For the Love of Books (And 5 Books I Hope My Kids Will Read)

Throughout October, we’re going to periodically talk about books because
a) books are rad and b) we’re raising funds for a 5 Kids ComeUnity project, A Girl With A Book,
which will put books in the hands of Kindergarten through
Second Grader boys and girls at Title 1 (high poverty rate) elementary schools.
To learn more and to join our effort, please see A Girl With A Book.

My aunt and uncle kept The Joy of Sex low on a bookshelf in their old Portland home. I found it when I was 11. My cousin, who was 12, and I surreptitiously slipped it off the shelf, stuffed it in my shirt, and tore up the long, wooden staircase — clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp — to her bedroom to pour over the detailed drawings with our eyes wide and our hands over our giggling mouths. We were very sneaky, and no doubt our parents didn’t suspect a thing. 

I’m not sure our giddy, shocked delight was the kind of joy the author had in mind when he wrote the book, but, truly, the title delivered. At any rate, The Joy of Sex was, in my preadolescent mind, a much better book than Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Too Afraid to Ask, which my parents kept low on a bookshelf at our house, because Everything You Always Wanted to Know didn’t include any pictures at all and, therefore, was definitely not everything I always wanted to know.

I found Clan of the Cave Bears on my grandmother’s bookshelf when I was in high school. I took it home for safekeeping because my sweet grandmother shouldn’t have access to that kind of trash. That kind of awesome, awesome trash. Eventually, I had to steal the entire series of books from her. For her safety. 

I’m a giver.

Or a taker.

Same same.

Regardless, books opened whole worlds to me, and not just the mildly naughty or nefarious worlds. No; books were my friends. My educators. My confidants. My escape. My solace. My sighs of relief. My open doors. My welcoming arms. My constant companions. 

Ah, books. How I love you.

Books taught me I’m not alone, that stories can set us free, and to look for the wild, weird places inside us because those are paths that teach us grace and lead us to each other and help us find our way home together. 

Books taught me to look for the magic in the hidden places. And to long for the Village. And to believe my people are out there, too. 

So, to honor the books, and to promote books for others, and to steal book ideas from you for my kids, and to pay penance for stealing my grandma’s Clan of the Cave Bears series (which I eventually returned) (a little more dog-earred in certain sections, but whatever), I’d like to share with you my 5 favorite books as a kid.


5 Favorite Books From My Childhood
I Hope My Kids Will Read


ALittlePrincess1. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgsen Burnett

“Whatever comes,” she said, “cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.”

“Perhaps to be able to learn things quickly isn’t everything. To be kind is worth a great deal to other people…Lots of clever people have done harm and have been wicked.” 


endersgame2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

“Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.” 

“I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not “true” because we’re hungry for another kind of truth: the mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about someone who lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about oneself.” From the Introduction 


narnia3. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

“All shall be done, but it may be harder than you think.” 

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.” 


4. PrincessGoblinThe Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

“Seeing is not believing – it is only seeing.” 

“People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less. I doubt if you would have believed it all yourself if you hadn’t seen some of it.” 

“It was foolish indeed – thus to run farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in at his leisure; but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.” 


5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

WrinkleinTime“Wild nights are my glory!” 

“We do not know what things look like, as you say,” the beast said. “We know what things are like. It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing.”

“But a planet can also become dark because of “too strong a desire for security … the greatest evil there is.” Meg resists her father’s analysis. What’s wrong with wanting to be safe? Mr. Murry insists that “lust for security” forces false choices and a panicked search for safety and conformity. This reminded me that my grandmother would get very annoyed when anyone would talk about “the power of love.” Love, she insisted, is not power, which she considered always coercive. To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.” – Madeleine L’Engle on A Wrinkle in Time


Your turn! I’m assembling a list of books for my 8-to-12 year old kids to read.
What’s one of your favorite childhood books… and why do you love it?
Also, because it makes me giggle, what books did you sneak off a bookshelf? 😉



P.S. THANK YOU so very much to those of you who’ve already donated to A Girl With A Book! 

So far, we’ve raised $998, enough to benefit one Title 1 school! I’m so proud of us! ESPECIALLY because we’re seeking many, small donations of $5, $10 or $15, which is both harder and awesomer because it requires greater involvement from our whole, amazing community. Please consider joining our effort by 1) making a donation of any size and 2) sharing the campaign with others. Together, we can make a difference in the life of a kid. Because a kid with a book is a powerful thing.

P.P.S. Thank you, too, to Chapters Books and Coffee, the independent, family-owned book store partnering with our 5 Kids ComeUnity on the Girl With A Book project. 

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. I have to second “true confessions of Charlotte Doyle”‘by Avi – one of my favorite books ever. And I loved the dark is rising series by Susan cooper. And Anne Rinaldi does great things with historical fiction (as does Scott Odell of course).

    I didn’t have to sneak books because as a latchkey kid, no one was paying attention. I got to say, I wish they were because Mary Queen of Scott’s, and Mists of Avalon are WAY too much for an 11 year old. But now I have an avid reading 7 year old, and I’m trying to keep ahead of his book choices.

  2. Well I could go on and on with this topic, but a few I hope my kids will read are Anne of Green Gables, From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Hatchet, Ballet Shoes, James and the Giant Peach and I have to throw in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. I love your list equally Beth!!

    1. Oh, and as for why, the above list are books I’ve read multiple times and appreciate them more each time. As for sneaky, I was also a devoted sneaky reader of Clan of the Cave Bear. I also flew by myself for the first time when I was nine and used my souvenir money to buy my mom a copy of Danielle Steel’s latest novel which I promptly read on the flight home.

    2. Definitely second the mixed-up files of mrs. basil e. fr….

  3. I still frequently read Heidi, Summer of the Monkeys, and Where the Red Fern Grows.

  4. oh,how could i forget the Bluford High series???!!!They are amazing kids books & each have a different theme tho they are all connected & interesting enough to keep an adult entertained,seriously Beth check em out for your kids.The Gun is a personal favorite tho it made me cry.The books deal with bullying & bringing guns to school besides other big issues

  5. ok,i have a few that are classics.Watership Down,its a long one but it is for kids,though its kind of grown up.Another would be Sounder,if you could find it.Another is Island of the Blue Dolphins.I am seconding the Giver .Also Flowers for Algernon,also kind of grown up.However,my 11 year old has read all of these.Oh also For One More Day by Mitch Albom,again,a grown up book but quite short with a great message.I never had to sneak a book,i was the lone reader of my family.I am happy to say all 3 of mine are readers though

  6. I was about 13 when I walked in on my mom and one of her friends having what must have been an “adult conversation.” The friend stopped talking as soon as I entered the room. My mom said, “Oh, don’t stop because Wendy’s here. She’s read all the Clan of the Cave Bear books.” We had them in the house because my dad had done a story on Jean Auel (local author!), but I read faster than my mom, so she was unaware of how sexy they were until after I’d read them! I also used to sneak read my dad’s dirty spy novels and was HORRIFIED to find out about oral sex. I also used to housesit for our neighbors who did not bother putting away their Joy of Sex or their Playboy magazines. All in all, for a kid who didn’t have a TV and went to church every Sunday, I sure found a lot of smut! Yet I survived.

    Many of my favorites have already been mentioned, but there are always more: “Bargain Bride” and other Evelyn SIbley Lampman stuff are great Oregon historical novels; Kate Seredy’s “The Good Master” and “The Singing Tree” are amazing; I loved “Wild Animals I Have Known” by Edward Seton, even though it turns out his stuff is more fictional than he let on, “Trumpet of the Swan” is my OTHER favorite E.B. White novel; anything by E. Nesbit or Edward Eager are fun, Joan Aiken’s “Wolves of Willoughby Chase” series is exciting–she has some delightfully creepy stuff for YA readers too–Lloyd Alexander has great fantasy; “Diamond in the Window” was the first in a series of somewhat magical adventures of siblings living in Concord, Mass, Paddington Bear, and after I got bored with Nancy Drew, I still enjoyed Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators series and Trixie Belden, although it seems they both would be dated now.

    For older readers, and more modern titles…well, I teach middle school language arts, and I have 267 books on my YA shelf in Goodreads!

    1. oh man, I forgot my other favorite local authors–Gentle Ben by Walt Mowry and the Earthsea Trilogy (and much else) by Ursula Le Guin–more for middle school.

  7. Roald Dahl (anything of his)
    Chronicles of Narnia
    The Hobbit

    So many more…

  8. There are so many good books out there, how to choose…. Thankfully others have mentioned some of my favorites, so I will add only a few: the rest of the All-of-Kind-Family series by Sydney Taylor, Henry Huggins, Homer Price, Frindle (by Andrew Clements–I discovered his books as an adult and have already read some aloud to my son–they rock), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Island of the Blue Dolphins, My Father’s Dragon (and sequels), From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,
    The Phantom Tollbooth, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (for the upper-ages), Fudge, The Family Under the Bridge, Maniac Magee….Ok, I have to stop. I could go on forever. I love books, and reading and rereading children’s and YA lit is one of my best ways to relax. They give my mind a break and they’re short enough to finish quickly. 🙂

    Your twins might like Lost and Found by Andrew Clements, though maybe when they’re closer to 9. It’s about twin boys and their need to be identified as themselves, not as part of the twins.

    1. Oh! I love your list! What a great collection! The only thing I would change is that instead of just Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I would say anything and everything by Roald Dahl.

  9. As an adult, while getting my masters in elementary Ed , I read “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech. I have saved a copy for my (now 22 month old ) twins to read. It is one of the only books that made me laugh out loud and the first book ever to make me cry. It is written from the perspective of a 13 year old girl so, maybe it isn’t right for an 8 year old, but definitely before your kids turn 14.

    1. I’m just now remembering that while their is a lighthearted tone to the book there is an underlying theme of loss and grieving ….maybe read it before giving it to your kid if you are sensitive about exposing them to heavy topics. It is so good.

      1. *there. Oops.

  10. Three of my favs!! Enders Game is on my latest list (I saw the movie and LOVED IT) but I’ve never heard of The Princess and the Goblin. I’ll have to check it out. Yay books! Any child of mine will grow up with Harry Potter and the gang, for sure. I’m also a fan of Junie B Jones – so fun! – and Kate DiCamillo. Books in general are my favorite thing and I’m thankful for parents who kept all kinds of (well, maybe not ALL kinds – they certainly didn’t have The Joy of Sex lying around) around the house for me to read and enjoy.

  11. I’ve read three of your five! I love anything by Lois Lowry, the Giver in particular was one that has stuck with me since high school. I just recently discovered it’s the first of a series and the whole box set is now on my wish list! I’m not sure it’s appropriate for 8 year olds, but maybe for 12 year olds. 🙂

    Oh, and there was a book hidden in my mother’s underwear/sock drawer. I have no idea how I found it other than perhaps because I was borrowing socks. Yeah, I read most of that one although I can’t remember much other than that it was supposedly a Christian book so it was pretty tame, but there was also reference to spending time with a “quiet vagina”, which pretty much meant the guy was supposed to calm down. I’m still laughing about that one! (and the book disappeared after a few months…)

    1. I just read The Giver for the first time last week. I was in tears. I loved how she was able to express things without being pedantic. I wept at the end.

  12. So, even though “The Joy of Sex” and “The Clan of the Cave Bear” enhanced and enlightened your teenage years, they’re not on your recommended reading list?
    Not to mention anything by Judy Blume (such as “Forever” which always fell open to page 117), or the “Flowers in the Attic” books? Or even my friend’s older sister’s copy of ‘My Secret Garden’ by Nancy Friday?

    And let me not forget a personal favorite of my adolescence: “The Eye of the Needle” by Ken Follett, which I read at age 13 and was the first book I ever read in which the G-Spot was a significant plot device…and I hadn’t even known there WAS such a thing.

    Well, if you’re keeping it squeaky clean, there’s ‘Little Women’. I didn’t read it until I was an adult (because it was a ‘girl’ book), but then I couldn’t put it down. I’ve got to admit, Jo rocks. And I even teared up when you-know-what-happens to you-know-who.

  13. I think that is the age when The Boxcar Children were amazing. Also I’m a fan of Little House, but not Little Women because I almost threw that stupid book across the room when the guy said the two totally opposite girls just “changed places in his heart”. Bullshit. Not howthat works.

    I didn’t sneak them, but iI do hide them when I read the Kushiel series. Oh my god, so good.

  14. I will agree with all the books (and series) mentioned in Beth’s post, and with those who mentioned Harry Potter, The Giver, The Graveyard Book, Charlotte’s Web, Ramona Quimby, and Anne of Green Gables. I loved the Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery. I loved mysteries, like Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Harriet the Spy, Cam Jansen, and Encyclopedia Brown. The Little Prince is a classic. For the horse obsessed, there’s Black Beauty, and anything by Marguerite Henry.

    1. Excellent booklist! LOVED the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. Just never took to The Little Prince: it always felt too much like a book adults wanted children to love.

  15. Hmmmm. I used to read every single Glamour magazine that I could get when I went to my aunt’s house because there was a section about sex in it. I also read True Confessions when I went to a friend’s house because her parent’s owned a store that had magazines. I read any trashy romance novel I could get my hands on. Sigh.
    For ages 8-12, I read all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series. My girl likes to read Dear Diary and Dear America series. Lois Lowery’s books are good. Books by Cynthia Voight.

  16. Thumbs up for all five of Beth’s choices! My favorites:

    Read when 7-10 years:
    The Twenty-One Balloons
    All of a Kind Family
    The Four Story Mistake
    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series
    The Boxcar Children series
    The Five Little Peppers
    Half Magic

    Read at 10-12 years:
    Dragonsong / Dragonsinger
    Witch of Blackbird Pond
    The Blue Sword
    Watership Down
    The Hobbit
    The Chronicles of Prydain
    The Dark is Rising series

    Read when I was 35-45, but supposed to be for kids:
    Sabriel trilogy
    anything by Melina Marchetta
    The Graveyard Book
    Dealing with Dragons

  17. […] is one of Mary’s favorite places too and we happily escape there for hours at a time. P.S. Beth over at Five Kids Is a Lot of Kids is reflecting about books this month at her blog and inviting you to participate in the A Girl With […]

  18. Holes, by Louis Sachar, and The Giver, by Lois Lowry, are way up there for me. I read them both before turning 12, so I’m sure they count.

    Also, Harry Potter. So much Harry Potter. (although I’m still not sure about what’s appropriate for 8- to 12-year-olds in that series. The first three for sure, though.)

    I have two sneaking book stories, although one wasn’t snuck.

    1. I read all of my books and had started on my mom’s. I decided to grab an easy-looking paperback when I was about 12 or 13. I wasn’t fascinated by sex at that age (it still grossed me out), so I ended up skipping a few choice passages, and giving it back with a confession that I read it and skipped parts.

    2. The summer before I turned 21, I was on a cruise with my family, including my long-widowed grandmother. I was reading some hard sci-fi my then-boyfriend (now husband) had recommended, and finished before the cruise was over. “You can read my book next” my grandma told me, and handed over a paperback with a shirtless, chiseled man in a kilt on the cover. I flipped it open randomly to verify my suspicions. The passage I opened to removed all doubt. I handed it back. Reading that kind of book after my grandmother recommended it just seemed… wrong. Those are the books you’re supposed to sneak.

    1. After reading other comments, I would like to second Roald Dahl and Tuck Everlasting.

    2. This made me laugh! I can’t imagine a grandmother suggesting a book like that unless you had a very unique relationship with her, which it doesn’t sound like you did!

      1. We’re close, but not quite THAT close.

        Although this is also the grandmother who told me she appreciated my then-boyfriend now-husband because she always liked a man with chest hair.

  19. The Ramona Quimby series is one of my faves – I love how Ramona is REAL. Cleary is great at writing stories that feel like they were written by a kid, full of misadventures and adults who don’t understand. Really, all of her books are great for younger kids.

    For kids who are a little older, but not quite ready for YA novels, Lois Lowry is a great author. She did the Anastasia Krupnik series, which is funny. She also wrote Number The Stars and The Giver, which are two of my all-time favorite books from the 5th/6th grade era. They’re a little more mature in subject matter (Nazis and utopian society, respectively), but written appropriately for that age group and are fascinating stories.

    Last, but not least, Judy Blume. Superfudge, Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing, Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret. ‘Nough said. 🙂

  20. “I found Clan of the Cave Bears on my grandmother’s bookshelf when I was in high school. I took it home for safekeeping because my sweet grandmother shouldn’t have access to that kind of trash. That kind of awesome, awesome trash. Eventually, I had to steal the entire series of books from her. For her safety.”

    Oh, those books <3 funnily enough I have a similar story. I got that out of the school library when I was 12, when I usually carried a novel around with my schoolbooks. My eccentric, very Catholic Latin teacher saw it on my desk and warned me I shouldn't be reading it because of how profane and explicit it was (or something along those lines.) I hadn't started reading it yet, but needless to say I dashed home after school and dove straight into it!

    I loved Roald Dahl, Noel Streatfeild and Enid Blyton books when I was a kid, as well as any books about dancing. I have very fond memories of Dahl in particular – every year my mum used to slip a book into my stocking to keep me quiet and in bed for longer on Christmas morning. They always gave me a huuuge bar of Dairy Milk chocolate for Christmas too, which was an treat in the family back then, and I still love the memory of lying on my bed by the radiator in my new Christmas pyjamas, reading my new book and nibbling chocolate while it rained outside.

    1. I also loved the 6 books in the Anne of Green Gables series, the Little Women books, Heidi (which still makes me cry) and the What Katy Did series, particularly the later books (Clover and Elsie were so feminist and frankly badass!)

  21. I recently showed my kids (8, 4 and 3) the movie version of The Secret Garden, and much to my surprise, they wanted to watch it again the next night! Chapter books we have read aloud include the Pippi Longstocking books and Charlotte’s Web. We are going to try the book of The Secret Garden, but I think it may be a bit too wordy just yet. I would also suggest The Giver, anything else by Madeleine L’Engle, and Gerald Morris’s Squire’s Tale series. Bridge to Terabithia. Tuck Everlasting. Stone Fox. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. Coville’s My Teacher is an Alien series (when we discover that the reason the human race is in such disconnect and turmoil, is that TV was introduced by a well-meaning alien way before we were ready for it). The Midwife’s Apprentice. Baby (Patricia MacLachlan). Struggling to stop now…sorry, you inadvertently asked a librarian:)

  22. The Secret Garden and the Little House on the Prairie series. In fact, I just recently won a “discussion” with my husband about why I would not part with said set of books leftover from my childhood, which our boys will never read but our niece might. I offered to allow her to borrow one book at a time as I do want to share my love of these books but have trouble risking the loss of all of them at once. I have always gone back to reread these and few others during times of distress and like knowing they are quietly waiting there.

  23. I used to get into trouble for reading TOO much– I am not even sure that is a thing. My parents were readers but they got their chores done first. I would be hidden in the basement, up a tree, or behind the clothes in the closet so people would just let me read. Our school librarian LOVED me. From the time I was in 6th grade her “haven” was my haven. I had first dibs on ever new book she bought. She even let ME take them out of the box they were delivered in so I was the very first person to touch them. I still love books– they are in every room in my house (because I can’t make myself give them away when I am done).
    I stopped reading for fun when I was working on my Masters and NOW I am ready to read for FUN, LOVE, and ESCAPE again!

    1. This was totally me, too, Denise! My mom used to yell at me to put my books down during family meals. Books were my solace, my friends, and my comfort. They still are…

      I loved the Little House on the Prairie books, as well as Ramona Quimby. I also love anything by Kate DiCamillo (I almost cried reading “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” aloud to my second-grade class) or Lois Lowry. And, of course, Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter! For what is life with magic and mystery?

  24. Have any suggestions for my almost 6 year old twins. I so want to start reading them chapter books but don’t know where to start. I loved goosebump books at that age.

    1. magic treehouse series is fun to read to them and gradually letting them take over as their reading skills improve.

      1. And you get can a lot of The Magic Treehouse on CD from the library so when the predictable plot and dialogue makes you want to rip your hair out, you can just put on a CD. I don’t know why, but kids love the Magic Treehouse.

        Similar idea is the A to Z mysteries.

    2. Junie B Jones books were a favorite of my kids starting in Kindergarten through about 2nd grade.

    3. Princess Pigsty, the Paperbag Princess, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

    4. My kids love The Boxcar Children series. You can read those easily to them and there aren’t too many chapters in each book.

  25. My all-time favorite book from when I read it for the first time in fourth grade up through today is Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s a beautiful blend of appeal to both adults and children, as it’s both a book about talking rabbits, and a book of catastrophe, survival and intrigue.

    I also highly recommend glancing over Amazon’s 100 Children’s Books to Read in a Lifetime: It reminded me of so many books I loved as a child and inspired me to read others.

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