Classic children’s fiction still excites the imagination

Judi Nechols

By Manhattan Public Library

Do you remember being a child and having the time to curl up in a chair, spending the day lost in an adventure taking place in another time or world? Remembering those classic children’s fiction books take us back to those days. And re-reading those books as adults, or reading them aloud to our children, brings a new perspective on the stories that we so fondly recall.

There are many children’s books that are considered classics, and a few of the favorites on my list include:

•“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published in 1911, is one of my all-time favorite stories, one that I read and re-read as a child and read aloud to my own children. It tells the story of Mary Lennox, orphaned in India and sent to live in the moors of England with her uncle.

Misselthwaite Manor is a cold, lonely estate, made isolated and somber after the death of her aunt, leaving her uncle in inconsolable grief. Mary hears rumors of a hidden garden, as well as hearing strange cries in the night. She discovers the hidden garden as well as a sickly cousin, Colin. With the help of her maid Martha, Martha’s brother Dickon, and Ben, the kindly old gardener, Mary brings life back to the garden, to Colin and to the manor. This is a charming story of friendship, family and determination, with wonderful descriptions of the garden and the children growing and changing. Burnett is also the author of another favorite, “A Little Princess.”

•“Johnny Tremain” by Esther Forbes, published in 1943, is a historical novel set in pre-Revolutionary War Boston. The author uses both fictional and historical figures to tell the story of Johnny Tremain, an apprentice in a silversmith shop. An accident with molten silver disfigures one of his hands, and Johnny is forced to find other work. He becomes involved with the revolutionaries and takes part in the Boston Tea Party, as well as in the battles at Lexington and Concord. An exciting account of the beginning of our country as told through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy, this novel won the Newbery Medal in 1944 and continues to be popular today.

•“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen is a more recent novel, which won the Newbery Medal in 1987.  Brian Robeson is 13 years old and is off to visit his father in northern Canada for the summer.  The pilot of the small plane carrying him has a heart attack, crashing their plane into a small lake, and Brian is left with nothing but a hatchet to survive. He spends the summer alone, learning how to survive in the wilderness—fending off animals, finding food, making a shelter. He also struggles with memories of his parents and their divorce.  Paulsen conveys the sense of loneliness Brian faces and also the resilience and intelligence that he needs to survive. This is an exciting story and an enthralling one to share by reading out loud.

•Do you ever wonder what happens to pins, paper clips and other small, lost objects? Perhaps they have been remade into something useful by the Borrowers! Another of my favorites is the series beginning with “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton, published in 1952.

The novels tell the story of a family of tiny people, the Clock family, who live in the floors and walls of a house, borrowing items from the Big People while trying not to be seen by them. Fourteen-year-old Arrietty Borrower is out exploring when she is seen by a boy, placing all of her family in danger. This is a fanciful, charming adventure story which is also a great read aloud choice that can be enjoyed by adults as well as children.

There are so many others to choose from—“The Black Stallion” series by Walter Farley, “The Incredible Journey,” “Heidi,” “Treasure Island,” “Robinson Crusoe,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” — check at Manhattan Public Library to find one of your favorites!

Online, go to and find scanned copies of original editions of classic stories, including illustrations.  As the site reads, “Turn the pages to explore bygone eras, time-honored tales and historical narratives.  Adventure awaits in these classic books online.”  Adventure awaits you at your library as well!!

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