Books for Children

These are some books that I recommend for kids but that are also interesting for adults. Which makes it much more fun to read together with them. Beyond the first few days, when they are first learning to read at the “See Dick, see Jane” level, I don’t think it is necessary to give kids stupid, dumbed-down books. Parents often say, “Oh, this is too difficult. There are too many words they wouldn’t know. It would be beyond them.” But children’s reading material should be beyond them. That’s how they stretch their minds and learn new things. (The same, of course, applies to adults.)

Actually, kids are learning new words and phrases all the time, sometimes by asking the meaning but usually by figuring it out from the context. Reading good books, particularly books about how people lived in other times and places, gives them richer and larger contexts. In times past most children preferred such books. They didn’t have to be assigned to read them. More likely they read them on the sly, when they were supposed to be studying.

I have divided the books into three levels of difficulty, but this is obviously only a rough guide. The “grade school” books are not solely for young children, and an adventurous child will easily progress to some of the more advanced ones. I’ve known ten-year-olds of no more than average intelligence who have reread Little Women or Tolkien’s Ring trilogy several times. Also, there are of course retellings at various levels. You can find an edition of Gulliver’s Travels suitable for eight-year-olds of the sort that consists mostly of illustrations, and a rather different one for young teenagers that is an abridged and somewhat simplified version of the original text. By the late teens anyone who is not actually brain-damaged should be able to read almost any work of fiction without any such simplification. If they can’t, don’t blame me, blame their education (and do something about it).

Grade School Level:

Mother Goose rhymes
Dr. Seuss books
A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh; The House at Pooh Corner
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz
E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
Grimms’ Fairy Tales
Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales
Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Remus stories
Aesop’s Fables
Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book; The Second Jungle Book
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass

Middle School Level:

Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer
Booth Tarkington, Penrod books
Tales of Robin Hood
Jaime de Angulo, Indian Tales
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
Richard Adams, Watership Down
Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn
Jack London, The Call of the Wild; White Fang
Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
Arabian Nights

High School Level:

P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and Bertie books
Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; The Prince and the Pauper
Edgar Allan Poe, Stories
Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes stories
Jules Verne, Science-fiction novels
Robert Louis Stevenson: Treasure Island; Kidnapped; Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
Alexander Dumas, The Three Musketeers
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Theodore Isaac Rubin, Lisa and David
Raymond Smullyan, Alice in Puzzleland; What Is the Name of This Book?
Martin Gardner, Aha! Gotcha; Aha! Insight
Jack Vance, Lyonesse trilogy
T.H. White, The Once and Future King
Homer, The Odyssey
Robert Graves, Homer’s Daughter
(Chinese fantasy translated by Arthur Waley)
Edith Hamilton, Mythology

And various other collections of myths and legends from around the world. . . . And kids’ versions of many other classics. . . .

I have limited this list mainly to fiction. There are far too many nonfiction books about history, science, etc., to go into here. But I will mention that Isaac Asimov wrote literally hundreds of interesting books of science fiction and science fact. Many are written specifically for children, but his style is so lucid that most of his adult-level books should also be quite understandable by kids, certainly by the early teens.


Section from Gateway to the Vast Realms (Ken Knabb, 2004).

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