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Katie Mohar


5 Special Books Kids Need to Read

Aug 30

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Text copyright © Katie Mohar. All rights reserved.

Little girl reading a book
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

Many middle-grade children are not excited readers. Only 40% of American eight-year-olds say they “love reading,” reports Scholastic. That number drops to 28% among nine-year-olds. Kids need books that excite them, whether classic tales or modern adventures.

For different reasons, each of the books below is special. One book narrowly escaped destruction at the outbreak of World War II. Another book was dismissed outright by popular critics upon publication—only to achieve acclaim after the author’s death. And one book’s Disney film adaptation is so famous that very few young people have read the original story in book-form.

5 Books Kids Need to Read

1. Curious George, by H. A. and Margaret Rey. Many children have heard of “The Man With the Yellow Hat” and his playful companion, a mischievous monkey named George. Most children do not realize the odds that George’s creators overcame to bring him to life on the printed page. 

In 1940, the married couple H. A. and Margaret Rey – both German Jews residing in Paris – packed their prize possession, the manuscript for Curious George, in their bike baskets and pedaled out of Paris, into Étampes and on to the Orléans train stations. Bombs rocked Étampes just two days after the Reys biked through.

I recently read The Journey That Saved Curious George, by Louise Borden which chronicles the Rey’s daring escape from Europe to Brazil and ultimately to safety, freedom and publication in the United States. If you love Curious George, you’ll enjoy learning about the Rey’s bold journey that saved their lives—as well as their stories and illustrations about a very curious little monkey. 

2. Stuart Little, by E. B. White. “NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PURCHASE BY EXPERT,” New York Public Librarian Frances Clarke Sayers stamped Stuart Little when it was published in 1945. 

Librarians and adults were largely underwhelmed and stunned (in a bad way) by E. B. White’s fantasy featuring a mouse “born” into a human family. The audacity of E. B. White to expose innocent children to such dangerous material! “It’s unnerving to be told that you’re bad for children,” E. B. White lamented. Still, he stood firm, saying: “A [make-believe] fence that can throw a librarian is nothing to a child.”

Ultimately, children saved Stuart Little. Ignoring the criticisms of adults and so-called “experts,” children quickly filled E. B. White’s mailbox with thousands of enthusiastic fan mail letters.

The book went on to win the Wilder Medal in 1970 and to be adapted into movies, a television series and video games in the 1990s and early 2000s. Learn more in Melissa Sweet’s fabulous children’s biography: Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White.

Back-to-school books kids need to read
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash. 

3. The Rabbit’s Wedding, by Garth Williams. Many children are familiar with Garth Williams as the illustrator of books by E. B. White (Charlotte’s Webb and Stuart Little); Laura Ingles Wilder (Little House series); and Margaret Wise Brown (The Friendly Book and Home for a Bunny).

In 1958, Williams published a tale that he wrote and illustrated entirely himself about the wedding of a black and a white rabbit. Critiques and bans resulted as many politicians—most notably in Alabama—spurned the book for apparently promoting interracial marriage. Alabama’s state library director resigned under pressure after “daring” to display William’s work on bookshelves accessible to children. Today, readers find such blatant prejudice to be shocking and disappointing. Give this book a read.

4. Mary Poppins, by P. L. Travers. Many people are familiar with the 1964 Disney musical film based on the 1934 book. Disney’s film, starring Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert won five Academy Awardsâ and was a huge commercial success. In 2018, Disney followed up with another musical film, Mary Poppins Returns

It won’t surprise you to know that the movie differs from the book. For example, Mary Poppins is more persnickety in the book than she comes across in Julie Andrews’ portrayal; the book features several spectacular scenes that are missing from the movie; and the Banks family home is not luxurious. Number Seventeen is: “…the smallest house in the Lane. And besides that, it is the only one that is rather dilapidated and needs a coat of paint.” 

If you and your child enjoyed Disney’s film adaptions, I suggest giving the original book a chance. P. L. Travers wrote eight Mary Poppins books in all. If you enjoy reading the first book, there are more to look forward to!

5. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Featuring three children who learn courage, hope and an appreciation for nature while overcoming prejudice—this story was widely criticized and dismissed upon publication in 1911. 

Hodgson Burnett was apparently ahead of her time. After her death, the book skyrocketed to popularity and has been adapted into countless films and other forms of media. A recent visit to my own local bookstore revealed tall stacks of The Secret Garden beautifully bound and prominently displayed. 

This. Classic. Is. Back. 

Reading Opens Doors

Reading books – whether these, or five titles your child chooses for themselves at the local library – will help increase your child’s attention span and engage their sense of wonder.