I saw a list of 11 beloved children's books on author Mariah Frederick's blog, and having just read an entire book about Judy Blume's novels, I felt compelled to come up with my own list. Mariah threw a wrench in the list formulating in my mind when she threw in Eloise to an otherwise middle grade/young adult list as I hadn't been thinking of picture books myself, so I'm not going to include them as then I'd need to list the 111 Books I Loved as a Kid. (And yes, I too am surprised to not find a Judy Blume book on the list, but Tiger Eyes only just didn't make the cut. It might have, had I reread it as an adult which I still hope to do.)
So here they are!
1. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder (The Little House Books)
I think this is my favorite of the Little House books (how much do I love the Little House Books? My youngest sister is named Laura, thanks to heavy lobbying from moi and middle sister.) I like that they are in one place for a while, that Laura is growing up, and I love the romance between Laura and Almanzo. Laura is becoming more mature and able to hold her tempter, but she doesn't lose any of her spunk and charm. I love how much she wants to help her family, especially her sister Mary, and works so incredibly hard in difficult circumstances with no thought of keeping the money for herself. She also struggles a little with growing up - part of Laura still wants to be a child and misses being a child, which you don't often see in coming of age stories.
2. Karen Kepplewhite is the World's Best Kisser by Eve Bunting
I bought this book from Weekly Reader in the heady days of young puberty, before my first kiss. It inspired me so much, I actually made a pair of knickers with a neighbor's help (actually, I think mostly she made the knickers) so I could even dress like Karen does at the party. I was utterly intrigued with the idea of a boy-girl party and kissing games, and at the time I felt that Karen Kepplewhite was the How To manual I was looking for, for teen success.
3. It's OK if You Don't Love Me by Norma Klein
I think this is my favorite Norma Klein book because I really identified with Jody. She's not one of those people who just goes around spouting off the first thing on her mind, but she's very truthful, even if the truth will hurt. This book was also nice as a non-New Yorker as Lyle was kind of like a tour-guide as he was new to the city himself. It was also a good one for a smart kid from the South to be reading over and over again about kids applying to Harvard and Yale, and then some like Jody deciding they'd rather go to Swarthmore, when my peers were mostly looking at state universities. Ms. Klein's books were filled with good examples of healthy sexual relationships, smart kids doing well, and occasional warnings of potential potholes to avoid (like ex-boyfriends). This book was so beloved a page of it is being held in only with paperclips.
4. Making Half Whole by Terry Wolfe Phelan
Yet another teen book about a potential life-threatening illness, although one (for once!) with a happy ending. What teenager isn't fascinated by twins? And I read this shortly before I switched from a small private school to a large public one, and Allison with her multiple moves (Navy brat) was an inspiration for how to get along in a new school, and a primer for how a large public high school worked (lockers, electives, changing classes). She also introduced me to eyebrow plucking, although her description of the pain meant I didn't actually try it for another 15 years.
5. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
At one point I owned 3 copies of this book. My edition is kind of held together with tape, the cover is half off, it was apparently soaked at some point, and it reminds me of the Velveteen Rabbit - this is a much, much loved book. Mr O'Dell is amazing in his ability to get inside the mind of a 12-year-old girl. While Karana is amazingly determined, capable, and resilient, he also shows how she can be vain and like pretty things. It is amazing he's able to write such a compelling book when over half of it has no dialogue and just involves one person. A beautiful and touching story of strength in the face of hardship, Karana's tale teaches and inspires.
6. Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary
This book probably should have been titled Ellen and Austine as it really is the story of their friendship. Austine is so loyal and indomitable, which of course makes the heartbreak of the fight and estrangement later in the book all the more wrenching. Ms. Cleary is just so amazing in her ability to understand a 3rd grader and how they think and how they behave. When Ellen and Austine's mothers make the two dresses, you rarely get that kind of story from the point of view of the girl with the nice dress, who has to battle feeling proud and pretty, with feeling guilty and badly for her friend. Now thanks to reading Ms. Cleary's awesome memoirs, I know that this book is her most autobiographical, which makes it all the sweeter. I always wished she'd written many more books about Ellen.
7. Tough-Luck Karen by Johanna Hurwitz
The main reason I had to add this book is that thanks to Karen, I got my own nickname "Carin." At one point Karen starts changing how she spells her name - hoping it'll lead to better grades (maybe "Karynn" is a better speller) and I saw how Carin fit my given name well, and as I'd always liked the name Karen, I decided I was going to be Carin from then on. I liked that Karen didn't do well in school but not because she was stupid or didn't try. And I really liked how she had other talents and skills, particularly baking, that showed she wasn't just a dud. And I learned how to pronounce "Poughkeepsie."
8. The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
This one I have not reread as an adult. It is the story of Katie, a young girl with supernatural powers (telekinesis). I think all young kids go through a stage of wishing they had special powers - particularly if you could use those powers to clean your room instantly! And it had the added intrigue of the mysterious, possibly dangerous guy, and Katie trying to figure out why she's different. All children on the cusp of puberty feel they're different from everyone else (and that's a bad thing) so a book about a girl who's very different and yet her difference is something kids would want, can make them more open to uniqueness in themselves and others.
9. Jason and Marceline by Jerry Spinelli
This book is very true-to-life for what being a teenager is like. And for me (when I first read it) it had the added bonus of giving a glimpse into the frightening inner workings of the teenage boy brain. I remember so admiring Marceline for her independence, and her ability to truly not care what other kids thought about her. It's also nice for once to have the main character kids be the middle of the pack: neither the most popular, nor the nerds of the class. I appreciate that the book was all about the relationship between Jason and Marceline, not entirely a build-up to it as most books are (ending with the first kiss) as how relationships work is a lot of what kids this age are really curious about and need to understand.
10. Al(exandra) the Great by Constance C. Greene
This one is tricky. I did love the Al books when I was a kid (4 of them - I didn't know about Al's Blind Date), and I know this one was the most well-read, but I not only haven't reread them and no longer own them, but I can't find them! They're long out of print, out of circulation, and don't even have much information at all on Goodreads, so I really don't have specifics on this book. I remember our main character doesn't have a name in any of the books, which really blew my mind at the time (and made writing book reports difficult) and Al was quite a character! Very unique, kind of a tornado that blows her unnamed friend along with her, Al has an outsized amount of self-confidence, and the ability to usually stay positive, but sometimes her true anxieties do surface and you see the fear beneath the bravado.
11. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
A tragic, perfect, classic, guaranteed to make you cry. Not only does it teach children about dealing with death, but also about dealing with the guilt that often accompanies it. I reread this one about 15 years ago, when an ex-boyfriend was performing as Jesse in the play at Nashville Children's Theater. Beautifully written, touchingly told and brutally honest.