What was the first book that changed how you see the world? Of the millions of books requested on DonorsChoose.org over the years, these seven stand out for their impact on countless childhoods. And when teachers use them in the classroom, kids are still thrilled.
To build this list, we looked at the books that teachers have requested for their students most frequently over the past year. Is your favorite on the list?
“[It’s] been amazing to see how excited they get about the story! I am sure we all got the chance to read this classic story about kindness and friendship and I am so excited to share this with my students for years to come!” – Ms. Burel, 2nd Grade, on Charlotte’s Web
1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
It’s no coincidence that when you search for “books about friendship” on Google, Charlotte’s Web is the first result. The deep friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur taught a lot of us about compassion, empathy, and selflessness. White writes for children without talking down to them, treating young kids as individuals capable of understanding deep emotional moments.
2. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
An unforgettable read, Roll of Thunder follows the Logan family as they navigate Depression-era Mississippi. Taylor manages to fill the pages with laughter, grade-school high-jinks, and the comfort of a close-knit family without undermining the racism and turbulent national history that permeate the lives of her characters. Now more than ever, we need this big-hearted book.
3. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Through the eyes of 10-year-old Annemarie, we experience the rescue of Danish Jews during World War II. This suspenseful, deeply human account is still must-read in classrooms across the country, along with Lowry’s other modern classic, The Giver. Lowry is the thoughtful, skilled writer you remember, but make no mistake — both books are riveting, unabashed page-turners.
4. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Few books have inspired more laugh-out-loud fun than this classic, beloved by grade-schoolers everywhere. The tale of Peter’s growing relationship with his brother, Fudge, helped countless of us reluctant older siblings come to terms with the idea that the little monsters monopolizing our parent’s attention would not, in fact, be returning to the hospital but would be a constant presence of the rest of our lives, and we should figure out how to deal with them.
5. Matilda by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s books are still so popular in the classroom that we could have populated this list exclusively with his books. But we had to pick one, and after much debate landed on Matilda. For all of us kids who preferred curling up with a book to all forms of entertainment, Matilda was the hero we needed. The film and musical have both become modern classics in their own right, but its popularity with teachers proves that many kids will first meet the book version of Matilda we all know and love.
6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madelene L’Engle
If all the books on this list have one thing in common, it’s that their writers understand that the best children’s literature can handle adult topics. Madelene L’Engle certainly doesn’t shy away from big themes and ideas: A Wrinkle in Time is about nothing less than a cosmic battle between good and evil. She takes a stand for Individuality over conformity and thinking over mindlessness. Most of all, she tells every reader: “Be yourself.” With Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation scheduled for release next year, we’re so excited that even more kids will get the chance to meet these amazing characters.
7. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Both timely and timeless, The House on Mango Street is a classic coming-of-age novel. Narrator Esperanza Cordero grabs you by the hand and wades with you through the waters of her life. Each vignette is an invitation to explore the rich cultural and historic contexts that shape our lives and, at times, collide with our desire to be known and seen as our truest, most authentic selves. It’s no coincidence that Esperanza means hope; this luminous swirl of autobiography and fiction leaves every reader with plenty.
Of course, we know this list is far from comprehensive — and we want to hear from you! What books from your childhood do you think kids should still be reading? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in the comments below!
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