Heidi – Johanna Spyri

heidi-johanna-spyri-paperback-cover-artA beautiful children’s book about a girl who heals a cripple while trying to soothe her loneliness by getting back to her grandfather in the Swiss Alps. The novel was published in 1879 yet remains accessible even today.  Heidi, an orphan, lives with her Aunt Dete, but Dete wants a career.  So, she takes Heidi to stay with the Grandfather, an old man living in an alpine cottage far from the village below. He’s kind, but mistrusts people and won’t send Heidi to school.  Instead, she goes to the pastures with Peter, a shepherd boy.  Heidi’s alpine idyll comes to an end when Aunt Dete finds a better situation for her in Frankfurt as a companion to Clara, the crippled daughter of a rich family.  Heidi does well, but she doesn’t like the strict discipline, personified by the governess, Fraulein Rottenmeier.  It’s only after getting ill from homesickness, that she is allowed to return to the Grandfather.  Clara visits Heidi.  Peter is jealous.  In a fit of rage, he destroys Clara’s wheelchair, which forces her to walk.  Everyone is happy.

Because of Winn-Dixie – Kate DiCamillo

winn I loved this quirky Newbery Award Honor children’s book about a motherless girl who adopts a dog and unites a community.  Opal, age 10, finds a big, ugly dog in the produce department of the local grocery store.  She names him Winn-Dixie accordingly and takes him to meet her father who is a minister.  Since moving to Florida, Opal has been lonely and missing her mother, who left when she was little.  Her dad usually won’t talk about her mom but because of Winn-Dixie he agrees to tell her a few things.  Winn-Dixie also proves adept at making friends.  Together, they meet the librarian, Miss Block, who fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace.  They meet Gloria Dump who is almost blind but sees with her heart.  They meet Otis, an ex-con, who sets the animals free in his pet shop after hours and lulls them by playing his guitar.  Lovable Winn-Dixie is a catalyst for the formation of friendships of all kinds.  A warm, well-written children’s classic.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

LittleWomenWonderful coming of age drama about the lives of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, during the Civil War.  Their father is away serving as a minister to the troops; their mother, Marmee, struggles to make ends meet.  Laurie Laurence, the rich boy next door takes a liking to Jo. Laurie’s tutor, John Brooke, falls in love with Jo’s older sister, Meg.  Meg marries John, but Jo rejects Laurie in favor of a writing career in New York. Laurie ultimately falls in love with the youngest sister while traveling in Europe, a trip Jo always longed for but was given to Amy instead.  When Beth becomes desperately ill with Scarlet Fever, Jo returns to her sister’s side, but it remains to be seen if she will find success as a writer or a love interest of her own.

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

SecretGarden6I love this children’s book about a young orphan girl who returns to her English roots to save a cripple boy and his emotionally scarred father.  Mary Lennox lives with her rich parents in India.  No one loves her.  When her parents die, she goes to live with her uncle in England.  Old Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire moors seems hardly a place for a child, but soon Mary makes friends with some of the staff and discovers a mysterious garden locked up ten years ago that becomes her special place.  One day, she discovers her cousin Colin, a boy who cannot walk or stand, a boy everyone thinks is going to die. Like Mary, Colin is ignored by his father, grief-stricken by his wife’s death, and certain he will lose his son as well.  With Mary’s help, Colin enters the garden and learns to walk. The Garden, in the end, not only heals Colin but also his relationship with his father, his father’s emotional wounds, and Mary’s feelings of worthlessness.

Inside Out And Back Again – Thanhha Lai

thanhha_lai_inside_out_and_back_again1This book, written all in verse, is a truly remarkable achievement, and won both the National Book Award as well as a Newbery Honor.  In it, the author chronicles her experience as a child fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon.  Told through the eyes of 10-year-old Ha, who has lived only in Vietnam, the book follows her and her family as they board a ship bound for Alabama.  Once in the United States, Ha experiences the coldness of strangers, odd American food, and ultimately the strength of her own family as they adjust to life in a foreign land.  I am not a poetry person.  I was very reluctant to read this book.  Thank goodness I did because it is simply stunning.  The raw emotion all but leaps off the page. Incomprehensibly wonderful!

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_StoneThere may be no new stories, but Rowling’s take on witches and wizards is certainly unique.  This is a truly wonderful children’s book — although a great read for anyone — about a young English boy, Harry Potter, who is a wizard of amazing, yet unrealized power.  Harry champions good sorcery over evil as he attends boarding school and comes in contact with all manner of mythical creatures.  In this book, and the ones that follow, the story moves toward the final confrontation between Harry, the most powerful of the good wizards, and “he who shall not be named,” the leader of evil.  What makes these books truly special is Rowling’s wit.  She’s very dry and funny. (On a personal note, I visited Edinburgh, Scotland recently.  I had lunch in The Elephant House, where Rowling penned some of The Sorcerer’s Stone.  Overlooking the restaurant is Edinburgh castle, a brooding medieval, grey-stone edifice set high on a hill. Hogwarts anyone?)

The One And Only Ivan – Katherine Applegate

IvanThis is a wonderful children’s book that won the Newbery Award in 2013, and deservedly so.  Ivan, a great ape, has been stuck performing at a shopping mall for 27 years.  His treatment is less than stellar.  His friends are two elephants, a dog, the janitor and the janitor’s daughter.  Told from the ape’s point of view, the book is about Ivan’s friendships — so important given his circumstances — and how he tries to engineer escape for all of them.  I read this book straight through, without stopping, and that’s always the sign of a sure winner.