My Five Favorite Children’s Books

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.

19 Responses

  1. I know Roald Dahl was
    I know Roald Dahl was something of an anti-Semitic prick, but “Matilda” and “James and the Giant Peach” are pretty much perfect children’s books. They both understand that kids have darker, more subversive minds than most adults care to acknowledge, and manage to both play into that and transcend it.

    So much of what you’re read as a child is completely defanged and harmless — and sometimes that’s exactly what kids need. But with Dahl there’s a real sense that things might actually go wrong. The giant very well might eat you. The evil principal might kill you. These aren’t empty threats in his novels, and you’re never totally sure that things will be okay at the end. Reading Dahl as a kid was always exciting, a little nerve-wracking, and vaguely dangerous.

    (Not to mention, the titular character in “Matilda” was so obviously cool that I had no problem identifying with her, even as a “no girls allowed” kind of 9 year-old.)

  2. You’re right. The problem
    You’re right. The problem with only listing 5 is that I have to leave things out, which includes Roald Dahl. I read most of his books several times and enjoyed them most thoroughly, and then I got older and read a short story of his about a woman who kills all the gentlemen boarders who come to stay at her house and appreciated him on a whole new level. I can’t think of the name of the story to look it up, and now I’m paranoid that I’m mixing it up with some other story. But I think it was him.

  3. Don’t know that one — but it
    Don’t know that one — but it sounds phenomenal.

    Also, “Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday” definitely has its moments.

  4. I always get along with
    I always get along with fellow Anne of Green Gables fans. I also love the Emily of New Moon books – if you haven’t read them, I recommend checking them out.

    I once owned a copy of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected – it’s full of his adult, generally horror-oriented stories. I like the one about the woman who kills her husband with a frozen lamb chop and then cooks and serves it to the police when they come to investigate. As you said, whole new level of appreciation.

  5. I remember one of my favorite
    I remember one of my favorite books as a child being My Side of the Mountain. And I think I had an abridged copy (ughhh) of Swiss Family Robinson, but it might have been the real one. Those and Treasure Island were books I reread over and over again.

  6. Heres my list:

    The Wind in
    Heres my list:

    The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
    The Wizard of Oz, Frank Baum
    Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
    Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
    Treasure Island, R.L.Stevenson

  7. Roald Dahl also hosted the
    Roald Dahl also hosted the first two or three seasons of the television version of Tales of The Unexpected. Most of the early episodes were based on his own work. ‘Neck’, the one about the woman who practises taxidermy on her lodgers (‘The Landlady’…?), and the one about the gambling wine-taster who cheats (‘The Bet’…?) were my favourite Dahl episodes.

    Still, the best episode overall was undoubtably ‘Flypaper’, based on the 1972 short story by British authoress Elizabeth Taylor. One can read it here.

    If one has never seen any of these old episodes, or if he or she might welcome a ‘blast from the past’, then google for a Tales of The Unexpected torrent. The first three or four seasons are available online for the stealing….

  8. This all depends on which age
    This all depends on which age group you are referring to. That book by Judith Viorst was also one of my all time favourites. Have any one of you heard of the old ‘Cricket’ magazine?

    The ‘Frog and Toad’ series by Arnold Lobel always left me smiling as well.

    ‘Little Bear’ By Else Holmelund
    Minarik, Maurice Sendak

    And who could ever forget ‘Blueberries For Sal’ By Robert McCloskey?

    Ah, yes..I was a gentle child!

  9. Here’s mine:

    A Wrinkle in
    Here’s mine:

    A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
    Minn of the Mississippi, Holling C. Holling
    The Blue Man, Kin Platt
    Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle (together in one book), Washington Irving
    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (together in one book), Mark Twain

  10. Well, here’s mine … not
    Well, here’s mine … not necessarily my definitive lifelong list (I’ll have to think longer for that list), but a great five:

    The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill
    Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
    From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsberg
    All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor
    The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh

  11. Darn, Jamelah! Your personal
    Darn, Jamelah! Your personal list and the lists of replies got me wondering :

    What makes a children’s book a book for children? Is a children’s book intentionally aimed at a ‘children audience’..? Are children’s books only for children or child-like minds? If a children’s book is enjoyed by teens or by young adults, is it really considered a ‘children’s book’?

    If a book does not have any ‘bad words’ or descriptive sex in it, is the book then appropriate for children? Is this the sole criteria that makes a children’s book a book for children?

  12. I would consider two or three
    I would consider two or three of Laird Koenig’s novels to have been ‘children’s books for adults’.

    Actually, in the ’70s, a lot of ‘age-appropriateness’ boundaries were being broken. For example, television shows like Happy Days and Three’s Company were pitched as ‘adult’ sitcoms; however, judging from the level of writing used on those shows, they were obviously aimed at giggling children, horny pubescents, and senior citizens who liked a little ‘acceptable dirt’.

    As for my favourite children’s books, I guess the list would have to look something like this:

    1. Den Vita Stenen (a.k.a. The White Stone) by Gunnel Linde
    2. Ready-Made Family by Frances Solomon Murphy
    3. Mystery By Moonlight by Mary C. Jane
    4. Nancy Drew: The Clue of The Tapping Heels by Carolyn Keene
    5. The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

    I tended to like mysteries and stuff told from a female perspective, for some reason.

    It’s interesting, you know, how so many of these old children’s books were ‘written up’ to their readers. A couple of years back, I dug a suitcase full of many of these old novels out of my shed. It was amazing how many of them originally published in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s sent me reaching for a dictionary when I re-read passages from them! Even an old Scholastic-published mystery in the Ginnie series by Catherine Wolsey contained passages on the same level with many of the so-called ‘adult’ novels coming out today. Yes, it appears standards have sunk that low….

  13. Something else I should have
    Something else I should have pointed out: the wonderful artwork on the covers of many of those old children’s novels! Many of the Scholastic-published mystery titles had covers that were both mysterious and quasi-psychedelic. And the Grosset & Dunlap covers–how they stick in one’s memory! I mean, the covers of Carolyn Keene’s The Clue in the Old Stagecoach (, The Bungalow Mystery (, and The Haunted Bridge ( were so hauntingly iconographic that they now resemble missing links between Da Vinci’s ‘The Annunciation’ and Black Sabbath’s first album cover!

  14. Sooy being so generic but my
    Sooy being so generic but my favorite child books came in series:

    Enid Blyton “The Famous Five” series
    Alfred Hitchcock “The Three Investigators” series
    “The Hardy Boys” written by diffrent authors
    “Disney” books

    Great to go down memory lane…

  15. Shit! I forgot about Enid
    Shit! I forgot about Enid Blyton. I’ve never actually read any of her Famous Five series, but I enjoyed the 1978 television show based on it. (Google for a torrent containing the complete series ripped from a videotape.)

    Speaking of which, it seems Michele Gallagher (tomboy ‘George Kerrin’) has been gradually transformed into the ‘Jim-Morrison-of-British-Child-Actresses’

  16. There was a children’s book
    There was a children’s book called “Lion”. I think it was by William Pene DuBois. I can’t find it ANYWHERE. It is about how angels created all the animals on earth, and in particular the lion. But it’s really a story about the creative process. I LOVED that book and would like to find a copy of it.

  17. among my favourite children’s
    among my favourite children’s books were all the books of astrid lindgren (especially “the brothers lionheart”, “mio, my mio”, and “ronia, the robber daughter”and michael ende (most loved: “momo” and “the neverending story”, of which you should better forget the movie version).

    i also loved the books of “joan aiken”, especially “the cucoo tree” and “the wolves of willoughby chase” and all the other books of the wolves chronicles, and “edith nesbit”, of whom i most liked the two “house of arden” books.

    and of course i read a lot of enid blyton (adventure series, famous five, etc.) as well!

  18. The episode of Tales of The
    The episode of Tales of The Unexpected that I mentioned above, based on Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Flypaper’, is now available on YouTube in three parts. Part 1 can be found at

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