I love children's/young-adult literature, and some of my faves are Daniel Pinkwater, Tamora Pierce, and William Sleator. I even co-wrote a children's book (which contains a short proof!) with my friend and colleague Tamara Veenstra, and we're currently attempting to get it published. None of that is really the point of this page, though.
These are books I've (read recently and) thought enough of to insist that more than one other person read them.
I don't really think that every person in the world should read each of these books. Nor is this a comprehensive list; there are books I grew up with and books that I've read as an adult that seem so obviously must-reads that they're not included here. I'm sure there are books I've forgotten to list, as well.
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman.
First, I must say that was angry at Rachel Hartman for many years. The reason is that she wrote an amazing comic called Amy Unbounded and then stopped. Seriously, every so often I would say, "You know who I'm mad at?" and someone else in my household would respond, "...Rachel Hartman?" and then would remind me that she was working on a novel. So I seethed for more than 5 years, and then Seraphina came out.
It was worth the wait.
Seraphina is an important book, and also one that is difficult to describe without giving away plot points. There are dragons and political intrigue and secrets and sacrifice and trust and love. It's about being an outsider, in ways seen and unseen, and how 'outside' is a relative term, and how what we're told is almost never the whole story.
The Adventures of Blue Avenger, by Norma Howe (also Blue Avenger Cracks the
Code and Blue Avenger and the Theory of Everything).
Imagine a really nice teenager, who happens to be smart and curious and uninhibited by the usual teenage social strictures. Then add unbelievably and self-admittedly contrived plots. My dad recommended this to me and got my whole household hooked. I was in a bad mood after finishing the third book, because it was all over.
Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins. (also
Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, Gregor and the Curse of the
Warmbloods, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, and Gregor and the Code of
I heard about this book on NPR, described as Alice in Wonderland for kids who'd grown up in New York City, so that the rabbit hole is replaced by an air duct in a high-rise. That's pretty accurate. The series is unbelievable in quality; it's better than the Harry Potter series, and I think I haven't read such a compelling young-adult fantasy novel since The Chronicles of Prydain (or equivalent). In fact, I started crying as I read the end the first book, because I was afraid it was about to be over. (Then I realized there were more books in the series and recovered.) In 2005, I read Gregor in nightly installments to a captivated audience of high-school students, and they always clamored for more.
The Librarian of Basra, by Jeanette Winter.
This is a picture book. The colors are intense and magnificent; the true story is compelling. I ordered it through interlibrary loan, and when it arrived the librarians had to read it before giving it to me. A month later, I noticed a brand-new copy displayed at my local library branch...
The new Nancy
Drew, Girl Detective series.
This is not for everyone. In fact, it's not for anyone except fans of the 1930's-era Nancy Drew mystery stories. Yes, these are still authored by Carolyn Keene. No, they're not awful like the late 1980's Nancy Drew books. They're pulpy and fun and written in first person. My favorites so far are numbers 13 and 14, because they involve heavy tributes to the original series.
The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka (rhymes with "Fresca")
and Lane Smith.
Sadly, there does not seem to be an official home page for the books (though while looking for one I discovered there's now a Saturday morning cartoon based on the series). I got hooked on Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's work via Math Curse, and can't seem to stop. Luckily they keep co-creating books... Anyway, the Time Warp Trio series is about three wacky male kids who semi-accidentally and wholly-uncontrollably travel through time, thereby experiencing various temporally-bound cultures and only barely making it back home. Yeah. And go read Math Curse. Really. I mean it.
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman.
I don't like either the author's home page or the book's website, so will link to neither here. How would you feel if you were so plain that you were socially invisible...to the extent that often people didn't know you were present? How would you deal with it? Might you do anything about it? Just go read the book.
The All-of-A-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor.
This is really a re-discovery, as I read these books as a teen. For some reason they'd been appearing in my mind again lately, so I happily grabbed one at a local library book sale. Don't read them for plot, but for texture: they're about Jewish life in New York in the early 1900's. One person I foisted the first book on found it too simplistic, but that's too bad. I think the books are great despite their simplicity.
Half Magic, by Edward Eager.
Imagine that you have a way of making wishes come true, but that they only become half true... I also heard about this book on NPR, and promptly checked it out of the library just before going to a conference. I hate flying, but had a lovely flight because I started reading Half Magic just prior to takeoff, laughed aloud (yes, on a crowded plane) while in flight, and finished the book just as the plane touched down. (On the same NPR show, I first heard about The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, by Nancy Farmer, which I really liked but I don't think I tried to make anyone else read it.)
His Dark Materials, a trilogy by Philip Pullman.
Long ago, I somehow acquired (via a book club?) the first volume, The Golden Compass. I started reading it more than a decade ago, while teaching at Bowdoin, and was immediately entranced by the language used in the book. That is, there were tons of words used whose meanings I did not know, some of which I was able to understand from context and the greek roots and others where I was clueless. I mentioned one of these words to a class, and a student immediately piped up that it was from His Dark Materials and that I would love the rest of the book(s). It's all true. These books inspire devotion. There are some interesting similarities (and contrasts) with one of the plot threads in The Chronicles of Prydain, in such a way that I think it important for folks interested in women's place in society to read both series.
The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn, by Eric Von Schmidt.
Okay, I admit it. This doesn't even count as a re-discovery. But I love this book and think everyone should read it. I love it so much that I have trouble reading it aloud in a steady voice. Still, it's a read-aloud book if only because of the wonderful meter of the text. The pictures use ink, crayon, and watercolor in combination. Now, the book has substance as well as beauty: The setting is colonial New England, a time and place when survival skills were needed. How does a society deal with people whose skills don't match those which appear to be needed? Check this book out of your library (or get it from a used/rare bookseller---it's hard to find), and know why my father calls any imperious black cat by the name 'Deodat.'
The End of Mr. Y and PopCo by Scarlett Thomas.
These are regular-adult novels, which I don't usually like. They both involve mathematics and math culture, which I do usually like. Each is completely compelling in different ways. And they're unbelievably cleverly constructed, so much so that I can't even begin to explain what's clever about them. Just pick one of them and go read it. The End of Mr. Y was compelling in such a way that my heart kept racing and my mind was in the world of the book even when I wasn't reading it.
The Rabbi's Cat 2 by Joann Sfar.
This is a pair of graphic novels. They are set in Africa (the first in North Africa and the second... well... go read it.) I loved The Rabbi's Cat, which you might want to read before reading The Rabbi's Cat 2, but I adored it because I love cats and the Rabbi's cat in particular is an excellent cat. So that book is not on my must-read list for other people. But in The Rabbi's Cat 2 you will find the Algerian Rabbi and his Muslim cousin on a journey spearheaded by a Russian who arrives by accident in a box of books. Even among those who are marginalized, there are prejudices; and those who are in the majority in one place are in the minority in others. Sfar treats these situations with love.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
All synopses of this book (that I've seen) describe it as a story of a Native American kid growing up on the reservation. Which it is. But somehow that description reduces the book to just one of its many dimensions. Most of the books I recommend let the reader see something ze can't see elsewhere, whether it's a window on a world or a culture or a way of approaching life (or all of the above). This book is no different, except that it is based in 20th/21st-century reality in a way that none of my other recommendations are.