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Reading is my favorite and my best (+ booklist)

2016 March 12
by Rachel Turiel

Some day when Col and Rose are grown they’ll recall rambling through spruce trees with Dan on a bow shoot, flinging arrows at rotting stumps. They’ll remember tromping all over forested tarnation searching for bolete mushrooms, small hands plunged into their father’s cupped palm. Dan will star in their memories as the man who taught them to chop firewood and to fish, who orchestrated wrestling matches and ad-hoc soccer games, who opened stuck jars and always had the right tool to fix whatever was broken.

And then, they’ll remember their mother: reclined on our singular, smudged, long-suffering couch, their kid-bodies piled into my soft edges, me reading to them.


There is always a book we’re reading, the three of us. We read to connect, to relax, to tame the wild chaos that bubbles up daily. We read to learn, to travel (without leaving the couch), to numb our hot mental wiring, and to better examine our own lives. Reading is my favorite thing to do after, well, breathing (sorry, honey, that’s #3).

The three of us are our own tiny, nepotistic book club, wondering, collectively, how the Baudelaire orphans will break their cycle of unfortunate events; or commiserating together that there will be no sequel to Huck Finn, ever. (Which was an interesting bedtime book, what with Huck’s perennially drunk dad, the school beatings from teachers, and of course the whole slave issue). We’re all fierce Roald Dahl groupies; we’ve written fan mail to local writer, Will Hobbs (and received a response!); the original Winnie the Pooh stories, written almost 100 years ago, make us quake with laughter.

reading9Reading to Teo, 2014


Reading to Teo, 2016

When the kids—tucked into their beds—rise up and protest the closing of a book (“One more chapter!” they chant like fans demanding an encore), I am likely to concede. Just yesterday when Rose asked how blind people get their sight back, Col sighed and said, “They don’t. Remember Mary?” And we instantly knew he was referring to Mary Ingalls, sister to Laura Ingalls Wilder, who had perfect sight in Little House in the Big Woods, and horrifyingly, had lost it by On the Shores of Silver Lake.


I don’t read the kids books that I don’t enjoy myself, because there is so much truly excellent children’s literature. EB White (author of Charlotte’s Web and more), said “all that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love this world.” Which is exactly how we all felt by the end of the Harry Potter series, that we loved this world and all its possibilities just a little more deeply.

I have come to realize that at least half of our homeschooling takes place on our couch, me reading aloud to the kids. Reading about the Joads (in The Grapes of Wrath) traveling with 12 family members piled in one truck across the west, gave the kids the most vivid picture of the Depression I could hope for. Plus, upon finishing the book, we got to enact a 3-person rally celebrating the spirit of the working class rising up against the machine of big corporations. Now we’re reading a 14-year old American girl’s diary from 1942. (Col wishes it had more about WWII; Rose would like more information on what groceries they bought).


Baby Col

I can chronicle my parenting life through reading, from the days of crossing my fingers, germ-wise, while the kids gummed board books at the library; through exhausting the Dr Seuss canon (again and again); through the grief of finishing the Harry Potter series; to today, Col beelining for the 5-pound, non-fiction aviation books in the adult stacks at the library. The library is our second home, its shelves containing the most compelling magic outside of Hogwarts. Actually, a building full of free, constantly rotating books is the most supreme wizardry I can imagine.

Here is a list of books we’ve especially loved. (I linked to Amazon out of laziness, but please consider getting books from your local library, independent book store or from Better World Books, which has a social and environmental conscience and free shipping!).


BOOKLIST (for ages approx 5 – 100)

Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

These great, humourous adventure stories take place along the banks of the Mississippi River in the mid 1860’s when school isn’t compulsory and teenage boys learn real life practical skills. Beneath the rowdy rule-breaking, is great compassion and willingness to buck the law when it comes to odious legislation like slavery.

My Side of the Mountain and Other Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

A boy goes to the woods to see if he can survive. He develops a small community of wild animal companions, and goes through the highs and lows of solitude, while connecting with the land through the seasons.

Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is such a delightful series about a homesteading family in the mid-late 1800’s. The family is full of gratitude even when times are hard (which is practically always), and your children will learn about how fun it can be to play with a pig bladder water balloon when you don’t actually have toys.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

This book weaves Chinese legends and Buddhist principles into a delightful story of a girl’s hero’s journey.

Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis

Engaging classic stories, wonderful, funny writing. The warfare can get a little tedious.

Charlottes Web by EB White

A favorite. Beautiful, endearing writing, and going out on a limb for friendship.

All original Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne

Oh the laughter! The vulnerabilities and earnestness of the small animals! Any book that invokes laughter in multiple generations is worth reading. Multiple times.

Everything by Roald Dahl, but especially BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Roald Dahl is the master of storytelling, painting pictures so vivid and suspenseful and engaging. Although he wrote over thirty books for kids in his lifetime, I only wish there were more.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (warning: there are 13 books. We were entrenched for months). Plucky orphans on a never ending journey for answers.

Kokopelli’s Flute, Bearstone and Beardance by Will Hobbs

Historical fiction (most taking place in the Southwest) with protagonists that are delightfully, honestly imperfect, and have amazing adventures.

Wonder by A.J Palacio

This book is about a child (and his family and friends) with a facial deformity. The author tells the story through several different narrators, allowing you to picture what it would be like to be the mother, sister, friend of this boy, allowing readers to experience empathy for all involved.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

About the ridiculousness of grown ups and their concern with “matters of consequence,” none of which include speaking with flowers and other important kid-knowings.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson

Oh man, this is a sad book. But also a beautiful, intriguing story about true friendship.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

This book, based on a true story, is about an Indian girl who accidentally gets left behind on an island when her tribe leaves. She fends for herself, creates a special alliance with a wild dog, and survives on her sheer wits.


I often feel nostalgic for books the kids and I have read together, these books being a placeholder in my memory for their different ages. Like Charlotte’s Web. I did cry when the spider died, but was even more moved by the very last lines of the book, where the narrator muses, “it is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” Oh! Good writing is such excellent company.

please share your book faves!

Big Love,


10 Responses leave one →
  1. Susan Harris permalink
    March 12, 2016

    I LOVE your writing!!!

  2. Kayleigh permalink
    March 12, 2016

    Books are my favorite and my best!!! (And I love your booklist- mainly because it contains books I have read, watched the movie on, or know is great.)

  3. Melanie permalink
    March 12, 2016

    Love this book list – we have enjoyed so many of these books with you! :)

    To expand ever so slightly:

    My Side of the Mountain is the first in a trilogy: Far Side of the Mountain is next and last is Frightful’s Mountain, which might be the best of the three.

    I would also add Paddington. Another British bear (originally from darkest Peru) whose hilarious antics might need some interpretation for inexperienced listeners at first, but the magic of the writing is what is left unstated!

  4. March 12, 2016

    Interview with Neil Gaiman on the radio. He was asked if he thought there was a line that should not be crossed between what was considered adult literature vs young adult or children’s literature. His answer was “yes, young adult and children’s literature should always leave the reader with hope”.

  5. March 12, 2016

    We loved Wonder, on your recommendation! Here are some of our favorites:
    The Hobbit, of course.
    Wee Free Men – Terry Pratchett
    Rascal – Sterling North (a boy and his racoon. ;))
    Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons go to Birmingham, 1963 – Christopher Paul Curtis
    Peter and the Starcatcher (and series)
    The Birchbark House (and series) – Louise Erdrich

    Several of these have also been good audio books on long car trips – the CPC books, Dragonrider and Rascal in particular are really well done.

  6. Sara permalink
    March 13, 2016

    Island of the Blue Dolphins was my first love and I still read it from time to time. Thank you.

  7. Sara permalink
    March 13, 2016

    Thank you for the list that is.

  8. Ellie permalink
    March 13, 2016

    We love all books by Eleanor Estes, especially those about the Moffats and the Pies.
    Our kids both enjoyed the Penderwicks.
    If anyone in your household is as much in love with the Little House books as my daughter is, Caddie Woodlawn is a wonderful complement. As are the Betsy & Tacy and Sarah, Plain and Tall series.
    My 9-year old, an otherwise voracious reader, refuses to engage with Harry Potter. Refuses fantasy altogether. But he recently sampled sci-fi and quite enjoyed it: the Jupiter Pirates series and the City of Ember series.
    You are doing the best thing that you could possibly be doing for your kids by reading to them. Insufficient time to read together, except during the sprawling summer months, is one of the main reasons I frequently contemplate homeschooling.

  9. Annie permalink
    March 17, 2016

    Oh thank you for this post Rachel! Can’t wait to revisit some of those childhood classics with the boys.

  10. Jan permalink
    March 21, 2016

    Your list includes many of my favorites, but I don’t see any Madeline L’Engle books in there and she is wonderful (A Wrinkle in Time, The Arm of the Starfish). Also the Ursula LeGuin Earthsea series. And the E Nesbit magic books are great fun and have a lot of personality. You won’t find much recent on my list not only because my kids are nearly grown, but also because I made them read all the books I loved as a child. So we all spent a lot of time on stuff written in the 60s.

    (Welcome home!)

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