This week in my youth literature class, I had to identify three books that I enjoyed reading as a child and then, as if advising my younger self on what to read, recommend some read-alikes. I love reader’s advisory and enjoyed this assignment very much.
One of my favorite childhood memories is going to the library to check out books. In the summer, my mom would take my sister and me to the library every week, and I gobbled up library books as if they were candy. There are so many that I have loved: all of Judy Bloom and Beverly Cleary’s books, Charlotte’s Web, The Secret Garden, Little Women, and the Baby-Sitter’s Club books, to name a few. However, I’ve always been drawn to series, and three of my all-time childhood favorites were the Little House on the Prairie, the Chronicles of Narnia, and the Anne of Green Gables series.
I believe that the reason I enjoyed series so much is because I liked feeling invested in the characters and their stories. I loved being drawn into their world and feeling almost as if I belonged there with them. In fact, when we played together, my sister and I often pretended that we were characters from the Little House on the Prairie; she was always Laura, and I was always Mary. The genre of the books I read didn’t matter to me; I loved them all, from historical fiction to science fiction to fantasy. The one thing they all had in common is that they featured resilient, optimistic, strong female characters, the type who don’t let obstacles stand in their way.
If I were recommending books to a young reader like my younger self, I would pick four series: Inkworld, the Underland Chronicles, Harry Potter, and His Dark Materials.
Cornelia Funke’s Inkworld series includes three books: Inkheart, Inkspell, and Inkdeath. The books chronicle the adventures of Meggie Folchart, a teenager whose life dramatically changes when she finds out that she and her father have the unique ability to bring characters from books into the real world (and vice versa) when reading aloud. Meggie must learn to harness this magic to save her world and her family. I would have eaten this up when I was younger; it has everything: a strong female character, serious obstacles to overcome, all centered around the magic of books and the art of reading.
Suzanne Collins’ Underland Chronicles consist of five books: Gregor the Overlander, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, and Gregor and the Code of Claw. Suzanne Collins is, of course, very well known for her Hunger Games series, but her Underland Chronicles is so much better, in my opinion. The books chronicle the adventures of a boy named Gregor and his little sister Boots, who discover the Underland, a subterranean world underneath New York City. The Underland is inhabited by humans as well as giant creatures such as bats, cockroaches, rats, and spiders. The Underland Chronicles deal with many of the same issues as the Hunger Games, but in a subtler and less violent way. There is no way on earth that my parents would have allowed me to read the Hunger Games series, but this one would have passed muster. I would have loved this series when I was younger: there is a strong female character, a wonderfully imaginative world to immerse oneself in, obstacles right and left, and amazing creatures (like a giant cockroach) that you end up so attached to that you tear up when something bad happens to them.
Peter Pullman’s His Dark Materials series includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. These books take place in a somewhat-similar-yet-also-very-different world in which science, theology, and magic are entwined. Young Lyra is a wonderful protagonist: strong, independent, loyal, and courageous. I am currently in the middle of reading this series, and I know I would have enjoyed it when I was younger. My parents would not have wanted me to read it due to its criticism of Christianity, but I think it would have been good for me to read and would have challenged me to think outside of the bubble I grew up in.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is legendary. It includes seven books: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry, boy wizard, and his friends Ron and Hermione are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The books center around Harry’s struggle against Lord Voldemort, the dark wizard who killed his parents and plans to take over, well, everything. I know that my parents would NOT have wanted me to read this series when I was younger, but I KNOW that I would have found a way to read it anyway and that I would have loved it. Hermione would have resonated with me so much; I was a lot like her, big hair and all.