1. At Play
I can't find this book anywhere. I don't know who wrote it and as much as I search it's almost like this particular book doesn't exist. But it did! This was a reader from the '40s or '50s and the first book I ever read. I think my mom picked it up at a thrift store and it had those really simple Dick-and-Jane type stories in it, but I read it over and over and over again. (And then the book got lost and never found.)
2. Once There Were Giants
This is one I still have (minus the dust jacket). It's one of the most simple but honest and a little bit sad picture books I've come across: it tells the story of a girl, from birth until she becomes a mother herself, in simple words and detailed pictures. My mom gave it to me when I was five years old and wrote a wonderful inscription inside. It's always been one of my favorites and one I've reread throughout my life, always measuring my growth against the girl in the story.
3. The Long Winter (and all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books)
Laura Ingalls Wilder
In first grade I got completely hooked on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. There's an old-fashioned-ness and simplicity to them that really really appealed to me (and still does, honestly). The Long Winter was probably my favorite and is definitely the one I remember best. These were books I could always slide easily into and know exactly what I was getting.
4. The Gadget
When I was in second grade I started giving my dad books to read and this was the first one I told him he had to read. It's an odd blend of historical and science fiction that takes place during the testing of the atomic bombs in New Mexico. To this day I still remember it as one of the weirder books I've read and because me and my dad both loved it so much it's earned a special place in my personal reading history.
5. Bridge to Terabithia
I don't quite know what it is about this book, but from the moment I started reading it back in third grade I just fell completely in with Jess and the heartbreaking tale. This is one of those books that's just so incredibly sad and there's no other way to look at it; from an adult perspective I can easily see how some might not understand the appeal -- why on earth would an elementary age kid want to read something so horribly sad? The thing is though as you grow up I think it's easy to forget that childhood isn't perfect. There are problems and they're no joke. When I was eight years old, dreading P.E. class and hating the boy I rode the school bus home with, this book was something of a you are not alone lifeline. It didn't pretend things were perfect and it didn't pretend its readers didn't have hard stuff to deal with in their own lives.
6. Gone-Away Lake
I don't remember the first time I read this book about two kids and their perfect, magical summer, but I know that it stuck with me. For years after I'd scan the library shelves, looking for this book I felt like I'd made up in my mind. I couldn't remember the title or the cover, only a vague memory of a lake and two siblings. I finally did manage to find it, reread it, and then reread it again. When I found a copy in a thrift store as a teenager, I snapped it right up.
As with other books on this list, here's one that seems to have disappeared. I can't find a cover for it anywhere, though Goodreads does have a short description up, which is more than I can say for At Play. Anyway, this is another book I pulled from the library as a kid and OH MY WORD. It was incredible. A story about this family floating down the river on their boat that doubled as a "traveling emporium" and -- if I remember correctly -- some guys who try to swindle the kids out of something but then in the end the kids win! Yaayyyy!! It was honestly amazing. Another book that for years I was convinced I'd only imagined or maybe it was in my dream or something. But no, this is a real book, and if I ever find it I am taking it home with me.
8. The View from Saturday
E. L. Konigsburg
You know how there are some books that just feel like you, sort of? Well, when I was in whatever grade I was in reading this book, that's how it felt. Somehow the intertwining stories of these four characters just felt, somehow, like me. And I'm not going to bother giving a description of this one because it's such a stand out, so great for whatever age you are, and such a classic that if you haven't read it I'm just going to say DO IT.
9. The Great Good Thing
This is a book that -- aside from being freakin' insanely genius -- is one I associate so strongly with the time in my life when I discovered it. It was another that I found at the library originally. It's also one of the books my aunt sent me when I was in the hospital and this strange, wonderful little fairy tale-fantasy-science fiction mix is one of the books that helped me get through what was a fairly tough time in my childhood (hospitals, ugh). (This is also the book I'm going to be rereading this month, so there'll be a bit more about it later on.)
10. The Baby-Sitters Club
Ann M. Martin
Somewhere between fourth and seventh grade I became obsessed with these books. I can't even explain it, but if you grew up reading these books you know exactly what I mean. They were weirdly addictive and at one point I think I owned the whole series (which, if I'm being honest, might still be in boxes in my grandparents' garage somewhere), though it's now been slimmed down to a mere shelf of ones I've found in used bookstores the past few years.