I admit that I’ve only read one book on this list? I read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” I think in 4th grade. It’s one of my all time favorite movies as well. The original with Gene Wilder…not that atrocity with Johnny Depp.

  11. The hardest part about picking 9th grade reading level books for 5th graders is the content. But u did well. I teach 5th grade (tech) and what they understand about the world in 5th grade is miles from the big picture they’ve developed by 9th.

    • Hi Jacqui! Thanks so much for coming by, and for commenting.

      Yeah, I can understand that. I was always reading above my “grade level,” and there were a LOT of things that probably flew right over my head (like l’Engle’s stuff), but I still loved reading them. I would love to have the time to go back and read some of those books NOW, with my adult perspective. Maybe someday!

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