From the tea parties of Wonderland to the winged primates of Oz, the world of children’s literature is wonderful and weird. There are a lot of incredible books for kids and preteens out there, but here are a few must-reads for every kid before they reach high school. Consider these seven books required reading for every kid before he or she gets to the ninth grade.
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
Who knew that the friendship between a pig and a spider would end up defining our childhoods? Charlotte’s Web is the story of Wilbur, a small pig in want of a friend, and Charlotte, a spider who consistently saves his life with her superior spelling abilities. It’s both entertaining and deeply moving, but most importantly, it emphasizes that it is ok to be different and to be friends with people (or spiders) who are nothing like you. White’s prose still holds up, too, as some of the greatest writing aimed at either children or adults.
To buy: $6, amazon.com.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis
Ten-year-old Kenny lives with his family, the Weird Watsons, in Flint, Michigan. Kenny is a reading whiz and the family brain, but his big brother, Byron, is an “official juvenile delinquent.” Hoping to get a handle on their oldest son’s behavior, Momma and Dad drag Kenny, Byron, and little sister Joetta down south to visit Grandma in Birmingham, Alabama during one of the darkest chapters in American history. The Watsons Go to Birmingham is an absolute classic, managing to balance family comedy with the harsh reality of racism in America.
To buy: $8, amazon.com.
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass is one of those brilliant novels that grows up with you. The first time you read it, as a young kid, it’s a delightful adventure full of hot air balloons and talking polar bears. The older you get, though, the more complex Lyra’s story becomes. This first volume of His Dark Materials manages to be a terrific kids’ fantasy while also exploring ideas of morality and questioning authority. For kids just on the brink of high school and increased independence, it’s a book that beautifully tackles the process of coming of age and starting to think for yourself.
To buy: $8, amazon.com.
Holes, by Louis Sachar
Stanley Yelnats has been unjustly arrested and shipped off to a boys’ detention center at Camp Green Lake. At this “camp,” the boys are expected to “build character” by digging holes day in and day out. At first it seems like a useless exercise, but Stanley slowly begins to realize that these holes are just one piece of a far larger mystery. They might even have something to do with the curse he’s inherited from his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. With Holes, Sachar builds an ingenious, hilarious mystery that’ll keep kids guessing all the way to the end.
To buy: $6, amazon.com.
Matilda, by Roald Dahl
Before there was Eleven of Stranger Things, there was Matilda. Almost all of Dahl’s children’s books can be considered classics at this point, but there’s something special about Matilda in particular. Besides all the telekinesis, it’s the most real of any of his stories: A hyper-intelligent, neglected kid is forced to find strength in her own powers. Dahl is excellent at writing smart kids who have to deal with foolish adults, and Matilda is a great reminder that sometimes kids know their own abilities better than the grown ups who surround them.
To buy: $7, amazon.com.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
For every super-smart Matilda out there, there’s also a Meg Murry: clumsy, shy, and not so great at school. But when a mysterious stranger arrives at the Murry household, Meg and her brilliant little brother, Charles Wallace, are pulled into an otherworldly quest to find their missing scientist father. A Wrinkle in Time is science fiction, yes, but it’s also one of the most realistic depictions of a middle school girl anywhere in literature. Between Meg’s awkward growing pains, the power of her love for her family, and the vast, dimension-hopping space adventure, this book is a simply marvelous read for readers of all ages.
To buy: $7; amazon.com.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling
On the one hand, everyone should read at least one Harry Potter book to stay in the general zeitgeist. On the other hand, though, the books’ overwhelming popularity can make it hard to remember that they’re actually pretty great just as books, without the added theme parks and the movies. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a wonderful read for any kid who’s ever felt lonely, or targeted, or who has wished that they could be whisked away to a school for witchcraft and wizardry.
To buy: $9; amazon.com.