WSIRN Ep 52: There’s nothing better than a great book with Gretchen Rubin

It’s Day 4 of our special Reading For A Lifetime series on WSIRN, and if our comment section has made one thing known, it’s this: Adults LOVE Kid Lit. Not just for kids, not just in a theoretical sense, but in honest-to-goodness, just-for-the-joy-of-it, everyday-reading-life practice.

The guest here to chat with me about reading KidLit for fun? The beloved and oft-requested Gretchen Rubin! You all know her as the author of The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better than Before, but what you might not know is Gretchen is a voracious reader of children’s literature who is a member of THREE book clubs dedicated solely to children’s lit! In this episode we explore how Kid Lit transcends age group, why you should giving yourself permission to indulge in books written for children, how to find other adults with the same passion, and then we drop a blue million great book recommendations on you. (That photo above holds some of Gretchen’s favorites.) 

What Should I Read Next #52: There's nothing better than a great book with Gretchen Rubin

Connect with Gretchen Rubin at her website, on facebook, and on instagram. And of course, at her podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Books mentioned in this episode: 

Some links are affiliate links. More details here.

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
Happier at Home, by Gretchen Rubin
Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin
What Gretchen’s Kid Lit book clubs are reading: 

What I Saw & How I Lied, by Judy Blundell
Z is for Zachariah, by Robert C. O’Brien
Ms. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien
The Silver Crown, by Robert C. O’Brien
Junior Miss, by Sally Benson
Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith
The Greengage Summer, by Rumer Godden

Some of Gretchen’s favorites: 

Gretchen’s 81 kid lit favorites list
The Twilight series, by Stephanie Meyer
The Harry Potter series
, by J.K. RowlingAnne of Green Gables, by L.M. MontgomeryThe Emily of New Moon series, by L.M. Montgomery
The Great Brain
, by John D. Fitzgerald
The Pippi Longstocking series, by Astrid Lindgren
The Wizard of Oz series, by L. Frank Baum
The Mrs. Pigglewiggle series, by Betty MacDonald & Anne MacDonald Canham
The Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Half Magic (Tales of Magic series), by Edward Eager
The Melendy Quartet, by Elizabeth Enright
The Ramona Quimby series, by Beverly Cleary
The Lord of the Rings series, by J.R.R. Tolkein
The 21 Balloons, by William Pene du Bois

Kid Lit with difficult themes: 

Jane Emily, Patricia Clapp
What I Saw & How I Lied, by Judy Blundell

Books that truly transcend “age range”: 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Half Magic (Tales of Magic series), by Edward Eager
The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials series), by Philip Pullman

Where to start if you’re catching up on the Kid Lit of the last 10 years: 

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials series), by Philip Pullman
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

What Gretchen is reading and loving right now: 

My Antonia, by Willa Cather
The Professor’s House, by Willa Cather
O Pioneers, by Willa Cather
Color: A Natural History of the Palette, by Victoria Finlay
The Brilliant History of Color in Art, by Victoria Finlay
The Tricksters, by Margaret Mahey
The Changeover, by Margaret Mahey

Classic crowd-pleasers: 

The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
The Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis

Gretchen’s audiobook recommendations: 

Harry Potter, narrated by Jim Dale
The Little House series, narrated by Cherry Jones
Ramona Quimby, narrated by Stockard Channing
Charlotte’s Web (Gretchen recommends the author-read audio edition, but the Audible version is read by George Plimpton)

Gretchen’s where-to-start-with-Kidlit recommendations:

Black & Blue Magic, by Zilpha K. Snyder
The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg
Mrs Frisby & the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien
The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright
Gone Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright
Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Mary Poppins, by Dr. P.L. Travers
Mandy, by Julie Andrews
Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Gretchen’s apocalyptic/dystopian recommendations: 

The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins
Z is for Zachariah, by Robert C. O’Brien
The Girl Who Owned A City, by O.T. Nelson

Bonus authors mentioned in this episode:

E.L. Konigsburg
Edward Eager
Madeleine L’Engle
Susan Cooper
Judy Blume
Willa Cather
Margaret Mahey
Enid Blighton
Roald Dahl


Leave A Comment
  1. Susan says:

    Serious heart palpitations! Two of my favorite podcasters in one episode! I can’t wait to listen.

    My favorite book as a middle schooler was Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. I still love historical fiction.

    • Elinor Roush says:

      Johnny Tremain captured me as well. And I think it was the beginning of my interest in historical fiction.
      Anne, I saw you doing a Facebook Live and your phone kept slipping. Look into The Ring on Amazon. You attach it to the back of your phone. It also acts as a stand for both landscape and portrait positions

  2. Melissa Bratland says:

    One of my all time favorites is Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner. Jim Trelease called it the “perfect first novel” at a workshop of his that I attended. My students always love it!

  3. Louise says:

    Ah, it makes me SO happy to hear people recommending Edward Eager! I have loved his books my whole life, and it seems hardly anybody else knows about them. The same with Elizabeth Enright. And Understood Betsy, one of my all-time comfort reads! I need a new copy, though, because my childhood edition was made on cheap paper and it is now so brittle it falls to bits every time you turn a page.

    If you enjoy Edward Eager, you have got to try Patricia C Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, they are so wry and charming and fun. Also Lloyd Alexander, best known for his Prydain Chronicles but wrote so many more wonderfully witty, touching, inspiring fantasies. He also wrote the Vesper Holly series, which are tongue-in-cheek adventures featuring a teenage girl in the Victorian Era who could give Indiana Jones a run for his money. They are absolutely ridiculous in the best way, I adore them.

    I was a lucky kid whose library had all the L Frank Baum Oz books–all fourteen of them!–and read them over and over. They definitely contributed to my lifelong love of quirky, delightful fantasy. The series was continued after Baum’s death by a few other authors, so there’s close to fifty now, but I’ve never read any beyond the original fourteen.

    • Elizabeth Brink says:

      I also love Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles! I read them first in college. I just read Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy series and Understood Betsy for the first time this year. Loved them!

      The other kid’s book I read this year and loved was The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. It is so wonderful in every way. 🙂

      • Louise says:

        Oh, The Wednesday Wars is a great one! It was way outside my usual interests, but I gave it a try based on someone’s recommendation and thoroughly enjoyed it. I ended up buying a copy for my dad (a Shakespeare buff), and he deeply enjoyed it as well. He said it was one of the few stories he’s read that didn’t make that era either too bleak or too sugar-coated.

        • Elizabeth says:

          I gave the book to my dad, too, and he also loved it! He’s not a big reader, but he did live in New York during that time, so he really connected with the story. The story had made me want to read more Shakespeare, too.

          • laura duquette says:

            The Wednesday War’s audible is hands down my favorite audio book of all time. The narrator nails it.

  4. Will as a swedish woman i am happy to you mention Pippi by Astrid Lindgren, but there are more stories from her for you to think about, among other the books about Emil the guy with his many naughty habits. Perpaps not naughty but he has a very large sense for exploring. And there is also the books about the Bullerby children that is actually her own upbringing. I also miss Michelle Magorian Good By Mr Tom. Another swedish children author that is translated is Gösta Knutsson, he has written some books about the cat Pelle without a tail and his advantures in Uppsala together with his other cat friends and enemies.

  5. Cassie says:

    Due to very limited options at my childhood library, I skipped from picture books to Michael critchon, but I am just now rediscovering kids literature and would appreciate all the recommends you’ve got. Especially for audiobooks!

    • Kate says:

      Ooh, I *love* the Swallows & Amazons series (except Pigeon Post) and was so sad when my local library system pulled them off the shelf last year for lack of interest.
      Anne, Enid Blyton is the correct spelling 🙂 She is/was a much-maligned but astoundingly prolific children’s author in mid-century UK. I adored The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, her school series St. Clare’s and Mallory Towers, and the Farm books as a kid overseas where British books were more readily available than American. Most do not hold up to adult rereading, sadly, though they hold a very special place in my reading heart.

  6. Holli says:

    I love this interview. I have been leading a few children’s book clubs, a few at my child’s school and another that is parents and kids together. But I have always thought I would love an adult book club that does children and youth lit. Although my current adult book club did do the Golden Compass and Mrs Peregrine’s. So we have dabbled in some youth lit. But I love your book suggestions and the idea of kid lit for adults book club.

    As for my suggestion for books, Frindle and The Landry News by Andrew Clements are two amazing books for anyone to read. I’m not sure I’ve ever smiled so much while reading a book as I did during Frindle.

  7. Sandra Mosolgo says:

    My grandchildren loved the Swallows & Amazon series, Elizabeth Enright & Edward Eager and so did I. A more recent author I like is Cynthia Voight.

  8. Sara Kilpatrick says:

    Oh I loved this episode! I have rediscovered a love of kidlit in the last few years! Not only revisiting my favorite childhood reads but discovering so many more! I couldn’t even keep up with all the books I want to explore after listening to this episode!

    Oh and by the way Anne you have completely spoiled us this week so now we will be expecting daily podcast episodes! 🙂

  9. Victoria says:

    Loved this episode and so many recommendations. BUT, if you’re listening to harry potter it has to be the stephen fry version. It’s just too English to be read by am American.

  10. Kyla says:

    My kids are still very little and I hope that I won’t restrict too much what I let them read. I do think, however, that Twilight deserves some caution, and at the very least some de-briefing, as it glorifies an abusive dating relationship, which is truly quite dangerous.

  11. Jamie says:

    I was so happy to hear Gretchen recommend Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I read that book so many times the cover LITERALLY fell off. I have fond memories of reading it aloud to my younger brother, who must have been only three or four. I also love the original 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. My copy is quite old and the illustrations are breathtaking. I loved the details of the dog’s quest through the English countryside, which is described in so much more detail and with so many more endearing characters than the Disney movie (which, by the way, I also adored).

  12. Laura says:

    Oh, Anne. I very nearly pulled the car over to comment when I heard that you’ve only seen the movie of Mrs. Frisby. It is one of my all-time favorites. Loved it as a kid (and reread and reread it), love it now. I hope you’ll give the book version a try!

  13. Kate says:

    I kept yelling, “Yes! Loved that!” while listening to this episode 🙂 A few other titles that came to mind: “Harriet the Spy,” “The Westing Game,” and anything by E. Nesbit and Eva Ibbotson. On the slightly weirder/darker side, “Lizard Music” by Daniel Pinkwater (I still recall debating that book heatedly with my 5th grade best friend) and “The House of Stairs” by William Sleator.

  14. Patti says:

    I loved this podcast. Gretchen’s enthusiasm is catching. Don’t forget the trilogy of My Father’s Dragon for a read aloud for younger children. Thanks for the great reading list.

  15. Marie says:

    My 6th grade teacher read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to our class and I was CAPTIVATED. So so good. I also loved a ton of the books mentioned here. Has anyone read the Lois Lensky books? I think I read all of hers, and the illustrations were great. Another favorite was Up A Road Slowly by Irene Hunt

  16. Katie says:

    I recently discovered The Railway Children by E. Nesbitt, which is more than 100 years old now, but timeless in the same way that Anne of Green Gables and Little House are timeless. Small adventures, gentle mysteries, acts of benevolence, and a sweet family with just the right amount of smart humor. If you like the Penderwicks, you’ll like their older, British cousins. 🙂

  17. Jamie O says:

    I really connected with these recommendations!! My TBR list just exploded! And a whole new podcast to catch up on! Thank you!

    PS I agree, Willa Cather is awesome – one of my favorite authors!

  18. Caitlin says:

    I loved Victoria Finlay’s book on gemstones (“Jewels: A Secret History”), I have a very battered copy on my bookshelf that I got when I was studying gemmology for background reading and fell in love with it. I’ve been meaning to read her books on colour, so thank you for the reminder.

  19. Cristina Duarte Ferreira says:

    Really! Are there people who don’t know who Enid Blyton is?
    She is probably the writer whose books I read the most!!
    So many lovely series!!

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