Some books are so loved, they almost become part of the family! Certainly that was true for us. Maybe because she didn't have any sisters, our daughter, Mary, was especially drawn to books with girl characters. To this day (she's 23), she recalls with fondness several of her childhood "friends" from favorite books.
The BETSY TACY series (ages 5 and up), by Maud Hart Lovelace, has to rank right up at the top! (Well, maybe after CINDERELLA, but that's a separate blogpost.) These stories are so endearing and have such a following that there is even a Betsy-Tacy Society! http://www.betsy-tacysociety.org/. Mothers and daughters alike enjoy the books so much they've been re-printed several times and are passed down from one generation to the next. We especially liked the editions illustrated by Lois Lenski.
A good friend of mine with a daughter Mary's age turned us on to the books. She had read them as a child and knew our girls would enjoy them. I had never even heard of BETSY-TACY and am so glad she recommended the books. Our girls had fun reading all the books at the same time! (The books are written on a progressively more difficult reading level as their characters progress in age).
The series - based on the author's life - is set in a small town in Minnesota at the turn of the twentieth century. The first book, BETSY-TACY, takes place with Betsy and her best friend, Tacy, being five years old. By the second book, they've added a new friend, Tib. The series follows the girls' friendships all the way through to Betsy's wedding! There is so much heartfelt humor, detail, and realistic emotion in the writing, you really get a feeling for life at the turn of the century - from school days and friendships, to falling in love and travel. Girls will have fun growing up with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib as their friends!
HEIDI (ages 6-8), by Johanna Spyri, illustrations by Ruth Sanderson. Please do not substitute reading this beautiful story by watching the movie or made-for-television-versions instead! The descriptive writing about Heidi's struggle to learn to read, as well as her relationships with her grandfather, the Alps, the goats, Klara, and Peter and his blind grandmother are not to be missed. What touched me most was the underlying story of the stern grandfather ("Alm Uncle") as a prodigal son figure who has his heart softened by his tender granddaughter.
BALLET SHOES (ages 6 and up), by Noel Streatfeild. The story of three orphaned babies, Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil, who are all adopted by "GUM" - Great Uncle Matthew. (Uncle Gum is an archaeolgist, who brought home lots of fossils to his home in England, until he was injured and decided to travel the world!) The girls are not siblings, but are adopted one by one and raised by Gum's great-niece, Sylvia, and Nana, her old nurse. (There is a whole series of "Shoe Books", but this is the only one we read.)
LITTLE PRINCESS, by Frances Hodgsdon Burnett, illustrated by Tasha Tudor. (ages 8-12). "Whatever comes," she said, "cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it." Was there ever a sweeter, more unselfish girl than Sara Crewe? (Yes - Cinderella!) Again, please do not bypass this book for the movie! (Although there was a very good BBC Wonderworks adaptation made in 1987 stayed true to the text.)
LITTLE HOUSE SERIES, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (ages 8-12) Wonderful historical fiction, loved by boys and girls alike! Eight books in the series...following Laura and her family, with lots of detail about their life as a pioneer family and it's joys and hardships. The stories start in a cabin on the frontier, around 1870. Well known illustrator, Garth Williams, spent years researching Laura's family and his artwork is a wonderful reflection of that.
LITTLE WOMEN, by Louisa May Alcott (ages 8-12) One of the most popular and unforgettable children's novels in American history! Your daughter will never forget Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy March and how instead of buying Christmas presents for themselves, they buy gifts for their mother, "Marmee". This quest to be selfless, their antics with Laurie, the boy next door, their deep family loyalty and coming of age experiences, endear us to this family living during the Civil War. The 1994 movie adaptation is wonderful too! (But read the book first!)
THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN and THE PRINCESS AND CURDIE, by George MacDonald (ages 8-12). Fantasy story about a young princess (Irene) and a miner boy named Curdie. The princess's great-great-grandmother, who lives high up in the castle turret and appears either as very old or young and beautiful, admonishes Irene to behave courageously and to overcome her fears as Curdie strives to save her from the evil goblin's plan to kidnap her.