Besides Tolkien and Lewis. Not that I have anything against The Hobbit and Narnia, but I want to highlight different authors that deserve just as much recognition. And, while the title says every kid should know these, it’s true for people of all ages, so check these out yourselves!
1. Andrew Peterson
Known for: The Wingfeather Saga (On the Edge of the North Sea of Darkness, North! Or Be Eaten, The Monster in the Hollows, The Warden and the Wolf King) (and he’s an awesome singer/songwriter, but that’s a different post altogether)
There’s so much goodness in this series, I don’t know where to begin. It follows the adventures of three siblings, Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby, who are far more important than they dreamed. Join them as they experience the Dark Sea of Darkness, the Ice Prairies, and maybe, someday, the famous Shining Isle of Anniera that now lies smoldering because of Gnag the Nameless’ wrath. I could go on forever about why this series is so wonderful, but here are four quick reasons:
a. the prose
Peterson is a song-writer, and the smooth, almost lyrical quality of his words attests to this fact. It’s perfectly-paced and is clearly-written so young children can understand it but with beautiful word pictures and allusions that older generations can appreciate.
b. the humor
I often smile while reading books, but rarely do I actually laugh out loud. Peterson’s books, with footnotes to fake documents, crazy names (Anklejelly Manor, anyone?), goofy, realistic kids (like Tink’s fascination with food), is one of those rare guffaw-inducing reads.
c. the messages
Loyalty, honor, integrity, selflessness—the themes of this series are so beautiful they make me cry, and they’re effortlessly woven in, not preachy at all. Perhaps my favorite theme is that of family. Rarely do books these days ring of brotherly love and the comfort of a mother’s hug and the influence of a noble father.
2. Elizabeth George Speare
Known for: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Bronze Bow, Sign of the Beaver
You want kids to like history? Don’t give them a textbook, give them a story. Preferably a well-written, enthralling story with great morals, adventure, and incredible historical detail. Hey, that sounds like something by Elizabeth George Speare. In all seriousness, I know more about history from her (and other children’s historical fiction books) than I do from textbooks. The three books I’m reviewing have won Newberry awards, and while she’s written over eighty historical fiction books, these are her best and my favorites.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond tells the story of Kat, a girl who grew up on a Caribbean island, but is forced to move to New England and live with her Puritan relatives. Don’t worry, the witch in the title isn’t really a witch, and the book offers a fantastic view of Puritan life, its good and bad, as well as some details about being a sailor and the Caribbean colonies at that time. Plus, Kat’s loneliness and spunkiness are very appealing and relatable.
The Bronze Bow tells the story of Daniel, a young boy in 1st Century A.D., who lives among the outlaws in the mountains of Palestine, living for the day when he can take revenge on the Romans for his parents’ deaths. His prayer echoes David’s in Psalm 18:34: “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze”. However, his grand-mother dies and leaves behind Leah, his demon-possessed sister, and a man called Jesus preaches a message of love, not hate, towards all men, even the Romans. An incredible look at the tensions between Jews and Romans—and at what truly bends a bow of bronze.
The Sign of the Beaver tells the story of Matt, who is left alone in a cabin in the wilderness of 1700’s America, while his father goes and fetches the rest of the family. However, his father doesn’t come back when he promised, and a stranger steals his gun, the only way he has to protect himself. And then the Indians arrive. I adore this tale of resourcefulness, maturity, and interactions between settlers and Indians.