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Authors Choose Their Favorite Childhood Books
10 authors share some of their favorite books from their childhoods.
Great children's books have a magical quality to them that we remember fondly throughout the years. Yet even great books can sometimes fall out of fashion or under the radar. Books, like all things, are subject to the tastes of the times and the quicksands of memory.
GreatSchools asked 10 children's and young-adult authors to tell us about their childhood favorites. With their help, we unearthed some treasures from the past.
Many well-known classics were mentioned by more than one author. The Wizard of Oz and Winnie the Pooh were the two books favored the most. Dr. Seuss was the author with the most books on our list. Some wonderful rediscoveries, however, were made in our conversations with these authors. Books were mentioned that many parents today may never have heard of, or completely forgotten about, for example, Escape to Witch Mountain, the Betsy-Tacy books and Time at the Top.
We found that not all of our children's authors were avid readers when they were young. A few were just plain reluctant readers.
Authors of Picture Books and Early Chapter Books Annie Barrows is author of the Ivy and Bean series of books, written for first- through third-graders.
Barrows' Favorites: Little Women, the Betsy-Tacy books, Half Magic, Time at the Top, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Reading "was like a dream that didn't stop." Annie Barrows' Ivy and Bean series is about two girls with opposite personalities who end up becoming great friends. The first book of the series was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as the Best Early Chapter Book of 2006.
Did you love reading as a child or were you a reluctant reader? I was a gobble-it-up-until-I-was-half-blind reader. People were always trying to get me off the sofa or the bed and flush me out of the house, yelling, "Stop reading!" If I had a kid like me, I would try to get the kid up and moving. I went to the library about three times a week on my bicycle and at about 12 years of age the library finally hired me to work there.
What are your five favorite books from childhood?
1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Absolutely number one. I've actually read it about a hundred times.
2. The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. They were reissued six or seven years ago. I'm a member of the Betsy-Tacy Society of America.
3. Half Magic by Edward Eager
4. Time at the Top by Edward Ormondroyd. I opened the book and read it all at once in about five hours. It's about a girl who goes up in an apartment-building elevator and goes back in time.
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.
What's your favorite reading memory from childhood? I think it has to be Time at the Top because it was then that I realized that I could completely live inside the book. It was like a dream that didn't stop.
When did you decide that you wanted to write children's books? When I was 9 I tried to write a children's book. I was reading Harriet the Spy, and I got a notebook and started writing things down. But it was drab compared to what I was reading. When I was about 34 I went back to school and got an MFA, and then I started writing.
Have you discovered any great children's books lately? I've discovered some books that I would have loved when I was a child. One is called Down Girl and Sit, and it's just great. Read the GreatSchools review of Down Girl and Sit: Smarter Than Squirrels. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is another one. It was a Newbery winner years ago.
Tell us about your new book. The third Ivy and Bean book is coming out this summer, and it's called Ivy and Bean Break the Fossil Record. It's about world records. Bean reads one of those world records books and she wants to break a world's record, but things keep going wrong for her and Ivy.
Cooper Edens wrote the best-selling children's book If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow.
Eden's Favorites: Dream Days, Peggy and Joan, Chatterbox Annual, St. Nicholas Annual, Blackies Children's Annual
"I was a reluctant reader in that I just wanted to see the pictures." Cooper Edens is a collector of children's antique illustrated books. His passion for illustrations led him to create the Classic Illustrated series of books for Chronicle Books.
Did you love reading as a child or were you a reluctant reader? I was a reluctant reader in that I just wanted to see the pictures. My grandmother was a keeper of books, not quite a collector, but a keeper, and she kept her childhood books and shared them with me. They were so strongly visual — for example, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan and others. She had a rich childhood full of Victorian books.
What are your five favorite books from childhood?
1. Dream Days illustrated by Maxfield Parrish (in anthologies).
2. Peggy and Joan, illustrated by Honor Appleton, published in 1890.
3. Chatterbox Annual, a Victorian and Edwardian magazine collected and bound in hardcover each year.
4. St. Nicholas Annual, a collection of 12 stories from St. Nicholas Magazine, which was published from 1870 to 1930. People can readily collect them today, and many libraries have the whole bound edition.
5. Blackies Children's Annual.
What's your favorite reading memory from childhood? I delighted in reading The Wizard of Oz, and another book by Frank Baum, John Dough and the Cherub, published in 1906, and illustrated by John R. Neill.
When did you decide that you wanted to write children's books? It came by way of writing songs. I just loved the Beatles and I started writing songs that were like Beatles songs, and then they became stories. They were good songs, but they were better books and that allowed me to respond with my drawing abilities. My first book, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow, was a big, big hit. It has sold over one and a half million copies since it was first published. I have many other books, but only one million-copy seller.
Have you discovered any great children's books lately? I like everything that William Joyce does. All his books are great. And I like Chris Van Allsburg.
Tell us about your new book. It's a collection of stories about the sea. I looked for the best visual things about the sea to put in it. I think I was able to get all the classics about the sea in. We accomplished that by using excerpts. Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and Old Man and the Sea are examples of things that would have been too long to include in their entirety, but we were able to use them by using just scenes from them. It's illustrated with pictures from the Victorian era. This is the 10th book in a series that includes The Big Book of Little, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Robin Hood. There is no end to what we're going to do with this series!
Marie LeTourneau's new book is The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Freres
LeTourneau's Favorites: Where the Wild Things Are, Curious George, Norman the Doorman, Madeline, all of Dr. Seuss's books.
"I'm still inspired by many authors and illustrators from my childhood." Marie LeTourneau's first book was Is a Worry Worrying You? by Fireda Wolff and Harriet May Savitz, for which she did the illustrations. Read the GreatSchools review of Is a Worry Worrying You?. LeTourneau is both the author and illustrator for her new book, The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Freres.
Did you love reading as a child or were you a reluctant reader? I loved reading when it was something I wanted to read! When it came to textbooks, I was a bit reluctant. School was difficult for me for different reasons, and textbooks seemed way over my head and were very hard for me. I did very well in college, though.
What are your five favorite books from your childhood?
1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It scared me in a good way. Maurice Sendak's illustrations are hauntingly brilliant.
2. Curious George by H.A. Rey.
3. Norman the Doorman by Don Freeman.
4. Dr. Seuss — specifically Old Hat, New Hat. I used to make my mom read it to me over and over.
5. I loved Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.
What is your favorite reading memory from childhood? Being able to escape into another world. As my parents can attest, I had a very active imagination as a kid, and picture books fueled that. I'm still inspired by many authors and illustrators from my childhood.
When did you decide that you wanted to write children's books? I knew it from the time I was about 7. I'm not saying I necessarily knew I would get published, but I definitely knew I would love to illustrate and write books. As a kid, I would make little books out of paper and staples and give them away as gifts. My aunt actually kept one of them! I also loved to play what I called "Newspaper." I would be the editor, and I would get all my younger cousins to write articles and submit them to me. If they weren't around, I'd do it all myself.
Have you discovered any great children's books lately? My kids are teenagers now, so we don't get the large influx of picture books like we used to. But I have read Ish by Peter Reynolds and thought it was adorable. I flipped through The Library Lion at a book store recently and loved the classic-looking illustrations. Read the GreatSchools review of Library Lion.
Tell us about your new book. I wrote The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Freres about eight years ago. It took me a long time to get it published. Basically it's a tale about a family of Parisian mice — one dad (Chef Marcel), seven sons and one tiny sister, Petite Michelle — who own a bistro and desperately want to win the coveted award for the best cheese soup in France. While the bumbling brothers turn the kitchen upside down, Petite Michelle calmly pirouettes around the chaos. I won't give away the ending, but let's just say girl power prevails! The book contains many French words and a pronunciation guide as well. The characters are based on real family members too ... my sister Michelle, my husband Marc and his six brothers. Chef Marcel is my father-in-law Marcel, who passed away just last year. I even have my own dad (Alfred) as "Judge Alfred Le Whisk."
Audrey Penn has been writing children's books since 1975.
Penn's Favorites: The Buddy Books, The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Peter Pan.
"I loved anything that was historical or that took me to a place that was different or fantastical." Audrey Penn's book The Kissing Hand was a New York Times #1 Bestseller in 1994. Read the GreatSchools review of The Kissing Hand. Her other books include A.D.D Not B.A.D., A Pocket Full of Kisses and Mystery at Blackbeard's Cove.
Did you love reading as a child or were you a reluctant reader? I just read nonstop. I loved anything that was historical or that took me to a place that was different or fantastical. I really craved that. Or a story with characters I could relate to.
I was also really into sets of books — things like the Buddy Books. I loved something called My Book House, a collection of Grimms Fairy Tales, Henny Penny and Hansel and Gretel stories, all the things that Walt Disney later made into movies.
What are your five favorite books from your childhood?
1. The Buddy Books
2. The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope
3. Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
4. The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon
5. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
Have you discovered any great children's books lately? I'm a book collector and I just got the first American edition of Treasure Island, which is wonderful. The artwork is just beautiful.
L. Bob Rovetch (aka Lissa Rovetch) is the author of the Hot Dog and Bob books.
Rovetch's Favorites: Yertle the Turtle, Frances, The Book of Nonsense, Stuart Little and Babe the Gallant Pig.
"I loved stories when I was little, but I didn't love reading." L. Bob created the Hot Dog and Bob series of books, about a boy who befriends a talking hot dog from outer space, with reluctant readers in mind.
Did you love reading as a child or were you a reluctant reader? I loved stories when I was little, but I didn't love reading, so my favorite thing in the world was being read to. That way I could completely lose myself in the pictures on the pages. My mother had a particularly mesmerizing voice and an uncanny ability to bring the characters to life. My thirst for bedtime books was unquenchable, and books on tape were yet to be invented. So my mother began recording my library books onto our gigantic old reel-to-reel tape recorder. After reading a book or two — or three — she'd push the start button, and I'd drift off as the stories played on.
What are your five favorite books from your childhood?
1. Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss. I'll always have a soft spot for Dr. Seuss's poor little Mac who saved his whole community with a burp.
2. Frances by Russell Hoban. I loved Frances, Russell Hoban's deep-thinking badger cub, who made up songs that expressed her feelings when she encountered difficult situations, like eating eggs, for example.
3. The Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear. I loved Edward Lear's poems for their great rhythm and sheer silliness. "The Pobble who has no toes had once as many as we; When they said 'Some day you may lose them all;' He replied 'Fish, fiddle-de-dee!' And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink Lavender water tinged with pink, for she said 'The World in general knows there's nothing so good for a Pobble's toes!'"
4. Stuart Little by E.B.White
5. Babe the Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith. I never outgrew my love of picture books but eventually added E.B White's wonderful Stuart Little and Dick King Smith's Babe the Gallant Pig to my collection of favorites.
Looking back at my early favorites, I see qualities in the writing that I still love: Great word rhythm, compelling plot, heartfelt emotion and a wonderful sense of humor. The illustrations were always just as important as the writing to me. I spent hours examining the tiniest details and often tried to copy the drawings.
Have you discovered any great children's books lately? Today Roald Dahl's BFG, about a clever girl and a big friendly giant; Margaret Mahy's Great Piratical Rumbustification, about a fearless librarian and a band of funny pirates; and William Steig's Dr. DeSoto, about a mouse dentist and his wife who outsmart a fox with a toothache, probably top my list.
Judy Sierra is the author of 30 books for children, teachers and librarians.
Sierra's Favorites: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Wizard of Oz series, Charlotte's Web, The Big Golden Book of Poetry and the Alice in Wonderland boxed set.
"I remember thinking, 'I wish this book would never end.'" Judy Sierra's newest book is called Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf. Read the GreatSchools reviews of her books Wild About Books and The Gruesome Guide to World Monsters.
Did you love reading as a child or were you a reluctant reader? I loved to read. I adored books. My mother was an elementary school librarian, so I probably only saw the best books. I couldn't read enough.
What are your five favorite books from your childhood?
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
2. The Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum.
3. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White was read to me by my mother.
4. The Big Golden Book of Poetry, edited by Jane Werner. I can still recite some of the poems by heart.
5. The Alice in Wonderland boxed set, by Lewis Carroll. I really responded to the illustrations in that book.
Bonus book: When I was in elementary school my father got me a book by T.S. Eliot called Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. It's the book the musical Cats is based on. My father paid me to memorize it.
What is your favorite reading memory from childhood? I think it was with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was an only child and I spent a lot of time alone. I read it on the way to the beach one summer, lying on the back seat of the car. It was a 1958 Ford convertible with red leather upholstery. I shielded the sun from my eyes with the book. I remember thinking, "I wish this book would never end." That was the first time that I remember wishing that.
When did you decide that you wanted to write children's books? Not very long ago. I spent a long time as a children's entertainer. I was a puppeteer and a storyteller. I was very happy doing what I did. I was working at a children's library and I saw that a children's book writing workshop was going to happen, so I signed up for a class and started writing children's books.
Have you discovered any great children's books lately? I spoke on a panel with Rick Riordon, who wrote the Percy Jackson series. I read the first book in the series, The Lightning Thief. It's about the little-known fact that all the Greek gods moved to America. It's getting up there as being as popular as Harry Potter. It's a great book.
Tell us about your new book. It's called Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf. B.B. Wolf is the Big Bad Wolf, and he's living in a retirement center. I think I might have got the idea because my father is living in a retirement center. Like many older people, B.B. Wolf wants to become a better person and give back to his community. The book is about how he tries to do that, but he messes up occasionally.
Authors of Books for Young Adults Catherine Ryan Hyde's adult fiction book, Pay It Forward, was made into a movie starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt.
Hyde's Favorites: Sneeches, Winnie the Pooh, Flowers for Algernon, Bless the Beasts and the Children, Cat's Cradle.
"I still read young adult fiction and usually enjoy it more than the adult fiction I'm reading." Catherine Ryan Hyde is author of the young adult books The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance, Becoming Chloe and Love in the Present Tense.
Did you love reading as a child or were you a reluctant reader? I was an avid reader. My friend Mary Jo and I would go to our neighborhood library and have a contest to see who could read the most books in one sitting. It was like we both were in there trying to break our own personal-best record. We were into horses.
What are your five favorite books from your childhood?
1. Sneeches by Dr. Seuss.
2. The original Winnie the Pooh.
3. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. I read this as a sophomore in high school.
4. Bless the Beasts and the Children by Glendon Swarthout.
5. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.
What's your favorite reading memory from childhood? I have to go back to Flowers for Algernon. Around that time I was just thinking I wanted to be a writer. In that book, the main character, Charlie Gordon, is not the kind of guy you want to know in real life. But in the book you get in his head, and you get to know and love him.
When did you decide that you wanted to write children's books? I decided I would write when I was a sophomore in high school, but I wrote for adults for years. When I wrote Pay It Forward — for adults — it ended up on the Best Books for Young Adults list, and then I suddenly had a young adult audience and had crossed over to young adult. I was going through a little dissatisfaction with the adult audience anyway.
Have you discovered any great children's books lately? The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of the best things I've read for ages and ages. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.
Tell us about your new book. The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance is a story of alcoholism and recovery from the point of view of a 13-year-old girl. She has a mother who is a raging alcoholic, and it makes it a little hard for her to see that she is a budding alcoholic herself. It's about the knowledge that you can save yourself — nobody else can — and about healing old patterns so that you don't have to keep reliving them.
Carolyn MacCullough's newest book, Drawing the Ocean, was selected as the New York Public Library's Best Book for the Teen Age.
MacCullough's Favorites: The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Wizard Children of Finn, Jacob Have I Loved, Escape to Witch Mountain, The Blue Sword.
"I used to be upset that my mom didn't let us watch much TV, but now I'm glad that she didn't. It made us read more."
Carolyn MacCullough is author of the young adult books Stealing Henry and Falling Through Darkness.
Did you love reading as a child or were you a reluctant reader? I loved reading. That was and still is my favorite thing to do. My mom was an English teacher and was strict about watching TV. So my sister and I read a lot. I used to be upset that my mom didn't let us watch much TV, but now I'm glad that she didn't. It made us read more.
What are your five favorite books from your childhood?
1. The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. These books are for kids in the middle grades.
2. Wizard Children of Finn by Mary Tannen.
3. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson.
4. Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key. This was made into a movie and was one of the first movies I was allowed to see.
5. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.
What's your favorite reading memory from childhood? It's probably when we were taking a long driving trip from Connecticut to Florida for a summer vacation. My mom had made a nest of blankets and pillows in the back of the station wagon — this was back when it was still legal to lie down on the back seat. I was reading The Dark Is Rising and it was early in the morning and I was also looking at the sun rising. It was cozy and beautiful.
When did you decide that you wanted to write children's books? I was always writing as a kid — really bad poems and short stories about princes and princesses. I didn't get serious until I was in my late 20s when I went to my MFA program at The New School [in New York].
Have you discovered any great children's books lately? I teach creative writing, and I'm always pushing good books on my students. I really liked Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. I'm really enjoying books by Pete Hautman, in particular Godless. And there's a great book, A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb. The plot is so intriguing and the writing is beautiful. It's a young adult ghost story. Also, I like A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.
Tell us about your new book. The first three books that I wrote are mostly realistic fiction. Drawing the Ocean is mainly realistic fiction about a 16-year-old girl who has moved to a new town and a new school, but that doesn't quite work for her because the ghost of her twin brother, Ollie, keeps appearing to her.
Authors of Books for All Ages Daniel Pinkwater has written, in his own words, "about 100" books.
Pinkwater's Favorites: "I don't play favorites."
"I can remember the exact moment I realized I was able to 'code bust,' that is figure out words I had never seen before. 'Wow!' I said. 'I can read!'" In addition to being an author, Daniel Pinkwater is a commentator for NPR's All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. Read the GreatSchools review of his book Lizard Music.
Did you love reading as a child or were you a reluctant reader? Loved reading, of course! Still do. Writing is even more fun.
What are your five favorite books from your childhood? I don't play favorites, but I remember older kids reading to us younger ones — Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Ivanhoe. Later, we tackled them ourselves.
What's your favorite reading memory from childhood? I can remember the exact moment I realized I was able to "code bust," that is figure out words I had never seen before. "Wow!" I said. "I can read!"
When did you decide that you wanted to write children's books? I didn't decide — I just noticed I was doing it.
Tell us about your new book. It's The Neddiad, and it's the best I have ever written and that's out of about 100.
Gary Soto is a poet and a children's author.
Soto's Favorites: None.
"I don't have any favorite books from childhood." Gary Soto was one of the youngest poets to be included in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry and has won many awards for his poetry. His children's books include picture books, early reader books and young adult books. Read the GreatSchools review of his book Baseball in April and Other Stories.
Did you love reading as a child or were you a reluctant reader? I don't have any favorite books from childhood. I did read though. I used to venture off to the Fresno library. I think fourth through sixth grades were my reading years. I stopped after sixth. It was sort of uncool around junior high and high school. I returned to reading around 11th grade.
What are your five favorite books from your childhood? I can't recall any books. I remember liking Pinocchio, but that was read to us by our teacher. But I remember her name: Sloan. That was in fifth grade. I don't recall titles of other books. There were no books in my household. I mean zero. We didn't have a literate family.
What's your favorite reading memory from childhood? I remember reading and being engrossed in Dog Soldiers, a Robert Stone novel, when I was a young man, about 26. I remember being mesmerized and reading for four or six hours at a time. I was just hooked. I also loved Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge: A Novel by Evan Connell. That's a great piece of literature. I read that in my late 20s and I've reread them occasionally, every 10 years. I've read them three times each. It's about the best writing I've encountered. [Editor's note: These novels were made into a movie, Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.]
When did you decide that you wanted to write children's books? When I was 17 or 18, I was reading Hemingway, Steinbeck and Edger Lee Masters, all those stellar figures from the '40s and '50s. These were all in textbooks in high school. But it was when I was taking creative writing at Fresno State that I got an inkling that I wanted to write.
Have you discovered any great children's books lately? I don't read children's literature. I like writing it. The reading part is not as fruitful as the adult literature I read.
Tell us about your new book. I have several books coming out this year and in 2008 and 2009. My newest book is called Mercy on These Teenage Chimps. It's about two teenage boys who are going through teenage angst. One day they wake up and they're chimps! It's gotten good reviews.
Updated January 2008

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Comments From GreatSchools.org Users
07/19/2007:
"Great!"
06/21/2007:
"Thanks for this wonderful article! My five-year-old and I read every night, and guidance from these terrific children's authors reminds me of some of my old favorites (notably 'From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler')and gives me a lot of great new ideas for bedtime books."
06/20/2007:
"Any of the R. A. Heinlein juveniles"
06/20/2007:
"What a great article! I now have a few more books to add to my daughter's summer reading list. Thanks for these great suggestions!"