Merry Holidays y'all!
Many years ago I developed a tradition of giving my children a book on Christmas Eve that we would read together. That collection of books, along with stacks upon stacks of others, are often brought out of boxes, talked about, read again, and introduced to new people. We do love them so. Though I imagined that my children would long remember these books, I had no idea just how central their most beloved books would be to their memories of childhood.
Of course it helped that I read to them constantly.
So here are a few of our favorites. Obviously not an exhaustive list, just a select few of the books that moved us. If you have a child in your life, these books have stood the test of time. All the images are links to Amazon, and indeed your purchases through the links will help support this blog.
The Musical Life of Gustav Mole
The Musical Life of Gustav Mole became an instant favorite in our house. The book is beautifully narrated on the accompanying CD, which also includes introductions to various forms of music such as jazz, opera, and classical. The story itself is endearing, heartwarming, fun, and uplifting. But the selection of music, the length of samples, and the way it is all realistically woven into the fabric of the story is flawless. My children loved this book, and they loved the music. They must've listened to it 100 times and never seemed to tire of it until they finally outgrew it.
I would recommend it for children ages 3-6. My two loved the book much beyond that age (and certainly won't let me part with it during Spring cleaning purges) but I think it is best introduced at a younger age when music still holds intense magic for children, and while they are still open to discovery. My son, a music lover by nature, would be breathless in anticipation of hearing certain pieces like the jazz band. He would throw his fat little fists in the air and jam out. It was awesome.
The Polar Express
Oh, but seriously, this book has such a powerful hold over our Christmas memories that I can't even imagine a family with young children not having it. You can get just the book - and it's gorgeous - or you can get the book and CD version narrated by Liam Neeson who took an already enchanted story and layered it with a haunting, yet beautiful voice. The only drawback is that you'll never be able to watch a Liam Neeson movie again without craving hot chocolate and being swept over with waves of holiday nostalgia. That's fun.
Best for children 7-10. Much younger and the book's intensity might be lost or too much.
Corduroy is a classic that many of you may remember from your childhood. My grandmother read this to me when I would visit her as a young girl. I ached to be the girl in the story who sees past Corduroy's plain and slightly tattered appearance and brings him home to lovingly care for him. Corduroy just worms his way into your heart with his fierce but innocent determination.
Yes, I did just spoil the ending, but you're an adult, you'll get over it. Besides, it's all the stuff that happens to Corduroy in his department store home before he finds a real home that really builds this story up so that you're just beside yourself with joy for Corduroy by the end.
Well, beside yourself if you're a 7 year old little girl with a great big juicy bleeding heart. The kind of girl who rescues animals and believes that all of her stuffed animals really do have feelings. That kind of child will love this book.
If You Give a Pig a Pancake
Maybe the child you're shopping for is more the mischievous, energetic type? The kind of child who's curiosity gets them into predicaments, but whose verve and sparkle saves them every time?
This is the book they will bring you to read to them, and when you're done, ask you to read it again, and again, and AGAIN. Quite popular several years ago for a reason. Hilariously absurd and impossible, and the ending starts it all over again, which for some reason sends children into roars of delight.
Not so much a feel-good story with a moral thread, but an absolute charm in the humor department.
A hands-down winner for children 3-6.
I'm still waiting for this series to be made into a major motion picture. Full of charming animal characters, rich scenes, unlikely heroes, dastardly evil villains, and delicious derring-do, the Redwall series delighted our family for several years before the teen years hit.
The lines between good and evil are predictably simplistic, but a classic formula for legend and fantasy storytelling. Brain Jacques has been compared to Tolkein, and while I wouldn't go that far, Jacques is nothing if not an epic storyteller.
And true to more modern books, there are plenty of female heroines as the focal points of some of the books so that they appeal to both boys and girls.
Go for the hardcover as these are books that ought to be handed down. Best for ages 10-13, though older children who are really into fantasy books would like these too.
A Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L'engles books about the Wallace family are sophisticated and quirky and I adored them as a pre-teen, and adore them still. There are strong opinions about L'engles' liberal works, and some feel they are outdated and more suited to a cold-war mentality.
Personally? I think that the concepts of science, philosophy, religion, coupled with improbable adventures and strong, smart children are a rare combination that you simply cannot find in books written today. But it's more than that. There is something about the books that creates a very personal experience of inner discovery -- an elusive something that I cherished and held onto.
With everything a click away, our children need books that make them think and discover new things in their inner landscape. Books that are both magical and intelligent. Still, realistically these books not being for everyone, they are most likely to win with thoughtful, intelligent, introvert type pre-teens.