Hey, it’s been a long break, but I’m finally back with a Top 5 Wednesdays post. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
This week I’ll be looking at five books generally targeted at children, but have qualities that make them ageless. This prompt also has the bonus of making me think back to all my favourites as a child, when (I think) I burned through three books a week. Anyways, here’s my list. Enjoy!
5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
When I was a kid, I got most books from the library, or else read them in one sitting at the bookstore. Buying books was a treat and considered something of a waste of money if a book could be found at the library. So this was one of the first, maybe even the very first, hardcovers I bought. My memories of the actual plot are very fuzzy now, but the Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me left enough of an impression of me that I still remember the sharp bittersweet ending. It’s definitely one of the most thought-provoking novels I read then. Which reminds me that maybe it’s time to dust off the copy lying around somewhere on my bookshelf and open it up.
4. Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
This is another novel that I remember a lot of what I felt, but barely anything of the plot. Here, the feeling is sadness. Straight-up sadness, and a lot of it at that. If you’ve read Private Peaceful, you know why, but even if you haven’t, that it’s a realistic novel set in World War I should give a good idea of the reasons. Michael Morpurgo’s novels all have that wistful/longing feeling in some capacity, but in Private Peaceful, it’s dialled up to heart-wrenching tragedy. This may have been one of the books to really turn me against war. If you want to sober up a kid who glorifies battle, there are few better ways than to hand them a copy of this book.
3. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
The City of Ember and its three sequels (technically, two sequels and a prequel) are great dystopia for kids. But, like all great children’s novels, they can carry a lot of weight for adults too. Not only does the book have some masterful twists, it also explores conflict and hard choices in a haunting and creative sci-fi environment. I got chills imagining a city drowned in darkness, kept alive only by the massive floodlights over every street–lights which were slowly but surely failing, each power cut longer than the last. That’s a premise anyone can get caught up in, young or old. It helps that Jeanne DuPrau’s writing style is so accessible.
2. Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
China’s one child policy, but worse. The Shadow Children series wowed me as a kid. I remember feeling heartbroken for Jen, fearful for Luke and impressed by Alia. I still wish more than one of the seven books would have followed a girl shadow child (only the third one, Among the Betrayed, was Nina’s story), but overall the series was a scary, powerful narrative. It gripped me with the thriller aspects, but at the end of the day what made it great instead of just good were the underlying themes and social commentary.
Those were especially evident in Among the Free, the final book. It’s relatively unpopular for the change in style and lack of fast-paced action, but now thinking back I think it was one of the best instalments because it really brought out the bittersweet, perceptive essence of the books. In fact, all of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s novels have this kind of insightful message that’s conveyed through a memorably unique premise. That’s probably what made her one of my favourites as a kid, and what makes me still remember her novels so clearly now.
1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Of course. What else could I put in first place? Lois Lowry’s most famous classic needs no introduction. It’s mandatory reading for schoolchildren all over the world and a must-read for everyone else. It inspired just about every Young Adult dystopia that came afterwards. I don’t have much to add aside from that the sequels–Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son–are often overlooked, but complement the original quite well.