May 4, 2020 | Matt Jaeger
15 Kids’ Novels Every Adult Should Read (or Re-Read)
Of course, children’s novels were written to appeal to children. But one should not forget that children’s fiction is written and published by grown ups. Long before a story reaches a child’s eyes, it is conceived and written down by an author; read countless times by editors, advanced readers, reviewers, and critics; and put out into the world by publishers.
With so much grown up influence, it’s no wonder then that many books written for children can still appeal to an adult audience. Though often shorter and written in simpler language, juvenile fiction can be profound and its themes universal, regardless of the age of the reader. You only need to look at the endurance and constant reinvention of books like Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women to know this is true.
For those who may not know the terminology, Juvenile Fiction refers to chapter books written for children ages 7-12, upper elementary through middle school. For my money, they are some of the most important and imperishable books ever written. They are the books that made us fall in love with reading, the books which fueled our imaginations, the books that first took us out of ourselves, the books which laid the foundation for living in a more grown up world, and the books we still most treasure on our shelves.
Whether you choose to read these stories with a kid or on your own, here’s a list of Juvenile Fiction books handpicked by Youth Services Assistant Matt Jaeger that deserve an adult’s perspective too.
Skellig – by David Almond
This book is deep. Two kids find an emaciated man in a garage. The man has wings. Is he part bat, part angel? The book tackles themes of spirituality and grief, and though it may only take an afternoon or two to read, Skellig will stick with you for awhile. It is reminiscent of the magical realist fiction of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Available on KY Unbound.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
One day, eleven-year-old Winnie Foster sees a teenage boy drinking from a spring. The boy tells her not to drink from it, and she comes to find out that the water grants everlasting life. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not so fast. Tuck Everlasting is the story of a fountain of youth, and you can’t introduce an element like that without ultimately dealing with high concepts such as death, greed, spirituality, and the meaning of life. Available on KY Unbound.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to have compassion? What does it mean to live in harmony? All these questions are approached in the absence of any human characters. An emotionless robot named Roz finds herself alone on a remote island and must learn to get by with the help of the island’s only other inhabitants, the animals. Your thoughts will be provoked. Available on KY Unbound.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
A historic novel set in the Depression-era Midwest, Bud, Not Buddy is told through the eyes of a ten-year-old African-American boy. Life is hard for Bud, there’s no two ways about it, and the author address many social issues of the day: poverty, racism, violence, abandonment. But you’ll marvel at Bud’s humor and resilience, and as an adult, you’ll realize through the reading the Bud is smarter than you and that you have a lot to learn from him. Available on KY Unbound.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Truthfully, you can read just about any Dahl novel as an adult and find layers you didn’t before. But Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is perhaps most poignant. I think the filmmaker’s who adapted the book understood this and that’s why the Gene Wilder version is so dark and the Tim Burton is so…weird. As kids, we were fascinated by the thought of inheriting a chocolate factory. As an adult, you’ll question the symbolic morality of the various children and their families, you’ll ponder the spectacular poverty of the buckets, and you’ll ask yourself, “Is Willy Wonka really a good person?” Available on KY Unbound.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo
There are so many phenomenal Dicamillo books that adults would enjoy, Because of Winn Dixie, Raymie Nightingale, and The Tale of Despereaux to name a few. But Edward Tulane feels special to me. It’s the story of a toy rabbit who gets separated from its ten-year-old owner, Abilene. But it’s ultimately a journey of self discovery. Edward passes through many hands after being separated from Abilene, and each set of hands teaches him a new lesson about how to be a better “person.” It feel like philosophy disguised in a children’s adventure story. Available on Hoopla and KY Unbound.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Approaching its 50th birthday, Harriet the Spy endures because of its honesty. Life can be a struggle, especially when you don’t fit in anywhere. Harriet is too smart, too quirky, and frankly, she’s sometimes unlikable. Neither her parents nor her classmates understand her; they think she should act differently than she does, that she should be a different sort of person to fit into their preconceptions. So Harriet lashes out with her words, and it backfires. This is a truthful portrayal of childhood, and many, many point to this book as being the most seminal of their youth. Available on KY Unbound.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Some credit The Giver with kicking off the teen dystopian boom of recent years. Published in 1993, it has sold more than 10 million copies, been adapted to film, and won the Newberry Award. When I was in college, an education professor read it chapter by chapter out loud to our class each week. I loved it then, and loved it when I read it again last year. Available on Hoopla and KY Unbound.
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
Perhaps the most quotable children’s novel of all time. There is a lot of simple wisdom packed into these stories of stuffed animals. Encountered again with adult eyes, some of the lines will haunt you. You’ll also discover a new empathy for some of the character’s traits: Eeyore’s depression, Kanga’s helicopter parenting, Piglet’s self-doubt, and Rabbit’s obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Various versions available on Hoopla and KY Unbound.
The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Two unlikely kids form a bond and create a magical sanctuary called Terabithia where they go to escape. Yet, they aren’t escaping just to play. They escape to Terabithia because they need to escape, because life can be hard and confusing and cruel. Nothing is glossed over in this slim volume and that perpetually keeps it on the “Banned Book” list. Warning: You may cry. Available on Hoopla and KY Unbound.
Pax by Sarah Pennypacker
This book is simply beautiful. It’s the story of a boy and his fox who are separated by an approaching war and their struggles to return to each in the midst of an upheaved world. The chapters alternate between the boy’s and fox’s perspectives, and their believable voices and emotions parallel each other as they’re forced to grow up in ways for which they’re not quite ready. Available on Hoopla and KY Unbound.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Sam Westing is dead, and sixteen heirs to his fortune descend on an apartment building to play a game that will determine who inherits his fortune. A clever and fun mystery no matter how old you are. I’m shocked that this book isn’t a major motion picture. Available on KY Unbound.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Ghost is the first in a four-book series that focuses on members of a track team. It amazes me the number of social issues that Reynold’s effectively addresses in the course of a short novel: poverty, anger, gun violence, bullying, and friendship. The book might affect the way look at and treat kids. Jason Reynolds is already winning award upon award, and he will continue to do so. Mark my words…he will be heralded as the literary voice of this generation. Available on KY Unbound.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
A classic among classics. It is an allegory of life and the human experience by darned if I could tell you what it really means. That’s what makes it brilliant. It means something different to everyone who reads it and means something different to you each time you read it. It’s impact is neverending. That’s why it has sold 150 million copies worldwide. Available on Hoopla.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Do I even need to mention this one? Charlotte’s Web is often cited as not only the top children’s book ever written, but as one of the top books ever written for any age. Not currently available in Ebook format, but if you have a copy around the house, pick it up again!