6 Children's Classics Everyone Should Read

By Saturday, July 05, 2014 , , ,

As I’ve been rediscovering my love for reading and writing in the last few weeks, I’ve started thinking back to my favorite books from younger years. I was constantly reading early on, but there are several that remain favorites to this day. The six below came to mind quickly, so I thought I’d share. I think they’re worth reading at any age. :) 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: This was one of the first full-length books I read as a child. I was in second or third grade when I read it for the first time, and I’m not sure how many more times I read it after that. Mary Lennox is the heroine – a spoiled, selfish little girl who lives among the British aristocracy in India. Her parents die in a cholera outbreak at the beginning, and she is sent to England to live with her uncle. Soon after arriving, she realizes that her lavish new home, Misselthwaite Manor, is engulfed in secrets – a locked and hidden garden, inexplicable cries at night, and her uncle is hardly ever seen. The mystery of the story drew me in immediately; I remember most chapters would end on a cliffhanger, compelling me to keep reading. The book also celebrates maturity and service to others through Mary’s development and a few other characters. Mary grows up dramatically throughout the story and learns to look outside of herself, which is a valuable lesson for anyone. 

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: I remember in second grade, I would sit with the rest of my class in enraptured silence as our teacher read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe aloud. I was a goner. The world of Narnia and the adventures of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy were instantly one of my favorite things! It was a few years before I read the other six books in the series, but I enjoyed those thoroughly as well when I did. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will always be my first love, but the whole series is an easy, fun read for anyone. There’s adventure and magic galore, and rich spiritual symbolism that can encourage and instruct. 

My beloved Narnia collection with a few other more recent favorites surrounding it :)

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: Upfront confession – I did not read the entire series. However, I think you could read only the first one, Anne of Green Gables, and have a more than fulfilling experience, as I think it’s certainly the best one. Set on lovely Prince Edward Island of Canada, it begins with an elderly brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who decide to adopt a young boy to help on their farm. But when Matthew goes to the train station to pick up said boy, a talkative, freckled, redheaded girl is waiting for him. My mom read these aloud to my sister and me, and immediately, I was sucked into a literary love affair with Anne and her friends. Anne is delightful, unpredictable, and relatable. The dialogue is a key strength, particularly of the first book, as Anne frequently prattles on about her imaginings and whatever is currently crossing her mind. Her imagination is a major motif throughout, to the extent that she often seems to live in a dream world. It is portrayed as extreme, but Anne also reminds many readers that it is good to imagine and dream. Coming of age and learning about self and others is also celebrated throughout the series, as it follows Anne’s life into adulthood. As she grows, she faces different struggles, to many of which readers can individually relate. She grows up significantly in first book alone, which is why I think it can stand on its own fairly well. She goes from flighty, vain, rash, and sometimes silly to more sensible, thoughtful, thankful, and fiercely loyal to those she loves. She still imagines, but learns to control it more. Personally, I think the first three books of the series are the best – Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne of the Island. I stopped reading in the middle of the fifth book, Anne’s House of Dreams…sincere apologies to anyone who’s an avid fan of the whole series, but I just got tired of waiting for a certain significant plot line to tie up, and after it finally did, I was done. If you’ve read any of them, you probably know what I mean. ;)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare: This was actually a book I had to read for school in fifth grade. Isn’t it great when you end up liking those?! I highly recommend this one, as it’s a great story combined with a valuable history lesson. Set during the late 1600s, Katherine Tyler, familiarly known as “Kit,” leaves her home in the Caribbean island of Barbados to live with her aunt and uncle and cousins in New England. She faces severe culture shock mostly because of the community’s strict Puritan expectations and traditions to which she is unaccustomed. The plot centers around the Salem witch trials, a time when the Puritans freaked out and began suspecting that anyone who acted strangely or was somehow involved in a bad coincidence was a witch. It teaches a lot about the culture in the early years of America, and I found the Salem witch trials a fascinating period of history. Regardless, it’s a very easy read, and the story certainly keeps you on edge.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie: Like many people, I first met “the boy who never grew up” through Disney’s animated movie of the classic story. It wasn’t till later that I was interested in the book that inspired the movie. I read this one as a teenager, though I think younger children could easily understand it too. I came to it later because it was actually the movie Finding Neverland, which I watched at thirteen or fourteen, that awakened my curiosity. The movie hits the highlights of the life of J.M. Barrie, author of the Peter Pan book and play, which came first of all (watch the movie too; it’s awesome). He clearly had a breathtaking imagination and loved to write, which of course resonated with me. Soon after seeing that movie, I read Peter Pan, and I’d describe it as simple delight. It’s clean, fresh, easy, and stirs imaginative, childlike fantasies. Several times, I found myself daydreaming about flying through the starry sky away to a beautiful island where fairies frolic and mermaids preen. Once in a while, I think everyone needs a fantasy escape, and this book certainly provides an excellent one.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: This one is probably better suited to the preteen to young teen audience, as the language is a bit more sophisticated than that of these other recommendations. The story’s themes are also more mature. I read it for the first time in junior high and again in high school. I think I was first introduced to the story through an old movie adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor. The 1994 film starring Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, and Christian Bale is now the most popular film version, and I enjoyed that one as well. But here’s the thing… I know it’s very common to hear that the book is better than the movie, but in this case, it’s really true. I like movies a lot, but the book still trumps the movie by far in this case. Little Women is amazing. I can’t recommend it highly enough, particularly for young teenage girls. The March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – are timeless heroines, and their struggles as they grow up can teach young women priceless lessons with everyday application. Meg longs for material possessions, but learns that all the fine frocks and luxurious dances in the world can’t buy contentment. Jo’s quick temper and sharp tongue lead to deep regret, so she must learn to control them. Timid Beth has to learn to open herself up to others. And Amy must learn to give up her vanity and look past herself. The story is set during the Civil War, but the challenges of the March sisters and their family and friends are just as relevant now. The characters are strong and memorable, the writing is engaging, and the story is masterfully told with an air of sweet charm and innocence that can leave anyone smiling and encouraged. 
Those are the top ones that I thought of instantly, though they are a few among many favorites. But if you haven’t read these, please do so! All of them can be enjoyable at any age, and even if you don’t like them as much as I do, I think most people could appreciate them.

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