As one of our Special Features, we each want to share quick blurbs about our “Top 5 Fave”-orite books in a particular category. And for our September edition of this, we’re reeling in the nostalgia of our favorite books that we met “in the classroom.” These books come from all periods of our schooling lives and were either a part of a set curriculum or just something we found in the school library. We hope you recognize some and enjoy hearing about them all. We’d love to hear about some of your own favorites as well!
The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald
My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Doreen Hallford, read this book to my class, and I was captivated by the antics of J.D. and his middle brother Tom, aka “The Great Brain.” If you like humorist Patrick McManus, you’ll love Fitzgerald’s style. My husband, kids, and I were guffawing as JD tells of how his family gets the first “water closet” in their town and how JD turns it into a money-making venture.
Silas Marner by George Eliot
This 19th century novel written under a pseudonym was required reading my sophomore year of high school, but it quickly turned into one of my favorite books. A tale of injustice and ultimate redemption, Silas Marner tells the story of an outcast, wrongly accused, who finds himself rescued by the love he has for an abandoned baby that he raises as his own.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
So much more than the best movie version available, this novel remains one of my top favorite books of all time. Dumas crafts an astoundingly intricate plot around several of the most memorable characters in all of literature. Edmund Dantes, betrayed by his best friend who also claims the woman he loves, must literally crawl his way out of an impenetrable fortress of a prison, remake himself and seek revenge on all of his enemies. The 1990s move version is actually a little more hopeful at the end (typical Hollywood) than the novel, but I find the conclusion satisfying in a tragic sort of way.
The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key
This is one of those surprising books that isn’t necessarily famous or award-winning but has captured the imaginations of many an elementary student since its publication in the mid-1960s. I ordered this portal fantasy book through a Scholastic book order in 3rd grade, and I consider it the book that sucked me into the fantasy genre. Jon, from another planet, has special abilities that allow him, among other things, to read people’s minds. One day he falls through a door and lands on Earth, where he learns about the best and worst of humanity and where he seeks to rescue the family that has shown him kindness in spite of his other-worldly characteristics.
Christy by Catherine Marshall
One of my all-time favorite books that has been well-read over the years is Christy, the story of the young school teacher who goes to the Appalachian backwoods town of Cutter Gap, Tennessee – and gets more than she bargained for. Our family’s long-standing roots in the hills of TN may explain some of my affinity for Christy – my husband’s family knew many of the people upon which the main characters are based. In fact, his great-grandfather was a mountain doctor who was trained by a protegee of “Dr. McNeil,” and my husband’s grandmother was in possession of one of the front steps from the real Christy’s school house. But even beyond that, this is an inspiring story of faith, mountain traditions (such as moonshining and folk medicines), and a tribute to the beauty of community.
On Yonder Mountain, by Milly Howard
I remember this book as being one of the first chapter books I ever read – in First Grade, a few years back. From the minute I saw the cover, I decided that I, too, loved rag dolls (and wanted one). And after reading the book, all I wanted was for it to snow so that I could also make “maple snow” (with heaping plates of snow drizzled with freshly made maple syrup). Think of it as Little House on the Prairie for beginning readers.
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
I guess I connected with these sort-of pioneer girls, because in 4th grade, my new best friend was Anne-spelled-with-an-E. In, 2nd grade, I actually purchased this very edition (shown above) from the Scholastic book forms we would get in school – but my mother wouldn’t let me read it until I was in 4th grade (she said I wasn’t old enough to understand, so …). I’ve devoured it many times (and every single other book AND story by Montgomery) ever since.
Derwood, Inc. by Jeri Massi
Unless you attended a school (or did homeschool) using the Bob Jones University reading curriculum, you may not be familiar with this story. However, I definitely regard the Peabody Series – with Derwood, Inc. being the first in it – as some of the best reading in my elementary days. Massi’s characters are so relatable and fun (her sense of humor is wicked) and her balance of everyday happenings mixed with mystery and intrigue make this book worth reading again and again. I just love Derwood.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This book is how I met one of my best friends in 8th grade – the year we moved to a new state & school (my parents were teachers). My first evening there, before school started, I wandered into the school library (because, being a slightly introverted loner-book-lover, I felt more comfortable around books than trying to meet new people) and found another loner-book-lover, with whom I instantly connected. We talked books for a while, and I went home that night with a new book – and a new friend. Oh, and Sherlock is also the first character whose death I cried over.
Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo
Senior English, fall of 2000: my teacher offers us 4 novels to choose from for our first literary paper. The deadline was 2 months away; and I was the only one to choose to read the 1,488 page one (which meant reading 67 pages a day every day). It was crazy and I was really kicking myself some days. But I will confess: it was worth it. Those familiar with the plot know what a phenomonal story Hugo created. At the time I didn’t understand those “historical parts” in the middle that seemed to drag on forever (the Battle of Waterloo probably took place in less time than it took me to read that section). But this was a worthy read and helped strengthen my brain muscles if nothing else.
The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink
One reason I continually borrowed this book from the school library was the bright pink cover on the hardcover first edition (which I cannot find!). The other reasons were the curious guests, the adventures, and the fun illustrations.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
An angry, misunderstood child goes to live on the gloomy moors of England at Misselthwaite Manor and befriends an equally angry child. Together, they nurture the walled-up garden and eventually find happiness as the garden blossoms.
A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace
This is the story of a boy who overcomes his fear of dogs and forms a special bond with a stray dog he calls Kitty. It is the first book that made me cry uncontrollably at the death of a character.
The Man Who Loved Clowns by June Rae Wood
Delrita Jensen’s life is completely disrupted when she loses her parents at the age of 13. She and her uncle, Punky, a man with Down syndrome, are taken in by her aunt and uncle. As she deals with her grief, Delrita learns to be unashamed of Punky’s disability and to make new friends.
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
My aunt and uncle encouraged my love of literature by loaning me books from their personal library. This is one that they suggested I read, and I couldn’t put it down. I read it all in one sitting in the hammock at the beach. Journalist John Howard Griffin takes medication to change his skin tone to experience the life of a black man in the deep South. It was an eye-opening book for me, since I had grown up in the North with little knowledge of Jim Crow laws.
This post contains affiliated links.