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19 Books for your Kids' Desert Island Reading Library

April 7, 2017       Arts and Culture
19 Books for your
Kids' Desert Island

Own a small library for keeps--
with timeless stories you can
read over and over again

This list is a bit of a cheat sheet-rundown, because kids can never have enough books in their reading hoard.  And once the reading bug bites them, kids will be frightfully mad at you if you only allow them to have just nineteen books.  So we list 19 authors with 1 or 2 outstanding and worthy children's books, each.  Plus a few authors with a book series in that list of 19.  Plus the ubiquitous story volume library collections.  Don't scrimp on a children's library, folks.  They are worth their weight in gold and if your kids encounter rough times, they can find solace in their library which is always cheaper than some lifecoach hoodwink or skanky shrink.

1.  70 Favorite Stories for Young Readers
     Readers Digest

A classic collection from the 1970s that you must get for your kids.  Great for homeschooling for its range and variety of heartwarming stories that teach kids about the lives of heroes and villains and dealing with adversity in all its forms.  70 Favorite Stories for Young Readers is available from as low as $2 online.  If you want a mint copy, the collection goes for up to $50 worth. Still, getting a copy will be worth the look on your kids faces when they can't put down the book and you tell them its time for dinner or bedtime. 

The Reader's Digest anthology contains folktales and fairy tales, parables and classic stories in a treasure chest-style collection.  A sampling of what you get:  A troll pretends to be a baby then grows into an oversized brute that terrorizes a town's food stores until they feed it burning coals disguised as potatoes.  The tale of Perseus in his mission to cut off the head of the Medusa.  The classic tale of Rip van Winkle, the man who slept through time and woke up in the future.  70 Favorite Stories is one of the first books to hunt down for any desert island kids' reading library.

2.  Young Folks Library
     Children's story book collection

Currently out of print, you may be lucky enough to hunt down each tome, or get a complete set of this classic collection online.  This mini-library set has been around for a while (since 1902) and is a set of around 8 to 12 or more small hardcover books, each offering a different children's story theme per tome: Merrymaker is all poems and rhymes, Brave Deeds are all about heroes and heroines accomplishing great feats, Adventure is about quests,  Famous Explorers is about heroes like Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and the like. 

If you are homeschooling your child, Young Folks Library is a must-have for teaching your kid how to read in a manner they will enjoy.  Your kids will pick up each volume and read them to the end, and reread them again.  Over and over.  Then ask you to buy more books like these. 

Each book in the set has a reading level that progresses for each following story that helps kids understand more complicated concepts and narratives.  The older versions of this volume look like an encyclopedia volume, while the more recent ones are more colorful and have a distinct color swatch for the different story themed volumes.

3.  Watership Down
     by Richard Adams

Kids love to read about talking animals.  Watership Down by Richard Adams is an environmental story about rabbits trying to survive encroachment of humans over their natural habitat because a highway for vehicles is being built near their lair.  The rabbits begin fighting off the alpha male character and band with each other to survive because they have to move out before their place is bulldozed by the humans.  The novel has been made into a cartoon classic--which most primary schools probably have in their library.

Through the lives of the wild rabbits in this story, child readers deal with real life situations of displacement, keeping emergency food stores and a sustainable food supply, and avoiding predators in the safe confines of a story.  Life lessons that are learned well early from a very good book.

4.  The Last Unicorn
     by Peter Beagle

Another fairy tale novel that concerns changes in the world (evil schemes by selfish rulers) is The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, an environmental story at heart, where inspiring miracles of nature like unicorns (magic and nature) have become scarce because of industrialization and despots ruling the land.  Schmendrick is the last among a line of magicians who meets the Last Unicorn in an encounter with ruffians about to slay it, so Schmendrick transforms the Last Unicorn into a bewildered young woman--with the mind of the unicorn.  If Schmendrick forgets to turn her back into her original magical form, she is endangered to be mortal and human forever.  The story is also works around what it is like to be human and learning to love. 

As Schmendrick seeks to help the Last Unicorn free her sisters from the cursed Red Bull (which has forced all of the unicorns off the realm at the whim of an evil wizard-king), they encounter dangerous traps inside the castle of the enemy.  But the troupe get unlikely assistance from the prince of the castle (who has fallen in love with the human girl-unicorn) to undo his father's curse.  The land is finally restored when the Red Bull is forced by the brave, female unicorn to leave the realm and all of her lost unicorn sisters hiding out at sea return to land in a massive wave. 

The setting of the tale is a world where magic is slowly losing its hold on the lives of everyone and the lesson offered for young readers: the rare noble soul keeps his/her honor by helping the downtrodden and the oppressed by laying his life for a friend-beloved one.

5.  The Neverending Story
     by Michael Ende

A kid finding his way inside the very fantasy story he/she reads is a favorite theme among all young readers.  Kids will always indulge in this kind of story offer as their personal guilty pleasure. And the best reason for getting Michael Ende's book, The Neverending Story.

In this modern fairy tale, a boy named Bastian discovers an old book titled, The Neverending Story, where he reads about a realm called Fantasia, a slowly crumbling magical kingdom afflicted by a supernatural storm called The Nothing.  The Nothing is slowly crawling around Fantasia and turning everything into grey wastelands and eventually, a void.  The child-like Empress, who rules the realm calls on a champion, Atreyu the warrior, whose adventures involve Bastian the reader, as part of the story, to restore the realm. 

Both Bastian and Atreyu face off against the Nothing who assumes the form of a beautiful witch, who tricks Bastian into using his new powers of the wish granting artifact, The Aurin, to lose his life memories, after setting a series of traps and snares against him and Atreyu. At the end of the story, before Bastian loses his mind, he wishes for the Nothing-Witch to have a heart--which restores the soul of the Witch and saves the realm of Fantasia from oblivion.  The novel was adapted into two movies back in the 80s. 

A well-loved fairy tale for kids of all ages, it puts its readers in a child hero's shoes. discovering new things from reading while learning how to deal with encounters in strange places.  Young readers figure out that when faced with long odds and impossible tasks, kids their age also can outwit and survive disaster by keeping the faith and honoring the noble cause.

6.  The Lord of the Rings
     by J.R.R. Tolkien

Your kids will probably have watched the movies before they ever get to be of age to read the books. But that doesn't mean you just settle for the DVD or Blue Ray box set, but you ought to get them,hardbound copies of the real J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings book trilogy. 

The novel is the reason why fantasy is no longer considered a low brow read, particularly from the time the movie adaptation came out in early 2001.  Before that time readers and writers of fantasy were not regarded as anyone smart, literate and just looked down on as fringe geeks (at a time when geek was still a cuss word rather than a compliment) who could not write anything about real life.  Now, fantasy stories are bandied by academicians and reading experts as more resonant of real life situations and are on equal footing with slice-of-life literary stories for kids of all ages.

Children who can read lyrical writing will enjoy this adventure story of an unlikely troupe of underdog characters who are tasked to go on an errand to defeat the evil boss bad, Sauron, a malevolent supernatural spirit, left over from when really bigger boss bads wrecked havoc on the realm of Middle-Earth.  It may also be one of the first fantasy books to introduce the concept of the Scooby-Gang or traveling warriors with sidekicks as a predefined adventurer's group.  On their suicide mission to save the world, the nine individuals learn to depend on each other for survival and by sheer will and courage overcome impossible odds to complete their mission. 

In an essay by the highly regarded, writer's writer (named as the American Shakespeare by literati fans) Gene Wolfe touted Lord of the Rings as the best reminder for kids of all ages that people need to remember the need to set aside differences among each other and be helpful to each other to preserve harmony or their world as they know it will be  lost forever to the forces of darkness.

7.   Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
      by J.K.Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the book kids loved as their own that became a bestseller because of word of mouth reviews from kids themselves.  At a time when many child wizards were characters in any book, kids picked unknown writer, J.K. Rowling to be their bard and sing to them the magic of a boy Cinderella coming-of-age story.  Regardless if kids have seen the movie adaptations of the book series or not, get them a copy of the first book at least, if not the entire book series. 

The first time any kid reads this book will be that time he gets hooked for life to fantasy stories as a more reaffirming way to see his or her life played out as hero, heroine or if they please, an antagonist.  Drawn into the life of a boy not too different from Cinderella, who scours the chimney and the kitchen floor, Harry Potter becomes the wizard heir who saves his predestined magic school from a villain so vile, his adversaries call him: "He who should not be Named."  Kids get their generation's version of Disney and Narnia but with steampunk flavors thrown in.

Rowling writes in flowing prose that never lets go of you as it guides you through plot twists where her characters survive larger than life battles with the Big Bad Creep.  For kids wanting to write like her, she is a master of plotting and hiding easter eggs inside her texts throughout her book series--a peculiar British writer's skill--and a reward for readers who follow through on the book series.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone engages readers in a tale where impossible situations and imposing obstacles can be overcome by perseverance, courage and honor--all traditional life lessons that most British writers of children's books always put into their stories.

8.   The Edge Chronicles
      by Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart

The Edge Chronicles is a fantasy book series by Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart  for kids of all ages. The cult favorite book series is about strange places on a map--Sanctaphrax, the Edgewater River, Undertown and other mythical or notorious haunts where characters with zany names have steampunk adventures.  The Books also have the quirk of having the authors recommending that they be read in a certain order for the entire tale to make for a more seamless, fluid and engaging story instead of reading them in the order they were published.  Three major characters, Twig, Quint and Rook plus Nate and Cade, all have adventures in a strange steampunk world where galleon ships sail the sky trying to stay safe from flying pirate ships and there are weird forests with magical characters with their own agenda as trade fluorishes in the magic kingdom.  

The latter two characters, Nate and Cade come in the age of flying steam ships with each getting their own trilogy of books.  Chris Riddell is a beloved children's illustrator and has done work for cult fave writers like Neil Gaiman, while Paul Stewart has been a long time children's book illustrator.  Both are from the U.K.  

Again, like the best of British children's book writers.  Riddell and Stewart are inventive with character names like Twig and Rook and some evil thing called the Gloamgloazer which has a curse that the denizens of their realm are wary of, and lead young readers through a romp of a story that they should enjoy as much as Harry Potter.

8.  Pretty Monsters
     by Kelly Link

Kelly Link's  Pretty Monsters is a short story collection of unusual and modern fairy tales and horror stories that riff off familiar ideas--a Slavic grandmother, Zofia who carries an entire fairy village hidden in her old, hairy, leather bag has her grandaughter scouring thrift shops looking for the precious heirloom, a young boy trapped in a summer camp has a lurking monster after him and it uses a cellphone to lure its victims to it, kids, The Library is a supernatural TV show only known to kids that airs randomly and involves a young boy. Link herself is a favorite author's author not just among YA book fans but even among seasoned genre writers.  Her strangely structured yet beguiling stories are the kind kids will want read over and over at bedtime, or read for themselves under the sheets with a flashlight.

The title story, Pretty Monsters, is a story within a story about a pair of sisters reading about an initiation among a group of girls and another girl reading a romance story about her guy being there when he is needed.  All in all, this YA horror and fairy tale mix add more flavorful variety to your current list.  No one can have enough of fairy tales and horror, and as older readers, kids will still go back to these stories and enjoy them all over again.

9.  Magic Kingdom for Sale! Sold!
     by Terry Brooks

Owning a magic kingdom is also a childhood dream for kids of all ages.  Magic Kingdom for Sale, Sold!  has author Terry Brooks putting readers in the shoes of a burned out, career lawyer, Ben Holiday, who gets a mid-life crisis and chances upon a newspaper ad about a Magic Kingdom for sale for a million dollars. 

He takes the risk at a whim, and is transported into Landover: a magic kingdom that is in shambles because the wizard who sold Ben the place didn't tell him he could get killed trying to keep it together, but Ben is a smart lawyer and he overcomes all the obstacles the bad wizard-real estate agent sets up for him and unifies all the denizens of his land from magical beings to his human subjects to become  a true and honored king.

This 80s bestseller spawned a series almost as popular as Harry Potter during its time. As a coming-of-age adventure about a guy, who is a boy-at-heart, discovering his true calling and owning a dream everyone else would trade their farm for: a Magic Kingdom--it is a timeless tale about destiny, courage and love while using your wits to survive evil thugs. 

Even in this age, the story isn't dated and still reads as one of those dream adventures any kid would want to live out if he got tired of the world and found a magic kingdom he could actually be a part of.  Have a living dream be a part of your kid's desert island reading collection with this classic fantasy novel.

10.  The Thief of Always, and Abarrat
       by Clive Barker

Clive Barker's first children's novel, The Thief of Always is an instant classic.  It is the familiar story of a haunted, Demonic House that offers children all their wildest wishes in exchange for their soul.  One child braves this house and steals back his companions from the clutches of the evil entity.

Younger children who read this might be shocked at the creepiness of the Big Boss Bad in the story but it does condition them to be wary of anyone who offers you the moon because there is always a catch for such offers.  A life lesson that should be instilled into young readers so they can deal with any Big Boss Bad when they encounter such situations.

Abarrat is the title of another children's novel by Clive Barker about a magical archipelago in the middle of nowhere where Candy Quakenbush has her adventures.  The novel is an reimagined flux of Neverland, Alice in Wonderland and all sorts of weird and fluffy adventures.  The islands in the archipelago of Abarrat only appear at certain hours of the day and disappear for the next island in the 25 hour clock of the legendary realm of Abarrat.

11.  Leviathan series (Leviathan, Behemoth, Goliath)
       by Scott Westerfield

Scott Westerfield's Leviathan is a steampunk-themed adventure starring heroine, Deryn Sharp, a girl residing among the English Darwinists, who is the pretend-pilot of the biowhale, Leviathan, a living airship.  Alek, is a boy piloting a German Clanker--machina constructs of war who in unfortunate circumstances meets Deryn and both go through hijinks to save their countries.  Both kids meet up while caught in World War 1 of their alternate earth setting.  

The worldbuilding is well thought out and the contrast between a mechanica steampunk industrial nation and a bio-engineeered craft user society is where the book really shines. The Leviathan ship is an ecosystem almost like the Macross villains, the Zentraedi, with various creatures serving the functions of weapons, energy providers, and alarms.  The politics in the setting fuel the story into classic war adventure between young soldiers using over-the-top war machines and war creatures--the meat of this YA steampunk novel.

As a tale about the disparate and extreme nature of an environmental conflict, where two technologies vie for supremacy and two young heroes come of age as they use their wits and courage to save their realm and themselves.  War adventure is always fun to read for kids fascinated about world conflicts and this book gives them plenty of heroic deeds to enjoy in a sumptuous, eye candy-world setting.  For kids who want to write stuff like it. they get an adventure story that shows the craft of worldbuilding.

12.  King Rat, and Railsea
       by China Mieville

The Pied Piper of Hamelin is a classic fairy tale that has been re-imagined as an urban fantasy by China MievilleKing Rat is his first novel and it also may be his best in my opinion just because it grooves in ways only kids would enjoy as they follow the life of the young heir to the city guardian, the King Rat.   The story unfolds against the backdrop of the late 90s music scene where young adults are heavily into the electronic dance music scene where enterprising club DJs are putting together mixes of jungle music--drum and bass, dance music.  In the middle of all those warehouse parties, the malevolent Pied Piper is out on the streets of London killing people and plotting to devour more souls.  King Rat is a horror story with plenty of stuff only kids would find cool--eating from the dumpster and relishing the taste of a rotten apple because of the hero's keen rat senses--avoiding the lure of the devil's pipes by listening to the Amen beat, the standard breakbeat bass line of remixed music. 

Even if the novel was published in 1998, the story still reads like a tale from today's urban setting.  Cool horror, if you want your kids to know where China Mieville comes from as a young writer, get them this immortal classic. 

Railsea, on the other hand, is China's third YA novel, and a reimagining of Moby Dick, where instead of whaling ships, we have trains that traverse desert dunes to hunt giant monster moles.  This is another steampunk adventure that kids will love and maybe prime them for reading Moby Dick when they get older.  It has all the cool monsters China always puts in his fantasy novels and his heroes are unlike anything anyone has ever written as strange and heroic characters.

13.   Neverwhere, and Stardust
        by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere is a gothic adventure tale similar to Alice in Wonderland where a man discovers denizens of London underground, a strange and fantastic realm below the city where a girl with a special power--literally opening doors to other worlds--is in mortal danger from a scheming infernal entity, who is tasked as the guardian of the city, but is actually plotting to steal the girl's power to regain entrance to a holy place.  The adventures of Door, the girl who can enter and exit between worlds, is fraught with murderous traps and dangers lurking everywhere but the story's heroes match wits with their adversaries and come out of it as more than just friends.

Stardust, Neil's second YA novel, is a coming of age story where the heir of a kingdom is hidden among a gypsy carnival while a star falls down to earth, near the gypsy carnival, because a crude and evil king struck it down from the heavens.  The star takes the form of a girl after recovering from her rude disturbance, walking with a limp because of the bad fall and is looking for a way to return back to the heavens--she encounters the prince heir as a gypsy boy and they help each other in a cat-and-mouse game to avoid three murderous witches hunting down the star in an attempt to steal and eat its girl's heart to stay eternally youthful.  This is one of Neil's subversive fairy tales where happy endings are the best when there is sadness at the end, even after vanquishing the big bad of the story.

14.  Incarceron, and Sapphique
       by Catherine Fisher

This novel went under the radar given that Mazerunner got made into a movie and this one did not.  But Incarceron is a better novel because it offers kids not just a video-game like automated booby-trapped maze, but an entire booby trapped prison world from which its young heroes must find a way to escape.  If you are weaning your kids to enjoy reading about dealing with dire environments and situations where quick thinking and teamwork save the day, Catherine Fisher's Incarceron is your book for them.

Catherine Fisher exposes a reader who wants to write about such adventures to worldbuilding, crafting a seamless and believable world that is a living clockwork prison.  Sapphique is the sequel to this novel and reveals what happens once our heroes get out of their prison world.

15.   Measle and the Wrathmonk
        by Ian Ogilvy

If you have kids who enjoy wacky character names in a Harry Potter-ish, magician boy,  coming-of-age tale they will love the Measles books by former British TV actor, Ian Ogilvy.  Measles is actually Sam Lee who is constantly taunted and oppressed by his guardian,

 a mad sorcerer who plots his demise.  The colorful rhyming prose and zany characters plus the slightly subversive sense of humor make this a pop book series to collect and own.  It has been translated in 30 countries and kids from all over the world have written to the author, Ian, how much they love his characters and how they can't put down his story.  Only J.K. Rowling and a few authors like Terry Pratchett have had this kind of response from child readers so you know you are reading something special.  If you want your kids to have fun while reading about kids growing up in situations where they are oppressed but turn the tables around--Measles is a great role model for keeping a sense of humor and always knowing that what goes around comes around.

There are other books in the Measles series so complete them all and enjoy Ogilvy's endearing characters and cardboard villains--any enemy that kids encounter in real life are just cardboard creeps anyway--the book will also be a good example of writing rhyming prose and coining good names.

16.   Every Time We Meet at the Dairy Queen your Whole Fucking Face Explodes, and Sweet Story, and Spider Bunny
by Carlton Mellick III

If you allow your kids to watch Nickelodeon and shows like Itchy and Scratchy or Cow, then getting them the gross children's stories (Bizarro) of Carlton Mellick III should be just fine.  The three novellas listed here have heroines who have very strange circumstances--one has her face exploding when she is stressed (Every Time...Face Explodes), the other finds the end of the rainbow and wishes for candy to rain everyday which causes the end of the world (Sweet Story), and the last one is about a TV cartoon character from a scary fruit cereal commercial that grabs a group of friend into its cartoon world and tries to eat them alive (Spider Bunny). 

Mellick is one of the acclaimed pioneers of absurdist fiction, a subgenre known as Bizarro, and he is popular for painting lyrical stories in wacko scenarios with equally ridiculous characters.  Nothing bad for the kids to read here.  If you like Bizarro or absurdist fiction like Gogol, Mellick has plenty of other novellas for older readers as well.

17.  The Quincunx
       by Charles Palliser

The raison d'etre for reading is to experience other people's lives and learn how it is living and breathing in their shoes--The Quincunx, by Charles Palliser, is a Victorian-themed mystery about an inheritance robbed from a boy via schemes and plots of murder and skullduggery by several families.  It might as well read like Les Miserables but may be a better adventure than the classic.  Since Filipinos love melodramas or dramatic mystery stories, this one is right up our alley and the writing is easy enough to follow for one to wade through all 800 pages to discover how the young boy regains his birthright from the family that robbed him of it. 

For kids who have developed a reading habit and enjoy page turners, The Quincunx is their book. In the Palliser novel, kids read about how good, honorable people can be in the most dire of situations as well as know how depraved, selfish people can behave when their greed gets the better of them, The Quincunx is that doorstop book that you can toss your hungry reader looking for a page-turner of a mystery.

18.  The City of Silk and Silver
       By Mike Carey, Louise Carey and Linda Carey

In the storyteller style of the Arabian Nights, Mike Carey and his wife and daughter collaborate to write tales about a city set in a mythical city of Bessa.  The City of Silk and Steel previously titled The Steel Seraglio.  In the book, each author tells a tale of how 365 concubines of the Sultan's harem are exiled from the city of Bessa by an evil usurper and take up arms to form a Steel Seraglio to retake back their home.  

For kids who may not be of age to read The Arabian Nights story collection, which has some bawdy tales, The City of Silk and Steel offers the same storyteller lyrical style that is beloved by kids of all ages and offers a tale where heroines are those who rise above the situation and do what is noble and honorable, using their wits to outsmart the dishonorable and vain hypocrite-the despot, the tyrant, and the greedy usurpers of authority.

19.  Earthdawn:  The Talisman

Earthdawn:  The Talisman is an out-of-print story collection set in the FASA universe of Earthdawn, a role-playing game, that should see light of day again simply because it is one of the best, end-of-the-world story anthologies.  In the fantastic world of Earthdawn, horrors--a kind of monster similar to the tentacled nightmares of H.P. Lovecraft are breaching through the plane and will completely overrun the world of the elves, humans, dwarves and giants, so leaders of the various kingdoms lay down magical seals that will protect underground safehouses from the Horrors.  Unfortunately, these seals and other spells to combat the Horrors are sold for a usurious price such that only those who could afford them could be saved from the horrors.  

The Talisman is an amber pendant where the fairy assistant of a scheming wizard, is imbued with the magical protective seals and other spells to counter the Horrors, but is trapped and shrunk down to size to fit an amber pendant to be worn as an early warning device. 

The Talisman is passed on from one place to another as the denizens of the world wait out the apocaplyse, from its onset until the horrors go back to their dimension.  Each story in the anthology is part of a timeline: the peoples preparing for the apocalypse with wards, fighting each other to steal wards they cannot buy, waiting out the apocalypse in underground cairns--some of which get breached by the Horrors and the residents get massacred, and an end where the Horrors that infest the world go back to their plane except for one nasty big mofo that binds itself to the wall of a city to feed on its people--where a heroic dwarven woman uses the Talisman to destroy this final Horror and free the fairy wizard's assistant.

The stories are accessible enough for kids to read and each story stands on its own,  Each transition story marks the passage of time as people of the realm wait out the Horror Apocalypse is something kids can pick up on as budding writers and enjoy as readers for an awesome epic story that is an instant classic by itself amidst all the generic fantasy stories out there.

These are just a few novels and book series, as well as reader tomes you can get for your kids.  They represent a wide range of reader tastes from extremely zany, to the bizarre humor of the Nickelodeon  generation, to classic reading that is still timeless as good stories for kids.  Go out and start getting those books and any other tome you deem that your child will love.  If they request for a particular book, do go out of your way to search for it and build your kids' library as an investment in smarter, braver, honorable heroes of the future.


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