In my previous post, “Brains on Fire: On Kids and Reading,” I recommended an article by James Patterson on that very topic. At the end of that article, Patterson included a list of his favorite books for kids, and it inspired me to make my own list of recommendations.
A couple of Patterson’s choices may well have made it to my list, but I’m going to leave them off to avoid redundancy. For the record, I love Charlotte’s Web and To Kill A Mockingbird with all my reader’s heart.
There is one book on his list that I’m going to include in spite of the redundancy, simply because I can’t not put it on my list.
These are in no particular order. They’re all great. And clicking on one’s title will take you right to its page on Amazon.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury
As I’ve written before, Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn” triggered my epiphany as a kid that I wanted to be a professional author. This novel, originally written, oddly enough, in 1955 as a screenplay for Gene Kelly that didn’t get filmed, is not just one of my favorite books for kids, it’s one of my absolute favorite books period. A masterpiece of darkness and poetry, it tells the tale of two boys and their frightening encounters with a sinister traveling carnival. This is the only book that I love so much I’ve refused to ever see the movie made of it simply because I didn’t want to have the images in my head replaced with those from the screen.
by Peter Straub
Though published as a book for grown ups, this tale of boys and magic and dark faerie tales is ideal for advanced readers. A boy invites his prep school chum for a vacation at Shadowland, his magician uncle’s strange estate in Vermont. Shall we say that things happen? Shall we say that things are never the same? We shall. A classic.
On Stranger Tides
by Tim Powers
Years before Jack Sparrow staggered into port on a sinking skiff, Tim Powers gave us the gift of a rousing swashbuckler of a pirate novel spiced with voodoo, zombies, and a Blackbeard infested with ghosts. This book has the distinction of being the one book on my shelf for years that I consciously planned to read to my kid when I eventually had one. And I did.
The Wee Free Men
by Terry Pratchett
Along with Pratchett’s A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith, this is the story of Tiffany Aching, nine year old aspiring witch, whose little brother gets snatched by the Queen of Faerie. Tiffany heads out to rescue him, aided by a diminutive rabble of brawling, drunken, profane, little blue men, the Scottish fairies called the Nac Mac Feegles. Marvelous comedy, wonderfully written, and one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.
The Princess Bride
by William Goldman
The great postmodern swashbuckling fairy tale, an epic screwball comedy, made into a beloved film, but full of even more wonders in its original form. Buttercup, Westley, the Dread Pirate Roberts, giants, Rats of Unusual Size, astonishing sword fights, rescues, returns from the dead, love that never dies…this book is sheer concentrated wonder.
The Golden Compass
by Philip Pullman
This is the book that Patterson listed, but that I’m compelled to include anyway. When I first read it, I was dumbstruck not just at how damn good it is, but at how incredibly sophisticated it is. This was a kids book? Actually, this was a book for any reader seeking high adventure and smart ideas, an incredibly rich, inventive fantasy story that zooms by at high speed but also explores some deep philosophical terrain. And, it has armored talking polar bears. Armored talking polar bears!
I also recommend kids get their hands on some of the great pulp adventure tales, particularly the Doc Savage stories by Kenneth Robeson. I wrote about them, with a few Amazon links, in an earlier post, A Smorgasbord of Adventure.