You want me to list ten childhood favorites? Like, only ten? I don’t think I can keep the list that short!
I was a complete and utter bookworm in my childhood. I read constantly. I read for hours every day. (Not much has changed, except that I don’t have that kind of free time anymore.) I read a lot, I read fast, and our library was small and not easy to get to. I read faster than I could get my hands on new books, so I reread the books I enjoyed. A lot. There are some children’s books I must have read 30 times or more, and many more titles that I read at least 15 or 20 times.
I kept some of my favorite copies that I read over and over. But I didn’t own all of these as a child, so the local library got quite a workout. As an adult, I’ve long since bought my own copies of those early library favorites, as well as replaced some of my own worn-out copies. I now have a sizable collection of children’s books, some from my childhood (like the titles below) and others that I only discovered later in my life.
To keep the list down to manageable proportions, I’m only going to list books I read in elementary or middle school — books from my actual childhood rather than my teen years. And I’m lumping books by the same author together, even when they aren’t part of a series.
Listed alphabetically by author, because honestly, I can’t rank them; I loved them all for different reasons and/or at different times. Every book on this list was reread multiple times, or a significant percentage of the series was read four or more times.
Links go to Goodreads, or to my review.
My Childhood Favorites
1. The Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken. Or rather, the first four books published: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, Nightbirds on Nantucket, and The Cuckoo Tree. (Chronologically, books #1, 2, 3, and 6. The other books in the series didn’t come out until I was older and had more-or-less left the series behind.) I haven’t reread them in years, but I keep meaning to.
2. Little Women (review), Little Men, and Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott. I know Little Women is the best of these; I knew it then, too, but I loved all three anyway. I also loved Eight Cousins, and later its sequel (which I didn’t read until I was in high school.) I still reread Little Women and Eight Cousins, along with some others I didn’t discover until I was older.
The Chronicles of Prydain (series review) by Lloyd Alexander. One of my earliest fantasy series, along with the Narnia books. I adored them, and still reread them periodically.
3. The Oz books by L. Frank Baum, continued by Ruth Plumly Thompson and other authors. I can’t claim to have read all of them, but as a child and even in my teens, I read and reread every book I could get my hands on, and owned a few in reprints and one or two originals. I’ve since bought more, in facsimile editions.
4. The Greene Knowe series by L. M. Boston (except the last book, The Stones of Green Knowe, which I didn’t discover until about 10 years ago when I stumbled across the audiobook.) I had to rely on the library for these, because I didn’t own a single copy until I was an adult.
5. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Oh, how I loved these books, both illustrated by Tasha Tudor! I had the paperbacks as a child, but as an adult I tracked down the hardcovers with Tudor’s color plates. I still love and reread both.
6. The Tripods trilogy by John Christopher. I can’t say these were my first science fiction books; that distinction probably goes to Alexander Key’s The Forgotten Door. But the Tripods books had a much greater influence on me. I reread them often in my childhood, though I haven’t revisited them since my early twenties.
7. The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois. I loved this whimsical, exciting adventure and its marvelous illustrations.
8. The Melendy family quartet by Elizabeth Enright. If you haven’t read this delightful series, you should—especially if you loved The Penderwicks. The Melendys were the siblings I wished I had. I read the books to Robin, who also loved them. Come to think of it, it’s time for another reread.
9. Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. I cringe today at the racism of this book, but in my childhood — the early 1970s — I saw it mainly in the context of history (slavery and colonialism) without recognizing the ways in which racism both continued in the present and was reflected in the author’s treatment of characters of color.
10. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I loved this, and read it to one of Robin’s classes when I was a volunteer in their school.
11. Linnets and Valerians and The Little White Horse (review) by Elizabeth Goudge. My mother bought me one or both on our trip to England when I was in 5th grade, and started my love affair with Goudge’s novels.
13. The Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene. I read up through around #50 or so, and often reread many of the earlier books. My collection was a mix of my mom’s old copies and newer ones I found at the thrift shop or was given. I also devoured The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon, but I never loved them the way I did Nancy.
14. A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle. Only two books were available in my elementary and junior-high years; A Swiftly Tilting Planet didn’t come out until I was in high school. But I must have reread each of those two about 8 or 10 times between 5th and 8th grade, and several times as an adult.
15. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Another series I still love and reread. Except The Last Battle. I’ve never quite forgiven Lewis for what he did to Susan…
16. Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan. I loved it so much as a child that as an adult, I read it to my classes when I was teaching, and to Robin’s class when I was volunteering. I also loved Five on a Merry-Go-Round in my childhood, but have only occasionally reread it since then.
17. Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne. I treasure my mother’s copies of these, but they’re getting fragile so when I reread the books now, I use my hardcover all-in-one volume.
18. The Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery. Admittedly, I didn’t discover these until around 5th or 6th grade, and didn’t discover the later books until high school, but I loved the early books and still reread the whole series every few years. (Anne of Green Gables review)
19. Swallows and Amazons, Swallowdale, and We Didn’t Mean to Go To Sea, by Arthur Ransome. I bought the second and third of those titles in England at the age of 10, found the first in a thrift store when I got home, and didn’t locate the rest of the series until I was older. But I wore those three copies out.
20. Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and Five Little Peppers Midway by Margaret Sidney. These were the only two of the series I read as a child, and I loved them. I tracked down the later books as an adult, and discovered I wasn’t missing much. But I still remember the first two as charming (if dated.)
21. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. One of the first YA books I read (if it can be called YA), and it’s still good.
22. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield. My favorite of her books, I read it over and over (and still enjoy it.)
23. Heidi by Joanna Spyri. I haven’t reread this in decades, and I really should. Alas, my childhood copy has been missing since before I went to high school.
24. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. I know these aren’t children’s books (with the possible exception of The Hobbit), but I read The Hobbit in 5th grade and devoured the Lord of the Rings trilogy twice in 6th grade, and twice a year for about the next 15 or 20 years. Now I reread them once every 4–5 years.
25. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Another series rendered problematic by the racism of its time, but in this case, I was almost oblivious until I was grown up. I read Laura’s adventures over and over; Garth Williams’ illustrations are inseparably intertwined with the text in my memory.
I could have gone on, but I figure 25 authors (and many more books) was plenty. I’ve probably left out a few here and there, but these are the ones that stand out, and that, with a few exceptions, can still be found on my shelves today. (I did give up my Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books in high school. I needed the shelf space for the YA and adult books I was discovering.)