Positive Canon of Children’s Books

At a recent workshop, I met a young parent who was astounded to hear that I have a personal library of almost 1,200 childrens books ranging from very early picture books through young adult novels.

I started collecting children’s books long before I had children of my own. I started with books that people had given me as a child, which wasn’t many because my mother believed in going to the library instead of buying books. Then I always checked out the children’s collection whenever we visited used bookstores, which was an early shared activity with my husband. Then I discovered estate sales and online used bookstores.

Narnia SeriesI looked for books that I remember reading over and over as a child. I’ve worn out at least one series of Narnia books — my favorite was The Horse and His Boy. I looked for books that I remember made me feel stretched, like I could be more than I felt I was, such as Honore Morrow’s fictional retelling of the true story about the Sager children in On to Oregon. I looked for books that comforted me when I felt distressed. I still find Tamora Pierce’s books a great way to feel better.

When my children came along, we were much more likely to buy books that we wanted them to read. We collected all 14 of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. My son had us read them to him over and over.

We collected the full set of Great Brain books by John Fitzgerald. Both kids thought they were supremely funny. We collected the books that made my kids finally get impatient with hearing only a single chapter at bedtime, launching them into independent reading. For my daughter that was the Boxcar Children books, for my son, Brian Jacques’ Redwall series.

I collected Tarzan, Caddie Woodlawn, Tintin, Eleanor Farjeon’s wonderful tales, the Andrew Lang color fairy tale books, not just Anne of Green Gables but all the L. M. Montgomery books I could find, not just Little Women but all the Louisa May Alcott I could find, not just Peter Rabbit, but all the Beatrix Potter I could find.

The Little BookroomLittle Bookroom cover Little Women (Unabridged Classics)
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck

On to Oregon!
The Gauntlet

Martin Seligman once talked about people working together to create the positive canon, an analogy to Harold Bloom’s Western canon with the additional criterion that entries support what’s known scientifically about the life well lived. I thought it was a great idea, but got overwhelmed on my first trip to the bookstore with the enormity of the task. But perhaps I could make a contribution here by reviewing some of the children’s books that have made the most difference to me.
I’ll add links to the list as I add them.



Filed under Extraordinary people, Positive Canon

11 responses to “Positive Canon of Children’s Books

  1. Pingback: Positive Canon of Children’s Books | Shrinknet

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  3. Kris

    Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader DSO, DFC by Paul Brickhill is a story I read as a young teenager – and it had a profound positive impact on me! The review of the movie version (www.imdb.com/title/tt0049665/) gives an excellent summary.

  4. Kathryn

    Thanks, Kris. I’ll check it out.

  5. roxy wells

    Pollyanna (an oldie but goodie)
    The glad game changed my life as a child. I still play it and read it to my grandson. He loved it too!

  6. Kathryn



    I’d like to rehabilitate the word “Pollyanna” – so people don’t use it to mean a foolish optimists.

    To me, the glad game is a special discipline of thought — to search diligently and creatively for something to be glad about.

    It’s very related to Sandra Schneider’s realistic optimism — https://theanocoaching.wordpress.com/2008/02/27/realistic-optimism/


  7. Laura Cappelletti

    Hi Kathryn,
    I like all the Dr. Seuss books, and I think the Lorax has particular relevance now.

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  10. Check out ‘The Red Tree’ by Shaun Tan. It is marketed as a children’s book but would appeal to adults too. Fantastic pictures, very simple text.

  11. I had not thought of it quite this way, but now I realize that pretty nearly all the children’s & YA books I love – no, make that pretty nearly all the BOOKS I love, regardless of intended audience – carry a message of optimism, although that is not to say that characters don’t face lots of adversity. I like most of the titles you listed. Authors my children & I loved at various stages include Robin McKinley, Orson Scott Card, Cynthia Voight, Katherine Paterson (especially _The Great Gilly Hopkins_), and Chris Crutcher. To see a little information on many of our favorites, check out my blog: http://whattoreadtochildren.blogspot.com/

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