Some of us come to reading late in life, only getting hooked on the story as adults.
But most of us fell in love with the world of literature when we were kids. Once we read Nancy Drew or Anne of Green Gables for the first time, that was all we needed. We were readers for life.
But childhood bookworms grow up, and as much fun as it is to revisit childhood favorites, we yearn for new titles to read. We have children, and we want to introduce them to the stories we fell in love with as kids. Or maybe we just want to branch out a little.
If you’re a reader who knows the joy of reading for a lifetime—or wants to—this list is for you.
"You are going to die," begins this 2006 novel. A fitting beginning to a story about hard things: a little girl and her family struggling to endure in WWII Nazi Germany. The characters are interesting and unexpected, right down to the unusual narrator. You'll see why this was an instant staple on school reading lists when it was published ten years ago, and why it has captured the hearts of readers from age 10 to 110. Beautiful, haunting, fascinating, hopeful. More info →
A captivating story, well-told. The characters in this war novel are fascinating and altogether unexpected, and the book’s setting couldn’t be lovelier: much of the action takes place in Saint-Malo, France, a unique walled port city on the English Channel. It doesn't feel overlong: its 500+ pages give Doerr plenty of room to build a believable world, and give his characters depth and feeling. An intelligent, detailed, literary novel that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. More info →
Claudia Kincaid is bored with her suburban life, so she convinces her little brother Jamie to run away with her to nearby New York City. She’s carefully chosen a hideaway that is comfortable, beautiful, and elegant: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once they’re set up in the museum, Claudia finds herself transfixed by a statue—and the mystery behind it—and her fascination leads the two children on an incredible adventure. Kongisburg took her inspiration from her own children; if they ever ran away she figured they would "never consider any place less elegant than the Metropolitan Museum of Art." A Newbery Medal winner in 1968. More info →
This contemporary novel gives us another wild goose chase in a fascinating setting. Clay, an unemployed Silicon Valley tech worker who now works at a dusty bookstore, discovers its mysterious hold books hold more secrets than he'd ever imagined. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore combines elements of mystery, friendship and adventure as well as the conflict between new technology and print books. This fast-paced book is mystery, quest, and love letter to the written word, all rolled into one: think Harry Potter meets National Treasure. More info →
This is one of the all-time bestselling children's books in English: it's sold nearly 3 million copies. The iconic Nancy Drew is cited as an influence by Supreme Court justices and CEOs, contemporary authors and first ladies, and devoted readers everywhere. Literary critics, attempting to analyze her enduring appeal, say she captures the complexity of femininity. As a kid I just knew she was smart, she's brave, and rescued her boyfriend from time to time, instead of the other way around. More info →
In Book 1 of this popular series, McCall Smith introduces us to Precious Ramotswe, founder of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, who makes a midlife switch to detective work so she can “help people with problems in their lives.” Fans adore this series, and in each book they accompany Mma Ramotswe as she meets her interesting clients, always with very interesting problems. Readers can't help rooting for Mma Ramtoswe as she solves her mysteries; she's funny, smart, and loves to buck convention—very, very tactfully. More info →
In this classic series, four British children discover that a wardrobe in a British home opens into a magical world called Narnia, where animals talk, magic is real, and the evil White Witch duels the fierce lion Aslan. Lewis took his inspiration from British and Irish fairy tales, traditional Christian themes, and Greek and Roman mythology. This series has been captivating readers both old and young for over sixty years. More info →
Readers who couldn't get enough C. S. Lewis as a kid are often urged to move on to his Space Trilogy as they get older. Once again, he sets his fantasies against the backdrop of classical mythology and biblical imagery; his characters encounter extraordinary creatures, fight epic battles, and come face to face with deep wisdom. This first book in the series tells the story of Dr. Ransom, a Cambridge professor who discovers after he's abducted that he's been taken from the "silent planet" of Earth. J. R. R. Tolkien inspired Lewis to write this story, and the character of Dr. Ransom is largely based on him. More info →
In this novel, often cited as C. S. Lewis's greatest work, he retells the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Lewis said he was haunted by the story all his life, because he was struck by how illogical some of the main characters' actions were. By recasting the myth as the tale of two mortal princesses caught in a love triangle, he explores devotion and loss, dedication and betrayal, and the different ways we can love. This was Lewis's last novel, and he considered it his most mature work. More info →
If You Love a Survival Story in a Wild Environment
This slim novel set during the Klondike Gold Rush is considered Jack London's masterpiece. This is the story of Buck, a household pet who's stolen from his home and forced into service as an Alaskan sled dog. To survive, Buck muck must learn to fight. A classic tale of struggle and survival. More info →
It begins with a bang, when all the lights go out; soon thereafter, civilization falls apart. In McCarthy's postapocalyptic tale, a nameless father and son take to the road, wandering through the burned landscape as they make their way towards the coast, though they're unsure what, if anything, awaits them there. Critics are already calling this 2007 Pulitzer winner McCarthy's masterpiece for its moving portrayal of familial love and tenderness against a backdrop of total devastation. More info →
My 11-year-old told me she was glad this was required reading because she wouldn't have read it otherwise and it's one of the best books she's ever read. Told in free verse, this is the story of a young girl's life in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma during the Great Depression. It's bleak and tragic and ends with only a glimmer of hope, but young (and old) readers will be moved as they root for fourteen-year-old Billie Jo to transcend her dire circumstances and find the beauty in her unlikely surroundings. A short, quick read, but one that will stay with you. Winner of the 1998 Newbery Medal. More info →
This is Steinbeck's epic tale of the Great Depression and the great Dust Bowl Migration of the 1930s, told through the eyes of one downtrodden Oklahoma farm family. The Joads set out for California, in search of jobs and some kind of future. This Pulitzer winner is sweeping and evocative, packed with unforgettable images, bursting with meaning. Powerful and tragic, with an absolutely haunting ending that holds forth the tiniest glimmer of hope. More info →
If You Consider Yourself an Anne Shirley... or a Modern Mrs. Darcy
This series has been captivating readers for over a century. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of Prince Edward Island, Canada decide to adopt an orphaned boy to help them on their farm. Their messenger mistakenly delivers a girl to Green Gables instead—an 11-year-old feisty redhead named Anne Shirley. The series follows Anne from her childhood at Green Gables until she is a mother herself. Don't miss the final books of the series when Anne's own sons set sail to fight for Canada in WWI. More info →
For two hundred years this has remained one of the most popular novels in the English novel; Jane Austen herself called it her "own darling child." If you've never read Jane Austen, start here, with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and you'll see why, like Anne, devoted readers keep picking this one up again ... and again and again. More info →
When an overprotected ten-year-old stumbles upon a boy her age drinking furtively from a spring near her home, she discovers what he's trying to keep secret: since his family began drinking the water, they haven't aged a day. There are so many middle grade stories that wrestle with death these days; in this novel, Babbit wrestles with the decidedly mixed blessing of living forever. The prose in this is really lovely (which is not a code word for boring). More info →
In Audrey Niffenegger's cinematic debut, an art student falls in love with a librarian. So far, so good. But they met when Clare was six and Henry was 36, and they married when Clare was 23 and Henry 31. Henry travels through time, forward and back, unwillingly, unpredictably. In her love story Niffenegger explores what this jarring disruption does to a man, to a marriage, to a family. More info →
Before Hillenbrand got a hold of Louie Zamperini's story for Unbroken, she was an editor at Equus magazine, having fallen in love with horses as a kid when she began reading Come On, Seabiscuit! over and over again beginning at age eight. In this true story that reads like a novel, Hillenbrand takes her reader on a remarkable ride, masterfully weaveing together the stories of a knock-kneed racehorse and the three men who made him a champion: a bookish half-blind jockey, an eccentric trainer, and a limelight-loving owner. An incredible tale, and not just for horse lovers. More info →
Corrie ten Boom was a heroine of the Resistance and a survivor of Hitler's concentration camps. In World War II she and her family risked their lives to help Jews and underground workers escape from the Nazis, and for their work they were tested in the infamous Nazi death camps.The title refers to both the hiding place where the ten Boom family hid Jews, and also to Psalm 119:114, "Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word... " More info →
Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen, lives with her family in Copenhagen and becomes a part of the rescue of the Danish Jews, helped to reach neutral ground in Sweden in order to avoid the concentration camps.The title is taken from Psalm 147:4, in which God has numbered all the stars and has named each one of them. It ties to the Star of David, symbolic to Judaism. The novel was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1990. More info →
If You Love a Story About Good and Evil with a Bit of Magic Thrown In
Orphaned Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is until he turns 11 and receives his invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is exactly like any other British boarding school, but for the subject matter. When the series opens Harry and friends are young and innocent, and the reader delights in leaving the muggle world to learn about this strange reality occupied by witches and wizards. But as the series progresses the plots escalate, drawing us into an overarching battle of good versus evil. More info →
Kostova's brooding literary thriller is hard to slot into a genre: she combines Gothic, adventure, travelogue, and mystery writing in her epic novel exploring the battle of good vs. evil. She drew inspiration from childhood stories she heard from her father, as well as the classic Dracula tale—brace yourself for some fantastically weird storytelling. But her themes run deep; Kostova calls the Dracula tale "a metaphor for the evil that is so hard to undo in history." Readers, take note. More info →
It's the beginning of the nineteenth century, and people believe magic is dead in England. They are wrong. In this alternative history, Clarke introduces us to her two eponymous magicians, drawing inspiration from literary greats like Austen and Dickens. The New York Times called this modern classic "Hogwarts for grown-ups," and an impressively diverse assortment of readers have heartily recommended it. After you finish the book, check out the BBC's new miniseries. More info →