Kirsten has been a voracious reader from a young age, and has since accumulated a substantial inventory of read books she is eager to share.
There’s something about children’s books. Light-hearted yet often immensely assertive, comprehensive, and beautifully simple in their disentanglement of complex themes, their value is not to go disregarded.
Or, rather, they should be appreciated but are regularly dismissed due to the books’ perceived target audience: children. After all, how eloquent and relevant could a book fraught with whimsy and found on the shelves of primary schools—and the hands of primary-school students—possibly be?
It is my intention to debunk the prevalent myth of children's books' general incompetence when set aside, say, ‘timeless and mature’ adult literature—which, timeless though it may indeed be, need not undermine the value of a quality text directed at a younger audience. Beyond that, however, I wish to show readers—as well as those that have put off reading in the past—that they can relish and learn from a children’s book any day, age notwithstanding.
Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism
“Your bath is thirty centimeters deep,” Miss Adderstone announced. “Allowing for the amount that had already been deceitfully run out while I was knocking at the door, I calculate your bath was actually forty centimeters deep (...) Your bath was four times that deep, so you have, in effect, used up your next three baths. So, Molly, you are forbidden to have a bath for the next three weeks. As for punishment…” (...) Miss Adderstone glared at Molly with her dull, black eyes. Her face heaved in a monstrous way as her tongue dislodged her teeth and moved them around in her mouth before setting them back down on her gums. (4)
The first thing I remember about Molly Moon? Having just moved from my hometown in Mexico to western Canada, I knew too little English to be able to process the words without the extensive use of a dictionary, and so read it for the first time in my native tongue.
I soon became enthralled by the young, quirky, and exceptionally intelligent and cheeky Molly, and though I now look at Byng’s depiction of what I assume to be a government-approved orphanage with a critical eye, I can still appreciate her denunciation of many institutions’ heads’ and staff’s mistreatment of the children under their charge.
In fact, looking back on Molly’s experience at the miserable Hardwick House orphanage, I can see how the book could be construed as being a tad too bleak for younger readers...which is where the fantastic element comes in. Because Molly Moon is no ordinary orphan. She is a hypnotist whose skill has no known precedent where she lives, and she will not let the injustices she has suffered go unpunished.
All in all, Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism is a witty, adventure-packed, and immensely satisfying story that touches on themes of friendship, power and corruption, empowerment, and what it is to fend for oneself while yearning for a family. It is driven by dynamic characters that learn and grow with each new book—the series being comprised of 6 quirky and cleverly written books—and is bound to be a hell of a fun ride for any reader.
Stevie Diamond Mysteries
I was asleep— deep in a dark dream. Something had gone wrong with the sign at the Fabulous Red Burger Barn. The baby chick was trying to get out of the egg, but it was trapped. The egg wouldn’t break open. I could hear the chick inside, trying to escape. What was strange was the sound. The baby chick wasn’t going “peep, peep, peep” — it was going “SQUEAK, CLICK! SQUEAK, CLICK! SQUEAK, CLICK!” I opened my eyes and sat up. The sound wasn’t coming from the baby chick. It was coming from our front door. I charged down the ladder of my bed and ran into the hall. (43)
Most—older—reviewers would agree that the identity of the culprit in this book is, simply put, not so mysterious; and although the lack of cryptic tension may take from the story’s appeal, I could not make a list about the children’s books most worthy of older readers’ attention without including Linda Bailey’s Stevie Diamond Mysteries.
First of all, I flew through these books. There are a total of 7 in the series, and comparably short though they may be, that was a huge milestone for 10-year-old me. As a teenager or adult I cannot guarantee that you will find Stevie and the baffling— yet somehow fascinatingly mundane— situations she often finds herself in as captivating as I did, but I can tell you that you will fall in love with the books’ wacky, independent, insightful protagonist and her sheer audacity and efficiency under turbulent circumstances.
Now, in many ways—as children’s books often are—the Stevie Diamond mysteries were created for children, and though this is evident in the writing style and occasional lack of intrigue, there is an upside to this for older readers—and that is that this is a series that offers a unique insight into the inner workings of contemporary youth.
Stevie is supposed to be 11, so her thought processes do not by any means align with those of little kids, and though the books themselves have been out for almost two decades I believe that Stevie does share expressions and thoughts with current 11-year-olds. So, if you have ever wanted to understand this generation of kids a little bit more, and meet a cast of very believable and unconventional characters—as well as assess your own preconceptions of people, and reactions to dire situations, as both are brought to the attention of readers in the first book alone—while doing it, then you should definitely dive right into Linda Bailey’s lively mystery saga.
My biggest takeaway from Stevie’s impromptu detective career? There’s nothing wrong with making an impulsive move to pursue something you are passionate about...if you are going to do it well.
Kidnapping children is not a good idea. All the same, sometimes it has to be done. Aunt Etta and Aunt Coral and Aunt Myrtle were not natural kidnappers. For one thing, they were getting old and kidnapping is hard work; for another, though they looked a little odd, they were very caring people. They cared for their ancient father and for their shrivelled cousin Sybil who lived in a cave and tried to foretell the future— and most particularly they cared for the animals on the island on which they lived, many of which were quite unusual. (ch.1)
I do not think I realized how long it had been since I had last given any thought to these books until I attempted writing about them. Each of them does have a lot going on for it, so I will focus on Monster Mission alone for the moment; however, I would speak highly of Which Witch as well, given the chance.
Now, the first thing to pique my interest in Monster Mission was the sheer absurdity of the situation it lays out: three old ladies are kidnapping children to help them take care of mythical creatures on some weird, secluded island. I loved the idea then. And I love it now.
From page one, the narrative was packed with oxymorons: kidnappers are described as caring; the act of kidnapping itself made to sound sensible. If that seems problematic, it is because it is. This is a story that deals with magic, and magic— especially in children’s books, where it can cause readers to become enraptured in spite of its blunt affront to logic—need not always be explained. Of course, the absurdity fascinated me at the time that I picked up Ibbotson’s book, and it still does. Ibbotson simply has a way of bringing together the real and surreal in a serious and elegant—yet somehow comic—manner that nurtures readers’ imaginations, and that alone makes it a story worthy of anyone's while.
That being said, if you are looking to get a deep, resonant message out of your reading experience, you certainly can. I could not say whether the author has actively spoken out about man’s disregard for the environment, but in her book she certainly does. Ibbotson immediately asserts the aunt’s concern over the ‘collateral’ damage of humanity’s settlement and development on earth, and that to me made the fantasy realm she created all the more believable, as this begins to affect the aunt’s island as well.
All things considered, I truly believe that Monster Mission is a book worth picking up at any age or stage in a reader’s life. Because like I said, children’s author though she may be Eva Ibbotson is not afraid to touch on the darker side of life, and she does so with flair.
Among the Hidden
“Why?” he asked at the supper table that night. It wasn’t a common question in the Garner house. There were plenty of “how’s”—How much rain’d the backfield get? How’s the planting going? Even “what’s” —What’d Matthew do with the five-sixteenth wrench? What’s Dad going to do about that busted tire? But “why” wasn’t considered much worth asking. Luke asked again. “Why’d you have to sell the woods?” Luke’s dad harrumphed (...) “Told you before. We didn’t have a choice. Government wanted it. You can’t tell the Government no.” Mother came over and gave Luke’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze (...) They had defied the Government once, with Luke. That had taken all the defiance they had in them. Maybe more. (ch.1)
At some point in the last couple of decades of the 1900s and the first decade of the 2000s, there was an inflow of post-apocalyptic children’s literature. Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Lisa McMann’s The Unwanteds, Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember—these are all stories that center around the dystopian societies that formed as a response to adverse circumstances. Yet before most of these—or similar young adult novels—hit the shelves, Margaret Peterson Haddix came out with her Shadow Children series; the focus being the government's very much despotic approach on the issue of overpopulation, as it demands that families give up any excess children—that is, any children that push a family unit over the two-child limit—to be disposed of at birth.
Now, while I admit that the premise is rather violent to be entirely suitable for children, this is a book series that was intended upon release for a middle school audience. I personally remember being about 11 when I was tasked with reading Among the Hidden for a class at school, actually, and I honestly believe that the dark themes it touches on made for a very valuable reading experience overall. Even then, I could see some parallels between Luke’s oppressive society and that which prevailed—or had, at some point in history—in certain parts of the world, and making that connection in itself proved eye-opening for me.
That is not to say that, as an adult that is all too conscious of the horrors that transpire—or have transpired—in places as close as the next town over, you cannot extract any value, entertainment aside, from Haddix’s stories. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. Because you are older, and so presumably have developed a heightened awareness for these things, you may form a stronger bond with the frightened and estranged protagonist. You may envision the potential scenarios in which the rigid restrainment of the population—with ruthless repercussions for offenders—could be viewed as ‘practical’, and perfectly ‘sensible’. You may come to fully appreciate the dynamic within Luke’s tense household, and...if and when you reach the final pages… you may be just terrified and captivated enough to keep going.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
“I address you all tonight for who you truly are: wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, and magicians. You are the true dreamers.”
You may have already deduced from this poetic proclamation that Selznick’s tale is one rife with magic and whimsy—albeit not the wand-waving sort—and with this I could not agree more.
Children’s book that this is, The Invention of Hugo Cabret—the tale of an orphaned boy named Hugo who makes a living in the walls of the bustling Paris train station, where he tends to the station’s clock— is narrated in simple prose. Yet simple though it may be, the text is by no means plain, and comes alive in the presence of whimsical word choice, remarkable dialogue and description, and—most magnificent of all—a series of full-page pencil illustrations through which much of the story is narrated. This element of wonder is one which I consider to be too often dismissed in adult literature, and which Selznick incorporates in his entrancing historical mystery with great delicacy and, consequently, beauty.
Now, I would never want anyone to think that the value of Selznick’s novel is founded on its attractive appearance. Yes, his is a beautiful book, but art is rarely appreciated solely for its superficial allure. One of the principal inspirations for this book was, in fact, the true story of the French-born pioneer filmmaker Georges Melies, and—in my mind—the historical groundwork of the novel adds a lot to the narrative.
Something else that older readers could appreciate from The Invention of Hugo Cabret, though, is the tender nature of the story itself: brought to life by believable characters rife with emotion and very much set in their individual ways—yet somehow capable, against all apparent odds, of forming meaningful bonds—this is a book that will not leave its readers untouched...and the way it may affect them truly makes it one worth becoming invested in.
It was very late by the time Parvana and her mother returned home from the prison. Parvana was so tired she had to lean against Mother to make it up the stairs, the way Father used to lean against her. She had stopped thinking of anything but the pain that seemed to be in every part of her body, from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet. Her feet burned and stung with every step(...)unused to walking such long distances, were covered in blisters. Most of the blisters had broken, and her feet were bloody and raw. (ch.4)
The Breadwinner is one of those books that stays with you forever. The first of a series of three books, it follows 11-year-old Parvana who, since the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan, is confined to the one-room home she shares with her parents, two sisters, and baby brother. That is, until her father is arrested and she makes the daring choice of disguising herself as a boy in order to earn a living both for herself and for her family; and though I don’t remember how the story ends—which should at least guarantee a spoiler-free review—I would not hesitate to recommend this poignant saga to any adult. Because though it is largely carried by an 11-year-old, the narrative is one to speak to all who will stop to listen.
Now, usually, the very direct and plain writing style that characterizes Ellis’s books is not one I would be drawn to, however, I think that it works exceptionally well for this story. The images that the author summons in such—seemingly—simple prose are reflective of the urgent and dismal nature of the situation that Parvana and her poverty-stricken family find themselves in, in a country overturned by war, and though this approach could make some stories feel somewhat bland, the rich and multifaceted cast of characters simply do not allow that.
As a kid, I appreciated all of this, but I think that sometimes we as a society, when contemplating tragedies occurring outside of our country, or even community, find it easy to disregard the individual victims of these fatalities, and Parvana’s story in The Breadwinner instills that consciousness in readers. Because no child should have to go through what Parvana goes through. And yet so very many do.
On the far side a door stood open. Seth almost cried out when he peered inside (...) Beside the stump, dressed in crude rags, sat a wiry old woman gnawing at a knot in a bristly rope. Shriveled with age, she clutched the rope in bony hands with knobby knuckles. Her long, white hair was matted and had a sickly yellowish tint. One of her filmy eyes was terribly bloodshot. She was missing teeth, and there was blood on the knot she was chewing, apparently from her gums. Her pale arms, bare almost to the shoulder, were thin and wrinkled, with faint blue veins and a few purple scabs. (ch.1)
Children’s fantasy always offers a welcome respite from reality, and though I would never reduce Brandon Mull’s brilliant and otherworldly Fablehaven books to mere escapist literature, they do provide a beautiful sanctuary—or haven—into which the reader may retreat at any time. I know I certainly did when I was younger, and have actually been planning to revisit Mull’s magic-spangled world for a while.
Such was my love for the Fablehaven saga that I essentially devoured all five books—suffering through what felt like an agonizingly long wait, but was probably only a few months, for the Keys of the Demon Prison after finishing all of the books that were out at the time— and I have no doubt that a more mature reader that shares even an inkling of my fascination with fantasy could do the same.
Now, as is my custom, I will reduce my babbling to the first book of the series, and in this case that is Fablehaven. At its core? Siblings Kendra—intelligent, insightful, sensible, and kind—and Seth—bold, resourceful, impulsive, and witty—who are driven to their father’s parents’ secluded and mysterious home for the first time ever to spend the summer; unknowingly entering the grounds of one of the last remaining strongholds of magic and places of refuge for enchanting—and often dangerous—mystical creatures. And let me tell you, if you have ever fantasized about exploring a magic forest or garden or any manner of magic-infused land—whether you are 5 or 25—you absolutely must give this book a try.
Rife with classic supernatural allure and a sumptuous cast of motley creatures and enigmatic characters, Fablehaven is there to demonstrate to even the most stringent skeptic the power that the imagination holds.
The Lightning Thief
“What if it lines up like it did in the Trojan War...Athena versus Poseidon?” “I don’t know. But I just know that I’ll be fighting next to you.” “Why?” “Because you’re my friend, Seaweed Brain. Any more stupid questions?”
Once upon a time, Rick Riordan was my absolute favourite author, and if you are at all familiar with his work—not the movies they made of it, mind, which sadly cannot compare to the books they are supposed to represent—it will be easy for you to see why.
Now, what characterizes Riordan’s work is his modern twist on ancient mythology. In 2005, he published the first of a series of books dealing with Greek mythology in a lighthearted— yet exceptionally absorbing and refreshing— way. Since then, he has followed the 5 books that made up that series about the gifted child of a mortal woman and the god Poseidon with a saga centered around Roman mythology, another around Egyptian, then Norse, and—most recently—one in which Riordan revisits his works’ Greek roots— as well as the demigod camp that started it all—with the disgraced and now mortal Apollo. If that does not sound like insane fun packed with at least 2000 pages’ worth of Bullfinch’s mythology, then I don’t know what will.
Honestly though, I have always admired Riordan’s penmanship for its ingenuity and how apt and distinctly fresh the teenage perspective feels, and I can guarantee that beyond being entertained, adult readers may come away from their immersion in Riordan’s world with new and unique insight into age-old stories that have long perplexed and fascinated historians.
A Face Like Glass
“It draws you in. You twist your mind into new shapes. You start to understand Caverna . . . and you fall in love with her. Imagine the most beautiful woman in the world, but with tunnels as her long, tangled, snake-like hair. Her skin is dappled in trap-lantern gold and velvety black, like a tropical frog. Her eyes are cavern lagoons, bottomless and full of hunger. When she smiles, she has diamonds and sapphires for teeth, thousands of them, needle-thin.” "But that sounds like a monster!" "She is. Caverna is terrifying. This is love, not liking. You fear her, but she is all you can think about.” (A Face Like Glass)
Frances Hardinge’s books have a special place in my heart. Though I started writing— though with dire want of skill, at that— before I read my first book by her, I did not know for certain that I wanted to be a novelist until I had read, and fallen in love with, her work.
The book that introduced me to Hardinge was A Face Like Glass, and it follows a young girl named Neverfell, who tumbled into the dark and treacherous underground realm of Caverna when too young— or distressed— to hold any recollection of her previous life, and is since raised in isolation; a measure taken to conceal her face— which works in ways none in the city of Caverna, where expressions must be learned, could ever do, naturally— from the cunning craftsmen and scheming aristocrats that fill the city.
Now, there is a lot that I love about Hardinge’s writing in general, but what I always feel compelled to talk about first is the dark and elegant nature of her prose. If you read more about the author, you will discover that she started writing what sound like pretty convoluted— and dark— stories at a very tender age, and, honestly, that makes a lot of sense, because though Hardinge writes for a young audience, the intricacy and depth of her plots, descriptions, characters, and even dialogue, often seem to speak to a much more mature body of readers.
That is not to say that I do not believe that children can appreciate her books. I know they can. But I suppose that I have always been of the opinion that Hardinge’s unique voice is one which can be best comprehended and savored having reached a certain level of maturity. I will always recommend her work to every reader I meet, but I would especially like to see more adult readers immerse themselves in her obscure and wonderfully bizarre worlds.
Northern Lights (The Golden Compass)
“Don’t be stupid,” Lyra said. “I can’t sit here and watch them give him poison!” “Come somewhere else, then.” “You’re a coward, Pan.” “Certainly I am. May I ask what you intend to do? Are you going to leap out and snatch the glass from his trembling fingers? What did you have in mind?” “I didn’t have anything in mind, and well you know it,”(...) “But now I’ve seen what the Master did, I haven’t got any choice. You’re supposed to know about conscience, aren’t you? How can I just go and sit in the library or somewhere and twiddle my thumbs, knowing what’s going to happen? I don’t intend to do that, I promise you.” (ch. 1)
I know that this is a book that came out a long time ago—nearing on 24 years to be exact—but The Golden Compass has actually been a new read for me, and I could not be happier that I thought to pick it up at long last.
The fact that Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels have been on the shelves for a while, and in the process been made into a feature film and now a TV series, makes me hopeful that a few of you are at least familiar with the story, but for those who are not, this is a book that follows 11-year-old Lyra, who after having grown up unruly—yet extraordinarily well educated by her college professor guardians—and intrepid in Oxford’s Jordan College, is whisked away on a journey to the far North, where she prepares to partake in a battle against the kidnappers of her sea-living, rampant companions’—and landloper’s, or earth-rooted people’s—children. Yet so much more than she could have ever guessed is at stake.
Now, a huge point of appeal for me coming into this book was listening to the author talk. He is evidently a learned, insightful, and highly introspective, level-headed man, and the passion and knowledge with which he spoke of his books intrigued me. That is why I feel perfectly confident saying that any adult—wary as they may be of the inferiority in terms of quality of writing and depth of children’s literature—should discard those concerns at once when picking up this book.
Honestly, I was very impressed at the amount of thought that went into creating the political backdrop and ‘scientific’ basis for this series, and though I can not yet speak for the second and third books, I have enough love— turbulent though she may be— for the protagonist, and admiration for the worldbuilding done so far as to feel justified in my praise both for Pullman’s writing and this extraordinary story.
© 2020 Kirsten Danae
Kirsten Danae (author) on April 08, 2020:
I am glad you enjoyed it, Chatra
CHATRA RAM from BARMER INDIA on April 07, 2020:
Kirsten Danae (author) on April 07, 2020:
Sharmin Sultana from Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 07, 2020:
Kirsten Danae (author) on April 06, 2020:
Thank you Sofi
Sofi on April 02, 2020:
Very cool ideas Kirsten!!!
Kirsten Danae (author) on April 02, 2020:
Thank you Ivana! I appreciate it.
Ivana Divac from Serbia on April 02, 2020:
Extremelly well-written and informative article. I love all the books you chose for this list!