Kidlit for Grownups

17 Dec

There’s a great thread on Boardgamegeek at the moment about children’s “classics” that are still good for adult readers. One poster makes the excellent point that, while many of us look back nostalgically on those books, we may not have read them to/with our own children.

Since I have a little time (waiting for Otto to fall asleep), I’ve gone through the list (so far) and annotated them – and have added my own suggestions at the end. (Warning: There are around 80 titles – this is not a short post!)

Other people’s suggestions

The Wind in the Willows – while I know the story, it’s not a book that I remember being super-keen on. This one goes onto the To-Be-(re-)Read (TBR) list.

Peter Pan – If memory serves, this was when we realised that the Bigster really knew how to read. Read by me, read by her, enjoyed by both. And if anyone ever sees a copy of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, please remember that I possibly saw it first. Or asked first, at least.

Black Beauty – read this as a child, it never really grabbed me. Apparently the “horse phase” mostly passed me by. Have never considered looking it up for the Bigster but probably should. Into the For-Biggie-List (FBL).

Little House on the Prairie – Bought the full series of these after Biggie fell in love with the first. She read the first couple, but then I censored them after I realised that the third or so debunked the whole Santa story (and it would be Wrong to read them out of order). At this point, I think I could get them out again. FBL.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – read and loved by me. Not sure about the Bigster. FBL, just in case.

Through the Looking Glass – ditto. FBL.

Brothers Grimm stories – she’s read many of these, as have I.

Oz series – she started on these around the same time as she read Peter Pan, or a little after. They’re not a series that I’d go back to (I read them when I was 7 or 8) but the Bigster liked the ones we had.

Pippi Longstocking – oh, Pippi Longstocking. I had Pippi goes aboard for years with no idea that there was anything else to be read about Pippi. Later, I made up for that. The Bigster has devoured them, and even Otto has enjoyed some Pippi, thanks to a new edition featuring the wonderful art of Lauren Child.

Chronicles of Narnia – duh. Me, Bigster, Fraser. Not Otto (yet) although she has seen parts of the Bigster’s DVDs.

Tom Sawyer – I read this at some stage. It wasn’t something I feel a need to go back to. Bigster might enjoy it. FBL?

Huckleberry Finn – ditto. FBL?

Treasure Island – ditto. Bigster may have already read this. FBL?

Kidnapped – more of the same. FBL?

Charlotte’s Web – oh yes. She loved the book, and loved the recent movie. This isn’t one that I’d choose to go back and read for myself, though.

The Phantom Tollbooth – oh how I loved this! My mum gave it to Biggie a year or so ago and she’s shown no interest in it. Maybe we should take it with us to the beach and give it a second go? FBL.

The Westing Game – never heard of it. TBR.

A Wrinkle in Time – I remember loving this, but have never had any urge to go back and re-read. Weird. TBR/FBL.

The Jungle Book – started this a couple of times and it just didn’t grab me.

Winnie the Pooh – Oh, Winnie the Pooh, how I have loved thee. I have no idea whether the Bigster has read the story of Edward Bear from cover to cover but I might have to stand over her with a whip until she does. Or, errm, gently encourage her to do so. FBL. And for me too, I would read this over and over and over. TBR.

The House at Pooh Corner – ditto. FBL/TBR.

When we were very young and Now we are six didn’t get a mention over there, but they should have – we actually read these before we read Winnie the Pooh. King John was not a good man, Alexander Beetle, They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace – they belong in our hearts. Otto is particularly keen on the bears and the squares and we often recite it when we are out walking. TBR always. and FBL. and I don’t think I have a FOL (For Otto List) yet.

The Hobbit – Bigster is just the right age for this. She will love, love, love it, too. FBL. Did I mention that we are headed (as of Friday) into six weeks of Summer holidays? That include two weeks at a beach house with no TV?

The Neverending Story – of course, to be read in the original German.  Get the multi-coloured hardback, not the black and white paperback. I remember walking home from the school bus with my head in this book, unwilling to put it down even to get home faster. FBL. TBR? There should probably be a FFL list too for Fraser – this came out somewhat too late for him. Somewhere I also have a copy of Momo that I was given by the teacher I had in Germany when I visited for 8 weeks. TBR as well 🙂

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – oh yes. I know I have read this, I don’t remember it at all. FBL/TBR.

The Borrowers – I read a Borrowers novel just recently (saw it in a  second hand pile for $2 at my tram stop a couple of weeks ago) and thought how good it would be for the Bigster. I don’t remember reading any of these as a child, though. 

A Wizard of Earthsea – see notes on A Wrinkle in Time.  TBR/FBL

Stig of the Dump – wow, I thought mine was the only family that read Stig –  and then I saw a reference to it in a novel just this week. I found this online a couple of years ago and the Bigster lapped it up, even taking it to school for the teacher to read.

Robinson Crusoe – wasn’t something I ever got into.

Just William – I read a couple of these, including one that had been presented as a textbook for ?Hungarian? children learning English. Not something that was such an integral part of my childhood that I absolutely must share them with my kids, although I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid them either. 

Biggles – meh. I think Fraser may have thoughts on these.

Molesworth – I may have read one of these? They never really affected me.

Swallows and Amazons – oh now this is a classic. TBR/FBL

Watership Down – an aunt gave this to me for Christmas the year I was eight or nine. I read some of it  and was left cold. Then I saw the movie which was dark and strange and a bit scary. Maybe I would enjoy it as an adult, but it wasn’t a treat as a child.

The Yearing – never heard of it. Should I TBR it?

Johnny Tremain – ooo this is by Esther someone, isn’t it? Another that I really don’t remember, except for a general feeling of goodness. TBR.FBL.

The King’s Fifth – never heard of it. Tell me more?

Little Women – the Bigster is probably old enough to appreciate this now – another for the summer reading list. FBL/TBR

Robin Hood – is there a definitive Robin Hood? We have read Robin Hood stories, not sure whether we have read “THE” Robin Hood.

The Borribles – not one that I read. FBL?

King Arthur and his Knights – again, what is the definitive King Arthur story these days? I bought one for the Bigster a few years ago, because she was reading Arthurian derivative fiction and I felt she should read the originals, but they were too much for her and so I didn’t push (see Watership Down). Perhaps we should try again? FBL

Ivanhoe – I have never read this. Should I?

1001 Arabian Nights – Definitive version? FBL

Whitefang –  what is this?

Lost in the Barrens – don’t know

Jacob Two Two and the Hooded Fang – the name seems familiar but I don’t think I ever read it.

Tarzan series – was I just too much of a girly girl for these?

Tom Swift – never read it

Flash Gordon – nope. I did watch the short-lived TV series though, because I wanted to be Just Like Flash Gordon’s girlfriend (Wilma? No, she was a Flintstone … the one that the little robot whistled at, anyway)

Where the Wild Things Are – read with the Bigster. Otto tends to be scared, so this has never been a good choice. It’s not one that I would choose to sit and read, as an adult.

Kidnapped – wasn’t a story I was ever interested in. FBL?

Rags to Riches – don’t know it

Where the Red Fern Grows – don’t know it

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – wonderful story, although I don’t think it’s one that I’d be likely to arbitrarily choose to read myself. Bigster loved it too, as she has loved most of Roald Dahl’s novels.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – I know this as a film not as a novel. Blush.

James and the Giant Peach – pretty sure Bigster read this one at school. Like Charlie, not something I’d pull out for myself.

The Secret Garden – oh wonderful, wonderful book. TBR because it must have been a couple of years now. Bigster adores it too.

The Chronicles of Prydain – in another weird coincidence, I was in a bookstore on Sunday fondling these and telling the store owner that I’d just been thinking they’d be good for the Bigster. I have my old copies – the first three in ?pocket Lions? and the last two in a larger size. Sadly, The Dark Cauldron is missing and must be replaced as this is not a series to read out of order. I must re-read them ahead of the Bigster so I can discuss them when she wants to. Memory is that I really didn’t like one of the books – maybe the fourth? TBR/FBL.

Jacob have I loved – heard of this, never read it. This might be the opportunity. TBR.

Island of the blue dolphins – I remember loving this and repeatedly borrowing it from the school library, although I have no idea any more what it was about. TBR/FBL?

Nancy Drew – Bigster loves these. I just picked one up yesterday, when I wasn’t feeling well, as a bit of light entertainment. Let’s see what I think.

And now, my additions to the list.

Anne of Green Gables – could this be the best book ever? I don’t think it would be unusual to confess that I have been head-over-heels in love with Gilbert Blythe since I was nine years old, and have never seen any reason to break that link. How delighted was I to discover that one of my best girlfriends loves this book as much as I do, and that she actually visited Green  Gables this year! I must try this again with the Bigster – she really wants to read it, but seems to be put off early. Maybe it is a reading-together book? FBL. TBR because I re-read it a couple of times a year. really.

The Magic Pudding – it’s been a long time, and it should not have been. TBR. Maybe FBL.

Frances series – the most adorable fictional ?badger? ever. Have read and loved these with both my girls. I bought the books before I had kids, though.

Eloise – Ditto. If ever I go to New York, I will go and have Afternoon Tea at the Plaza with my girls and we will be Rawther Good. And if ever I have a turtle, he will be called Skipperdee. I always wished I was brave enough to be as naughty as Eloise. TBR because a girl can never have enough Eloise in her life. FBL and FOL for the same reason.

Madeline series – “In an old house in Paris that was covered  in vines” – of all the places I visited this year, and all the obscure literary references I could make, this was the one that really came back to me as I wandered around. TBR, FBL and FOL because, once again, a girl can never have enough little girls in two straight lines.

Half Magic (e.g. by Edward Eager) – another series that I sought out, half-remembered. I still loved them, they fell very very flat with the Bigster. Must try again. FBL?

The Green Knowe series – I think Auntie gave one of these to Biggie a couple of years ago. I remember loving them, but think I was probably about 10 when I read them. Maybe try them again? FBL?

Carrie’s War  – there was a wonderful TV adaptation of this shown a couple of years ago, so we took the opportunity to read it with Biggie. Not something I think I’d read for me, but definitely a wonderful book for her.

Ballet Shoes – bought this recently (hmm, was it last Christmas?) to add to the “classics” shelf. Not sure whether she has read it. I did and found it surprisingly enjoyable. Doubt I would re-read, though. FBL.

The Famous Five – Biggie has read them all. I could be tempted.

The Phoenix and the Carpet – why are there no other novels by E.Nesbit on the list? Five Children and It is another that is just a mandatory read. I am pretty sure the Bigster has read it but must give her a poke – she really is at an ideal age for these. The Railway Children would be particularly good in a  non-fantasy line – I have the DVD of the English TV adaptation of it starring Jenny Agutter (which always makes me, as a fan of Coupling, giggle). I re-read these a year or two ago and they really hold up well to repeated reading, even as an adult. Definitely high on the FBL, and if she takes them to the beach and I run out of books … well … that would be convenient.

101 Dalmations – A delightful story that might even suit Otto already. Biggie has read and enjoyed. I re-read The Starlight Barking and was surprised by the overt religious elements which I completely overlooked as a child. They’re unlikely to bother my little heathens.

Tom’s Midnight Garden – well this is a mandatory read isn’t it. Not super exciting for an adult but definitely readable, and a great story for children. I know Biggie has read it but she might enjoy a re-read – will suggest it. FBL.

The Wishing Chair – Not one for adults, but the children will adore it. Biggie has been through them already and Otto has had at least one Wishing Chair book read to her. FOL.

The Magic Faraway Tree – not sure which of these Otto has read. We read these to Biggie every night for at least a year and probably more like three. FOL.

A Traveller in Time – I saw this recently and picked it up. Had a chance to re-read and couldn’t put it down. FBL.

Catweazle – FBL. And TBR. I have the series on DVD, too.

A pink velvet room – this was one I read as a child and loved. In retrospect, I think there were all sorts of class and possibly race issues that I completely overlooked because I was so sunk in the idea of having a pink velvet reading room. I’d like to re-read and see whether it was as compelling as I remember. TBR.

From the mixed-up files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler – oh, this stands up as an adult. Of course, Biggie had a special reason for feeling a connection to this book, but she loved it too. I remember giggling over the scene where Claudia and Jamie “bathe” in the wishing fountain, collecting the coins to pay for their lunch and dinner. I’d completely forgotten the end. TBR regularly.

Over Sea, Under Stone and the rest of the The dark is rising series – Finally set the Bigster loose on these last year. How she loved them! She quoted the poems for the various books, analysed them, even prepared a PowerPoint presentation for her class on the magic of The Dark Is Rising – during school holidays!

Ordinary Jack – actually, I think the first in this series might be Absolute Zero. Whatever. I need to find them so my kids can read them.

Finn Family Moomintroll – I just bought this entire series for the Bigster to read. I know she read at least the first, but suspect she was distracted by Trixie Belden. TBR. FBL, even if I have to tie her up. (yes, I know, she will hate it if I force her to read it.)

A Bear Called Paddington – I went and visited him at Paddington Station on October 3rd. TBR. FBL. FOL. FFL.

The Wombles – so hard to find the chapter books, but they are just a delight. TBR. FBL. FOL.

I should stop now.


Posted by on December 17, 2008 in books, children


13 responses to “Kidlit for Grownups

  1. Andyl

    December 18, 2008 at 12:18 am

    On the Borribles.

    Firstly there have some mild swearing in (for example there is a visiting German Borrible who uses ‘Verdammt’ a lot) and a bit of violence. One should also be familiar with the Wombles and Peter Pan before reading The Borribles as well.

    If you are looking for more recent suggestions then may I recommend Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. I would say it is probably aimed at the 9-12 age group but it is one I bought in hardcover to read myself and enjoyed immensely.

  2. Fenchurch

    December 18, 2008 at 2:32 am

    Wow! There are so many of those that I’ve never read… I moved so quickly from children’s books to regular fiction that I really did miss out on a lot of good stuff (a large portion of the kidlit I’ve read was stuff I didn’t encounter until I was an adult).

    *makes a note of this list for reading suggestions*

  3. Steph

    December 18, 2008 at 3:30 am

    I’ve read many of these… loved Little House on the Prairie.

    Do you mean “The Red Velvet Room” by Zilpha Keatley Snyder? If you’re looking for pink velvet, you may have a hard time finding it… 🙂

    And any of the Shoes books are good because Streatfeild is great.

  4. Bay

    December 18, 2008 at 3:42 am

    +1 Mixed Up Files.

    +1 Westing Game – and anything else by Ellen Raskin (The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon [I Mean Noel], Figgs and Phantoms)

    And perhaps my all time favorite, also to be read before visiting New York: The Pushcart War

  5. William Shubert

    December 18, 2008 at 4:10 am

    You said: “The King’s Fifth – never heard of it. Tell me more?”
    And: “Island of the blue dolphins – I remember loving this and repeatedly borrowing it from the school library, although I have no idea any more what it was about. TBR/FBL?”

    I *think* it’s by the same guy who wrote both of these. The King’s Fifth is a great adventure story about a team going to retrieve treasure; they owe the King 1/5 of it. In the end, only one person is left, and he dumps the treasure in a lake or some such, so the whole story is told from prison because he didn’t bring the King back his fifth! I enjoyed it a lot as a kid, haven’t read it since.

    Island of the Blue Dolphins is a huge classic, and definitely worth reading as an adult. It’s about an American Indian girl and her younger brother who are left behind when their tribe is taken off of their island by Westerners. She lives there for many years (her brother dies though) alone. It is based on truth; there really was such a girl, who really was left behind by her tribe, although when she was finally found and “rescued” there was nobody left who could speak her language, so the author had to invent what happened while she was alone.

  6. melissainau

    December 18, 2008 at 5:27 am

    @Andyl – that’s more likely to be a problem for my very prudish children than for me. I take great delight in watching the Bigster’s reaction to things like that, these days (her latest is horror that her sister says, “Blast!”)

    @Fen – make it your winter reading list, as it is my Summer list 🙂

    @Steph – ah, is that the problem? *makes note*

    @Bay – clearly I need to add Ellen Raskin to my mental list 🙂

    @William – thanks for the synopses/reminder. Clearly more onto the definites list.

  7. Drew

    December 18, 2008 at 5:52 am

    Melissa: “The King’s Fifth” and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” are both by Scott O’Dell, and there’s a small connection between the books, I believe. But you’d have to have read “Zia” which is a sequel to “Island of the Blue Dolphins.”

    Anyway, “The King’s Fifth” is about a mapmaker traveling with Coronado, in search of Cíbola.

    “Island of the Blue Dolphins” concerns a young girl left behind (on one of the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast) when her people abandon the island after most are killed by invaders. It’s your typical “survival story,” which is almost a genre to itself in YA literature. (See also, “Julie of the Wolves” (which I liked) and “Hatchet” (which I did not did not did not did not).)

  8. melissainau

    December 18, 2008 at 5:58 am

    Thanks for the tips, Drew. They’re definitely on the list now 🙂

  9. gregor

    December 18, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I remember reading Wolves of Willoughby Chase one night while babysitting when I was about 16. It was fantastic, the children (a girl and a boy) were very good, and were terribly oppressed by their evil, evil caretakers, so they escaped. It was very dramatic, an emotional roller-coaster ride.

  10. Steph

    December 19, 2008 at 5:01 am

    Actually *looked* at my copy of the book… it’s just “The Velvet Room.” 🙂 Read it a lot as a kid and then found a used copy one day…

  11. guenny

    December 22, 2008 at 1:56 am

    +1 series: Trixie Belden (Julie Campbell): If Bigster loves Nancy Drew, she may also enjoy Trixie! I just started re-collecting them for myself and find that I still love reading them. My only wish? That mom’s original copies could have survived one of her many moves.

    +1 series: Bunnicula (James Howe): I don’t know that it would ever be listed as classic lit for children, but I remember reading and re-reading them as a kid.

    +1 Otter Three Two Calling (Leif Hamre): For the life of me I cannot find a synopsis (in English) anywhere. I can tell you that it was an exciting book to read in school… and the only book I’ve ever read that mentioned ptarmigans!

    +1 Trumpet of the Swan (E.B. White): Quite possibly my favourite school book of all time. I need to own it again!

    I suppose the blaring omission I noted was Harry Potter. I know the Bigster blows through a book every birthday and I, as an adult, have thoroughly enjoyed the series. 🙂

    Now. On to your list:

    LHotP: Loved, loved, loved these books! I’m adding them to my birthday wish list, methinks 🙂

    Chronicles of Narnia: I’m very interested in seeing the movies but am a mite scared to…. I like the pictures I have already formed in my mind. Sometimes I think film takes away a books’ “scope for the imagination”

    Winnie, Corner, Very Young, and Six: I have very old copies handed down from my grandmother (two green hardcovers, two red). I haven’t read them in a dog’s age as they are kept on display in my home. I should pick them up again.

    The Hobbit: This was the best book I ever had read to me. My fourth grade teacher was from the UK originally and her accent never ever left. She had a different affect for every character and if I close my eyes and listen carefully, I can still hear her Gollum voice… My preciousssss, indeed! (This may also be why I prefer my books read to me by English accented folk. hmmm)

    Island of the Blue Dolphins: I wanted to be The Girl with the Long Black Hair. Enough said

    Anne of Green Gables (also Pat of Silver Bush, and Emily of New Moon): I think it’s pretty safe to say that I adore L.M. Montgomery. Anne is a part of me (my second name.. with an E if you please!) that I will never give up. It was such a huge thrill to *finally* go to Prince Edward Island and visit the Green Gables Farm which, for those that do not know, was an actual place whereas Anne was fiction. I too have spent forever and then some in love with Gilbert Blythe – cussing him when he did stupid things; swooning when he was sweet. I can’t count the number of times I wanted to slap Anne for rebuffing him! *grin* I can even tell you that I cried like a baby at some monumental points.

    Perhaps I can read a chapter or two to the Bigster via Skype sometime?

    I’m sure there are others that I’m missing, but I can’t think of them right now and I simply must get on with my day or I’ll never get done.


  12. Peter Kelley

    December 23, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    A couple more suggestions that I know that our kids (9 and 11 currently) have loved:

    The Good Master by Kate Seredy – A great tale of life on the Hungarian plains around the turn of the last century. Perhaps a bit simple for adults but great for kids.

    Deltora Quest by Emily Rodda – A great series of fantasy books that we had a good time reading to the kids.

  13. melissainau

    December 24, 2008 at 12:19 am

    Guenny: I will have to look up your books. We will have to read them. (Bigster LOVES Trixie Belden – I have been collecting them from eBay but the whole series goes for quite high prices so we are getting them piecemeal).

    Peter: The Good Master is an excellent suggestion. I actually bought & re-read it earlier this year. The only think I am nervous about there is some of the discussion about Father Christmas, as she isn’t quite ready to go there yet (it’s why I stopped reading the Little House books with her).

    She’s really excited about our Summer Reading Project.


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