The Great Escape, or, The Sewer Story by Peter Lippman is the charming tale of Cyrus, a young pet alligator who grows too big for his owners' tastes and is flushed down the toilet. He ends up in the NYC sewer system, where he meets a lot of other similarly-fated alligators, and together they plan a mass exodus back to Florida. My sister Mary still has our childhood copy of this picture book.
The Big Tidy-Up by Norah Smaridge. Lucy's got this one on her list, too. My copy disappeared years ago, and Mary convinced a pal of hers to give up her childhood copy so that Mary could give it to me for my 40th birthday. Wow! A great gift, especially considering used copies are selling for upwards of $200.
Walter the Lazy Mouse by Marjorie Flack. Walter spends so much time sleeping that his family forgets about him and moves away. When he sets out to find them, he becomes sidetracked by a group of frogs in need of an education, and Walter becomes their not-terribly-effective teacher.
The Monster at the End of This Book is also on Lucy's list. I used to love reading this one out loud to my younger sisters in Grover's voice.
The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright is not a book I owned, though I read it many times. My brother's allergist had a copy of it in his waiting room and I read it every time I had to go there. I thought it was a strange book, and after I read The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, a biography of the book's author & illustrator, I thought it was tragic, too.
The Hungry Thing by Jan Slepian & Ann Seidler. I have always liked stories that feature a lot of food, and this book was one of the first I encountered that does so.
The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord & Janet Burroway. See above. I reread this one not too long ago, and it looked much more psychedelic than I recalled.
Kids' Kitchen Takeover by Sara Stein was a wonderful kids' cookbook that was also full of science projects and fun activities all centered around the kitchen. Another childhood favorite that Mary found a used copy of for me a couple of years ago.
Anything by Roald Dahl. I'm talking old Roald Dahl: the two Charlie books, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James & the Giant Peach, Danny the Champion of the World, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. His later books are just plain mean, and the current Quentin Blake illustrations are wretched.
The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved the Ingalls' family's can-do spirit, though of course now I realize that they had no choice but to do it themselves. I read all of these out of order but loved them anyway. When I first started working in the bookstore many, many years ago, one of the first things I treated myself to was a hardback set of these books. Incidentally, I do not like the new covers that HarperCollins recently slapped on these books. Goddammit, why mess with perfection?
The All About... series. This was a series of history and science books that were first published back in the fifties. My parents bought a bunch of them at a garage sale and gave them to my brother, but I made off with most of them and read them over and over. My favorite volumes were All About Archaeology, All About Snakes, and -- best of all -- All About Strange Beasts of the Past, which was about Ice Age animals; I developed quite a crush on mastadons, the runty, uglier cousins of woolly mammoths.
Great Stories for Young Readers from Reader's Digest was a thick volume chock-full of excellent stories. My dad used to read to me from it occasionally, which was a treat. My favorite stories were "The Paradise of Children" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Plain Princess," and "The Devil's Hide," a really nasty tale about a cunning Finnish boy.
Young Years was a big, fat book filled with fairy tales, fables, and poetry. I particularly liked the selection of fables by Aesop and some of the fairy tales. "Puss in Boots" was good, as was the utterly bizarre "Tinder Box" by Hans Christian Andersen.
A Child's Book of Poems illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa. When I was looking up the links for this post, I was stunned to find that this book just came back into print a couple of months ago! I ran out to the kids' department to see if it was true, and there it was. It's a good anthology with wonderful pictures by Gyo Fujikawa; she drew things "multiculturally" before it was PC to do so, and her sweet pictures seem perfectly natural and right.
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is probably my all-time favorite kids' book. I loved and admired Sara Crewe, who remained hopeful and kind (but never sappy) even in the face of terrible adversity. This novel's melodrama was incredibly appealing to me.
Mandy by Julie Edwards is kind of a modern-day combination of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. I discovered this in the school library in fourth grade and was thrilled to receive my own copy (which I still have) for Christmas that year. Julie Edwards, in case you don't know, is Julie Andrews.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I read this many times as a kid and regarded Jo March as a hero. I reread it a few years ago and was struck by how funny it was. And just so you don't think I'm hopelessly mired in the past, I love the cover on the new Penguin Deluxe Classics edition.
Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp scared the crap out of me and really kicked into high gear my love of horror.
Witch's Sister by Jean Lowery Nixon was the first in a trilogy of books about a girl whose next door neighbor is a witch -- or is she? You won't know for sure until the end of the third book, The Witch Herself; I admire the author's respect for her audience's intelligence and patience. Plus these books (especially #2, Witch Water) were damn scary.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien was the first thing I read that suggested to me that books could be both thrilling and intellectually challenging. Michael Crichton should go back and read this book and try to figure out where he lost his way.
Among the Dolls by William Sleator. Well, whaddaya know -- also back in print! More scary stuff about a girl who gets sucked into a dollhouse populated with cruel, conniving dolls. I loved any book that dealt with dolls coming to life or in which dollhouses figured. If they were horror or suspense stories, so much the better.
Anything by Judy Blume. She was great. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret got me through puberty. Blubber upset me terribly. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great made me laugh but also made me uncomfortable. By the time Forever was published, my mom was so used to seeing Judy Blume's books around the house that she didn't bat an eye when I asked her to buy me a copy; unlike me, she hadn't read all the dirty parts in drama class so she didn't know what she was purchasing.
Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball! by Paul Zindel was the first real YA book I read. I bought it because of the funny title and the cover artwork, and I read it during a trip to Mexico in the sixth grade. I thought it was funny and strange. Later, I read a number of other Paul Zindel books; My Darling, My Hamburger and The Pigman are probably the best-known of these, but my favorite was The Undertaker's Gone Bananas. Somewhere there exists a really dorky photograph of me, dressed in a Lanz nightgown and braces glinting in the light of a flashbulb, grinning with joy when I unwrapped a copy of The Pigman's Legacy on Christmas morning.