This school year my children will be entering 4th, 6th, and 7th grade, and they all have at least two books they are required to read over the summer. If possible, I like to listen to the kids read, read some myself aloud, and/or silently follow along. I read the most with my eldest daughter because she has a severe form of dyslexia and is dependent on audiobooks most of the time, but I try to keep up with the others as well. Lately, it dawned on me how much I have enjoyed the books my children read, and I wanted to put a plug-in for adults to revisit some of the old and new “classics” the kids are reading in school because I have found that these books are just plain good literature. Below I discuss a few of my favorite children’s books—some are early “chapter” books and others are novels for children.
A couple of weeks ago I was reading Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo with my son, and I just fell in love with that book all over again. The main character, India Opal, has just moved to a very small town in Florida with her father, the local preacher. Early in her move, India Opal rescues a stray dog causing havoc in the local Winn Dixie, takes him home, and the rest of the story centers around the pair’s ability to work their way into the locals’ hearts. It is a sweet story that has some sad moments, but it made me hanker for small town goodness. It is great for kids to read this because many can identify with how it feels to lose a parent and how it feels to be the new kid on the block, literally.
Last year, my daughter and I read Where the Red Fern Grows I by Wilson Rawls, a book I had never read before. This was a captivating story of a young boy who spends over a year raising his own money to buy two coon hunting dogs. For those of you who live in the city, these dogs are trained to sniff out and tree raccoons, valuable for their pelts. It does not sound like a book I would like much less immerse myself in, but I was hooked by chapter two. The plot is action-packed, the descriptions of what theses coon dogs are capable of doing are detailed and fascinating, and the attachment between a boy and his dogs stole my heart. Warning: This one made me cry—a lot—and if I think about the book today, I could cry again. It’s a real heart-wrencher. This book was so good for my daughter to read because she garnered an understanding of how other children her age had (and have) to work hard to buy and accomplish something.
The Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin was anthologized in my kids’ 3rd grade textbook when we read it. This book tells the reader what life is like as a regular young earthworm. I love when children’s authors write with adults in mind, and that is exactly what Cronin did when writing this one. There is not much to say about it in terms of plot because it is in diary form, but I can say that the entire book is hysterical from beginning to end. It takes no more than 10 of 15 minutes to read, but it is worth it if you get a chance. (Of course, Cronin also has The Diary of a Spider, and Click, Clack Moo—two equally funny books I recommend).
When I taught 9th graders, I had a group of girls who were huge fans of The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I had never read it at the time, but put that one on my mental shelf of books I should go back and read. When my daughter had to read it, I found it to be everything my 9th grade fans said it was. It is a story about a friendship between a lonely boy and the new girl in town. They create an imaginative kingdom, Terabithia, where they rule as king and queen. It is a story about friendship, dreams, and love. Warning: You will also need tissues for this one.
Currently, I am reading Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor with my 4th grader and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle with my 7th grader. Both are wonderful stories. Shiloh is about a boy’s love for a dog being abused by its owner and how he wants so much to rescue a dog that is not his. My son is so wrapped up in the emotional aspects of the novel he wants me to read all night. I lived in West Virginia for three years, and I am impressed with Naylor’s use of dialect. It’s “spot-on” (a technical literary term, I assure you).
At the time A Wrinkle in Time was written, L’Engle had a hard time finding a publisher because it defied typical genre of the day. This is a fabulous sci-fi book about “different” kids who are called by some strange creatures to rescue their father. The book is imaginative and adventurous. More importantly, children of all ages who have ever felt like a misfit (and who hasn’t at some point) will identify with these quirky characters.
Stay tuned because I have several more fabulous books to push.