Sharing my favorite kid’s books
For Christmas, I often buy books for people.
This year, I had a 12-year-old boy on my shopping list, and so I decided to buy him a couple of books that I really enjoyed when I was his age. I’m a huge fan of Roald Dahl, the author of beloved children’s classics such as “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” but my favorite Roald Dahl book of all time is one of his lesser-known works: the short-story collection “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More.” I suspected the 12-year-old boy would appreciate this book, so I ordered it for him.
The short stories contained within “Henry Sugar” are odd and magical, and occasionally tinged with melancholy and darkness. For instance, “The Boy Who Talked With Animals,” tells the story of a boy who can speak to animals, and disappears on the back of a sea turtle. Other stories, such as the pickpocket tale “The Hitch-Hiker,” have a mischievous and rebellious wit.
I also ordered Stephen King’s “The Eyes of the Dragon” for the 12-year-old boy. King is known for horror, but “The Eyes of the Dragon” is a fantasy novel and a pretty good one, involving a teenage prince falsely accused of murdering his father. I wouldn’t say it’s a children’s book, but it’s appropriate for pre-teens and teenagers, particularly those who enjoy “The Hobbit,” the Narnia books and other staples of the children’s fantasy genre.
Anyway, buying “Henry Sugar” and “The Eyes of the Dragon” got me thinking about all the other books I loved and re-read as a kid, and I thought I’d make a list of my favorites. It’s not comprehensive, as I’m sure more titles will come to me, but it’s a good start.
1. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier — Robert Cormier is my favorite children’s author, and this is my favorite children’s book, although it’s probably more correct to call it a Young Adult novel. The YA genre was not such a big deal when I was a kid — my library didn’t have a secret YA section filled with the Twilight books and the works of R.L. Stine — by Cormier deserves credit for being one of the first authors to write darker, morally complex and ambiguous novels for children and teenagers. “The Chocolate War” is a brutal, haunting and uncompromising work, and still possesses the power to shock today. Cormier’s other books, such as “Fade” and “After the First Death,” are also quite good.
2. The Great Brain books by John D. Fitzgerald — In these loosely autobiographical children’s books, set in the late 1890s, Fitzgerald tells the story of his brilliant older brother, known as the Great Brain. These books fascinate because of their historical setting, but the lively and smart characters make them both fun and compelling.
3. Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume — Judy Blume wrote a lot of great books for children, but my personal favorite is “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t,” which I’ve probably read 15 times. The book tells the story of a boy whose family suddenly becomes rich and relocates to a nice suburb; once there, he befriends a charismatic-yet-troubled neighbor and develops conflicted feelings about his family’s sudden wealth.
4. The books of Gordon Korman — I devoured every Korman book I could get my hands on. I don’t know how they stack up today, but at the time — fourth and fifth grade — I thought they were hilarious. The Bruno & Boots series of books tells the story of two troublemakers at boarding school. But Korman’s other books, such as Our Man Weston and Don’t Care High, are also a lot of fun.
5. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin — This is a fantastic mystery, about 16 heirs who are told that they will inherit a fortune if they can solve the mystery of who murdered Sam Westing.
6. The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks — This is a sports/civil rights novel set in the 1960s, about a black boy who has been forced to integrate, and his relationship with a strange white boy named Bix.
7. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg — This is a great story about siblings who run away from home and take up residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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