Classic childhood favorites for 4th graders
by: E.B. White, illustrated by: Garth Williams - (Harper & Row, 1945) 131 pages.
When the Little family’s second son arrives, they are surprised to find that he looks just like a mouse! It’s tough growing up mouse-sized in a regular-sized family in New York City — hazards are everywhere. But Stuart’s pluck and humor see him through many adventures, from getting tangled up in the window blinds to racing a model sailboat in Central Park. And when his bird friend Margalo is chased away by the family cat, Stuart hits the open road in a gas-powered toy car on his greatest adventure of all. The short but dramatic chapters make this a great choice for readers making the transition from short books to novels.
Want to see the movie? Check out the live-action film from 1999, which features the voice of Michael J. Fox as Stuart.
Perfect for: Kids who want a little inspiration to be brave.
Find Stuart Little at your local library.
Harriet the Spy
by: Louise Fitzhugh - (Harper & Row, 1964) 320 pages.
Precocious, slightly lonely, 11-year-old Harriet wants to be a writer when she grows up. She spends her afternoons writing down her uncensored and decidedly unflattering observations about her neighbors and classmates in a secret spy notebook. But when the other kids find the notebook, they form a Spy Catchers’ Club — and Harriet is NOT invited. This funny novel deals with issues central to the tween experience like friendships and peer rejection, without being sappy.
Want to see the movie? Check out the 1997 film starring Rosie O’Donnell as Harriet’s nanny.
Perfect for: Observant kids who notice everything.
Find Harriet the Spy at your local library.
by: Laura Ingalls Wilder - (Harper & Bros., 1953) 352 pages.
The hook: An American classic, this nine-book series has been the first history class for many an American girl (long before the American Girls historical book series was born). The “through-a-white-girl’s-eyes” perspective has its critics; Ingalls Wilder’s depiction of savage Native Americans has some old-school racist chestnuts. But the children’s canon offers nary a replacement for the closely-observed, tedious and at times grueling daily life of a frontier family. In short, it’s one of those series that will teach your child a lot while she gets sucked into the story.
Perfect for: Girls and boys (ages 7 and up) curious about simpler, albeit tougher, times.
The Wind in the Willows
by: Kenneth Grahame - (C. Scribner's Sons, 1908)
The hook: The madcap adventures of Mr. Toad, Badger, Ratty, and Mole have enchanted children for over a century in this timeless English treasure. Enjoy the flawed but loyal friendships, weasel-ly villains, exciting battles, masterful illustrations, worthy themes, and sublime descriptions of the rural Thames riverbank. Great rollicking fun to read out loud!
Want to see the movie? The 1983 made-for-TV adaptation recreates the story in charming stop-motion animation.
Perfect for: Kids who like classics and adventures.
Find The Wind in the Willows at your local library.
by: Rosemary Wells, illustrated by: Susan Jeffers - (H. Holt, 1995) 64 pages.
An unorthodox picture-book text, to be sure, but this sensitive rendition of Eric Knight’s 1938 classic (re-written by Rosemary Wells and published in 1995) about the much-loved collie that refuses to be separated from her young master is sure to win a large, latter-day audience of younger listener/viewers. Stark poverty — a subject much in the news today — forces a jobless Yorkshire miner to sell his son’s dog for hard cash. Without a maudlin word, Wells relates the saga of Lassie’s unbelievable trek across Scotland and part of England to find her old home. And Jeffers’ grave, deeply felt illustrations eloquently capture the harshness of poverty and the high drama of Lassie’s incredible journey. The book’s uplifting message that — just occasionally — love does conquer all is yet another plus.
Perfect for: Kids who like realism stories.
Find Lassie Come-Home at your local library.
The Little Prince
by: Antoine de Saint-Exupery - (Harcourt Brace, 1943) 96 pages.
A pilot crashes in the Sahara Desert. A thousand miles from any habitation, while attempting to fix his plane, he meets a strangely dressed little boy who seems to have come from nowhere, and who demands that he draw a sheep. “When a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey,” so the pilot attempts to draw a sheep. Gradually the Little Prince reveals his story. He comes from a small asteroid, where he lives alone until a rose grows there. But the rose is demanding, and he is confused by his feelings about her. Eventually he decides to leave and journey to other planets in search of knowledge. After meeting many confusing adults, he eventually lands on Earth, where he befriends a snake and a fox. The fox helps him to understand the rose, and the snake offers to help him return to his planet — but at a price. Many adults look back on this book with a catch in the throat and have a special place for it in their hearts. This gentle picture book, concerned with the true “matters of consequence,” was as much a part of growing up for those of a certain age as The Lord of the Rings or the Beatles. There quite literally has never been anything like it, though others have certainly tried.
Perfect for: Kids who like fantasy stories.
Find The Little Prince at your local library.
A Wrinkle in Time
by: Madeleine L’Engle - (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1962) 256 pages.
Meg, an awkward girl who doesn’t quite fit in, has a lot to worry about. Her beloved father has suddenly disappeared, and neighbors are beginning to gossip that he’s run off with another woman. It turns out that his disappearance is connected with his scientific work, and Meg, her brilliant little brother, and her friend Calvin set out to find him — a search that takes them on an exciting but dangerous galactic adventure.
Want to see the movie? Check out the 2006 adaptation, which dramatizes the struggle between good and evil, or the new release coming spring 2018.
Perfect for: Kids who like science fiction and fantasy.
Find A Wrinkle in Time at your local library.
Bridge to Terabithia
by: Katherine Paterson - (HarperCollins, 1977) 176 pages.
Terabithia is a secret kingdom that Jess creates with his friend Leslie in the woods outside her house. The two retreat there to vanquish giants and zombies, and to escape the tedium of school and the cruelty of classmates. In Terabithia, it doesn’t matter that Jess’s family is very poor, or that he and Leslie are considered losers at school. But one day an accident changes everything and Jess has to deal with the pain and permanence of loss.
Want to see the movie? The 2007 adaptation sensitively covers the mature themes in the book, including the death of a main character.
Perfect for: Kids who like intense friendship.
Find Bridge to Terabithia at your local library.
by: Mary Norton, illustrated by: Beth and Joe Krush - (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1953) 192 pages.
The hook: Young teen Arietty Clock and her parents are tiny people called borrowers. They live under the floorboards in a house inhabited by giant “human beans,” surviving by sneaking up into the house for scraps of food and other tiny leavings. When Arietty is spotted by a human boy and the two strike up a forbidden friendship, Arietty’s father is horrified. But then the cook starts to notice that food is disappearing, and the Clock family may need the boy’s help to escape being discovered. This imaginative tale and its four sequels have sparked a love of fantasy in countless children since it was first published in 1952.
Want to see the movie? Check out the 1998 live-action version starring John Goodman, or the beautifully animated Japanese version, The Secret World of Arietty, released in 2012.
Perfect for: Kids with big imaginations.
The Trumpet of the Swan
by: E.B. White, illustrated by: Fred Marcellino - (HarperCollins, 2001) 252 pages.
Louis the swan is born with a disability — he has no “HONK!” He learns to communicate via a brass trumpet that his father steals from a music store, then a human friend, Sam, teaches him to read and write. Uplifting, exciting tale of love and courage, with old-fashioned sepia illustrations.
Want to see the movie? Check out the 2001 animated film featuring the voice talents of Carol Burnett and Reese Witherspoon.
Perfect for: Kids who have ever felt different.
Find The Trumpet of the Swan at your local library.