Oh, unforgettable Caddie. Brave, curious, red-haired, and glad, a girl not to be daunted by older brothers or the dangerous conflicts of a settler’s life in Wisconsin during the days of the Civil War. Brink is a warm, vibrant writer whose stories are excellent for read aloud.
Carry on Mr. Bowditch
By Jean Lee Latham
A classic piece of historical fiction, this is the true-to-life, brilliantly woven tale of Nat Bowditch, son of a sea captain, and compiler of The American Practical Navigator, a book of high sea navigation still in use today. Educational and engrossing all at once, one of the favorite historical novels of my childhood.
Cheaper by the Dozen
By Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and Frank B. Gilbreth
Cheaper by the Dozen (and its sequel Belles on Their Toes) brought hours of laugh-aloud hilarity to my family and is one of the favorite books of my childhood. This memoir, written by two siblings from a family of a dozen, recounts the extraordinary family philosophy of Mr. Gilbreath, a “motion study” expert who applied his theories to factories, business, and his own lively family. Heartwarming, funny, and just downright fascinating, this tale is one to savor with the whole family.
By Gene Stratton Porter
An all-time favorite in the Clarkson home, this is Porter’s tale of a thin but doughty orphan dubbed “Freckles,” whose grit and daring get him a job as the guard of the valuable timber in the “Limberlost.” Challenged by the timber-stealing Black Jack, and smitten with the grace and verve of the “Swamp Angel,” Freckles is a boy who does not flinch, his strength of mind and good heart helping toward the goal of doing his job and discovering his past.
By Esther Forbes
An outstanding novel of the Revolutionary War, this story of a young silversmith apprentice named Johnny, delves into the causes surrounding the American Revolution, introducing child readers to the history and culture of those times through the story of one boy’s adventures. This is truly history in a story.
By Ralph Moody
Based on a true story, this first title in the “Little Britches” series offers a glimpse into life in pioneer times in Colorado, a taste of the hard, wind-bitten work of making a good existence in a new land, the struggle of it, but also the sweetness that comes with love, family, and endurance. Great theme of a father/son relationship and based on Moody’s memories, this is a great series for boys. I like to think of it as the boy’s rough equivalent to the “Little House on the Prairie Series,” with Moody’s boy hero as the pioneer counterpart to Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Little House on the Prairie
By Laura Ingalls Wilder
Maybe the first book I remember reading, the long-beloved story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the little girl who grew up in homes across the prairie, as her Pa kept moving on, hungry for space. The books make clear what was necessary to survive in those hard days, the character required of the settlers, but they are also rich in their portrayal of family, of the hard-won comforts of home, the love like strong rope, weaving together the hearts of those who work, dare, suffer, and dream together.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
By the “Pearl Poet,” translated by J.R.R. Tolkien
OPD: late 14th century
This is a classic of Arthurian legend, an alliterative romance describing the challenge of a great green giant who arrives at King Arthur’s court to challenge any knight to cut off his head, as long as he can return the stroke a year and a day after. The bold Sir Gawain takes the challenge, but his courage is tested when the mysterious green giant simply stands up, picks up his head and reminds Gawain to report to him on the appointed day. In sparkling poetry with the rich backdrop of Arthurian legend, this tale follows the unfortunate Gawain through tests of his virtue, chastity, and courage. This was a favorite of Tolkien’s, and many editions have his translation of the 14th century text.
The Dark is Rising Sequence
By Susan Cooper
I include this series because, frankly, I was fascinated by it. Though Cooper writes from a decidedly dualistic view of the world rather than a theistic standpoint, I found this well-written, vividly imagined series to be a captivating portrayal of the struggle of the light against the powers of darkness, of love against the stronghold of hate. Richly woven with Arthurian legend, set in Wales, with characters straight from The Round Table, this series traces the adventures of Will, seventh son of a seventh son, last of the Old Ones, whose doom is to conquer the darkness for ages to come, or if he fails, to watch the world plunged into the powers of hate and death. Haunting, rich in a sense of ancient legend and old Welsh lore, these books captivate and open a prime opportunity for the discussion of worldview, while still affirming the goodness of Light.
The Good Master
By Kate Seredy
This is one of those stories I still remember with great relish. Set in Hungary, and rich with its legends and color and a vivid depiction of its culture, it’s the tale of the impossible, city-bred Kate, her cousin Jancsi, and Jancsi’s father, the “good master,” who knows how to win Kate’s loyalty and give her the gift of life in the country. I love this description of Kate: “From the moment Kate arrived, things happened. She was afraid of nothing and full of ideas.”
The Prince and the Pauper
By: Mark Twain
Twain’s classic tale of two boys, one a prince, one a beggar, who switch roles for a day… or a few more as it happens. Told with Twain’s usual wit and vivacity, the story follows the growth of the two boys as their minds expand with the exploration of their new worlds, teaching them how to better live, and rule, within their own.