Recommendations for the Deuce

A reader with the binary name of ‘the Deuce’ writes:


Here’s something right up your alley. I’d love to see a list of books you’d recommend to read with ones kids for this purpose [of inculcating proper and worthy emotional reactions], at different stages in their growth. I’ve got a baby boy (pictured), and looking around at this rot, I know I’m going to need all the help I can get.

Let me jot down a short list of what I have read to the boys that I enjoyed reading, which I think taught a right message, or at least did not teach a wrong one.

Let me recommend everything by Dr Seuss, except for THE BUTTER BATTLE BOOK, and THE LORAX, which I regard as grotesque propaganda.

Dr Seuss is a genius, sparkling with wit and imagination, and, best of all, as a grown-up you will not get weary rereading and rereading him. (In case you do not know yet, children have much more stamina than grown-ups, and do not weary of hearing the same thing endlessly repeated.)

The morals of Seuss are always simple and solid: don’t be as stubborn as the Zax, for example, but be as stubborn as Marco fishing at McElligot’s Pool. Always pick up after yourself as the Cat in the Hat. Be as true to your word as Horton the Elephant, but not as generous as Thidwick the Moose. If you err, as did King Derwin of Didd, say you’re sorry. Be imaginative. Be creative. Go beyond Z.

For slightly older, let me recommend any of the Oz books by L Frank Baum, with the exception of the first one, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, which I think is inferior in quality. The books are charming, endlessly inventive, but there is nothing in them to shock or scandalize child or parent. Dorothy never acts ‘edgy’ or even disrespectful.

The moral of Oz is one so often repeated in our day it has become overused and even corrupt, but, nonetheless, it is still a good one: judge men not by their outward appearances and oddities.

In the same category I put CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series.

The morals in Lewis work on several levels, both plain and subtle, and he deals with the kind of things most children’s books shy away from, such a treason and death. Prydain is a solidly crafted series, and the heroes are shown as possessing the typical boyscout virtues of being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, and so on.

I will also recommend a sadly overlooked gem of a book by Carol Kendall called THE GAMMAGE CUP. I had liked it as a child, but, upon rereading, I thought it a superior work of craftsmanship.

Again the theme hardly needs repeating in our modern times, but the book is a paean to non-conformity, but also a warning against complacency. Sometimes old enemies do appear again. In this book you can read about my hero and idol, Walter the Earl, the quixotic antiquarian of Slipper-on-the-Water.

Older yet, I enjoyed reading the short stories of Bertrand R. Brinley in THE MAD SCIENTIST’S CLUB.

These scientifically minded kids of the Club are slightly less honest than boyscouts, since they frankly are pranksters, and the grownups in the stories are usually comedy relief and figures of fun, but all stories them emphasize hard work and inventiveness, and the boys have an old fashioned decency I find refreshing.

I was very pleasantly surprised that my boys at a young age could follow and understand both A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Dickens and TREASURE ISLAND by Stevenson.

I was disappointed that when I read them DOCTOR DOLITTLE by Hugh Lofting, they seemed uninterested.

I was disappointed that when I tried reading A WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET by Eleanor Cameron, I found the work to be of such inferior quality that I did not finish it. It was the opposite of my experience with the Carol Kendall. I may give the sequels a try, though, since I am sure my memory of how good they were cannot be that wrong, or my taste as a child that bad.

When they reached the age they could read for themselves, I continued to read to them at bedtime, it being nearly the only time I have to see them all day. My crowning moment as a Father was when I read to them A PRINCESS OF MARS, and so my boys have been exposed to science fiction, and will never be muggles again.

The moral of A PRINCESS OF MARS, of course, is that true love conquers all; not even the wide abyss of interplanetary space can keep true hearts apart, nor death itself; and that you should kill anyone standing between you and your princess with a longsword or radium pistol.

And to keep your word, and to know that even men who seem to be monsters, like Tars Tarkas, can be faithful friends if treated kindly and nobly.

Currently I am reading SKYLARK OF SPACE by E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, and I think the moral of that story is always double check your figures with a slide-rule.

Let me ask any reader who would care to comment, what stories for children of various ages portray examples of the proper moral and emotional reactions children should learn, to love the lovely and hate the hateful, to admire what is fair and flee what is foul? (Don’t suggest any books where vampires or other blood-sucking undead are portrayed as romantic.)


  1. Comment by Mary:

    Eleanor Cameron’s other books, such as Court of the Stone Children, lasted better than the Mushroom Planet books for me. Court is about correcting the historical record about a long-dead man, accused of murder, and a girl learning to like her new home and find her vocation in a museum.

    Norman Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth is about the importance of learning and effort.

    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

      Consider this a second for Phantom Tollbooth, and firsts for The Sword in the Stone and A Wrinkle in Time (and two of its three sequels).

      • Comment by Nostreculsus:

        A mild dissent on “The Phantom Tollbooth”. I did not care for the book when it was assigned in school. My mum tells me I also did not much like the Alice in Wonderland books. Both Norman Juster and Lewis Carroll rely on wordplay and a certain type of whimsy which many children do not enjoy.

  2. Comment by Joseph M (was Ishmael Alighieri):

    Those are good.

    Tolkien, of course. Our kids’ ages span 12 years, which occasioned reading Tolkien to them several times at different ages, which is very good. Morally, LotR covers the gamut pretty well.

    Watership Downs. Great starting point for political discussions. And great investigation into motives and personality.

    One a little different: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. This is my favorite Lewis, read to the kids when they were older. One of the best portrayals of a completely heroic and sympathetic character making a grave spiritual error, a sin of pride, and how it all works out for worse and better. There was a passage where the Fox, the Greek tutor-slave, apologizes for doing something that the Queen had also just done that elicited an audible ‘Oooh!’ from the kids in a moist gratifying way.

  3. Comment by Peony Moss:

    Board-book level: Birthday Monsters, by Sandra Boynton. Birthday Monsters throw a surprise party and then clean it all up. Her other books are good too.

    For older toddlers and preschoolers:

    The classic Little Golden Books are treasures. Look for Scuffy the Tugboat; Tootle; The Little Red Hen; Richard Scarry’s The Bunny Book and Good Night Little Bear

    ANYTHING by Richard Scarry, especially What Do People Do All Day? which is an excellent introduction to economics. (In the Farmer Alfalfa grows a crop, keeps some of it for himself to eat, and takes the rest to town to sell. He takes uses the money he’s earned to buy supplies for his family, including a new tractor so he can grow even more next year; now the blacksmith and the tailor have money to buy things for their families…..) Bonus if you can lay hands on unabridged early editions. They’re hard to find, though, because they have usually been loved to shreds or handed down in families.

    The picture books of Tomie de Paola. Watch out for The Clown of God, you’ll want tissues at the ready.

    For early grades:

    The Mrs Piggle-Wiggle books – Mrs Piggle Wiggle gives her never-fail advice to parents on curing their childrens’ bad habits.

    The Wind in the Willows.

    Edward Eager’s Half Magic

    Charlotte’s Web

    • Comment by Mary:

      And But Not the Hippotamus. Such a marvelous book. I have a cousin who was helping her sister look after her children, and one small niece would continually ask her to read a book — this book. The cousin still liked it.

  4. Comment by lampwright:

    John didn’t mention Narnia, but he has read those to the kids. I’ve read them: A Cricket In Time Square, Phantom Tollbooth, Carbonel, Kingdom of Carbonel, Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and a lot of Rick Riordan books.

    • Comment by Tom Simon:

      Oh, I do hope they liked The Phantom Tollbooth.

      I’ve never had children, of course, but I have been a child, and still remember it vividly, especially including the horrible bits that most people seem to forget; so perhaps that qualifies me to make suggestions.

      I read Tollbooth and the Prydain books when I was 10; an unusually bright 10-year-old, but not particularly precocious in terms of literary taste, so I think that’s a roughly appropriate age for those books. At the same age I was moved and enchanted by John Christopher’s Tripod trilogy, the moral of which is, Illegitimi non caporandum — Don’t let the (*ahem*) Cap you!

      (For those who have not read the books, the Cap was a mind-controlling skullcap with which the alien overlords fitted their human slaves at puberty, to destroy childlike curiosity and independent thought and other undesirable things. Even at that age, I could see that many of the adults I knew had gone horribly wrong in the head somehow, and had accepted the effects of the Cap without actually having the technology or the alien overlords.)

      Heinlein’s Scribner juveniles are as red meat and strong beer, bearing in mind that unlike strong beer, they do not stunt the young brain or rot the young liver, and are therefore deserving of approbation. My particular favourites were and still are The Star Beast (in spite of the hero’s unfortunate name, which Heinlein chose specifically to show that he could get an obvious dirty pun past his editor, a puritanically dirty-minded Freudian shrew) and Tunnel in the Sky. The latter is a wonderful prophylactic against the evil effects of Lord of the Flies, which, almost certainly, the Deuce’s boy will be forced to read at school. In fact, I consider it one of the foundational works of modern political philosophy, and an invaluable introduction to the bedrock principles underlying American conservatism; and yet it is also a wonderfully entertaining and gripping adventure story. Heinlein knew his onions in those days.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I did mention Narnia. CS Lewis wrote Narnia.

      • Comment by Tom Simon:

        By the way, Sir, I should like very much to ask you about a point of what one might call literary tactics. It would perhaps be best, if you agreed to participate in such a conversation, if it did not happen through private messages on LiveJournal, which can go astray (and have been known to randomly disappear from the archives). I should be most obliged if you sent me a message at tomsimon (you know what symbol) bondwine (you know what punctuation mark) com.

        Yr obdt svt, etc.

  5. Comment by Darrell:

    An even dozen authors and their books. I will lead with the greatest children’s novel of them all and then put the others in alphabetical order by author.

    01. Wyss, Johann David: The Swiss Family Robinson
    02. Alexander, Lloyd: The Chronicles of Prydain
    03. Appleton, Victor: The Tom Swift books
    04. Arthur, Robert: The Three Investigators books
    05. Carroll, Lewis: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
    06. DiCamillo, Kate: The Tale of Desperaux
    07. Harris, Joel Chandler: Uncle Remus His Songs and Sayings and Nights with Uncle Remus.
    08. O’Brien, Robert C: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
    09. L’Engle, Madeleine: A Wrinkle in Time
    10. Norton, Mary: The Borrowers
    11. Tolkien, J.R.R.: The Hobbit
    12. Wilder, Laura Ingalls: The Little House series

    • Comment by Tom Simon:

      I strongly second the recommendations of The Borrowers, The Hobbit, and A Wrinkle in Time. And Alice, of course. Through the Looking-Glass is even better, partly because it is more of a story — it gives Alice something to do, instead of simply inflicting a lot of insane characters and situations upon her. The jokes and conundrums are sharper, too.

  6. Comment by JaneMercer:

    Fairy Tales! And Myths! And Legends!

    Specifically the ones retold for children by Roger Lancelyn Green. He had an excellent way with words and was friends with C.S. Lewis.

  7. Comment by jawats:

    Mr. Wright:

    You did not mention Tolkien, nor his works. Was there some reason you do not feel him to be appropriate for younger readers / listeners, or was it that he is so obvious as to hardly need mention?


    • Comment by John C Wright:

      It was because I think Tolkien is too difficult for my kids. Your mileage may vary. I read THE HOBBIT too soon, when my youngest was too young to take it in. Now, of course, my eldest is listening to the trilogy it on recording.

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Dear Mr. Wright:

        I agree Tolkien’s major works might be too difficult for some children. I think THE HOBBIT could be read or listened to with pleasure/profit after about age ten. But THE LORD OF THE RINGS is an adult novel best read for the first time by most around ages 14/15. And that is even more true with THE SILMARILLION and THE CHILDREN OF HURIN.

        But, have you tried FARMER GILES OF HAM for your children? I think many at or just below age ten would like it. And possibly ROVERANDOM (altho I’ve not read it).

        Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  8. Comment by drfuzz:

    I remember when I made a big discovery as a reader, about age 10 or 11 – most of the Newberry Award books were well worth reading. Not all of them interested me, but many of them did. I’ll admit, I often preferred other books by these authors than the award winners.

    Some of the writer’s I found this way:

    Armstrong Sperry – “Call it Courage”
    Robert Lawson – “Rabbit Hill”, “The Great Wheel”, “Captain Kidd’s Cat”
    William Pène du Bois – “The Twenty One Balloons” (especially recommended)

    and many others I don’t remember off hand. I suspect may of the ones Darrell listed above are Newberry award winners.

    I will note that I found the later Mushroom planet books better than the first, but I suspect the only reason I read them was because I would have read anything that was Science Fiction.

    It does seem to be hard to find a lot of the admittedly cheesy SF juveniles I read so much of in those days… not sure if that’s necessarily a bad thing.

    I second the Wizard of Oz books

    • Comment by Tom Simon:

      It is perhaps worth pointing out that in later years, the Newbery Awards were more or less taken over by the Filboid Studge school of critics. They began giving the award to drearily pseudo-realistic books about Real Life Issues and Kids in Alternative Family Situations coping with Genuine Traumas; or so I’ve been told. ‘Life sucks and then your parents get divorced’ is, perhaps, not the message that the Deuce wishes to instil in the Deuce, Jr. So I would be wary of giving the Newbery winners carte blanche.

    • Comment by Darrell:

      I wasn’t aware that many of the books that I listed are Newberry Award winners though it doesn’t surprise me. I don’t recall my parents ever reading to me so several of the books in my list (and many that aren’t) were introduced to me by elementary school teachers and I recall both A Wrinkle in Time and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH having Newberry Award symbols on the covers.

      It saddens me to hear that the Newberry Award has become devalued over the years as it has always had a soft spot in my heart — and it didn’t hurt that my childhood optician was named Dr. Newberry!

      I read The Hobbit in the 4th grade and it is the book that made me fall in love with fantasy and I don’t recall having been so taken with a novel until I read Dune in 10th grade. Though I read the LoTR books in the 5th and 6th grades it was mostly to “finish the story” and I would put the novels down for weeks and months at a time when I got to the “boring” parts. I was even less impressed when I got the Similarion for Christmas in the 7th grade and didn’t finish it for many years. All of that to say, I believe Tolkien’s books are best read across a much broader age range than I tried — maybe The Hobbit for late elementary school, LoTR for junior high (middle school), and the Similarion for high school.

    • Comment by drfuzz:

      I should have added the caveat of my time frame – I was 10 in 1968, so many or all of the early books were still available (with all the now-unacceptable social stereotypes intact) in local and school libraries. It doesn’t surprise me that it has devolved over the years since – but it does make me sad.

  9. Comment by paul.griffin:

    Off the top of my head:
    -“The Princess and the Goblin”, “The Princess and Curdie”, and “At the Back of the North Wind” by George MacDonald.
    -Doyle, especially Sherlock, was and is a favorite of mine.
    -“Fahrenheit 451”.
    -Any and all Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology

    I’m sure there is plenty more, but this is what comes immediately to mind that has not already been mentioned.

  10. Comment by bear545:

    I would add Aesops fables, The Little Engine That Could, Little Red Hen- the real one, not the one where the hen relents and shares with the others, believing they have changed. A decent children’s bible, if you can find one, would also be good. Bulfinch’s mythology too,

  11. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    Well, you could always try the “Biggles” books for boys.
    Another useful rule of thumb is to check the date of publication. If it was written before 1950, it may not be any good, but it probably won’t do the kids any harm.

  12. Comment by Alan Silverman:

    I found Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee to be a fairly influential book in my youth, especially because I was in a school that was half-white and half-black. There are some parts some parents might find questionable, though I seem to recall them largely being to point out their ridiculousness. But it has been a large number of years since I’ve read it.

    I’m also fond of Goodnight Moon, but that might be a bit young for what you’re talking about :)

  13. Comment by sophiewise:

    Bulfinch’s The Age of Fable
    The Children’s Plutarch
    anything by E. Nesbit
    Robinson Crusoe
    Swiss Family Robinson
    Fifty Famous Stories Retold
    Understood Betsy
    The Children’s Aesop
    and books about Camelot and Robin Hood by Howard Pyle and Roger
    Lancelyn Green

  14. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Wright and “The Deuce”:

    I agreed with most of the suggestions made above. At least the ones concerning books I’ve read. It’s been many many years since I read them, but Eleanor Cameron’s “Mushroom Planet” books pleased me as a boy. Maybe others would care to comment?

    I also recommend Rudyard Kipling’s two JUNGLE BOOKS, CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS, and possibly STALKY AND COMPANY. But these books might most profitably be read by boys (and girls) after reaching at least age ten. My view and belief is Kipling honored and advocated all genuine and manly virtues.

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  15. Comment by Rob Corrigan:

    I loved the Prydain series you mention above as a kid.
    Bulfinch’s Mythology is another good read that will stay with them.

  16. Comment by Peony Moss:

    The Great Brain series by John Dennis Fitzgerald – also very good

  17. Comment by Christopher:

    Nearly all else, regarding Tolkien, Lewis, Kipling, has been mentioned.

    1. Beowulf, a morality centred upon faith and Trust in God. (Language maybe a bit difficult given it being Old English).

    2. Hillarie Belloc’s Cautionary Verses (made especially for children with an Orthodox Catholic morality).

    Anyone have any thoughts on Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit?

    God Bless.

  18. Comment by joeclark77:

    My oldest is 19 months so we really aren’t appreciating books much lately (any one seems as good as another) but I thought it might be worth sharing with you all a link to a 1979 article by Russell Kirk recently republished at Crisis Magazine. It has a good long list of books and reasoning about why children should read them:

  19. Comment by Raphael:

    My son and daughter are four and two, respectively, so I can’t offer much advice beyond that point.

    For board books, yes, Sandra Boynton is quite good, and usually pretty funny. Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, the Big Red Barn, etc.), is also good. We also have a religious board book, called The Saving Name of God the Son or something like that, illustrated with Fra Angelico paintings. It’s like a pictoral catechism. The kids liked it quite a lot. We used to take it to mass.

    For picture books, I second the recommendation of Richard Scarry. Personal favorite: Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, a truly awesome, gigantic book chock-full of the kinds of vehicle illustrations that boys love, with humorous sub-plots (Dingo Dog!) and hundreds of little critters so wide-eyed and happy that they must be tripped out. (Side note: Scarry always makes his butchers pigs, and seems to delight in drawing hams and salamis in the background. And there are farmer pigs standing upright and wearing overalls, with naked animal-pigs standing on all fours in their pens. Creepy!)

    My kids also love the Babar books, especially Babar the King. They have very particular tastes, and seem to like slightly bizarre stories with substance, told in a straightforward style, treating of adult themes (such as the erection of a model city by socialist elephants in central Africa), with big, bright illustrations that are easy to interpret and not too pretty.

    The classic Golden books are generally pretty good, too. Scuffy the Tugboat, the Pokey Little Puppy, the Shy Little Kitten, etc. My daughter especially likes them.

    We’ve read the first three Little House books to my four-year-old. They’re definitely not just for girls. He loves them. He likes to pretend to be Pa, a good model for manly virtue. He also likes Aesop’s Fables quite a lot. Usually I paraphrase as I read so that the words are at his level. Ditto for fairy tales, which I get out of Andrew Lang. He seems to prefer the kinds that involve slaying giants and dragons. He also likes ones involving talking cats, e.g., The White Cat and The Master Cat.

    There are so many dreadful fairy tale picture books out there that I’ve given up on them. I just tell them myself. Personally, I recommend getting some Andrew Lang books, reducing a few good stories to bullet points, and memorizing them. Then you can tell embroider them while on walks, or driving in the car, or giving baths, or getting them to stop screeching like banshees at the dinner table, or whatever.

  20. Comment by momofthree:

    Farley Mowat people! Two Against the North for a sixth or seventh grader. Such a book.

    Soup by Robert Newton Peck

    How about The Dark is Rising by Cooper?

  21. Comment by Mrmandias:

    The Great Brain books, by FitzGerald

    Little House in the Big Woods boosk, by Wilder

  22. Comment by Mrmandias:

    The Mad Scientist Club books.

  23. Comment by CPE Gaebler:

    I remember Redwall was good; all about brave woodland critters using both military might and cleverness to defend their home from vicious invaders. I stopped reading after the fourth book, though… it seemed like the first two books were interesting stories, but books 3 and 4 were just rehashes of books 1 and 2 respectively with nothing particularly interesting or new about them.

    • Comment by Pierce O.:

      I read all of the Redwall books up through HIGH RHULAIN during my early teens (the first time I tried one I was too young, and years passed before I rediscovered the series). I think the best ones were all the ones that occur chronologically before REDWALL, plus THE PEARLS OF LUTRA, THE LONG PATROL, MARLFOX, and RAKKETY TAM. RAKKETY TAM is a favourite of mine, as it’s hero is a Highlander squirrel mercenary and it’s villain is a wolverine emperor from the North. My younger brother who has read them more recently recommends:

  24. Comment by Stacie:

    Wow. I agree with so many suggestions on this page!

    For small people we like many of the books from the Five in a Row reading lists. These are homeschool curriculum that use classic picture books like Madeline, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Make Way for Ducklings, & Harold and the Purple Crayon.

    For the younger set we also like the Big Bear & Little Bear books by Martin Waddell and books by Margaret Bloy Graham. We’re also fond of Frog and Toad and Owl at Home (the early readers by Arnold Lobel).

    My older kids (boys) liked the John Bellairs books. Spooky. They also enjoy the whole Redwall series, as well as Jacques’ The Castaways of the Flying Dutchman books.

    The Eddie Dickens trilogy by Philip Ardagh was entertaining. We listened to those on CD on a car trip once, read by the author I believe.

    These are more for girls but the All of a Kind Family books are nice, as are the Betsy-Tacy books, not to mention Anne of Green Gables.

    And that’s enough out of me!

  25. Comment by Mary:

    The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

  26. Comment by Pierce O.:

    I will also recommend a sadly overlooked gem of a book by Carol Kendall called THE GAMMAGE CUP. I had liked it as a child, but, upon rereading, I thought it a superior work of craftsmanship.

    Have you read the sequel, THE WHISPER OF GLOCKEN? I enjoyed it as much as the first book, with the exception of a scene that seemed to mock the former book’s heroes, though upon rereading it it looks like the author was trying to portray how the wet-behind-the-ears heroes viewed the old guard. Also, a warning to parents: THE GAMMAGE CUP is a gateway book to other obscure gems of fantasy literature. Before you know it you’ll have a rebellious teenager devouring THE WORM OUROBOROS.

    Also, Mr. Wright, do you think THE WORLD OF NULL-A or STARSHIP TROOPERS would be suitable for older children? I cannot recall any objectionable material in either.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Also, Mr. Wright, do you think THE WORLD OF NULL-A or STARSHIP TROOPERS would be suitable for older children? I cannot recall any objectionable material in either.

      It depends on the child and the age. They are thoroughly secular, therefore lack balance, but I don’t recall anything immoral or scandalous in either.

  27. Comment by Pierce O.:

    First, I am happy to report that my younger brother just finished reading WARLORD OF MARS, and was upset by the changes inflicted upon the incomparable Dejah Thoris in the film of A PRINCESS OF MARS. He is both looking forward to sequel films while dreading the changes that will have to be made to accommodate Xena Thoris. As to my own suggestions, I would recommend classical mythology and poetry when the kid’s are older. I recall with pleasure being read good children’s versions of ‘The Labors of Hercules’ and THE ODDYSEY as a child, as well as a prose version of BEOWULF and a few passages from Dante’s INFERNO. I also enjoyed THE HERO AND THE CROWN by Robin McKinley, and the first three of Ursula K. LeGuin’s EARTHSEA books (any Taoist messages went straight over my head). The DELTORA QUEST books are all also very enjoyable, and feature a lot of fun riddles. I will also second (third? fourth?) any recommendations for THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, the Prydain chronicles, and A WRINKLE IN TIME and its sequels. Departing from fantasy, Elizabeth Enright’s GONE-AWAY LAKE and RETURN TO GONE-AWAY are wonderful books, and the only ones I’ve seen to capture the same kind of magic-in-the-ordinary wonder as the films of Hayao Miyazaki.

    • Comment by Nostreculsus:

      And to mention Miyazaki is to mention Diane Wynne Jones, who wrote “Howl’s Moving Castle”. Her stories mix humour with fantasy. For example, the novel “Deep Secret” involves various magical creatures crashing a science-fiction convention.

      The initial question was to list books which inculcate virtues. Wynne Jones’s protagonists are notable for their fidelity to their duty.

      Also consider Lucy Boston’s Green Knowe books, which teach a respect for the past and tradition. Julian Fellowes based his movie “From Time to Time” on them.

      At the opposite pole from all this fantasy is Erich Kaestner’s “Emil and the Detectives” and its sequel “Emil and the Three Twins”. Kaestner’s kids show courage, ingenuity and organization.

  28. Comment by Sandy Petersen:

    No one has mentioned my second favorite children’s author of all time (after Seuss) — Tove Jansson, and her Moomintroll books. These works (8 of them) are short, easy to read, hilarious, and packed with adventure and amazingly strong (and funny) characters. The illustrations (also by Ms. Jansson) are excellent as well.

    The Moomintrolls are the single best-known children’s series in Finland, but apparently have not traveled much abroad, except to Japan. They are available in excellent English editions and I recommend them without reservation.

    Jansson has created an entire alternate landscape, above the arctic circle, filled with creatures such as Hemulens, Fillyjonks, Hattifatteners, and the eponymous Moomins. All have vibrant and distinctive traits, and deserve a place in the pantheon of weird creatures alongside the Sneetches, the Tharks, and Gurgi.

  29. Comment by robertjwizard:

    I remember greatly enjoying the Encyclopedia Brown series when I was a kid. I recall them being good clean fun that also required thinking on your part as there was always some inconsistency or misinformation somewhere within the story that was there for you to find. If you couldn’t, Brown would reveal it at the back of the book.

    I haven’t read one in over thirty years, but if memory serves, they are great kids books.

  30. Comment by Pierce O.:

    The old HARDY BOYS books were great as well. I read the Grosset & Dunlap (blue spine, hardback) versions and enjoyed them very much as a kid. Apparently they are heavily revised from the original however, so I do not know if it would be worth trying to find the originals instead. According to Wikipedia, a lot of good prose was lost, along with a rather cynical view of the government and police (at what age children should learn that the government and police can be corrupt I do not know, but I enjoyed the good cops in the versions I read). On the other hand, lots of racial stereotyping was jettisoned as well, and given that the revision was mostly sparked by 11 years worth of letters from parents complaining about the stereotyping, it does not look like this was PC knee-jerking to phantom racism.

  31. Comment by Stephen J.:

    Somebody else who has heard of the MAD SCIENTISTS’ CLUB stories! I got a book of those stories when I was 12 (“The New Adventures Of”) and it was one of my favourite books all through adolescence. The priceless auction scene where Freddy and Dinky underbid each other to buy the old one-man sub remains a touchstone of written comedy for me.

    For me, a classic kids’ adventure fantasy book I have to recommend is an almost forgotten novel called THE HERO FROM OTHERWHERE, by Jay Williams, one half of the writing team of the DANNY DUNN books (which I also recommend). It was one of the first books for me that even before Tolkien taught me that fantasy has to have a sense of reality and “normal” human character to work really well, and it’s a great book about the idea that people who are very different can nonetheless form fast friendships under fire — it’s all about courage, and overcoming original misperceptions, and forgiveness, and not giving up. Plus it uses a lot of Norse myth tropes very nicely, in ways that will encourage the exploration of the historical myths later on.

  32. Comment by lotdw:

    My primary suggestion, though it’s only kind of a book – CALVIN AND HOBBES!

    For the YA reader, Jacob Have I Loved is very good, even for boys. I also recommend Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, good for their BSA-like spirit of independence and love of the wilderness. John Christopher’s Tripod series and Sword of the Spirits series are good. The Twenty-one Balloons by William Pène du Bois is great. I like a lot of Roald Dahl, especially The Witches and The BFG, though some have issues with his books. Many of these won the Newberry.

    I have to second much of what others said, especially –

    JRR Tolkien (I read The Hobbit at 8 and LotR at 9 and was obsessed for life)
    Lloyd Alexander (Prydain’s the best, but I liked his Westmark series too, though it’s for kids 2-3 years older)
    Susan Cooper
    Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, as well as The Blue Sword
    John Bellairs (get the ones with the Gorey covers/illustrations)
    Richard O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
    Redwall series, books 1-3
    Greek Mythology – D’Aulaire’s or Bulfinch for the younger ones, Edith Hamilton for the older

    • Comment by Nostreculsus:

      If “Calvin and Hobbes” gets a shout-out. what about the Tintin stories by Herge? “Le Monde” has a list of the 100 greatest books of the prior century. There at number 18, we find “The Blue Lotus”.

      Billions of blue, blistering barnacles, it should be at number two! (Or, to be precise, at the second place, number two, so as to accommodate “Lord of the Rings”.) To be precise.

      Ah, beauty past compare, these jewels of literature.

      • Comment by Pierce O.:

        If comics are fair game it would be remiss of me to not recommend David Petersen’s MOUSE GUARD and Ben Hatke’s ZITA THE SPACEGIRL. The latter must be commended for it’s endearing, active heroine. Jeff Smith’s BONE would also be excellent reading for any kids 12 and up. Looking to the East, YOTSUBA&! is a delightful slice-of-life comic about friendship and the wonder of the ordinary. Tezuka’s ASTRO BOY stories are also great, and have a lot of tales about defeating racism (err, robotism. Seriously, a lot of the stories only make sense if you replace the robots with blacks or Jews or another group that was genuinely oppressed back in Tezuka’s time). POKEMON ADVENTURES is another good comic. It takes all the things that were good about the tv show (friendship, sportsmanship, loyalty, seeing others as people instead of tools, good vs. evil, etc.) and puts them into far better written stories that actually allow the characters to develop and make clever uses of their monster friends’ powers.

  33. Comment by MintaMarieMorze:

    These are all books that I think haven’t been mentioned yet, some works of courage, loyalty, honor, decency, challenge, virtue, filled with heroes and heroines, no “four-letter” words, and so forth. I read them all for the first time—except where the author was still writing beyond that year—before I was 12 (before 1962) and as I remember there was nothing a kid shouldn’t read in them, even the ones for adults, such as the Dorothy Sayers, etc. They are all books you can enjoy throughout your life, and though they may sound dated, they are still making shows and movies about them, because they are excellent stories. I loved them. A kid could do far worse.

    Please note that where the book was made into a movie, I’m talking about the book here, which is often quite different from the movie.

    Mark Twain (all, including A Connecticut Yankee and The Prince and the Pauper, A Tramp Abroad, etc.)
    Zane Grey (westerns)
    Alistair MacLean (adventure)
    Helen MacInnes (adventure stories with conservative values)
    Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan, SciFi, etc.)
    P.G. Wodehouse (All his books, not just the Jeeves ones. If your kid likes them, introduce them to Gilbert & Sullivan operettas)
    Thomas B. Costain (The Black Rose, The Silver Chalice, Below the Salt, etc., along with his serious histories, like the Plantagenet books)
    Jane Austen
    Rod Serling
    Georgette Heyer
    Walter Farley (The Black Stallion books)
    Louisa May Alcott (Little Women, Little Men)

    Adult mysteries a kid can read as well (even though some are dated, they are still good mysteries): Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Erle Stanley Gardner (aka A. A. Fair, etc.), Rex Stout, Manning Coles, Leslie Charteris, Mary Stewart, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, P.D. James.

    Single memorable books:
    King of the Wind
    Mig O’ the Moor
    Shane (Jack Schaefer)
    Black Beauty
    The Mudlark (Theodore Bonnet)
    A Bell for Adano (John Hersey)
    The Prisoner of Zenda (Anthony Hope)
    The Great Impersonation (Edward Phillips Oppenheim)

    For High School kids, along with good fiction and the usual classics, think about these authors not usually mentioned:
    Eric Hoffer (many titles, not just The True Believer)
    Ayn Rand (both the fictions and the many non-fiction books)
    Victor Frankl
    Czeslaw Milosz (esp. The Captive Mind)
    Jacques Barzun
    Thomas Sowell

  34. Comment by donnaroyston:

    The Mary Poppins books have not been mentioned yet.

  35. Comment by Carbonel:

    “I mean, the West represents a lot of the best things mankind ever did–that’s why the fire is still burning. That’s why Olympus is still around. But sometimes you just see the bad stuff, you know? And you start thinking the way Luke does, ‘If I could tear this all down, I would do it better.’ Don’t you ever feel that way? Like you could do a better job if you ran the world?”

    “Um… no. Me running the world would be a kind of nightmare.”

    “Then you’re lucky. Hubris isn’t your fatal flaw.”

    Quietly inoculating young minds against the worst features of progressivism since 2005: Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Book 1: The Lightning Thief

    You’re welcome.

  36. Comment by donnaroyston:

    Forgot to mention Philip Reeve’s Larklight and the two follow-up novels, Starcross and Mothstorm. Great for reading aloud, I would think, plus wonderful illustrations. They are delightful to adults as well.

    Also, there is the series by Garth Nix, if no one has mentioned it: Mr. Monday, Grim Tuesday, and so forth. I have only read the first two, so I can’t speak for the whole series. But what I’ve read is good. Interestingly, each book has a villain who operates under one of the seven deadly sins–sloth, greed, so far, and I guess the rest continue that way. These would be best for children a couple years older than the Reeve books. They’re still middle grade, at least as far as the Fairfax Library is concerned in terms of what section the books are shelved in. They’re not young adult, I mean.

  37. Comment by CPE Gaebler:

    Oh yeah! I certainly recommend “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart. It’s about a group of kids who are all exceptional in entirely different ways who go on a dangerous and important mission to save the world. All about loyalty and friendship and courage. And the bad guy is all about world domination through inculcating kids with propaganda (propaganda which always seemed vaguely Leftist somehow) and broadcasting paranoia into peoples’ heads. Great adventure story with strong moral character.

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