I love to read children’s novels about families and family life. There’s something comforting about opening up the pages of a book and crawling into the life of another family and being in the midst of their joys and struggles.
Growing up as a TCK, I know my own family and siblings were an anchor I could count on through all the changes. As is often the case in children’s books (why? I have no idea) there were four of us, two boys, two girls, Dale, then Robbie, then Me and my younger sister, Renee (which means reborn in French). During our many transitions, they were my best friends, joining me in games, adventures, new discoveries, holidays and all those trips visiting supporting churches. My brother, Rob, or Robbie as we called him then, was only eighteen months older than me. He was outgoing, fun, energetic, a roll-with-the-punches kind of guy who often lifted my spirits at difficult junctures. He was great at taking the bite out of my anxieties. He was the one who made me laugh, who came up with all the wild ideas to fight boredom on on rainy day. He was the one who taught me to whistle and to roller skate full-speed ahead down the hill near our home in Villeneuve-Le-Roi. He was the one who challenged me to climb all the way to the top of the cherry tree in our backyard. He was the one who during a bout with pneunomia when I was quarantined in my room, feeling sorry for myself, created a “telephone” with string and tin cans so we could talk. My little sister, Renee, often joined in the fun, sometimes too little to do things, but always eager, always smiling, always excited to be on board. My oldest brother, Dale, five years older then me, was the reader, the scientist, the chess player, the key chain collector and the master train set engineer. I looked up to him, treasured the times he praised me and was elated when he let me into his attic room to show me the latest additions to his train set. Family was indeed an important anchor throughout my childhood.
On to noteworthy books… Family stories abound and rank at the top of my favorite children’s books. I will just list a few (well, maybe more than a few) that I highly recommend. Many of these are perfect for reading aloud as a family.
Only a few pre-1930s have survived and have stood the test of time:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1867) – Who has not heard of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy? Loosely based on the author’s own family life, this classic novel chronicles the lives of these four distinct sisters as they grow into adulthood. A longer novel for older children and young adults, this is a blend of masterful story telling, romance, family drama and historical fiction. Sequels include The Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.
Five Little Peppers and and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney (1881) – This story tells of a widowed mother and her five children living in a “little brown house” in rural America. Life is hard and Mamsie must work to keep bread on the table and a roof over their heads. The children learn to make do, help out as well care for each other, but what they lack in material things, they make up for in their bond and love for one another. There are eleven sequels about the Pepper family, with over a seventeen year span, although the first six books provide the core of the story (if you are not up to reading all twelve books).
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin (1903) – Another classic, this early 1900s novel chronicles the life of Rebecca who grows up with her two stern aunts in a rural village in Maine. This story was adapted for the theatrical stage and made into movies. Again, read the book! It’s much better than the movie, even the one starring Shirley Temple.
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1917) – Put this one at the top of your list. I just re-read it and couldn’t put it down. A little orphaned girl, raised by an over-protective aunt is terrified when she is sent to live with her “other side of the family” in a small rural community in Vermont. A gem.
In 1932, The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder books appeared on the scene, bringing the pioneer days alive and the Ingalls family into our hearts. A must-have set of books for your families library – your children will reach for it and enjoy re-reading this series, time and time again.
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (1935) also takes us into the home of a frontier families life, told through the eyes of a strong-willed little girl, the only girl in a large family of boisterous boys.
In Blue Willow by Doris Gates (1940), we are introduced to the plight of a migrant worker’s family. Janey, an only child, struggles to find her place in the world in the midst of constant change. A great book that a TCK can immediately relate to.
The Courage of Sarah Noble (1954) is another classic (and I may add, a book in constant demand from families). This is the true story of a brave little girl who accompanies her father to the Connecticut wilderness. She is asked to stay behind while he goes back to get the rest of her family. A book about courage, yes, but also about adapting and being willing to grow and learn new things. A good first chapter book, beautifully illustrated by Leonard Weisgard.
Thimble Summer (1938) by Elizabeth Enright – Garnet, a nine year old girl, tells the story of a year in her life, during the Depression on a her farm in the Wisconsin. Filled with happy family memories and simple pleasures, this is sure to become a favorite family read.
The Saturdays (1941) by Elizabeth Enright. The Melendys live in New York City with their father and housekeeper. Follow the adventures and mishaps of the four siblings as they set out to explore what New York City has to offer with their meager allowance and free spirit. Also about the Melendy family: The Four-story Mistake, Then There Were Five and Spiderweb for Two. Also don’t miss The Gone Away Lake, her Newbery Award book about two siblings and a cousin who discover an abandonned resort. Many claim The Gone Away Lake is her crowning achievement.
Ginger Pye (1958) In this Newbery Award winner, Jerry and Rachel Pye search for their missing dog. It’s a mystery, an adventure story and a page-turner, but filled with the warmth and security of family life.
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sidney Taylor (1951) This novel follows the lives of a close-knit Jewish family with five girls. Their parents run a junk shop in lower Manhattan, in New York City in the early 1900s. Times are hard, but this family never lacks for love, a sense of adventure or celebration of life and togetherness. Sequels include More All-of-a-Kind Family, All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, and Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family.
The Great Brain by John Fiztgerald (1972) This is a hilarious story of two brothers, the younger brother always taking the blame for the misbehavior and pranks of his older brother. Finally, this is a book with boys at the center stage. (There are many sequels to this, all great fun) Other family books with boys as the main character include Henry Huggins series (1950) by Beverly Cleary, Henry Reed (1989) series by Keith Robertson and Homer Price (1943) and it’s sequel Centerburg Tales by Robert McCloskey.
Miracle on Maple Hill (1956) by Virginia Sorensen – This is the story of a family’s struggle after World War II to put their lives back together. A Newbery Award winner. Also by Sorensen, don’t miss Plain Girl, the story of an Amish girl who at the age of ten enters the public school, makes friends and gains a new perspective on her family’s way of life.
Meet the Austins by Madeleine L’Engle (1960) – Unlike A Wrinkle in Time, this is not a science fiction book, but a realistic story about a close-knit family who take in an orphaned child and must make room in their home and hearts for this new arrival. Also about the Austins, be sure to add this one to your Christmas collection: The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas.
Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (1970) In this Newbery Award novel, Sara must come to terms with the responsibility of caring for her mentally-disabled brother. Sara faces her worst fears when he becomes lost.
So if you and your family love reading about other families, the above books are sure to fit the bill and transport you to other times and places, into the center of family life, a place of love, security and acceptance, throughout the good and the bad times. All the above title are available in my Kids Books Without Borders collection. Are there any titles you remember fondly from your own childhood? Any other titles you think you would recommend at add to those listed above? Leave a comment.
I will follow up at a later date with a post about multicultural family stories.