Growing up, I fell asleep every night to the sounds of my mom reading Goodnight Moon out loud. The Giving Tree still makes me cry. Where the Wild Things Are makes me hoot and howl and wish for a time where I could be an unabashed monster.
We remember the classics. But there are some books from childhood that we might have forgotten, books that made our eyes get just as wide and activated our imaginations just as much as the ones we all remember. Those forgotten gems are the ones in this list.
Get ready to, “OH YEAH!” your way down memory lane.
Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar
Sideways Stories From Wayside School was one of the most inventive and hilarious books we read as kids. From Mrs. Gorf, the teacher who turns her naughty students into apples, until she accidentally turns herself into one and gets eaten to Mrs. Jewls, who is convinced her human students are actually monkeys, this book is the definition of zany. And we loved it.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
As a kid growing up in New York, I tried to run away and live in the woods instantly after finishing this book about a boy who lives in New York and hates his apartment so he tries to run away and live in the woods.
However, our house was already in the woods, so I just camped out on a big rock in my yard for about twenty minutes until I realized I liked couches and blankets and snacks.
George and Martha by James Marshall
George and Martha are two fabulous platonic best friend hippos who are living their best lives. They take dance classes, go to the beach, and spend the day at the amusement park.
They get mad at each other once in a while, but they always make up, because they are true friends who are secretly in love. (I made up that last part because I love draaaama!)
Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel
When I saw the title of this book again after decades of not thinking about it, I immediately mouthed, “Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sarembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo.” It escaped the recesses of my brain fully formed! I barely knew what I was saying, and I definitely didn’t remember that the phrase is actually the name of a boy who falls down a well in the story.
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
This book is about a witch with a magic pasta pot that makes so much pasta it nearly destroys the town.
So basically, this book is my dream. If I had magical powers, there is no question I’d use them to make insane amounts of pasta.
The Bailey School Kids by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones
The Bailey School Kids series follows kids as they encounter different adults who they suspect are actually monsters (as we’ve come to discover is real life). They spend the whole book trying to catch the creep in its natural form. They were fantastic. Some titles include Werewolves Don’t Go To Summer Camp, Ghosts Don’t Eat Potato Chips, Mummies Don’t Coach Softball, and The Abominable Snowman Doesn’t Roast Marshmallows.
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
There were so many stories growing up that romanticized the idea of being an orphan that every time my parents tried to lovingly hug me, I was disgusted. One of the best was The Boxcar Children. They live in an abandoned boxcar! What’s cooler than that? Answer: NOTHING. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny were my heroes.
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Wouldn’t life be much simpler if you could just draw everything you need? Harold wants to walk in the moonlight, but there’s no moon, so he draws one. Harold is the maker of his own destiny.
He may be a baby, but he’s my hero.
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
I’m willing to bet Stellaluna is the only children’s book about a baby fruit bat that became a classic in your household. Stellaluna gets separated from her mother and lands in a bird’s nest, where she learns to fly with the baby birds but can’t get over the fact that she’s different.
Luckily, there’s a happy ending.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
How could a bunny as adorable as Peter be so naughty? And is it OK for a mother to send her child to bed with only chamomile tea for supper? These were the tough questions Beatrix Potter was willing to ask in her classic, lovely book.
Once Upon a Potty by Alona Frankel
Everybody Poops was the classic educational bathroom book. But Once Upon a Potty holds a soft spot in my butt for its adorable illustrations and its acknowledgment that sometimes, pooping takes a while.
Little Critter Stories by Mercer Mayer
There were hundreds of Little Critter books. They went on all sorts of adventures and wound up in all sorts of circumstances and taught us all types of life lessons, and still, I could not tell you what type of critter the Little Critters are.
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
Amelia Bedelia could never do anything right, and we were supposed to laugh and laugh at her stupidity. Not a great lesson for real life, but it made for some hilarious stories!
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Every middle school kid growing up was pretty obsessed with ancient Egypt (right?). Maybe it was because of The Prince of Egypt, or maybe it’s because we learned about the pyramids and King Tut in sixth grade world history.
Either way, The Egypt Game, the story of a group of kids who do ancient rituals inspired by Egyptian history and then get mixed up in a murder mystery is pretty much the perfect combination of cool and creepy that every kid craved.
Frindle by Andrew Clements
Frindle is the perfect story for grammar geeks and word nerds everywhere. Nick Allen decides to rename the pen the “frindle,” and the word sticks. If you think I didn’t try to rename every common object after reading this book, you’d be wrong (although “snurble,” the thing you blow your nose into, never really took off).
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Two kids decide to run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sleeping in an antique bed, bathing in the fountain, and being generally sneaky.
Basically, this was my dream, and it showed in my writing. In the story I wrote in fourth grade, called Lost In the Mall, I ended up in the mall overnight, slept in the pile of stuffed animals in the Disney store, and stole powdered doughnuts from the sleeping security guard.
Whenever I think about the prospect of running away and hiding in a very public place — still — my heart flutters.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Growing up, there was no shortage of sad dog stories. In fact, I’d say there was an overabundance of them. Authors around the world in every era of history seem to want to inform children that the pets they love will one day die probably horrible violent deaths at the hands of some wild animal.
Where the Red Fern Grows is no exception. If you need a novel to make you sob uncontrollably, drool, and blow inadvertent snot bubbles at the same time, boy is this the book for you. I mean that in the best way possible.
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a total classic. Matilda is perfect. But James and the Giant Peach is one Roald Dahl masterpiece we didn’t exactly read over and over again and watch the movie version of on repeat until we fell asleep.
The movie is great and deserves a rewatch, but this book, of a boy who takes off floating in a giant peach and makes friends with the bugs who live inside, totally holds up today. You don’t want to forget about this one again.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books made me want to live in the great, wide unknown American frontier. And that was no small feat.
Somehow, Wilder romanticized covered wagons, dirt cabins, and dying from consumption. It was awesome.
Bunnicula by James Howe
He’s a bunny! He’s a vampire! He sucks the juice out of vegetables so you’re left with dry, white carrots!
Bunnicula is great.
Miss Nelson Is Missing! by Harry Allard
This book is the story of Miss Nelson, a teacher who’s so taken advantage of by her evil students that she has to put on a disguise and pretend to be mean a substitute, Miss Viola Swamp, just to get her class to listen to her.
It’s like Mrs. Doubtfire for sad teachers and maybe doesn’t quite translate when you’re an adult who can fathom the cruelty of children, but this was a classic when we were kids!
The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups by David Wisniewski
Do you guys remember this book?! It tells the truth about lies we hear from adults all the time growing up, like how grown-ups say we have to eat vegetables because they’re healthy but really we have to eat them to keep them from rising up, revolting, and eating humans. Yeah, that’s right.
This book is essential for any cool kid who values cold, hard facts.
Blueberries For Sal by Robert McCloskey
You may recognize McCloskey’s name because he also wrote and illustrated Make Way For Ducklings, but Blueberries For Sal was a staple in my household.
I very much related to Sal from Blueberries For Sal because she would pick the berries and put them in her bucket, but then she wouldn’t be able to help herself and she’d eat them. That’s so me.
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
This book, about a little bunny who keeps telling his mom that he’s going to run away and become a fish or a rock or a bird or a sailboat used to give me anxiety. If you ran away did you have to turn into something else? Why couldn’t the bunny just accept his beautiful little life?
And then I remembered that rabbits have like, hundreds of babies at once and I was like, “Oh yeah, go be a rock, little bunny dude.”
Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
The subtitle of Caps For Sale is, “A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys, and Their Monkey Business.” That about sums it up!
This hairy tale is about a peddler of hats who carries them around in an enormous tower on his head and the monkeys who steal them.
And in 2018, it’s going to be adapted as a gritty political thriller by Oliver Stone. OK, that’s not true, but it could be.