My sister Peggy suggested today's blog topic. My nephews' school library has a "birthday book" donation program, which asks parents to donate a book in honor of their child's birthday, and shelves the book with a bookplate honoring the child. Last year my sister donated D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, because she thought it was a book all children's libraries should have. What other books are "must-haves" for a children's library? I've listed five below; leave your own suggestions in the comments.
1. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I've written about this book before. It changed my life, it changed the lives of several of my friends, and it is absolutely essential reading for curious girls between the ages of eight and 12. Harriet M. Welsch makes no apologies for her curiosity, but she learns that cold-hearted observation needs to come with a dose of compassion, and that being factually accurate isn't always the same as being right. It's a lesson I'm still learning.
2. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I don't know why, but I didn't read this book as a child; I might have thought it was just a boys' book. My tutoring student and I read the book together a couple of years ago, and I fell in love with it as kids have since 1959. Appropriate for ages 9 and up, it's the story of a resourceful boy who runs away from New York City to the Catskill Mountains, and teaches himself how to live off the land. He's overwhelmed at first, and almost dies — but as he learns what the mountain offers, so do we. This book is not only a great story, but a beautifully-illustrated natural history primer.
3. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Johnny Tremain is an apprentice silversmith in Boston whose bad attitude leads (indirectly) to a crippling accident. Forced to find new work, he winds up in a printing shop used by the Sons of Liberty, which gives him a front-row seat at the beginning of the American Revolution. For kids 10 and up, this is not only a painless and fascinating history lesson but also a deeply insightful emotional portrait of a boy discovering the man inside himself.
4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. This world is not the only possible world, this time not the only possible time. It's easy for kids' worlds to become very narrow. Computers and television offer a window on the world, but also seem to have the paradoxical effect of making the whole wide world seem to be about nothing but the user. A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg Murry and her strange little brother Charles Wallace, who are swept across time and space into an unlikely quest to find their missing father. If science will save us, this book (for ages 9 and up) is a magical introduction.
5. The Oxford Atlas of the World. It costs 80 bucks, retail. I don't own it, mainly because I have no place to keep it, but I covet a lifestyle that would allow me to keep this book open on a reading table somewhere. Every library should, by the way, and kids' libraries most of all. I own other atlases, and have seen other atlases that are equally impressive (the National Geographic one is great), but this one shows not only the world as it is now but also as it was, with maps and diagrams that spell out the process of how it all got this way. Even now, I can't think of a more pleasant way to spend an afternoon than just leafing through an atlas.