Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Grown-Up's Guide to reading Children's Books: 2016 Update

Two years ago, I had my first post on Why Grown-Ups Should Read Children's Books and I challenged my readers to spend their summer enjoying children's literature. I suggested some books that I and my friends had particularly enjoyed here and here and here.

I've read a lot of wonderful kids lit in the past two years, so I thought we were due for an update. I'm excited to share some of my favorites.

If you are missing Downton Abbey:

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
When one of my favorite librarian bloggers said she would recommend this book to a child who loved Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, I had to pick it up. It did not disappoint. The Hired Girl is the story of a young woman who leaves an abusive home and is taken in as a hired girl in a wealthy Jewish home in 1911. Written in journal format, the book captures all of Jane's foibles and struggles as she learns to navigate the upstairs/ downstairs world of urban life and discover who she is in this new world.

The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
I recommended Marx Fitzgerald's wonderful mystery Under the Egg in my last guide. I was excited to see she has a new book out. The Gallery follows a young Irish girl working downstairs in the home of a wealthy newspaper magnate in 1920s New York, who also happens to have a crazy art-collector wife in his attic. We know at the beginning that the whole house has burnt to the ground with husband and wife and a huge collection of art inside. Fitzgerald unwinds the mystery over the book, weaving in references to famous art, Greek mythology, vaudeville, and historical details of the 1920s.

If you want to know, "Why didn't I learn this in history class?": 
Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
If  all history textbooks were written like this, we would have no trouble getting middle school boys interested in history. Geniuses, KGB spies, Nazi resistance fighters: this non-fiction book will have you on the edge of your seat. One scene of resistance fighters parachuting into the barren, snow-covered hills of Norway in order to plant a bomb in a hydroelectric plant, is just like something out of Star Wars. Totally riveting and true. It deserves all those medals on the cover.

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
I started listening to this audiobook on a whim, and was blown away. I knew very little about Russian history, but Fleming masterfully takes you into the lives of the Romanovs, Russia's last royal family, and the turmoil before the Russian revolution and the rise of the Communist party.

If you like stories of young people overcoming adversity:
The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Should I be ashamed to say that I liked this book better than the Pulitzer-Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See? One of the things I love about children's books is that a story can be about healing and redemption and end well without the ambiguity of adult fiction. This is the story of a disabled and abused girl named Ada who is sent out of London during the evacuation of children during World War II. She finds healing through her love for a neglected horse and her relationship with Susan, the woman who takes her and her brother into her home in the country. I couldn't put this book down once I started.

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan
As I've mentioned before, I love a new book that feels like an old book. Listening for Lions brought to mind classics like Heidi and The Secret Garden. When Rachel's missionary parents die in an influenza epidemic in Africa, she is taken in by a nefarious couple who want to use her to secure an inheritance from a rich relative in England. A beautiful story of redemption and salvation through unexpected channels.

If you love fairytales:
The Green Ember by S. D. Smith
Our whole family loved this "new story with an old soul." S.D. Smith gives us this tale of two rabbits thrust into an adventure in which they must find courage, honor, and their place in a broken world. Filled with wisdom and adventure, this is ultimately a story of hope. It doesn't hurt that the author is also from my home state of West Virginia. We just got our copy of the sequel Ember Falls from Smith's kickstarter, and we have dropped everything to spend more time with Heather and Picket.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Elizabeth Goudge has become one of my favorite adult authors, but she also wrote children's fiction including this fantasy, which J.K. Rowling listed as one of her favorite books. Goudge had me at the first page when she said that "Humanity can be roughly divided into three sorts of people--those who find comfort in literature, those who find comfort in personal adornment, and those who find comfort in food." This has the slightly spooky manor house of The Secret Garden, a character that seems an awful lot like a house-elf, along with monks, unicorn, and Goudge's beautiful, symbolic language.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
If you haven't listened to author Grace Lin's Ted Talk The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child's Bookshelf, you should right away. After hearing Lin talk about her journey to embrace her Chinese heritage and write a book that captures the whimsical adventure of Dorothy in The Wizard Oz, I read this story in a whole new light. I know my kids are going to love this one too.

If you love finding forgotten classics by favorite authors:
Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery
I have reread Anne of Green Gables so many times, and I never get tired of it, but I've been excited to find some books by L. M. Montgomery that I haven't read. Jane is a very different character from Anne, less dreamy and more practical. When she discovers that the father she thought was dead is alive and living in Prince Edward Island, she finds her true purpose in keeping house, being a caring part of a community, and learning to love learning from her passionate father.

Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter
I just discovered Gene Stratton-Porter's books last year when I read The Girl of the Limberlost. I followed it up with Freckles (who is a minor character in Limberlost) and loved it even more. As a young man, Freckles is hired to guard a valuable timber strand in the Limberlost forest. His time in the forest inspires him to educate himself about the plants and animals of the swamp and he grows strong in character and finds true love with a girl he thinks is out of his reach. Old-fashioned romance mixed with a love of the natural world, Stratton-Porter's books begged to be explored.
Have you read any great children's books in the past year that you think other adults would love? Please share in the comments!


  1. Thank you for the list of books. I enjoy reading children's books. They are refreshing after reading some adult books that are a little heavy. i have read "Killing books,Lincoln,Kennedy,Jesus,Patton and Reagan. There are children's versions. They are a good source of history. American Girl Books(original versions). Understood Betsy.Pat of SilverBush,Marigold and Emma series(all by L Montgomery).
    Betsy,Tacy Books by Maud H Lovelace. Mandie series by Lois Gladys Lepppard,Elsie Dinsmore series by Martha Finley. Thoroughbreds Joanna Campbell.

  2. I love your list of books. I have a few recommendations. Mildred[Elsie Dinsmore's cousin],"Violet" [relative to Elsie Dinsmore],"The Moffets","All Of A Kind Family". "Magic Attic" Series. The "Bobbsey Twins" For a little older readers,"Nancy Drew Mysteries","Trixie Belden","Beverly Grey","Judy Bolton","Christie Miller", "Sierra Jensen"[Christie Miller's friend].