Dear Mr. Henshaw* by Beverly Cleary
Sixth grader, Leigh Botts, writes his favorite author a letter for a homework assignment and the communication leads to his journal entries which all begin with Dear Mr. Henshaw. Beverly Cleary adeptly addresses the struggles young people face as the result of divorce and bullying with respect and validation. This is a wonderful book for elementary and middle school students.
Cleary, Beverly. Dear Mr. Henshaw. HarperCollins, 2000.
A Wrinkle in Time* by Madeleine L’Engle
Strange visitors show up at the home of Meg and Charles Wallace with shocking news regarding the whereabouts of their missing father. The children, and their friend Calvin, go on a dangerous and extraordinary adventure to save his life – and perhaps the universe!
L’Engle, Madeleine, et al. A Wrinkle in Time. Puffin, 2018.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond* by Elizabeth George Speare
Kit Tyler is orphaned in the Caribbean islands and sent to live with relatives on the bleak shores of a Connecticut colony. The Puritan community looks upon her with suspicion as she tries to fit in. The only place Kit feels at home is in the meadows, where she meets an old Quaker woman who’s allegedly a witch. The association casts doubt on Kit’s character and she is accused of witchcraft herself.
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Seedlings, 2004.
Oliver Twist and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The second of Charles Dickens’ novels, Oliver Twist, is a story of an orphan child in early 19th Century England. Oliver is born in the workhouse and sold to apprentice to an undertaker. He runs away and finds new friends and enemies in London’s streets and back allies. The story is a social novel and commentary of the times. Oliver Twist gives stark contrasts between the worlds of poverty and violence versus wealth and luxury. It was originally published in a series in the monthly magazine, Bentley’s Miscellany in 1839.
The works of Charles Dickens are considered classics due to their well-developed characters, timeless conflicts, and wonderful depictions of real-life. I highly recommend any of Dickens works for junior and high school readers. These books give students a myriad of scenarios for reference, easily worked into college entrance essays.
Dickens, Charles, et al. Oliver Twist. Baronet Books, 2008.
Great Expectations was one of the last works completed by Charles Dickens. It is the coming-of-age story about a young boy named Pip whose chance encounter with an escaped convict impacts his life and expectations. The story takes Pip from the countryside home of his harsh sister and her husband to the city of London. Pip’s journey is riddled with odd and eccentric characters and twists of fate.
This classic highlights the class distinctions of the mid-19th century as well as the ways in which different people handle life’s disappointments. I highly recommend the unabridged version of this story for high school readers and a more friendly abridged version for middle schoolers. Every student should become familiar with at least one of Charles Dickens’ works, as his characters are unforgettable and his themes enduring.
Dickens, Charles, et al. Great Expectations. Oxford University Press, 1996.
Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Stuart is a mouse who is adopted into the Little family. Although his parents don’t seem to notice a difference in Stuart, he struggles to be accepted by his new brother. Life in a big world poses unlimited dangers for a small mouse.
Fern is a young girl who loves a piglet she names Wilbur. Wilbur becomes beloved by the other farm animals as well as to Charlotte, a unique spider who can spell. As Wilbur grows into a big pig his life on the farm with Fern is threatened, but Charlotte has an idea to save his life.
White, E. B., and Garth Williams. Stuart Little. Puffin Books, 2007.
White, E. B. Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White (1899-1985). Cornerstones Education Limited, 2013.
Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis
In Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis takes us back to Narnia. Although it has only been a year since Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy left Narnia as Kings and Queens, hundreds of Narnian years have passed. Narnia is now held by a usurper to the throne, King Miraz. His nephew the rightful king of Narnia, Prince Caspian, fled for his life. In desperate need, Caspian blows Susan’s horn calling Aslan and the ancient Kings and Queens into Narnia. Can Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy help Caspian take the throne from Miraz? Read this thrilling adventure to find out.
Prince Caspian, along with all the Chronicles of Narnia are a delight for readers of all ages. Lewis’ analogies provide parents ample opportunity to discuss the Christian worldview with their children. A must read!
Lewis, C. S. Prince Caspian. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2014.
Born Again by Charles Colson and/or
The autobiography of Charles Colson, once Counsel to President Nixon, convicted and imprisoned for obstruction to justice in the Watergate trials. This is the story of his conviction and conversion to Christianity. It is a timely book in light of our current political/media climate. Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries International and went on to author over 22 books in his lifetime.
Colson, Charles W. Born Again. Baker Pub. Group, 2008.
Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliott
In this book, Elizabeth Elliott, tells the story of her missionary journey with first husband and martyr, Jim Elliott. They went to Ecuador with four other couples to minister to unreached tribal communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This book tells the story of their mission and the murder of the five husbands by the Waodani warriors.
Elliot, Elisabeth. Through Gates of Splendor. Tyndale House Publishers, 1996.
A Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
The three Baudelaire children are orphaned and sent to live with supposed relative, Count Olaf. But find their living situation is miserable and their guardian is only after their inheritance. Although cleverly written, the story is truly unfortunate. The adults portrayed in the books are either imbeciles, villains, or likely to be killed. However, my children enjoyed the story and we ended up reading the entire series.
Snicket, Lemony, and Brett Helquist. The Bad Beginning. Thorndike Press, 2000.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Ten-year old Mary Lennox was born in India to wealthy British parents who left her upbringing to their servants. She was spoiled and selfish. A cholera epidemic kills her parents and she is sent to England to live with a wealthy uncle. But once again Mary is neglected and left to her own devices. Until Mary finds a secret garden which brings animal-loving Dickon, her sickly cousin Colin, and Uncle Craven together in this classic mysterious story.
First published in 1911, The Secret Garden continues to thrill young and old readers alike. It’s one of my all-time favorites!
Howe, James, et al. The Secret Garden. Random House, 2004.
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Sara Crewe grew up in India, but at the onset of World War I, her father procured her a place at a very prestigious boarding school in England. Every comfort was provided for her and she was a favorite in the school – until news of her father’s death and subsequent loss of fortune. Orphaned and without a relative in the world, Sara was forced into servitude for her upkeep. Unwanted and mistreated by the headmistress, Miss Minchin, Sara learns how to keep hope alive.
A Little Princess is a wonderful illustration of how imagination can magically sustain hope in the direst of situations. A good read for any age!
Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry
Paul and Maureen Beebee are orphaned and go to live with their grandparents in Virginia. When they become enraptured by a wild Chincoteague pony on Assateague Island, they determine to get her for their own. But capturing and taming the wild mare is more difficult than the Beebee children anticipated.
This delightful award-winning book is a must read for all elementary children. Inspired by real events, there is enough fact behind the fiction to make this into a unit study on the history of Assateague ponies.
Henry, Marguerite, and Wesley Dennis. Misty of Chincoteague. Aladdin Paperbacks, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2017.