Janie’s Favorite Books, Old and New

We are excited to be partnering with Story Glory Kids for our Winter Book Fair this year! In the past, we linked to amazon for all of our Christmas gift suggestions, but this year, whenever possible, we’ll be directing you to Story Glory for your book-related shopping. Like amazon, we get a small commission. Unlike amazon, you will be supporting three small Christian businesses (Story Glory Kids, Redeemed Reader, and Westminster Books—who helps fulfill the actual orders). Bonus: you won’t see any offensive ads, nor will you be bombarded by sponsored products you don’t want. Our readers get an extra discount during the first two weeks of the sale, so don’t wait!

You can find all of our suggested books on the Story Glory website, but we thought it would be fun to take turns and each highlight some of our favorites from this list. (We curated the entire list, but some of the books are extra special favorites for some of us.)

As the oldest member of the Redeemed Reader team, I didn’t encounter some of the classic series popular with Gen-Xers and Millennials (such as the Chronicles of Narnia) until I was an adult. But that meant I could appreciate them more, especially while reading them to my own kids. And as a Redeemed Reader, I have the opportunity to explore new favorites!

Favorite Picture Books:

  • The picture book I best remember from my childhood is The Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown. This was a large format book beautifully illustrated by Leonard Wisegard. (It was later published as part of the Little Golden Book series as The Golden Egg Book, and that might be the only format you can find now.)
  • When my first baby came along, my mother gave us a copy of Oh, What a Busy Day by Gyo Fugikawa. This became one of those “read it till you drop” books repeated every day. But I never really got tired of it, and it had the staying power to last through two babies who got so familiar they could “read” it to me in their sweet toddler voices.
  • Russell Hoban’s Frances series was a great over-and-over read-aloud. We also listened to some audio versions that set some of Frances’ rhymes to music. I can still sing the picnic song.
  • The Cricket in Times Square isn’t a picture book, but I have to mention it here because of illustrations by Garth Williams. The book and its sequels stand the test of time–both my kids loved them. But don’t get the “revised and updated” edition!
  • A little later we discovered the Church Mice series by Graham Oakley. What a find! The pictures are so detailed and so funny we could always find something new. I still go scrounging for used copies, and a few have even come back in print.

Old Favorites:

Growing up, I read and reread the edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales that sat on our shelves since I can remember. We had this boxed edition of Grimms’ and Anderson’s, but I couldn’t get into the latter. They were too long, and too sad. (Not that some of the Grimms’ tales weren’t grim–I still remember the red-hot shoes Cinderella’s stepmom had to dance in until she died).

Fairytales aside, I’ve always leaned toward realistic fiction, with historical fiction as a particular favorite. That’s probably why I devoured the Childhood of Famous Americans series–which is still around, though entirely rewritten, I think. These childhoods were largely fictionalized, drawing out drama from scanty facts (who knows what the childhood of Virginia Dare was like? or if she even had one?

My favorite novels were almost all historical fiction. Ones I particularly remember are

All these combined adventure with romance, and I was around that budding romantic stage of 13 when I fell in love with them. Around the age of 10, however, I encountered the book that made a reader out of me:

  • The Silver Sword by Ian Serallier (also published under the title Escape from Warsaw). This is the story of four Polish children whose parents, and later their brother, were taken to prison camps by the Nazis. The children had to fend for themselves during two years of war, but most of the book details their journey to find their parents after the war is over. The part where they find their brother shook me to my toes. I believe it’s still in print, or if not, used copies are not hard to find.

I wasn’t a big fantasy fan, but I fell in love with this one:

  • The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White. (I later fell in even deeper love with White’s Arthur epic The Once and Future King, of which Sword in the Stone is a part). It’s not classic fantasy, but contains what might be called legendary elements, as the Arthur stories do. I liked the humor, but also the down-to-earth details of medieval life.

New Favorites (children’s books I’ve read as an adult/recently):

One of the perks of this job is discovering some fantastic new titles that I can pass along to younger moms and teachers. I’m probably forgetting a few, but here are my top five:

  • Everything Sad Is Untrue, an unforgettable memoir by Daniel Nayeri, with distinct Christian undertones (and sometimes overtones).
  • Arthur the Always King, a retelling of the Arthur stories (remember my interest in Arthur?) that puts them in their Christian context and enhances the humanity of the characters. Also stunning illustrations.
  • The Swallow’s Flight, a story of World War II set in the English countryside, with rich characterization and beautiful resonance.
  • Lovely War, a distinctive novel of World War I with themes of forgiveness and redemption woven into two love stories (with epic meddling from flawed Greek deities).

Favorite series:

  • I’ve looked forward to each new volume of the Vanderbeekers series, which recently came to an end. Same for the Penderwicks–but those families will always live in my imagination!
  • As a grownup, I return to C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy periodically, especially the final volume, That Hideous Strength.

Favorite place to read:

It’s tough to read at all given my family circumstances, but I manage to get in a few pages or chapters (depending how sleepy I am) while sitting up in bed. Otherwise it’s at my desk during the occasional hour I can grab.

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Get the information you need to make wise choices about books for your children and teens.

Our weekly newsletter includes our latest reviews, related links from around the web, a featured book list, book trivia, and more. We never sell your information. You may unsubscribe at any time.

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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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  1. Cody on December 10, 2023 at 5:32 pm

    I didn’t actually know there was an updated version of Cricket in Times Square. Maybe I was better off not knowing. LOL

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