A friend recently asked me for recommendations of children’s novels where the day is saved…but not by lots of violence. He has a ten-year-old son who loves Narnia and Middle Earth, but he doesn’t want his son to count on Glamdring to solve all his problems. (I am aware that it is Aslan’s sacrifice, as well as Frodo and Sam’s sacrifices, that make things right. But there are soooo many swords in the meantime!) Anyway, here is my humble attempt at a list, with a few comments.
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
I loved this one. It’s an animal story – cats, dogs, snakes – but be warned – it is not for the faint of heart. There are some heart-wrenching scenes, and a broodingly evil character who gives the White Witch a run for her money. But the payoff at the end is worth it, and it’s beautifully written.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Time travel? Yes. School bullies? Yes. $20,000 Pyramid? Yes! And finally all the pieces come together in this middle-school mystery story. Let’s just say, someone goes to incredible lengths to give up his life for a friend.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Lyrical, very magical, it sweeps you off your feet. A magic little girl and her grandmother, the mother who went mad when she lost her, a young man trying to protect his family from an evil witch…plus a dragon, a swamp monster, and a volcano. There is violence, and attempted violence, but it is love and forgiveness that win the day.
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
A modern-day fairy tale. Again, this one is heart-wrenching, delving into the depression can bring into a family. Hazel knows it is up to her to save her best friend Jack from the grip of an evil witch.
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Another story about forgiveness. An orphan boy wonders if his sister is still alive. A magician accidentally conjures an elephant – right into a woman’s lap. And the snow just won’t stop… This one is a quick read, and it’s hard to beat Kate DiCamillo’s unique use of language.
A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle
These two are classics, but in both it is self-sacrifice, not violence, that wins the day. Madeline L’Engle was my introduction to science fiction, though neither of these is too science-y to appeal to those who don’t care for the genre. Actually, I thought it was amazing to read about a heroine, and physics, and a Christian worldview all in one book.
The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly
This is an amazing historical novel for its detail describing the Middle Ages – I highly recommend it for that alone. The language is what you’d expect from a book from 1928: the vocabulary and syntax are both more challenging that what you find in most modern children’s literature. But the characters are wonderful, and the story is gripping, and, of course, good triumphs over evil in the end.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
This was another one of my favorite books growing up. Annemarie must use all her wits and bravery if she wants to save her best friend and her family – who are Jewish – from the Nazis. Beautifully told, and edge-of-your-seat exciting, yet still appropriate for younger novel readers.
The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son by Lois Lowry
I read The Giver in second grade, and I don’t think I ever recovered. It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that I realized there were three more books in the series! That was a joyous day. Each is wonderful on its own, but I recommend doing the whole set, because Son brings it all together so beautifully.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
This book blew me away, simply because I’ve found very few children’s novels which take faith seriously, and fewer that take a child’s faith seriously. Three misfit children and a miraculous dog race to save Jewish books from being burned by a crusading prince. With all the fun of the middle ages plus secret identities, The Inquisitor’s Tale is a thrilling ride. (Violence-wise, there is one pretty harrowing scene early on, with William and some bandits, if you’re looking to avoid such things, but it’s not Williams’ strength that wins the day in the end.)
Whew. So really this is also a short list of some of my favorite books ever. Enjoy! I’d love to discuss them if anyone is interested!