Throughout my blog, I’ve often focused on television, films, and even video games from both the past and present. But don’t let that fool you; I’ve loved books since I was a little child. Novels of all shapes and sizes have been instrumental throughout my life.
While many of the books that have been given a special place in my heart were ones that I read during my teenage years and early 20’s, the books of my young childhood instilled a love for the written word.
In this entry, I take a look at the five books or book series that I loved the most during my early years. Why did I love them? How are they today? Can childhood books hold special meaning for a reader even decades after they were the most effective? Let’s find out.
5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl
Why Did I Like It Then? Roald Dahl was one messed up man. So many of his novels involve terrible things happening to people and anyone who breaks some sort of moral code meeting a horrific fate. The same goes for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But it’s also balanced with a huge sense of wonder and discovery. What kid wouldn’t want to enter a world filled with gobs of candy and chocolate in configurations they never dreamed of, even if it ended in a near death experience? Charlie was extremely relatable to me as a young boy and Willie Wonka was just mysterious enough to suck me in as a reader. This was a book I loved through and through, even after watching the movie.
How Is It Now? Like so many of Dahl’s works, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an all-time classic. No wonder it’s inspired two films and continues to be a must-read for kids. Dahl is a playful writer, twisting the plot around while still setting up the narrative in a manner that kids can easily follow. Setting up so many despicable children against the altruistic Charlie and then having them befall various fates, all based on their various sins, makes the novel into a morality play while still staying light and whimsical. It’s stellar.
4. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Why Did I Like It Then? This was definitely one of the stranger books that I loved as a child. At only 32 pages, it’s also one of the smallest, especially since this is heavily illustrated. Scieszka and Smith invert the story of The Three Little Pigs, making The Wolf into a misunderstood gentleman and the pigs into outright jerks. Being the first inversion of a classic story that I had read, the idea struck me as brilliant. Of course, there had been plenty before this, but it left an indelible mark. Even back then I enjoyed comedies with some darker tinges.
How Is It Now? This is still super fun, and may be even more enjoyable knowing that this weird little book was meant for early ‘90s kids! This was a time when my parents told me that The Lord of the Rings was evil. So how was I allowed to read this book? It’s also extremely short. Make no mistake, this is a children’s book. Unlike the others on this list, it’s meant to appeal most to kids in the single digits. But it’s still a fun read, complete with odd and sometimes creepy drawings and a very twisted sense of humor.
3. The Chronicles of Narnia Series
by C.S. Lewis
Why Did I Like It Then? This was the first complete book series that I finished as a child. As a kid, I received all seven books in one epic collection and read them back to back until I was finished. While some are more memorable than others, The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Last Battle all being the ones I was sucked into the most, it was a fantastic journey. Of course, the end of the series was extremely sad and made me weep as a child. Thanks, Lewis, you really scarred my child psyche. But it was worth it!
How Is It Now? All those great elements are still in play as an adult reader. A magical setting, unforgettable characters, and a humongous sweep spanning many worlds and many centuries. The books are, however, incredibly short. It makes them perfect for children, but it definitely gives them a younger feel, making it difficult to stack them up against more adult-oriented epic tales. Narnia is a wondrous land and Lewis instilled his series with so many deep messages that it’s enlightening to return to the novels with an adult viewpoint, but they’re still strongest when aimed toward a younger generation.
by Gary Paulsen
Why Did I Like It Then? This felt like the roughest, realist book out there when I was a kid. A 13-year-old boy gets stuck out in the wilderness after his plane crashes and must learn to survive on his own, with only his trusty hatchet to help. It’s a classic sort of scenario with man vs. wild distilled down to a narrative that kids could enjoy and understand. It’s also filled with gross out moments like fingernails being ripped off and the hero encountering a water-logged corpse. Paulsen helped make Brian feel like a real person who struggles with both physical and emotional challenges, making the story that much more relatable in my young age.
How Is It Now? Paulsen’s Hatchet is still a staple of childhood reading. Like many books aimed at my generation, it feels much more simple as an adult reader. Of course, not many kids 10 and younger are going to read books that can’t fit into their backpack, so the simplification is understandable. While adults may not get much out of Hatchet, it’s still a story that kids today should read. Paulsen continued Brian’s story with four sequels, and while I read two of them, none compare to the original story of boy vs. wild.
1. The Redwall Series
by Brian Jacques
Why Did I Like It Then? The Redwall series was simply epic to my child brain. In a world of medieval anthropomorphic creatures, generations of heroes fight to protect family, friends, and country against all types of terrifying threats. While the story began with Redwall, where a group of heroic mice defend an abbey from marauding rats, Jacques decided to delve into both the distant past and the future generations of adventurers as he expanded the world. Altogether, Jacques wrote 22 books in the series over the course of 25 years before passing away. While I only read 11 of the novels during my youth, I still loved the series dearly at the time. Being able to connect the various characters placed throughout the centuries and viewing a grand picture of the world as a whole was exciting, as this was the first series I found to be continually exciting.
With heroic victories, horrific villains, and devastating deaths, the stakes always seemed high in the Redwall series. I was hooked from the first book and dived in wholeheartedly. In particular, Redwall, Mattimeo, and Martin the Warrior became my favorites, especially since they were so closely linked to one another. This may be the reason why I love talking mice so much. Especially ones with swords.
How Is It Now? In the context of a wider world of epic stories and vast lines of fantasy novels, Redwall may seem a little trite, but it still has everything that I love in storytelling. It feels vast, with new discoveries around every corner combined with the excitement that comes with returning to a well-established world. People looking for more innocent takes on epic fantasies can find a place in the Redwall series. For children, it’s just edgy enough to enthrall them while still making them a little scared for the lives of their favorite characters. It’s a winning combination.
Honorable Mentions: The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, A Wrinkle in Time, James and the Giant Peach, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, The Call of the Wild, Stuart Little, Stone Fox, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry