My 81 Favorite Children’s & Young-Adult Books

81 Book Recommendations for Kids

I’m a huge fan of children’s literature and young-adult literature. I read these books as a child, and I continue to read them as an adult. In fact, I’m in three—that’s right, three—book groups where we discuss kidlit.

People often ask me for recommendations, so I’ve made a list of my favorite books. I love all these books. Many of these books are towering classics of world literature; some are obscure and out of print.

I chose only books that I love so much that I could carry on a detailed conversation about them without re-reading them—and I eliminated any book written by my sister or a friend. I cheated by listing only one book by an author, even if that author has written many books that belong on the list—say, Elizabeth Enright or C. S. Lewis.

This list is weighted to books that I read in childhood, because I’ve loved those books the longest. But of this list, I will say—every book is a great, great book.

Of course, this list reflects my taste. You’ll perceive that I love magic, and I have a real taste for a strong moral lesson, even when it’s laid on pretty thick (see, e.g., #2, #70).

Now, why eighty-one? Eighty-one turned out to be the natural cut-off point of my enthusiasm. There are hundreds of other books that I love, but not quite as passionately.

You should read all these books yourself, but in case you’re buying them for someone else, I’ve marked the books with “C” for “children,” and “YA” for “young adult.” If a book is out of print, I’ve noted that it’s “OOP.” Usually you can get your hands on the book, anyway.

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Take a look—and let me know what books I’ve missed.  I’d love to get some great new recommendations. What would you add?

Happy reading!

  1. Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. (C) A secret passage, a stint at an orphanage, a journey in disguise—a thrilling book. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  2. Louisa May Alcott, Little Women and many other books. (C). A towering classic of world literature. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  3. Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales. (C) These tales seem familiar, but when you actually read them…they’re uncanny and unforgettable. “Thumbelisa” gives me chills. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  4. Robert Arthur, Ghosts and More Ghosts and other books. (C, OOP) I’ve read the stories in this collection countless times. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  5. Natalie Babbit, Tuck Everlasting. (C) A short, beautiful, mysterious book that has the quality of myth. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  6. J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan. (C) If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ve never experienced Peter Pan. Haunting. Mind-blowing. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  7. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz and following books. (C) Again, the movie doesn’t prepare you for the richness of these books. The Nome King! Pyrzqxgll! The magic flower pot! Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  8. Judy Blume, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and many other books. (YA) I’d read this book about ten times before I understood that it’s really about religionAmazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  9. Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied. (YA) Unusual atmosphere for a YA book. A teenager gets pulled into the adult world, with its darker concerns and a mysterious death. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  10. Carol Ryrie Brink, Andy Buckram’s Tin Men and many other books. (C, OOP) I can’t believe this book is out of print. So goodAmazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  11. Betty Brock, The Shades. Ditto. (C, OOP) A perfect book. Hollis learns that if he washes his face in the water of the dolphin fountain in the garden of his aunt’s grand old house, he can talk to the kindly shadows of the people who came into the garden. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  12. Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden and many other books. (C) My fifth-grade teacher told us that she re-read The Secret Garden every year. I’m sure I have, too. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  13. Betsy Byars, The Midnight Fox. (C) Another perfect book. Beautiful, funny, satisfying. Just thinking about this book makes me happy.  Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  14. Peter Cameron, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. (YA) An eighteen-year-old in Manhattan tries to figure out life. A smart, interesting main character. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  15. Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game. (YA) Dark, exciting, lots of battles, with a great twist at the end (I love a great twist). Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  16. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and sequel. (C) Like no other books ever. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  17. Kristin Cashore, Graceling and the following books. (YA) Terrific books, including uncanny powers and a fascinating villain. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  18. Ruth Chew, What the Witch Left and many other books. (C) In middle school, I loved the afternoons when my teacher would distribute the Scholastic we’d ordered, and I ordered a lot by Ruth Chew. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  19. Patricia Clapp, Jane-Emily. (YA for scariness) A wonderful story, but beware, it does get very scary. A malevolent child ghost. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  20. Beverly Cleary, Sister of the Bride and many other books. (C) Beverly Cleary! Enough said. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  21. Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games. (YA) A truly thrilling dystopia. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  22. Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising and related books. (C) Newly discovered powers, good vs. evil, the chosen one, deep symbolism. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  23. Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach and many other books. (C) Roald Dahl is one of the most distinctive writers ever. Hilarious, absurd, deliciously twisted. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  24. Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. There’s something about the odd illustrations in this book that made it especially riveting. A great introduction to Greek myths, which every child (and adult) should know. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  25. Edward Eager, Half Magic and many other books. These books had a lot of influence on my writing (I hope). Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  26. Julie Andrews Edwards, Mandy. (C) It’s not fair that on top of everything else, Julie Andrews is also a brilliant writer. An orphan finds a deserted shell cottage in the forest. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  27. Sylvia Louise Engdahl, This Star Shall Abide. (C) Great twist, on another world, with a fascinating civilization. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  28. Elizabeth Enright, The Saturdays and many other books. (C) Each of her books is so good. I can’t find the words to say how much I love them all. (Except, weirdly, Thimble Summer, which was the book that won the Newberry.) Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  29. Eleanor Estes, The Witch Family. (C) A cozy, happy book. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  30. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Understood Betsy. (C) As a child, I loved the single footnote in this book, which made me feel very grown-up; also the meditation on the nature of character. This is a book about courage in an unexpected, non-annoying way. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  31. Rumer Godden, The Greengage Summer and many other books. (YA) So many books by Godden, so good. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  32. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. (YA) Yes, it sounds so sad, but read it. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  33. Irene Hunt, Up a Road Slowly. (YA) A thoughtful story that unfolds over many years. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  34. Randall Jarrell, The Animal Family. (C) A very quiet and serene book; beautiful illustrations by Maurice Sendak. The first line reads, “Once upon a time, long, long ago, where the forest runs down to the sea, a hunter lived all alone…” Who could resist these enchanting words? Plus, mermaid. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  35. Diana Wynne Jones, Fire and Hemlock and many other books. (C) I discovered Diana Wynne Jones only recently, and raced through a giant stack in a few weeks. Other people might like the Chronicles of Chrestomanci better. Very tough call. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  36. Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth. (C) Brilliant. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  37. E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and many other books. (C) The first time I went to the Metropolitan Museum, all I cared about was seeing the pieces mentioned in the book. Konigsburg has written so many good books! But I do love this one the very best. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  38. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. (YA) Yes, it’s as good as you remember. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  39. Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea and many other books. (C) A strange, eerie magical world. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  40. Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time and many other books. (C) Good vs. evil, traveling through space and time, encounters with other worlds, romance. So good. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  41. Lois Lenski, Strawberry Girl. (C) A great heroine, a great story, and an interesting look at a time and place in American history. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  42. C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and all the Narnia books. (C) Words can’t capture how much I love these books. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  43. Jennie Lindquist, The Golden Name Day and following books. (C, OOP) My family comes from Sweden, so I took special delight in all the Swedish traditions. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  44. Lois Lowry, The Giver. (YA) Powerful. How utopia becomes dystopia. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  45. Betty MacDonald, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and the following books. (C) Brilliantly funny on so many levels. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  46. Robin McKinley, Beauty and many other books. (C) Re-tellings of fairy tales are often disappointing, but this one, a re-telling of “Beauty and the Beast,” is terrific. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  47. Stephanie Meyer, Twilight and the following books. (YA) You either love it—or not. I love. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  48. L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables and following books. (C) I never get enough of Anne. And she’s a rare red-haired character. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  49. O.T. Nelson, The Girl Who Owned a City. (YA) My sister and I share a passion for this book. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  50. E. Nesbit, The Railway Children and many other books. (C) So good. Nesbit is best known for her ground-breaking books about magic, but this realistic novel is my favorite of her work. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  51. Joan North, The Whirling Shapes. (C) Supernatural, suspenseful, great characters. A frightening situation, but somehow not frightening, just interesting. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  52. Naomi Novik, His Majesty’s Dragon. (C) This is usually classified as an adult book, but to me, it seems to belong here. “Patrick O’Brian with dragons” may not sound appealing, but I love this book. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  53. Robert O’Brien, The Silver Crown and many other books. (Tough to classify. I’d say C, others might argue YA) Or should I have named O’Brien’s Frisby and the Rats of NIMH? So hard to decide. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  54. Scott O’Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins. (C) Physical survival is a surprisingly common theme in children’s books, and this is one of the best. A girl survives alone on an island off the California coast—for decades. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  55. Edward Ormondroyd, Time at the Top and sequel. (C) Whimsical, delightful time-travel by elevator. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  56. R.J. Palacio, Wonder. (YA) It sounds very sad, but read it anyway. You won’t regret it. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  57. William Pene du Bois, The Twenty-One Balloons. (C) What a story! Balloon flight, a volcano-island government based on unlimited wealth and fine dining. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  58. Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Sherwood Ring. (C) I love books with friendly, loving ghosts, and this is my favorite of all. Plus a healthy dash of Revolutionary War history. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  59. Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass and His Dark Materials (YA) Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Run don’t walk. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  60. Ellen Raskin, The Westing Game. (C) I’ve read it fifty times, and am entranced by the puzzle every time. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  61. Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows. (C) A friend told me, “You will shed many sad tears, but you will love it,” and I do. Also, it’s a dog book, if you like dog books. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  62. Gail Rock, The House Without a Christmas Tree and following books. (C) These were made into great TV specials, as well. That’s how I discovered the books. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  63. Mary Rodgers, Freaky Friday.  (YA) A daughter and a mother switch bodies for the day, and hilarity and insight ensue. Crazy fun. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  64. Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park. (YA) A wonderful romance. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  65. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the following books. (C) These don’t need a plug. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  66. Kate Seredy, The Good Master and sequel. (C) A wonderful family story. Set in Hungary at the turn of the last century. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  67. William Sleator, House of Stairs. (YA) Scientists perform evil experiments on a bunch of teenagers. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  68. Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (YA) I bet it’s not what you remember. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  69. Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Black and Blue Magic and many other books. (C) A perfect Perfect! I love this book. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  70. Virginia Sorensen, Miracles on Maple Hill. (C) I do love a cozy book, and boy this is cozy. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  71. Johanna Spyri, Heidi. (C) Not everyone has a taste for so much goat milk and didacticism, but I love it. (Coincidence, there’s goat milk in Miracles on Maple Hill.) Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  72. Mary Stolz, In a Mirror and many other books. (YA) I want to lead the re-discovery of Mary Stolz’s work. Complex, unusual, thought-provoking. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  73. Noel Streatfield, Ballet Shoes and many other Shoes. (C) I love the theme of children-earning-money-for-their-family, and this is one of the best. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  74. Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family and following books. (C) More cozy! Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  75. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring books. (C) If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love it, and if you don’t like this sort of thing, you’ll stop on page 5. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  76. P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins and the following books. (C) The character of Mary Poppins is more interesting than in the movie. Though don’t get me wrong, I love the movie. (Note, see #26.) Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  77. Gertrude Chandler Warner, The Boxcar Children. (C) Survival and earning money. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  78. Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs. (C) The first epistolary book I ever read. Great twist. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  79. E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web. (C, but very sad) A towering classic of literature. I cried for four days straight after I read it the first time. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  80. T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone. (C) I love the theme of vindication, and this is great vindication. Also, the Arthurian legend re-imagined. Also, people turning into animals. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  81. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods and all the Little House books. (C) The Little House series is one of the greatest masterpieces in children’s literature. I have no words to describe how much I love, love, love these books. Now is nowAmazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble




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