Politics & Policy

Opening Up

Getting children to read this summer.

It’s summer at last, and school is over. As my children say, “Now we get to read what we want.” Wonderful books abound, and finding them has never been easier.

Many are old, but are much too good to be forgotten. Out of print? Not in the library? You can find these treasures on Alibris and Amazon.

So here, from our family to yours, are some of our favorite books.

Though grouped loosely by reading level, the books will interest readers of all ages. Yesterday our college daughter, riding to work on the metro, was laughing aloud over Bill Peet’s Autobiography with its big print and playful illustrations. She was the only adult reading a “kids’ book” and probably the only one so thoroughly enjoying herself.


The memorable stories and the quality illustrations in these books are delightful. Naughty Nancy and others by John Goodall are out of print and impossibly expensive, but still are worth hunting down. The humor in One Summer at Grandmother’s House will probably appeal mostly to women.

Autobiography—–Bill Peet

Chester: The Wordly Pig, etc. —–Bill Peet

Piper—–Emma Chichester Clark

One Summer at Grandmother’s House—–Poupa Montaufier

The Owl and the Pussycat—–Edward Lear, illustrated by Jan Brett

Edith and Mr. Bear—–Dare Wright

Eloise—– Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight

Naughty Nancy, etc. —–John Goodall (wordless, funny, works of art)


When I was nine and resisting reading, my mother handed me Enid Blyton’s Five Go to Smuggler’s Top. That book turned me into a passionate reader. Of Blyton’s 800 titles, you can find her “Most Popular Works” on Wikipedia. They are a wonderful alternative to Harry Potter. The Cowboy Sam series holds the interest of beginners (girls, too) who need practice reading aloud.

Shadow the Sheep Dog, etc. —–Enid Blyton (lovely story not listed on Wikipedia)

The Hundred Dresses—–Eleanor Estes

The Sword in the Tree; Singing Sam, etc. —–Clyde Robert Bulla

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, etc. —–Edward Ardizzone

The Adventures of Tin Tin, etc. —–Herge

A Triumph for Flavius—–Caroline Dale Snedeker

Incredible True Adventures, etc. —–Don L. Wulffson

Kentucky Derby Champion (alternate title: Old Bones, the Wonder Horse)—–Pace

Secret Missions—–Ellen Levine

No Room for a Dog; No Children, No Pets, etc. —–Marion Holland

Jet Getaway and Other Amazing Escapes—–Thomas Gunning

Amazing Rescues: 3 True Rescue Stories—–George Shea

Snow Treasure—–Marie McSwigan

Cowboy Sam—–Edna Walker Chandler (Alibris offers more than Amazon)

Jeb Stuart; Jim Bridger; Jim Bowie—–Gertrude H. Winders


The last five in this section are nonfiction. Little Britches positively shines with strong family and father-son relationships.

Sabre Pilot, etc. —–Stephen Meader (boys love his books)

Dangerous Journey—–Laszlo Hamori

The Singing Cave—–Eilis Dillon

Dead Man’s Light—–Scott Corbett (found on Alibris)

Banner in the Sky—–James Ramsey Ullman

Old Yeller—–Frank Gipson

Carry on, Mr. Bowditch—–Jean Latham

Buckskin Brigade—–Jim Kjelgaard

The Man Who Bought Himself—–Peggy Mann

Owls in the Family—–Farley Mowat (excellent read aloud)

Little Britches (lst of a series of 8)—–Ralph Moody


The last two in this section are nonfiction.

A Girl of the Limberlost—–Gene Stratton Porter

The Wind Blows Free—–Loula Grace Erdman

Daddy-Long-Legs—–Jean Webster

Understood Betsy——-Dorothy Canfield Fisher

The Good Master, etc. —–Kate Seredy

Adopted Jane—–Helen F. Daringer

From Anna; Mine For Keeps; Spring Begins in March—–Jean Little

Little by Little—–Jean Little

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio—–Peg Kehret


Inspiring examples from true life can help teenagers get beyond themselves and put their problems into proper perspective. The following stories are unforgettable.

Donbas—–Jacques Sandulescu

Tower of Secrets—–Victor Sheymov

Beyond Defeat—–James E. Johnson

Standing Next to History—–Joseph Petro (secret service in Reagan White House)

Hazardous Duty—–John Singlaub

It Doesn’t Take a Hero—–Norman Schwarzkopf

On Wings of Eagles—–Ken Follett

The Shadow of His Wings—–Gereon Goldmann

Grey Seas Under—–Farley Mowatt

The Great Escape—–Paul Brickhill

My Family and Other Animals—–Gerald Durrell

Secrets and Spies: Behind-the-Scenes Stories of WWII—–Reader’s Digest

True Stories of Great Escapes—–Reader’s Digest

Animals You Will Never Forget—–Reader’s Digest

Animals Can Be Almost Human—–Reader’s Digest

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea—–Gary Kinder (accompanying book: America’s Lost Treasure by Tommy Thompson, with lavish photographs)


The first 3 titles are fiction with light romance. Other works by M. Stewart and D. du Maurier, however, aren’t worth reading.

Nine Coaches Waiting—–Mary Stewart

Rebecca—–Daphne du Maurier

Seventeenth Summer; Sixteen (short story), etc.—–Maureen Daly

The Hiding Place—–Corrie ten Boom

One of the Lucky Ones—–Lucy Ching

Paris Underground—–Etta Shiber

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers—–Maria von Trapp

Maria—–Maria von Trapp (her youth)

For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy—–Kimberly Brubaker

Katia—–E. M. Almedingen (a Russian girlhood)

Souls at Stake

Our kids are bombarded by bad books, TV, and video games — so how do we get them to read good books? First, we must convince ourselves that it’s worth the effort to try.

The most serious battle going on in this country is over the souls of our children. It is impossible to exaggerate the power of the image to form or deform the way they think. It is crucial to arm them with heroes that make virtue attractive. This will entail exercising your God-given authority, but that’s what it’s for.

For starters, get the TVs and computers out of their bedrooms, and drastically curtail their use. Cut the plugs if you have to. Then, stock the house with good books.

When they’re bored, they will read.

Next, insist they read only books from a list or publisher you trust. It’s not easy, but many families do this. A guideline: assume that any book published after l960 is guilty until proven innocent.

If your children don’t have the habit of reading, require them to read at least a book a week. The reading level doesn’t matter so long as they enjoy the book. Leaving an enticing book out on a table will lure some children into reading it.

Reading aloud to them is as good as their reading on their own and has the added benefit of strengthening the bond between you and your child. Sometimes all it takes to convince them a book is good, is to read aloud the first two chapters. Some will grab the book from you to finish it on their own. Others you will have to tantalize by leaving off at the exciting part, so that in order to see how it ends, they will have to read the book themselves.

Suggested read aloud times: over dinner, in the car (if you’re the driver, they read to you), while they’re doing a chore, and when they’re sick. And don’t be afraid to try recorded books.

Is this daunting? Yes, it is, but it’s the soul of true parenting, and it’s very rewarding.

 – Theresa Fagan has eight children. She is currently working on the second volume of A Mother’s List of Books.


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