Back to School Time: A Roundup of Meaningful Children’s Books
A Roundup of Meaningful Children’s Books
The other day I was sitting with a friend and I asked her a hypothetical question about what age she’d return to if she could relive just a day or week from that time. It surprised me to hear her answer—the second grade. I hadn’t expected a reply so simple yet so filled with nostalgia and goodness. It felt only fitting to write this roundup of meaningful children’s books just a couple of weeks later.
My childhood is filled with memories of reading under the sheet with a flashlight and wandering the aisles of the library; the smell of which immediately transfers me back decades whenever I visit nowadays. Something about picking up a book you loved as a child feels like spending time with your best friend from elementary school or opening Christmas presents signed “From Santa.”
As September rolls around and kids head back to school, relive a day from your childhood with one of the meaningful children’s books in this roundup. Whether you want to share a book with a kid in your life or simply enjoy the nostalgia of reading when young again, these books have got you covered!
1. Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech (288 pages)
Ruby Holler is the book that most stands out from my childhood, not simply for its sweet story about what it means to trust and love. As the first chapter book my mom and I ever read aloud together, Ruby Holler has stuck with me since I was little and thus, was an obvious choice for this roundup.
It follows the life of “trouble twins” Dallas and Florida, who are bounced around from one foster home to the next and are eventually placed with an older couple Tiller and Sairy. Tiller and Sairy have loved adventuring all their life and have no plans of stopping while they’re still able, but they’re looking for a little something more and hope to share their love of Ruby Holler with children like Dallas and Florida. As the four adventure together, the twins begin to trust not only the new adults in their life but also in the possibility of home. When this trust is tested, readers learn alongside the twins what exactly it means to be part of a loving family.
Whether or not Ruby Holler is your book of choice, I highly recommend picking out a book to read aloud with a kid in your life. I can say with confidence that the story and your time spent reading together will be memorable for both of you.
2. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
As a fairly popular children’s book I almost didn’t list The Rainbow Fish in this roundup, but for its lessons about friendship and sharing I couldn’t miss including it as a meaningful read. For those who happened to get through the first or second grade without reading it, this book tells the story of a beautiful rainbow fish who loves his colourful scales so much that he is unwilling to share them with a friend. Eventually, no one wants to spend time with the rainbow fish even though he is the most beautiful of all the fish, he also finds himself the most lonely. Throughout the story, the rainbow fish comes to understand what really matters.
This read is perfect for littles who are learning the importance of sharing and what it means to be a good friend. The art in this children’s book is also as memorable as the story and if for no other reason, The Rainbow Fish is a perfect nostalgic read if you haven’t picked it up since your early elementary years!
3. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
If you’ve been to a baby shower any time in the last five years, you’ve probably picked up on the book-over-card trend. Rather than signing a greeting card that will be tossed once the thank-you notes are written, expecting moms ask guests to give a children’s book signed in lieu of a card.
Spoiler alert to any of my girlfriends reading this: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes will always be the book I gift. This uplifting read tells the story of a little mouse named Chrysanthemum who grew up loving her unique name until the first day of school when her classmates tease her for such an uncommon name that won’t even fit on a name tag.
Offering a lesson about learning to love your differences, Chrysanthemum will help any kid understand that they can and should love themselves because of, not in spite of, what makes them unique.
4. So B. It by Sarah Weeks (288 pages)
The sign of a well-loved children’s book is if it still holds a place somewhere on your bookshelves as an adult. On mine, So B. It sits sandwiched between Ruby Holler and Chrysanthemum.
In this children’s novel, Weeks tells the story of a twelve-year-old girl, Heidi, who is cared for by her neighbour and her mentally disabled mother who speaks only 23 words, one of which is soof. In Heidi’s attempt to learn the meaning of this word and discover the truth about her family, young readers are taken on a mysterious journey with one real finding: the importance of truth and how it can set you free.
With a relatable main character and a suspenseful plot, So B. It is the kind of read that entertains while teaching a meaningful lesson.
5. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (192 pages)
I’m cheating a little by including Hatchet in this roundup because I didn’t actually read this book until my Children’s Literature course in college. It’s a must-add though because it’s a book I’ve since read several times over and one I’m sad to have missed enjoying as a kid.
Full of adventure, Hatchet follows the survival story of Brian Robeson, a thirteen-year-old boy who is left to fend for himself in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. As days turn into weeks, Brian teaches himself how to build a shelter, keep himself warm, hunt, fish, and forage for food. In the midst of such hardship, readers witness Brian become a more patient, mature, and independent young man.
This children’s novel can be enjoyed even as an adult, but as someone who sincerely wishes I’d been introduced to it first as a kid, I recommend getting this into the hands of any young adults in your life.
Did any meaningful books from your childhood come to mind while reading this roundup? Share them with us here!
Taylor Stawecki is a 20-something Michigander with a love for the great outdoors and written word. She spends her weekdays working for a digital marketing company and as a freelance copywriter. In her free time, you can find her reading, writing poetry, running, watching a Grey’s Anatomy rerun, or spending time with her family and friends. As an old soul, she enjoys collecting salt and pepper shakers and cuddling up in oversized sweaters.