In the middle of the night I had an idea to write a blog post about the books I would want my kids to read at different points in their childhoods. I chose one book for the following time periods: Before They Can Read, Elementary School, Middle School, and High School. Here’s what I chose:
Before They Can Read
Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss
This book beat out Green Eggs and Ham. That title was the first book I remembered my father reading to me when I was small, and it would have made the list for purely nostalgic purposes. I decided to go with Oh the Places You’ll Go instead because of its message and I think it’s more of a fun rhyming story than Green Eggs and Ham.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go is fun to read, especially for little guys, but it also has a theme of the importance of seeking adventure throughout one’s life. I imagine reading this to my own children when they’re very small before bedtime.
Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli
I first read Maniac Magee in fourth grade, not long after the book came out. At that point, my elementary school days and years were long and seemed to stretch on forever. I remember spending a lot of time in class daydreaming and staring out the window when I could get away with it.
The book’s theme of overcoming racism is the reason that it’s on so many elementary and middle school reading lists. Heck, I used to teach it to my own classes of sixth grade language arts students. For me though, the book was pure escapism. It’s about a kid not much older than me at the time that didn’t go to school, and did what he wanted. I loved that thought, especially in those long, dull days in elementary school.
In a sense, it’s On the Road for kids.
Scientific Progress Goes Boink (Calvin and Hobbes), Bill Watterson
I could have picked any of the Calvin and Hobbes books, but this was the first one I read. It’s a book of comics, so it’s a relatively simple read, even for kids in elementary school. That said, I think that Watterson’s sense of humor appeals to adults and adolescents, as well as younger kids.
I picked this book for middle school because that’s when I think kids can begin to truly appreciate the off-beat and intellectual humor in Calvin and Hobbes. Plus, the art is fantastic.
There’s a nostalgic quality to the comics too. When I began reading them in seventh grade or so, I’d think back to more innocent, happier times in my life when I was around Calvin’s age–first grade or so–and wasn’t struggling with the pressure of adolescence. I experienced a certain wistful feeling, even at that young age, about a time gone by in my life.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
On the Road was the book that changed my life. A guy I worked with at a grocery store in high school told me about it. I read it when I was seventeen or eighteen, but didn’t truly appreciate it until I read it again as a freshman in college.
Growing up in the suburbs is actually a positive experience if you ask me. It’s safe, and there’s plenty to do when you’re a kid. Plus, you don’t know any other life. But when you get to high school, you get pretty bored a lot. I’m convinced that’s why so many high school kids drink, try drugs, or get into trouble. If they’re not involved in constructive activities, they’ll become destructive–I know I did. This book taught me that there was an entire life outside of the suburbs, and that people have adventures in real life–it’s not just something that people do in the movies.
Reading this book taught me that there’s adventure to be had everywhere–in the suburbs, on a college campus, and on the road, visiting distant friends and family. My mantra of choice, carpe diem, was inspired by reading about Jack Kerouac’s (Sal Paradise) travels hitchhiking and driving across the country to party with friends and chase girls.
I would want my kids to read this to show them that there’s nothing wrong with living an ordinary life, but there are also times to seize the day and step out of your comfort zone and into the wider world.
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle
What do you want your kids to read? Is there anything I missed?