Children’s fiction has always been something I’ve enjoyed; retracing treasured books from my childhood or raiding my daughter’s bookcases. I like to tell them it’s a quality control measure but it’s really just an excuse to read books adults aren’t “supposed” to read. We have an extensive collection of children’s fiction, some of which is positively dire: Linda Chapman’s Magic Unicorn and Daisy Meadows’ Rainbow Magic spring to mind. I bought them because my kids read them and encouraging a love of literature when they are young is one of the two most important gifts you can a child (the other obviously being unconditional love).
We do have the usual classic childen’s literature written by women and featuring strong female characters: L.M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, and Judy Blume’s Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. There really is a lot of excellent children’s literature written by women; this list is also weighted to Canadian writers).
These are some of my favourite and less well-known children’s books (at least in the UK; some are winners of major children’s literary prizes in North America:
Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust: This a very harrowing tale of a young girl living in the Depression in the US who suffers a major family tragedy. It is incredibly beautiful but also incredibly sad and isn’t for sensitive children. It’s also written entirely as poetry which makes it utterly incredible.
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: Like Hesse’s Out of the Dust, A Wrinkle in Time is also a Newberry Prize winner. Meg Murry and her small brother have to rescue their father after he goes missing whilst expirmenting with time travel and the Fifth Dimension. It’s a book about string theory and physics aimed at 8-10 year olds. What’s not to love?
Jean Little’s Mine For Keeps: All of Jean Little’s books are beautiful but this is the first one I ever read and I have a soft spot in my heart for it. Sally Copeland has just returned to her family after boarding at a special school for children. Sarah’s cerebral palsy is the reason she lived away but the book is really about family and love main fitting in. Home From Far is my other favourite.
Kit Pearson’s A Handful of Time and Awake and Dreaming: These are both aimed at 8-12 year olds but deal with issues of death, homelessness and loss. Beautiful but difficult for sensitive children.
Susan Terris’ Nell: Nell is the story of a 19th century woman who is affianced to her cousin but does not want to marry him. She responds to the lack of control over her future by developing anorexia.
Carol Matas’ Lisa: Lisa was the first Carol Matas book my mother bought me for my 12th birthday. I’ve since collected all her others but this one remains my favourite. It’s the story of a young Jewish girl in Denmark during World War Two who, along with her brother and his best friend, joins the Danish resistance. Jesper is the sequel to Lisa but Matas’ most famous book is Daniel’s Story which was used as the basis of a touring educational program by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Karen Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdy: This is the story of a young girl in Medieval England who does not want to just be another member of the landed gentry sold off into marriage by her father. The best part of the story is the flaming chickens as weapons of mass destruction. It’s worth reading just for that line.
My daughter’s current favourite books:
Small: Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy, Polly Dunbar’s Penguin, Gillian Rogerson’s You Can’t Eat a Princess, Mary Hoffman’s Amazing Grace and Julia Donaldson’s Zog.
Teenager: Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals and Song of the Lioness series, Patricia Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest, Trudi Canavan’s Magician’s Guild series, Allison Croggon’s Book of Pellinor series, Rochelle Mead’s Vampire Academy, Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires.