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Milk and Cookies

with Kristen

I'm a mother of five, a bargain hunter, a recreational comparison shopper, and always trying to make more time - for me and for you, too. On this blog I'm sharing my favorite tools and finds to help make your work-life juggle a bit easier.

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Favorite books from young adulthood (and old childhood)

Categories: Books


Paul reads to the kids each night, but because they’re so spread out in age, he reads to them in three groups: first to just Henry (age 4), then to Elizabeth and Edward (age 6), and then to Rob and William (12 and 10). (The plan is to eventually combine the two younger groups, but right now Henry is still a little disruptive in a group and does better one-on-one.) Henry still likes picture books. Elizabeth and Edward like the short chapter books like the Franny K. Stein series. But Rob and William are in YOUNG ADULT. Well, or maybe in “old childhood”—they don’t quite go for the ones about pimples and dating yet.

Old Childhood / Young Adult is a strange field to navigate, especially if you have children who are a little…sensitive about scary or violent stuff. Young Adult assumes that kids can start to handle some more serious plotlines: some social commentary, some unhappy home life, some not-always-turning-out-right, some GRIM.

I like to put a book in each kid’s Christmas stocking, so I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite books from when I was that approximate age range.

Beloved Benjamin is Waiting, by Jean Karl (photo from As a child and young adult, I loved the sort of books where children had to handle their own care. In this one, a girl named Lucinda has a family life that has disintegrated to the point where it’s no longer safe for the children to live there. Lucinda hides in the abandoned caretaker house in a graveyard, hiding not only from her home life but from a gang of kids that starts picking on her. In the caretaker house is a broken monument statue of a little boy—and the statue starts talking with her. I looked this up at my library but they no longer have a copy, so I ordered a used one from Amazon. Childhood books are often disappointing when re-read as an adult, so I’m a little worried, but I also wonder if my kids might be as fascinated with it as I was.

The Children Who Stayed Alone, by Bonnie Bess Worline (photo from This is another from the “children taking care of themselves” category I liked so much. I’m pretty sure this is the one where the oldest girl is named Phoebe and I pronounced it fo-EEB. It takes place in Laura Ingalls Wilder-type times. Five children are left to fend for themselves for an extended period of time when a blizzard keeps their parents from coming home from separate errands. (Spoiler: they do fine.) Oh! Speaking of Laura Ingalls Wilder, it’s a little like that section in Farmer Boy where the kids have to stay by themselves and not eat ALL the sugar—but a whole book of it, and more anxiety because the weather is bad and the circumstances are unanticipated.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (photo from Oh, man, ROMANTIC much? Well, to a 6th grader, or whatever I was at the time. Re-reading it now, I’m as freaked out as I am by Twilight: even if an immortal person has the BODY of a teenager, why would their MIND still be attracted to teenagers? At my age, I’M already not attracted to teenagers anymore. Thinking of a 200-year-old man being attracted to a high school kid is…really icky. And in Tuck Everlasting, the girl isn’t even a teenager yet. But I lovvvvvvvvvvved this book as a child, and didn’t see it as icky at all: I thought of the immortal guy as having a mind stuck at the same stage as his body.

Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit (photo from On long car trips, my parents limited us to five or ten books each (depending on how much room we had in the car). My brother and I always chose this as one, because we both liked it and we were trying to double our bringing-power. (In fact, it was a bit of a cheat: our library had a single-volume set that also included The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet. Like getting SIX books for the price of one, since both of us could read all three!) Five children find a wish-granting creature and they try out all the classic wishes: wishing to be able to fly, wishing to be rich, wishing to be big.


What were some of your favorite books as a young adult (or as an older child)?

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42 comments so far...

  • I’m not sure of the age group, but it seems like I was reading the Boxcar Children books around Rob and William’s age. Those ones fall into the “kids taking care of themselves” category, too, at least for awhile.

    Amanda  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

  • My favorite was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. To this day, when I go to a museum, I find myself looking at exhibits, thinking about if I could hide in them.

    I also loved the Trixie Belden series and the Ralph S Mouse books.

    Gina  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:10 pm

  • Amanda- Oh, I LOVED The Boxcar Children! An elementary school teacher read it to us, and I remember feeling like I could. not. wait. until it was time for the next chapter!

    swistle  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

  • I enjoyed things by Judy Blume, because they were so scandalizing. I would read them with wide eyes and hope no one was watching. :) I also went through a huge Little House phase and read and reread those books over and over.

    Oh and Lurlene McDaniel. Does she still write books? Oh star crossed lovers with terminal illnesses… What a strange genre, right?

    Although I do worry that these some of these books would be more socially challenging than intended.

    Misty  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

  • Gina- ME TOO!! I forgot about that one! I remember I passed it by again and again because of the title—and then my brother read it and recommended it and I completely flipped for it. Getting coins out of the fountain to buy food!!

    Yes, and the mouse on his motorcycle! Finding an aspirin for the feverish boy!

    swistle  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

  • I remember devouring all of Beverly Cleary’s books, from the Ramona series in 3rd grade through the more advanced Dear Mr. Henshaw and Fifteen type books in 6th and 7th grades. I also re-read The Secret Garden over and over. When the librarian realized I kept coming back to more romantic stories with strong heroines, she directed me to The Witch of Blackbird Pond. LOVE.

    M.Amanda  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

  • Oh and what about Roald Dahl? Loved those as well.

    Misty  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

  • Misty- I loved pretty much every book about a teenaged girl Struggling With Something (her period, her first boyfriend, summer camp, a disease, plumpness, lack of boob development, etc.), so I was RIGHT THERE with Judy Blume. And with Paula Danzinger—I remember she had a lot of books like that, too.

    swistle  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

  • I have a son William’s age and we read together 3x a week (Fri-Sun) in the school year and every day in the summer. Right now we’re working our way through the Harry Potter series and before that it was Percy Jackson, but those obviously weren’t childhood favorites. We read the The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia the summer he was 9 and also the trilogy that starts with The House with a Clock in its Walls. I think older kids would like it, too. It’s about an orphan boy who goes to live with his eccentric wizard uncle. Adventures ensue, as they so often do around wizards. Sometime in the past year or two we also read The Ghosts, by Antonia Barber, in which a pair of siblings have to travel back in time to change events in the present. (The logical paradox here intrigued and delighted him as it did me when I was a kid.)

    StephLove  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

  • At age ten-ish? My favourites were Agatha Christie, and Pride and Prejudice. I know! I would not recommend Christie to ten year olds.

    Recently I read The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, and I would definitely recommend that to ten year olds. I was also obsessed with Diana Wynne Jones, whose work I would similarly recommend.

    Cayt  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

  • StephLove- Paul just finished reading them The Hobbit! I’ll suggest the others to him.

    Cayt- I loved Agatha Christie too! They’re good because they’re murder mysteries but the murders are MOSTLY non-gruesome. Just “Oh, hey, a dead body! Let’s figure out who did it!” There were only a few that were gross or scary.

    swistle  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:17 pm

  • I LOVE young adult fiction I read it still. I loved the Tillman series by Cynthia Voight starting with Dicey’s Song where the kids have to take care of themselves as they walk accross several states to get to their Aunt’s house after being abandoned by their mother.

    Another one the boys might like is I Am David by Anne Holm

    Sarah  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:18 pm

  • Amanda, yes, The Boxcar Children! I can’t remember how old I was, but I think I read the whole series.

    My fourth grade teacher read aloud for the last half hour of class everyday. I remember The Whipping Boy and Where the Red Fern Grows were quite popular with both the boys and girls.

    M.Amanda  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:18 pm

  • Oh, how can I forget Madeleine L’Engle? We read A Wrinkle in Time last year and its 3 sequels. He loved the first two books, but looking back we should have stopped after A Wind in the Door, because A Swiftly Tilting Planet was too confusing for him and Many Waters contained some material that was not age-appropriate (sexual inuendo, gory birth scene- I had to edit creatively as I read). It would be good for teens, though.

    StephLove  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:22 pm

  • Ages 12 and 10…well, that was the age I discovered The Chronicles of Narnia (which I totally loved) and Wrinkle in Time / A Wind in the Door. I liked sci-fi stuff too though — I was also reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and War of the Worlds.

    Boys wouldn’t probably care too much for Judy Blume, would they? I liked her books at that age.

    Let’s see…when my (now 21 y/o) son was that age he liked the His Dark Materials trilogy, also the books by Anthony Horowitz about Alex Rider, and the Series of Unfortunate Events books.

    Wendi  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:24 pm

  • *edited to add* War of the Worlds by HG Wells…I just re-read my comment and it looks like I’m saying that book was written by Ray Bradbury. :-0

    Wendi  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:26 pm

  • I think I vaguely remember The Kids Who Stayed Alone. Didn’t they have to go out in the storm to milk the cows? Or get the farm animals into the barn? I think that was it…

    Amanda  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:27 pm

  • StephLove- OH YES! A Wrinkle in Time is probably 100% why I love the names Margaret and Charles so much!

    Amanda- I think I also remember them making taffy—the oldest girl’s idea for improving morale!

    swistle  |  October 19th, 2011 at 3:29 pm

  • I loved the Kids Must Fend For Themselves genre too! I think my favourite was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, where a girl is left alone on an island for 20 years when her entire community sails off and accidentally leaves her behind. I think maybe it was based on a true(ish) story.

    Lauren  |  October 19th, 2011 at 4:48 pm

  • Your books here remind me so much of Homecoming, by Cynthia Voight, which I loved as a child. I was also completely engrossed by the idea that a kid my age was taking care of herself (and her little siblings)!

    (I see Sarah mentioned it as a series — not sure I read the others! But Homecoming is the first, I think, before Dicey’s Song, from what the internet’s telling me.)

    The Giver is another great one for that age, I think. A little heavy on the Big Meaningful (and a bit dark) topics, but not scary, imo, so I bet your boys would love it. And scifi, so if Paul hasn’t read it yet, he may love it too!

    Marilyn C. Cole  |  October 19th, 2011 at 5:07 pm

  • How about the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan? My daughter liked all of those. The books are better than the movie, and he’s started another series starring Egyptian deities. It’s a good way to pick up some mythology, which will come in handy in Social Studies and English.

    Eli  |  October 19th, 2011 at 5:22 pm

  • LLOYD ALEXANDER. THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN. *ahem* Sorry to shout, but not enough people read those books, and they are awesome. Five books, perfect for mature 8 year olds on up to 13-14 year olds. As a 36 year old, I reread them at least once a year, and still cry in the appropriate places.

    Also, the His Dark Materials books. SO GOOD.

    Halyn  |  October 19th, 2011 at 5:31 pm

  • So many good suggestions!

    Some other favorites: the Anne of Green Gables series and Louisa May Alcott’s books (the boys might like some of the more obscure ones like Under the Lilacs, Jack and Jill, Eight Cousins, etc.)

    Nowheymama  |  October 19th, 2011 at 5:33 pm


    and I say…YES!! I forgot these … my son read them over and over!

    Wendi  |  October 19th, 2011 at 7:04 pm

  • I wasn’t huge into reading as a child or young adult (because my mom pushed me SO HARD and it made me NOT want to read), but I was forced to read some books because of school and I ended up liking some of them. One I remember loving was Where the Red Fern Grows. All I can really remember is that there was a dog or maybe two dogs and one or both of them died??? I remember crying, but it was a touching sort of story.

    Heather R  |  October 19th, 2011 at 7:57 pm

  • I just read the other comments and I had totally forgotten about The Witch of Black Bird Pond and The Secret Garden. I loved both of those. I also read at least one or two of the Boxcar children and liked those. I recently read Because of Winn Dixie to my daughter and have been reading Roald Dahl books and Charlotte’s Web.

    Heather R  |  October 19th, 2011 at 9:48 pm

  • In “The Children Who Stayed Alone” did they describe how to make hominy? From the ashes to the lye, to the corn, to rinsing it again and again? I remember a similar topic book that I loved and all I can remember clearly is the hominy part! I’ve been searching for years.

    And all of Roald Dahls–what amazing amazing books.

    Phancy  |  October 20th, 2011 at 2:37 am

  • P.S. Although I have had no luck on my hominy book, I have rediscovered the titles of books-I-loved-as-a-child, but only remembered a bit about, on this website: People write in to “stump the bookseller” and these are the answered questions. It is a wonderful walk down memory lane.

    Phancy  |  October 20th, 2011 at 2:42 am

  • I too loved those “children fend for themselves” type books. Two of my favorites in that category were The Sign of the Beaver and Hatchet. Wonderful - and very boy-oriented, so perhaps your boys would enjoy them.

    A couple of my favorite social commentary type books were Maniac Magee and There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom. Excellent books, I thought.

    Two others that are fun because they put kids in adult-type roles: The Kid Who Ran for Principal and The Kids’ Candidate.

    Oh how I love book talk!

    Life of a Doctor\\\\\\\'s Wife  |  October 20th, 2011 at 3:46 am

  • Phancy- I can’t remember! But my copy is on its way to me: I’ll read it and let you know!

    Swistle  |  October 20th, 2011 at 10:33 am

  • Some of these have been mentioned but I’ll second them anyway:
    Island of the Blue Dolphins
    My Side of the Mountain (and sequel The Other Side of the Mountain)
    Hatchet (and its sequels)
    Julie of the Wolves
    ALL of Roald Dahl’s books
    The Giver
    Bridge to Terabithia
    The Chocolate War
    Number the Stars
    original/early versions of fairy tales
    How to Eat Fried Worms
    Sideways Stories from Wayside School
    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
    Wizard of Oz

    And some not from my childhood that I recommend:
    His Dark Materials trilogy
    Howl’s Moving Castle
    Neil Gaiman’s YA books
    Percy Jackson series

    Ok, I’ll stop now :) I just love to read, and especially did at that age!

    Lisa  |  October 20th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

  • Oops, I was thinking of The Chocolate Touch, not The Chocolate War (which is probably a little advanced for your boys right now).

    Lisa  |  October 20th, 2011 at 4:53 pm

  • This inspired a great discussion of books between me and my husband last night! Swistle, that cover just looks so familiar. I got so excited about the possibility that I went ahead and ordered a copy also! I would be very interesting to hear what you think of it as an adult, compared to your rememberances of reading it.

    Phancy  |  October 20th, 2011 at 4:54 pm

  • I love these ideas! So fun to go back and remember some of these from my own childhood.

    My own kids are a ways off from these books. Swistle, would you consider doing a similar list for readers Henry’s age? I’m desperately looking for some longER (not long!) books. My little boy is loving longer books these days and is getting tired of simple picture books. I want to find some great new books to read with him to keep him interested in reading!

    Kathryn  |  October 20th, 2011 at 9:02 pm

  • My 10 years plus was spent reading Micheal morpergo books such as private peaceful brilliant for that age range, the boy in striped pyjamas is another good read but a difficult subject, very well writte and handled though, journey to the river sea-eva ibbotson was another fave, and holes - Louis Sachar

    Meg  |  October 22nd, 2011 at 5:19 am

  • The Melendy books by Elizabeth Enright (starts with The Saturdays), or Gone Away Lake by the same author. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit was a favorite of mine. Any Noel Streatfeild book. Half Magic. The Railway Children.

    For the middle group, No Flying In The House, and The Ghosts Who Went To School.

    Liz  |  October 22nd, 2011 at 10:41 pm

  • Don’t forget about “The Hardy Boys.” I loved them when I was 10 or 11, and I’m having a great time re-living them with my son. They’re great little adventures for a 10-year old, and while there’s the occasional fist-fight or cliffhanger, there’s nothing overly violent (definitely nothing more than they see in cartoons).

    We’re currently taking a break from them (as the last four or five books we’ve read have been Hardy Boys’ Mysteries), to read “The Chronicles of Narnia.” He also really enjoyed “The Phantom Tollbooth,” “Treasure Island,” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

    Amber  |  October 24th, 2011 at 3:21 pm

  • I loved the “Green Knowe” series as a child (not sure what age, though) and was captivated by the mystical-ness of it all, even though I am no fan of fantasy stuff whatsoever. After that, I’d probably add in the entire CS Lewis collection (not just The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe). Also at around 6th grade age I started reading Agatha Christie novels - my mother chose a Miss Marple one to start me with, but I actually preferred (by a long way) Hercule Poirot. I think loving the game Cluedo helped with this! I also loved the What Katy Did books (but not so great for boys, I guess) and Little Women of course, oh, and the Chalet Stories (set in idyllic Switzerland). So many books!

    Kirsty  |  October 24th, 2011 at 10:45 pm

  • Little house series, A Little Princess and Secret Garden, anything by Roald Dahl - trusty ‘old Harry Potter! (wasn’t around when I was a kid - but they are AWESOME!!)

    Also - Chronicles of Narnia - might be a little “much” for your 10 year old, but I read the whole series in grade 6 or 7!

    Darlene  |  October 24th, 2011 at 10:52 pm

  • When I was 11-14? Watership Down. I read this so many times as a kid, and still love it today.

    Also the Chronicles of Narnia, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums trilogy.

    Lynn  |  October 25th, 2011 at 6:15 pm

  • Ah, one of my favorite subjects, books I loved as a kid! I would have to say The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton was a huge favorite, I probably read it 50 times. I loved her other stuff too, but not with the all consuming passion that The Outsiders instilled in me. I loved the Little House books, anything by Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt and Jean Plaidy.

    Rosamunde Du Jardin was another favorite, recently I have been trying to find her books at garage sales and online. They were older books even when I was reading them in the 1960’s. Just yesterday I found a company that is reprinting some of these old popular series for girls, and I was able to order all of her young adult titles from them. I am so excited! I love the idea that a publishing company is making these gems available again.

    Maureen Riedle  |  November 2nd, 2011 at 6:19 am

  • I LOVE LOVE LOVE book posts!!! Dropping this one in my books folder. Thanks!

    vegas710  |  November 9th, 2011 at 3:27 am