18 Classics to Read with Kids

Today's question comes from Debra:
"Have you ever done a post about your favorite classics for kids? I have been thinking about starting some classics with Kolt over the summer but all the ones I can think of off the top of my head are either way too heavy, or I don't think he would really be into them. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is not really up his alley for example." 

Well, I'm glad you asked! Because it gives me a great excuse to list my favorite classics of children's literature. For those who don't know, Kolt is a nine year old boy, and a very strong reader. I'm making this book list with him in mind. I'm going to stick affiliate links in here, in the form of cover images, just in case you are interested in any of these but can't find them at your local library.

Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White -- As I've been thinking about this list, I keep thinking about The Trumpet of the Swan. I know that Charlotte's Web is the most talked-about of E.B. White's books, but The Trumpet of the Swan has a special place in my heart from my childhood. It follows a swan who can't make a trumpeting noise, so he learns to play the trumpet. What he has to sacrifice in order to communicate and what he is able to do . . . it's just a book I'm never going to forget. Great one to read together and discuss.

The BFG by Roald Dahl -- This is my personal favorite of Dahl's books, and I'm sure you're aware of Dahl as and author, but I just had to list this one. Gotta love it when a little girl makes friends with a misfit giant.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster -- I honestly don't remember that much about this one except that I loved it! It is a very clever book, and just the sort of thing that a strong reader is going to like -- full of wordplay and complex ideas but completely devoid of questionable content. A boy takes a journey into a strange land.

Abel's Island by William Steig -- This is another one from my own childhood. It is the story of Abel, a mouse who ends up stranded on a desert island. I re-read it in adulthood and loved it just as much the second time. Completely un-put-downable. You may already be familiar with Steig because he wrote Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Shrek. And, actually, we really loved listening to the audiobook of Dominic as a family last summer.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis -- I assume Kolt has read The Chronicles of Narnia and I know you guys are Christian. Have you looked into reading The Screwtape Letters together? When I read them I was just reading on my own, so I wasn't evaluating them for readability-with-an-nine-year-old. But The Screwtape Letters is some of the best Classic Christian Literature, in my opinion. The book is a series of letters from a devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood. They detail some great strategy for how to tempt humans to do wrong and thereby educate us on how to resist temptation.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare -- On the Christian Fiction theme, another favorite of mine is The Bronze Bow. It's the story of a young man, Daniel at the time of Christ, and his experiences in the political atmosphere of the time. He wants revenge on the Romans for the unjust deaths of family, and he joins Zealots living in the mountains.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg -- The story of a brother and sister who run away from home to live in the Met and discover a mystery. I was completely enchanted by the idea of living in a museum, and by how Claudia and Jamie managed to overcome the practical problems of doing so. Still remember some of the scenes from this one and it has been years.    

Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder -- Jacob read and loved these when he was about Kolt's age. I just barely started reading Little House in the Big Woods aloud to our boys at night and they are completely enchanted, as am I. It is so fascinating to read about this family and how they live -- to get into the nitty gritty details of hunting and farm life. All the close encounters with bears and panthers keep my boys well invested.

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor -- I never read this one as a kid, but when I read it as an adult I knew I had to own it. It is set in the South during the Great Depression and follows Cassie Logan and her family as they experience the racism of the time. It might be a good one to read together if you want to apply the book to current events.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett -- If you can get Kolt past the title of this one, it is absolutely a fascinating story about a wealthy girl who is brought to ruin and continues standing up for right despite her complete change in lifestyle. I read it as a child, then watched the movie. When I re-read it as an adult I found that  my memory had been heavily tainted by the (inferior) movie. And holy cow I could relate to Miss Minchin a lot more than I did when I was a kid. Heh.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett -- My mother and I read this one together when I was about seven or eight
and it is one of my favorite childhood memories. Mary, Dickon, Colin, the secret garden . . . I remember particularly when Mary gets a skipping rope.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery -- Jacob and I both read this series when we were kids and just loved it. Honestly, it's been ages since I read it, and I don't remember much at all about it, except that these were, for a time, the best books ever.

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck -- Historical Fiction set in the depression, this slim book is one of my absolute favorites among children's lit. Since it only won the Newbery in 2000, I don't know if you would consider it a classic or not, but I do. It follows a brother and sister who go to visit their grandma. The kids come from Chicago and Grandma Dowdel lives out in the Illinois countryside. She is sassy, sour, hilarious and amazing. One of my all-time favorite characters. See also the prequel, A Long Way From Chicago.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin -- Definitely a classic, this one is a mystery set in a mansion. Sort of reminds me of Clue, the game. Sixteen heirs are brought to Westing's mansion to try and solve the mystery of his death. Winner take all. I read this one first as an adult, but I would have loved it as a kid, too.

Karlsson-on-the-Roof  by Astrid Lindgren -- This is, like, maybe the original Cat in the Hat or something. Karlsson-on-the-roof is a little man who lives on the roof and comes to play with Eric, the boy who lives in the house. He accidentally sets things on fire and does other crazy stuff. It's classic, it's crazy, and it's a winner of a book in my opinion! From the author of Pippy Longstocking and Ronia the Robber's Daughter.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald-- Ok so I haven't actually read this one, but my brother who has insanely good taste swears that it and it's sequels are the best children's classics ever. Definitely on my to-read list. From Ransom, ""The Princess and the Goblin" is a gentle and charming adventure wherein Princess Irene and Curdie the miner boy use their courage, resourcefulness, faith, and love to foil the nefarious plot of the goblin king."

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth -- You got me, I haven't read this one either. But Jacob loves it, and every time I hear it mentioned, it is by people who love it. UPDATE: I have read this book now and I loved it. I ended up reaching large chunks of it out loud to my family and we all cracked up athe the Gilbreth family antics. I went on to read the sequel, Belles on Their Toes.

Watership Down by Richard Adams -- Last but not least, a book my entire family loves but that I have never read. Lots of other people like it too, I've heard. It's about rabbits. An epic tale. Our family copy was so loved that it was falling apart and I blame the broken book for being too broken for me to read.

I hope you find one (or more!) books that you love here, Kolt! Debra, let me know if any of these work out well.

And for the rest of you, how would you answer Debra's question? What books is this list missing?


  1. "The Princess and the Goblin" is a gentle and charming adventure wherein Princess Irene and Curdie the miner boy use their courage, resourcefulness, faith, and love to foil the nefarious plot of the goblin king.

    1. Thanks, bro! :D Knew you'd know just how to describe it.

  2. So many favorite here. A wonderful list! I would personally add something by Elizabeth Enright (Gone-Away Lake or The Saturdays) and something by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (The Velvet Room, perhaps). But great choices all in all :-)

    1. Thank you, Jen! I haven't read any of the ones you mentioned, I'll have to look them up. :)


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