1000 Good Books


In his truly wonderful book, The Restoration of Christian Culture, John Senior remarks that students need to read the thousand good books before they read the hundred great books. Otherwise in college such students may turn into well-read nihilists, excited by intellectual inquiry (without end or purpose), and contemptuous of moral good, very much aware of their own cleverness and insensitive to the presence of moral virtue in others and its absence in themselves.

Every student needs to experience the good before he gains an experience of the great. Of course students gain their most important experiences of the good in their homes, from their parents.

It would be best if parents held in their souls the measure of the good so clearly that they might judge the things proposed to their children. Probably John Senior thinks that they do — that is why he refuses to include a list of good books in his fine book. Parents are not always confident about their intuitions, but they should be.

If recalling your own childhood you remember books that made a difference to you, then look for those books. I remember the Babar books, especially the one about the young Babar, who loses his mother to a hunter, who wanders away to Paris (like all young men in French literature, and French life), is introduced to civilization (of which French bread and pastries are no small part) by a little old Parisian lady, and who returns to the jungle to found an elephant community. The picture of him losing his mother was painful and terrible. So was the picture of Uncle Cornelius turned green and dying by a mushroom. I had my mother tape that page shut and did not eat mushrooms for years. Is that an objection? Hardly. Babar, the old Babar, is a story of adversity and loss overcome. Babar is a founder-king, the source and defender of a whole community. Long live king Babar. Long live Celeste. May they be blessed with children. And in a later story they are. Cannons boom.

My point is that whatever was good in your own childhood will be good for your children.

A second point springs from it. For a while now children’s literature has been specialized, separated from family literature, and subjected to the pressures of commerce. Let’s peel off the layers of the present and proceed back in time.

Today, children’s literature is often vulgar, confused, and corrupt. Sometimes it is even sinister. The vices and disorders of the adult world, itself increasingly morally corrupt, are being advanced into childhood, insinuated in families, and pushed at children. And unfortunately, some of the literature written to combat this assault is weak, empty, sentimental, comfortable without being moral, as if good things can be had without being strong.

The whole enchilada

What are some books that made a difference to you?


On my short list of books I read before age ten which meant a lot to me, a list composed in the two minutes I have while waiting for my kids to finish their chores and return to me for the singing of hymns and folksongs:

Little Women (Sterling Classics)

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet)

The Bears of Blue River

Old Mother West Wind

Pooh’s Library: Winnie-The-Pooh, The House At Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, Now We Are Six (Pooh Original Edition)

Crimson Fairy Book (and all the colors)

The Classic Tales of Brer Rabbit

The Little Engine That Could: Deluxe Edition

The Gateway To Storyland

Stories that never grow old: Best loved stories

The Plain Princess (My copy was part of a Reader’s Digest collection of Fairy Tales, which also had the story of Death and the Three Fools, which really made an impression).

The Tripods Boxed Set of 4: When the Tripods Came/ the White Mountains/ the City of Gold and Lead/ the Pool of Fire

What about you?

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  1. Posted June 25, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    *The Phantom Tollbooth*–which taught me that everything matters.
    The *Little House* series, which informed most of my later political views.
    *Narnia* and *The Hobbit* and *Lord of the Rings* (The last I read the summer I was ten.), which let me access faith through my imagination.
    *The Winged Watchman* which taught about practical heroism.
    *The Secret Garden* and *A Little Princess*, which showed the possibilities of growth and beauty in the most unlikely people and the most unpleasant circumstances.
    *Grimm’s Fairy Tales*, because life is scary but good still triumphs.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted June 25, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      Oh, yes- the Secret Garden and Narnia. I didn’t read LOTR, the Hobbit, or The Winged Watchman or The Phantom Tollbooth until I was an adult. I did read all the Little House books. Grimm’s, yes, I pput them them in the same category as Lang. I wiped out the entire fairy tale section of our library by the time I was ten.

  2. Marie
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    The Little House on the Prairie series, which I read probably 10 times through before age 10. I am STILL finding things I learned from those books – need to know how to black a stove or save a crop from frost? Manly did it in Farmer Boy! How to save yourself during a blizzard? Hide in a snowbank like Pa. And on and on.

    My parents showed their awesomeness by converting my little red wagon into a covered wagon and making sure I had a prairie-girl outfit, complete with wide-brimmed bonnet. 🙂

  3. Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Definitely the Little House Books! There was another that my Grandma gave me that had been HER book when she was young–“Little Maid Marian” . . . I still treasure that simple old story . . . Found it looking on Project Gutenberg too! http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19988

    The “Peggy Books” by Moody Press, but I may have been more like 12 or so when I was given those. My maternal grandparents valued books and were the source of many of the books we were given as children. They never hesitated to give us even used books that they picked up or from their own stash, even as gifts for events, so I grew up loving and appreciating old/used books. We have lots of books in our family too, and there is never enough froom for them. . . .

  4. harmonyl
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I loved Peter Rabbit as a child, but sadly my mother did not know that Beatrix Potter had written other books. I also loved the Ramona books. I’m not sure if those ‘count’, though I saw the Henry Huggins books on the 1000 Good Books list, so maybe they do? But they certainly made a great impression on me as a young girl. I have very fond memories of my dad reading me Tom Sawyer and my mom reading me the Little House books. My favorite book in elementary school was Black Beauty. I first read it in 3rd grade, and by 5th I had read it at least 19 times.

    What else…. I sadly didn’t read the Narnia books until I was in middle school, though they still made a very strong impression on me. I cried like a baby at the end of the series. I can’t remember when I first read the Anne books. I know I got Anne of the Island as a gift in 3rd grade, but having never read the first two books I didn’t touch it for a while. I do remember falling in love almost immediately with Anne. That was probably 5th or 6th grade.

    Other than those, I mostly read twaddle. Nancy Drew, Babysitter’s Club, etc. Yes, I am properly ashamed. 😛

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

      I also loved the Ramona books, and they certainly made a great impression on me- I can trace back nearly all my worst ideas when i was six or so to Ramona. I also named my doll Chevrolet. I did not dye anybody’s hair, but I did shave my doll’s head, and then was devastated to learn it would not grow back.

      Yes, Black Beauty, too- and I read a book about a boy blinded by firecrackers and how he got his seeing eye dog, another biography on Louis Braille, and I think what must have been Enid Blyton books. Oh, and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

      I never met ‘Anne’ until I was an adult, and my first reaction was indignation that nobody had ever told me about her before.

      • Stacy
        Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

        The book about the boy blinded by firecrackers was called Follow My Leader by James B. Garfield (just looked that up on Amazon). We had a copy in our house for years and I have no idea where it came from, but I loved it. There are used copies on Amazon for $6.

        I loved the Mrs Piggle Wiggle books, Boxcar Children, most things by Gary Paulsen (Hatchet), and more that I’m sure I’m not thinking of. Oh, and The Pushcart Wars, which is also out of print.

  5. Posted June 25, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Some of the books that influenced me most were “the classics” (fairy tales, Bible stories, Mother Goose, all the Anne books, Winnie the Pooh); others were quirky books that I read over and over just because I liked them. When I was about eight, I was fascinated by India and Japan and I had a couple of missionary chapter books that I could almost quote by heart. I loved Rumer Godden’s The Fairy Doll; The Plain Princess; Pamela and the Blue Mare (the only horse story I liked); The Moffats; Marilyn Sachs’ Amy and Laura books; all the books about the Melendy family; The Middle Sister, by Miriam E. Mason (about a little prairie girl, apples, and bravery); Mine for Keeps and Look Through My Window, both by Jean Little; Louisa May Alcott’s Jack and Jill, Eight Cousins, and Under the Lilacs; Stars for Cristy, about a city girl who visits a farm for the summer; and several Scholastic books like Magic Elizabeth and The Trolley Car Family. And a couple of years later, the Sue Barton and Beany Malone series books.

    There were some books I didn’t read until much later: the Narnia books, the colour fairy books (I had copies of Grimm’s and Andersen instead), The Secret Garden, Little Women.

    But the picture book that influenced me most must have been Sue Felt’s Rosa-Too-Little, about a little girl who wants a library card!

  6. Thalia
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    I read so many books as a child, but my favorites included:
    – the American Girl books
    – more or less anything by Thornton W. Burgess, Louisa May Alcott, or Dr. Seuss
    – Anne of Green Gables series
    – Chronicles of Narnia
    – My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George)
    – Mara, Daughter of the Nile (Eloise Jarvis McGraw)
    – Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (Jean Lee Latham)
    – eleventy-zillion Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Boxcar Children novels
    – Sherlock Holmes
    – The Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss)
    – A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
    – the Warton and Morton books (Russell E. Erickson)
    – The Trumpet of the Swan (E. B. White)–my brothers and I still quote this one

  7. Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    The Little House books, the Narnia books, The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, James Herriot’s stories, anything by Roald Dahl, I also loved survival books like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Hatchett

  8. Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Forgot to mention some Scholastic biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, etc. (Did I mention we were in Canada?)

    Also Marie Killilea’s book Karen, and her children’s version, Wren. I think I read both of those before I was ten.

  9. Lori
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Very influencial in attitude and manners (overcoming, personal discipline and manners, care for others, bravery) were the Little House books, Secret Garden, Noel Streatfield’s Shoes series, Winnie-the-Pooh, Anne and the usually overlooked Emily series, Trixie Belden… but the most profound was the overlooked gem “The Awakening Water,” read in middle school. I spent hours thinking of it then, and have often thought of it since — just what the medicine in the water was (symbolically) and how it impacted each, and how each social level was part of the whole. It is less vicious than The Giver, but has a similar feel.

  10. Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and one other that I have to include because my girls have loved this book as much as I did at that age: The Lilac Story Book for Girls, edited by Eric Duthie. It included stories like Rachel Field’s “The Yellow Shop,” Pearl Buck’s “The Water-Buffalo Children,” “The Barber’s Clever Wife” by Flora Annie Steel, and stories by Joan Aiken, Alison Uttley, E. Nesbit, Eleanor Farjeon, Roger Lancelyn Green, Rosemary Sutcliff…those names meant little to me as a child, but now they’re old friends.

  11. Posted June 26, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    DHM, the boy blinded by the firecracker is Follow My Leader.

    A couple of comments mentioned books that I also loved and forgot to mention: Ballet Shoes, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. My youngest daughter is now our main Joan Aiken fan, especially the Arabel and Mortimer books. JA is a bit of an acquired taste–some of her stories are kind of strange.

  12. Posted June 26, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Rumer Godden was huge for me (and still is). My favorites were The Dolls’ House (though I keep reading reviews on Amazon in which people assert that it’s too “dark and disturbing” for children), Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, and Fairy Doll.

    A Wrinkle in Time was the best thing — in fact, maybe the only thing good — about 5th grade.

    I loved horse stories and read all the Marguerite Henry books.

    Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer.

    The summer I was nine I had terrible insomnia — I was afraid that if I fell asleep, I would stop breathing — so I would read all night long, mostly Through the Looking Glass (really comforting book, that) and a big collection of animal stories by people like Gerald Durrell and Farley Mowat.

    Little House, of course.

    All Creatures Great and Small, and subsequent books.

    A book called Season of Ponies, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, which I only read once but which has stayed in my head as maybe the most magical book I ever read (I must have been nine or ten). Whenever I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as an adult, and we get to the part where Lucy is reading the Magician’s book and says the spell which gives her the beautiful story, which fades away and she can’t read it again . . . I always somehow think of Season of Ponies (though I *could* go back and read that again. but I haven’t. I’m afraid it would turn out not to be nearly as magical as I thought then).

    The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and, later, My Side of the Mountain — I loved runaway, resourceful-kid stories, which also seemed magical to me in another way (the magic of human invention, I guess).

    I didn’t read Narnia till middle school. I read The Hobbit in 7th grade, and it was life-changing. LOTR I didn’t read all the way through until I was an adult.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted June 26, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      You remind me of The Egypt Games, which I don’t altogether recommend, but I devoured it and read it more than once. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – and fourth grade, which was for me the year that the only good thing about it was the books I read.

  13. Cindy Watson
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    The book about the boy blinded by the firecracker…Follow My Leader and the author’s name starts with “G” I want to say Garrison but I am at work and can’t check. Love the White Mountain series and almost anything by H. M. Hoover but I have a strong sci-fi preference. Eddie’s Valuable Property by Carolyn Haywood. I like all of hers but if you haven’t read that one, read it, but make sure you empty your bladder first because you will be rolling on the floor with laughter. Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pagent Ever, Tasha Tudor’s Corgiville Fair. I love books!!

  14. Kai Jones
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I read a book of American folk traditions and tales, some real (Davy Crockett), some not (Paul Bunyan), which had a big influence on me. And some science fiction novels for boys that valued self-reliance and doing good for others, and just generally being a hero when you can, by Robert Heinlein (they were specifically published as novels for boys, not the same as his adult novels).

  15. Anne-Marie
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    I grew up on Rumer Godden, first her doll stories, then her adolescent-girl books, then her grownup ones.
    Joan Aiken–her short stories first, especially the Armitage ones, and the Wolves series second.
    Sidney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family books.
    Elizabeth Enright, especially The Saturdays
    My sister loved Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books, but I never got into them.

  16. Donna
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Along with several that others have mentioned; I loved the Borrowers series; had the big hardback compilation; just picked them up in paperback for my granddaughter; one Robert Heinlein book, too, was Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, although my son didn’t care for it

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