1. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
This is my all-time favorite children’s book. When I was a kid, I read it approximately eleventy billion times, and I’ve performed it a few times as an adult, usually to understanding laughter because hey, who hasn’t had a day where everything that can possibly go wrong does go wrong in increasingly frustrating ways? Alexander’s struggle against the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, that begins with him waking with gum in his hair and goes downhill from there is something that everyone can relate to, and Alexander really is such a likeable kid. Yes, it’s a little book and it has illustrations, but it’s easily a classic of the genre because it’s touching and sweet, and most importantly, it’s funny.
2. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
A sweet little love story, tree-man love, yes, but a love story all the same, it’s a wonderful book. And go ahead, call me a sap. Even now, every time I get to the last line — “And the tree was happy” — I tear up a little bit.
3. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is the first one, but I read all the books in this series with haste and fascination (if the two things can coexist, they did in my reading). The people, their struggles, their lives… it was what good storytelling is made of. And I loved the television series too. That Nellie Olsen. What a scamp.
4. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Another first in a series, I read all of L.M. Montgomery’s books about Anne Shirley and her family and a book of short stories about Avonlea. Some of the books I read several times, including this one, because I loved them so much. I felt such a kinship with Anne and her gigantic overactive imagination, her love of books and writing, her innate ability to get into ridiculously awkward situations. I felt like she was just like me, only Canadian and from the past.
5. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson
A story of twins, one seemingly perfect and the other more awkward, the novel takes its title from the Bible (“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”) and it mostly takes place on a small island off the East Coast of the United States. It was one of the first books I really felt something about, and sometimes I wanted to hate it because it was so strong, and, at times, so incredibly unfair. Yet it was amazingly well-written and I returned to it time and again, reading it more than ten times before I understood that I truly loved it. And the ending is so beautiful, it always made me hold my breath.