Before They Leave…

My baby is going to school next year. My fourteen year old. We have come to the end of home-schooling. Which means, I am mostly done choosing the books he reads.

I’m panicking a little.

Because he shared much of his childhood with teenaged siblings, he and I had fewer long lazy days on the porch pouring through wonderful literature. I realize there are still a few books that we have not read that he simply must know…for the wisdom within, for the whimsy, the magic…for the common language it gives us as a family. So I am playing catch up. He has been a good sport as I drag books along on road trips. As we snatch lazy summer afternoons for a little explore. It has been sweet to see him fall in love with the same characters his brother and sister loved so well. And it has been sweet to hear the excitement in the brother’s voice when he gets to hear the story again.

Certainly we have read books over the years that were specific to a given child and his/her interests. But there are a few books I would have all of them experience before they leave home. I thought I would share some of those with you. I implore you to share yours with me. For the grandbabies, you know. 🙂

In no particular order:

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter Each child had favorites, but we read them all. Over and over. For simple eloquence, for the delicious watercolors, for sprinkling every wild rabbit, squirrel, and duck with tiny grains of magic, this one is a must.

The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh “Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best — ” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

And there you have it. A cuddly contemplative with the most delightful turns of phrase, friendly adventures, and loyal pals.

The Chronicles of Narnia Magic, Honor, Courage, Grace, Loyalty, Love…all wrapped up in the most marvelous stories. If there had been fifty, we would have joyfully read them all.

The Phantom Tollbooth We just re-read this one on the way to the beach, all of us laughing out loud. Terribly clever, hysterical at times, yet subtly profound.

A Wrinkle in Time I should admit that I have an inordinate fascination with Madeleine L’Engle, her fiction and non-fiction, but truthfully this is one of my son’s favorite books ever. If your brain has gotten dusty; if you live within rigid confines of thinking; this book will blow the dust off and expand your view. And take you on the adventure of a lifetime.

My Side of the Mountain I read this story of a little boy who lives in the Adirondack Mountains for a year, by himself, providing his own shelter, food, and clothing by his cunning and hard work, and I watch my children’s eyes. I know they want to run away and do the same thing. I might want it a bit myself. I commend to you the entire trilogy.

Julie of the Wolves Another book (and series) by the same author, Jean Craighead George. Survival, again. Choices. And an intimate acquaintance with the natural world and with a way of life that is too quickly vanishing from our earth. Fascinating.

Rascal Small town America. A little boy collects a whole menagerie of animals, including one clever, mischievous and much beloved raccoon. A story about love…and about letting go.

Homer Price An automatic doughnut making machine run amok. Pet skunks who foil bank robberies.  A gigantic ball of string that leads to a marriage. Just a sampling of the good clean fun in this charmingly quirky book. (by Robert McCloskey, author of two more of our favorites, Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings)

D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths Brilliantly illustrated by Caldecott winners, Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire, this gorgeous book provides a remarkably thorough introduction to the great legends of Ancient Greece.

The Wheel on the School A Dutch fishing village. School children who dare to dream audacious dreams. Learning that sometimes the way to find something is to look everywhere it could not possibly be. A crusade that galvanizes a community. And storks.

The House of Sixty Fathers Set in China during World War II, this is a world of Sampans, rice paddies, houseboats, hunger, fear, and kindness without bounds. (Meindert Dejong, author of this and  The Wheel on the School, is one of those authors we love so, we have checked out everything he wrote from the library. They are all wonderful.)

Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus Rosemary Sutcliff’s enchanting re-tellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey. I bought the gorgeous hardcovers with Alan Lee’s stunning illustrations for each of my children so that they can share them with their own children some day.

Where the Sidewalk Ends
If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer,
A wisher, a liar,
A hoper, a prayer,
A magic bean buyer.
If You’re a pretender,
Come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in! Come in!

No child should grow up without the whimsical wordplay of Shel Silverstein.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller Art, a mystery, Michelangelo, and two brave kids running away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What could be better?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Fanciful and fun, to be sure. But also deep and difficult. A book to wrestle with. Together.

This is, of course, only a smattering of the books we have read over the years. If you would like to see a few more favorites, click the Bookshelf tab above. Not all the books in any category show up at any one time, but if you click the category title, it will take you to my LibraryThing page where you can see the rest if you like.