Recently, a bunch of my friends and I started reminiscing about the most memorable books we read in elementary and middle school—some hilarious, some horrible, and some that really seemed to be better suited for an older audience. Interestingly, a lot of the same titles kept being mentioned over and over again, which inspired me to start compiling this list of books you probably read as a child, but should probably read again. After school ends, what better way to drown your sorrows about graduation or your anxieties about your future than picking up one of these books and reliving your youth?
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
If you had an elementary school experience anything like mine, you probably had to read this book in fifth or sixth grade and may have spent a lot of time wondering why they were having young children read a complex dystopian narrative (not that we knew what dystopian meant at the time). This novel tells the story of 13 year-old Jonas who is selected to become the next “Receiver of Memory,” the member of society who alone stores all of the community’s memories before the beginning of the “Sameness”—a plan that has eliminated pain from their lives, but has also stripped them of true emotional experience and connection. From just that brief synopsis, it is clear that this is a book that we probably would have appreciated more at age 16 or 18 than at age 10. A second reading might be necessary to really understand the philosophical implications of this text that probably escaped you in fifth grade.
Good news: the movie version of The Giver comes out this August, and Meryl Streep is in it! Definitely can’t miss that.
Watch the trailer here.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar
This is, in my opinion, one of the funniest series of books ever written. All three titles in the series, Sideways Stories From Wayside School, Wayside School is Falling Down, and Wayside Schools Gets a Little Stranger, are brilliant. The books describe the crazy, unbelievable, and disturbing events that happen at Wayside School, a school built as a 30-story tower—but there’s no 19th story, for unexplained reasons. Remember Sammy, the terrible-smelling kid who turned out to be a dead rat in disguise? Remember the non-existent Miss Zarves who teaches on the non-existent 19th floor? Just thinking about these stories makes me wish that Vassar Library had a copy of this incredible series. It would be great to see whether or not the stories we found kooky and hilarious when we were seven can still make us laugh now that we’re, you know, “adults.”
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
My only real memory of this book is that I read it, loved it, and wrote a terrible book report about it in fourth grade. This sci-fi classic is, like The Giver, complex and deep—I can’t help feeling like most of it probably went over my head when I was a child. The book tells the story of a Meg, a young girl whose scientist father mysteriously vanishes while working on a strange project called a tesseract. I won’t spoil the plot for all of you who haven’t read it or who, like me, read it once but forgot all of the central elements of the story, but basically, the tesseract is a sort of fifth-dimension that allows you to travel by “wrinkling time.” They use the tesseract to travel to Camatozz, a dark planet controlled by a weird disembodied brain, where Meg’s father is trapped. Sounds pretty good, right?
Animorphs, by K.A. Applegate
You probably read them, you probably secretly (or not so secretly) loved them. Kids who can turn in to different animals and fight evil, parasitic, mind-controlling aliens called Yeerks? What more needs to be said?