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6 Children's Books Worth Revisiting

Our little townhouse has very little storage, so when we're preparing for a project, the stuff that gets displaced usually ends up in our upstairs hallway.

Currently, we're trying to get a built-in bookcase going, but with the passing of my grandfather, Thanksgiving, and Christmas happening in such rapid succession, we realistically won't get the project underway until early 2014.

In the meantime, all of the books that should be on the new shelves are in bins that are lining our upstairs hallway. This arrangement is super annoying since the hallway is now half the size it should be.

However, there is a silver lining: I get to revisit books that have either been packed away for years or stuffed on a shelf. Landon keeps finding me reading these children's books from years ago. He laughs at me, an almost-thirty-year-old pouring over a thin little children's book.

What can I say? There's some great stuff in children and YA fiction! You only have to look at the popularity of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight to see that I'm not the only one dipping my hand in the little kid literature cookie jar.

Here are eight of my favorite kids' books that are worth a revisit. And for what it's worth, they are all at least fifteen years ago, so you might find something other than the dystopian future/ vampire/ werewolf novels that are so popular these days.

- Alien Secrets, Annette Curtis Klause. Puck, who's every inch as mischeveous as her A Midsummer Night's Dream namesake, has been thrown out of her Earth boarding school and must return to her parents who are working on the planet Aurora. On the spaceflight to join them, Puck befriends Hush, an alien who is also going to Aurora in shame. He has lost his race's beloved treasure. As Puck helps Hush figure out what happened to the treasure, they are both drawn into the mysteries occuring aboard the starcraft.

I first read this book when I was in late elementary school; I was not a fan of science fiction (though I did love a Michael Crichton novel at the time). I think the fact that I loved this book in spite of the alien stuff going on speaks to the univeral appeal of Alien Secrets. Klause writes in a compelling manner that will draw elementary and middle school readers in (though, I must confess, I just re-read this, and was still captivated). Plus, all of the futuristic stuff never got dated, and, as a reader, I can still very much believe in the world she created.

Recommended for: late elementary or early middle school readers.

-The Herculeah Jones series, Betsy Byers. While The Black Tower is my personal favorite, there are several mysteries starring the unflappable Herculeah Jones and her friend Meat (what awesome character names, right?!). These books are aimed at the late elementary crowd, and are a bit scarier than most of the Encyclopedia Brown-type whodunit books that are usually penned for that age group. Byers does a wonderful job painting the spooky situations that Herculeah and her frizzy hair find themselves in. You might be familiar with Byers' "The Summer of the Swans," which won the Newberry Award in 1971; the Herculeah Jones series is completely different in tone and theme. Basically, if Sue Grafton wrote for the playground set, this series would be the result.

Shameless plug: I had the opportunity to have dinner with Betsy Byers when I was in college (she's a friend of my uncle's), and she was just as awesome as you would expect--friendly, hilarious, and witty. She and her husband live in the upstate of South Carolina and fly little planes from the airstrip behind their house. Definitely an author worth investigating, if you haven't already.

Recommended for: mid- to late-elementary school readers.

-Woman in the Wall, Patrice Kindl. When I found this book, I was in the sixth grade, which is an awkward time at best and a painful time at worst. This book spoke to me in so many ways and made me feel as if I weren't the only one in the world who felt weird, out of place, and odd.

In this book, Anna decides to withdraw from her family and society completely when she's seven; she builds a little fortress within the walls of her own house. As the years pass by, her family forgets that she even exists and she lives this protected but lonely life watching her family through the walls. However, someone has remembered that she's there, and her struggle to decide to leave is heartwrenching. Because of this book, I wanted to go to a costume party wearing a butterfly outfit with gorgeous green wings, and show everyone that I was different than the shy, quiet girl that sat in class with them all day.

Recommended for: middle- and high-school readers.

-Girl in the Box, Ouida Sebestyen. The best word to describe this book is "haunting." Even years later after reading it, I still find myself mulling this book over.

Jackie McGee is kidnapped and thrown into a concrete cell. It's dark, save for a tiny sliver of light coming from under the only door. She had her typewriter and a ream of paper in her backpack, so she decides to record her thoughts by touch typing. Sebestyan creates a scenario that is so real that you find yourself praying for a happy ending to Jackie's story.

While there are elements to Girl in the Box that are dated (the typewriter, no cell phone), this book transcends the technology within it. Few books--for children or adults--have captured the seemingly random terror and hopelessness that Jackie is forced to face in this book. In a world where Twilight copies are a dime a dozen, a book that focuses on a strong, capable young girl who deals bravely within a terrible situation remains refreshing.

Recommended for: high school readers.

-Melusine, Lynne Reid Banks. This book has all the hallmarks of a standard YA book: a moody young narrator, annoying family members, a love interest, and a bit of mystery thrown in for some excitement. However, there are deeper, darker themes within this book that separate it from the crowd and make it worth reading and discussing along with your child.

Roger is on holiday in France with his family; they choose to stay in the guest cottage of a crumbling old chateau run by a brusque man and his daughter, Melusine. As Roger gets to know Melusine, he realizes that her life at the chateau is cloying and isolated. He wants to help her, but she's evasive. He uncovers her deepest secrets, which shock him to his core, and in his quest to help her exercise her demons, he quickly realizes that he is far over his head.

Unlike Banks' other books (she's best known for the Indian in the Cupboard series), this book doesn't end tidily. I could see it being a great summer reading book, or as a way to talk about the importance of honesty, communication, and awareness with your child. Plus, your child will learn about the French myth behind the title character.

Recommended for: high school readers.

-The Dinotopia series, James Gurney. In the first and second grade, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. My mom had bought me Isaac Asminov's Did Comets Kill the Dinosaurs? when I was in the first grade, and before you could say "T. Rex," I was plowing through everything I could find about them (I even convinced my parents to let me read Jurassic Park, which was awesome and terrifying all at the same time!). When I was in the fourth grade, I found the Dinotopia series and fell in love all over again.

The series focuses on the journals of Arthur Denison and his son who are shipwrecked onto Dinotopia, a forgotten island where dinosaurs still exist--and where they co-exist with the human inhabitants (all of whom are descended from shipwreck survivors). The pair travels throughout the land, learning about this world and seeing how they could fit into it since there is no escape from the island.

If the story line doesn't reel you in, the pictures will. Gurney includes spectacular watercolors throughout the series as a way to bring the world to life.

Recommended for: elementary and middle school readers.

Have you read any of these books? What were some of your favorite books from back in the day?