The 5 Best Children’s Books You’ve Never Heard of
…that you and your kids need to read :)
Anyone can write for adults, but it takes specially gifted people to write for children…well.
Is that a quote? Did someone ever say that? If not, they should :)
Children’s books have always been my favorite. The best of them include timeless truths, wrapped up in engaging plots that appeal not only to children but to readers of every age.
The following books are just a small sampling of some of the best children’s books I’ve ever read, featuring plucky characters, laugh-out-loud situations, and powerful life lessons and themes woven throughout:
Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
In this quirky tale, 11-year-old Primrose Squarp’s parents are lost at sea. When they don’t return, they are declared dead and Primrose is foisted on her chagrined Uncle Jack, an aspiring real estate agent forced to come to Primrose’s small Alaskan town to care for his orphaned niece.
Over the course of a school year, Primrose learns to live with her Uncle Jack and the community’s oddball citizens, while surviving a series of adventures, from accidentally setting a hamster on fire to being taught new recipes by the local restaurantier who serves ALL of her dishes on a waffle…
Why I love it
Everything on a Waffle deals with tough concepts like death, loss, family, and foster care in an age-appropriate yet snarky manner. It reminds readers not to take life too seriously, even in tough situations, and most importantly: that sometimes the remotest hopes are not so crazy, after all.
Besides, it includes simple recipes at the end of every few chapters, for those who are culinarily-inclined. Bon appetit!
Sammy Keyes by Wendelin Van Draanen
In this middle-grade detective series by the talented Wendelin Van Draanen, Sammy Keyes is a high-top-wearing, binoocular-carrying, skateboard-riding 13–14 year old who lives illegally with her grandmother in a senior high-rise. Over the course of 18 books, Sammy attempts to survive the death trap known as middle school, while solving crime in her free time.
And these are not your typical Sherlock Holmes/Encyclopedia Brown crimes: Sammy lives in the fictional town of Santa Rosa, a place full of all kinds of rough, mysterious, loveable, and bizarre residents, including cat-costumed pro wrestlers, pig-walking old ladies, and rock-and-rolling nuns.
So the mysteries Sammy solves involve not only run-of-the-mill petnappings and thefts, but more bizarre situations involving babies dumped in shopping bags, stickups at art galleries, and hidden treasures.
And that doesn’t even cover Sammy’s larger-than-life academic adventures, including one backstabbing, sweet-talking, literal-pain-in-the-butt nemesis who goes to extreme measures to attack, needle, and harrass our plucky heroine.
Why I love it
Wendelin Van Draanen is a genius at the long game. Watching Sammy and her friends and community develop and grow through 18 books is fascinating for me as a writer. The way she interweaves Sammy’s school drama with the mystery is also incredible — the multiple plotlines intertwine and coalesce brilliantly in each and every book, leaving readers satisfied and writers mind-boggled with awe.
Besides, Sammy is such a brave, bright, and beloved character. While Sammy’s adventures range from the silly to the serious, through it all, she always demonstrates resilience, compassion, cleverness, and kindness. She’s the best friend I wish I had growing up.
Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
Joan Bauer specializes in writing believable, down-to-earth stories about young people (middle to high school, typically) with great passion for unique interests, from pumpkin-growing to shoe-selling. In Hope Was Here, that particular passion is waitressing.
When they are cheated out of their life savings by a smooth-talking con man, 17-year-old Hope Yancey and her aunt Addie move to a small town in the middle of Wisconsin to start over — Addie as a cook, Hope as a(n experienced) waitress in a small town diner.
However, Mulhoney, Wisconsin is undergoing political turmoil the likes of which young Hope has never encountered before: the local (corrupt) mayor of the town is running for re-election, backed by the powerful dairy company whose money he has been secretly accepting for years, at the cost of the townsfolk’s well-being.
This year, though, GT Stoop, the kindly son of a Quaker woman, is planning to finally step up to the crooked mayor. The only problem: GT Stoop is a cancer patient. Oh, and he also owns the diner that Hope and Addie are working in. Which means Hope has no choice but to get involved in this epic small-town struggle between good and evil.
Why I love it
When I was young, I wasn’t all that interested in politics…until I read Hope Was Here and realized how important it is to not only vote, but get involved in the entire process and stay informed. As Edmund Burke once said:
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
But on the other hand, when good people do stand up for the truth, it can make a bigger difference than people know.
Hope Was Here taught me that everyone can make a positive impact in one’s community, regardless of age, health, or anything else. And of course, the book, like the main character’s name and life and attitude, is full of hope.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
In this Floridian adventure, Roy Eberhardt and his family has just moved from his beloved Montana to the flat, snowless Sunshine State. Roy has no friends, and to make matters worse, he is also regularly attacked by the local bully on the schoolbus.
But when Roy spots a barefooted boy running away from school, and then meets the boy’s bike-tire-chomping soccer-star stepsister, his life begins to get very interesting, very quickly.
Pretty soon, Roy finds himself embroiled in a vandalism mystery surrounding a population of little burrowing owls that are slated for destruction to make way for the coming arrival of a new pancake house.
Why I love it
Carl Hiaasen’s love for Florida and nature is evident in everything he writes. Hoot, and another one of my favorites, Flush, teach children (and all readers, really) the importance of protecting the environment for the enjoyment of all.
The Squire’s Tale Series by Gerald Morris
In this creative reimagining of Arthurian legend, Gerald Morris follows Terence, an orphan who becomes a squire to Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew. As they travel to Camelot, Terence and Gawain encounter a cast of oddball characters, human and faerie, as Gawain seeks to become a full-fledged knight and Terence seeks to figure out his own mysterious background.
Why I love it
Gerald Morris’ sense of humor had me in stitches more than once. Morris’ irreverent portrayal of the knights of the Round Table and their rollicking adventures throughout the series is great for a laugh anytime — plus, you get to learn about Arthurian legend! What’s not to love?
The Joy of children’s fiction
I haven’t read as many children’s fiction books lately (opting for their more serious nonfiction counterparts). But every once in a while I will take these treasures off my bookshelf and read them again, just for the smiles and memories.
The books above are some of my favorites, but not all of my favorites. There are probably a hundred more books I could add to this list. But then this article would be far too long for you and me. So I will cap it at five. For now. 😃
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