I love rare books, I don’t know why. Everyone has heard of “Charlotte’s Web” and “Because of Winn-Dixie,” and although those are great, most of my favorites are little-known. Here is a list of a few of my favorite books that I bet you have never heard of. Some (The Riverboat Adventures) are lesser known than others (Holes) but most are little-known all the same. The books are listed by reading level, being said the beginning books are for grades K-3 and the last books are for grades 3-8.
Sonlight has 7 criteria that all books must meet. They are: realistic characters, solid character development, content that adds to the reader’s cultural literacy, intriguing plot, emotionally compelling, verbally beautiful, and re-readable. I like characters who are flawed; who doubt, who struggle with things, who seem more flawed than perfect. BUT the character must also grow and recognize those flaws.
Irena Sendler was a young Catholic social worker who rescued 2,500 Jewish children during World War II. Although not graphic, this large picture book does depict how Irena smuggled children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and hid them in everything from potato sacks to tool boxes. She had dogs and would teach them to bark when hidden babies cried, and the Nazis would avoid the dogs and therefore the babies were saved. Realistic and sometimes heart-breaking, younger children probably won’t fully realize the danger these children were in.
What I liked about this book the most versus another certain picture book about Irena, was this had beautiful illustrations. Irena Sendler survived the war, was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad VaShem, was nominated fort he Noble Peace Prize, and died in 2008 at the age of 98. For adults and older children, there is a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie about Irena called The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.
With You All The Way by Max Lucado
Girls to the Rescue series by Bruce Lansky
Growing up a slave, Henry doesn’t know how old he is, or his birthday. But Henry does know he wants his freedom, and he wants it badly. As an adult, Henry marries and has children. But, his wife and children and sold. Now more than ever before, Henry yearns for freedom. With the help of a friend, Henry feigns injury and escapes in a box, mailed to the north – freedom. A true story, Henry’s Freedom Box is a great way to teach children about the Underground Railroad in an age-appropriate way. The scene where Henry’s family is forced away is very sad, but dealt with in an appropriate manner.
Twenty and Ten by Clarie Huchet Bishop
Based on a true story, this short children’s novel is about twenty fifth-grade French children who take in ten Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of France in 1944. The story is told from the view of a young girl named Janet. She and a few other children are playing the Flight of Egypt, with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing King Herod. The game soon ends in a fight, and the children are called inside where a refugee sits. The refugee tells them they have to hide ten Jewish orphans, because, like Jesus, they are being persecuted and the Nazis are like Herod’s soldiers. The children, anxious for some adventure and “real life adventure” instead of make believe willingly offer their help and promise not to say anything. Written in the simplistic way grown-ups talk to children, this book reminded me of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry in so many ways. Although I would have liked to know more about the real children involved, this is an excellent story of teamwork, friendship, and courage.
The American Girl Mysteries by various authors
You may have heard of the American Girl series, but for some reason, no one has really heard of the American Girl mysteries. There is 1-3 mysteries for every one of the American Girls. Each book is smaller than a DVD case and contains less than 200 pages. Personally, my favorites are all of the Kit mysteries and all of the Molly mysteries. The reading level is a tad higher than the 6 regular American Girl series.
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
Jack hates poetry. Because boys don’t write poetry and his brain is empty. Slowly, through time and a loving teacher, Jack learns to appreciate poetry. When his poetry catches his teacher’s eye, the teacher wants to post it on the board for the class to see. At first Jack insists it remains anonymous, but finally gives in once he sees how much his classmates love it. Jack’s teacher then wants him to write about a pet, but Jack doesn’t want to. A bittersweet story evolves, over Jack’s beloved yellow dog. In chapters but told completely through free-verse poetry, this would make a fantastic read-aloud. The title is a spin off of the poem “Love That Boy” by Walter Dean Myers. The end includes a few poems mentioned in the book.
All-Of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
When I came across this book in the Sonlight catalogue, I immediately knew I would love it. The story follows a Jewish family with five girls. Since I come from a family of five girls, I could relate to most of the stories in here. Someone is most always crying, sick, fighting, in trouble, or about to be in trouble. The story is told through short chapters. Each chapter is like a mini-story. The stories include a nice library lady, a trip to the beach, Papa’s birthday, notable Jewish holidays, and simply the girls’ daily lives. This would would make a great read-aloud, especially for little girls! Older kids can easily read this by themselves. The reading level is about the same as The Boxcar Children.
Great Lessons in Virtue and Character: A Treasury of Classic Animal Stories by William Kilpatrick
Featuring excerpts from stories like Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Horse and His Boy, this bedtime-story gives lifelong lessons through compelling animal stories. Alright, so I haven’t read ALL of the stories, BUT this is a great way to teach virtues to your animal-loving son or daughter out there!
Bridge to America by Linda Glaser
Based on a true story, Bridge to America is about a young Polish-Jewish boy in the 1920s who is waiting for word of his father, who lives in America. When his father finally sends them money, Fivel and his family leave behind poverty and the Cossacks in search of a new life. However, their new life brings many challenges. At school, Fivel is teased for being an immigrant. He does not know words like sheriff and he doesn’t know his birthday. He is pressured to become more “American”. At home, his mother still sticks tightly to traditions and Jewish religion. How can he seem to fit in in home and in school?
You can see a (free) teacher’s guide for this book here.
A House of Tailors by Patricia Reilly Giff
Dina HATES sewing. Searching for a life beyond sewing, the thirteen year-old leaves her small home in Germany to join her uncle’s family in America. Unfortunately, her uncle owns a sewing shop. As Dina battles epidemics and a fire, she finds herself growing as a person in a way she would never imagine.
Behind Enemy Lines by Bill Doyle
The Riverboat Adventures series by Lois Walfrid Johnson
Holes by Louis Sachar
Overweight teenager Stanley Yelnats IV believes he is “cursed” due to his great-great-grandfather. Falsely accused of stealing a pair of shoes, Stanley is arrested and sentenced to a detention facility called Camp Green Lake. In the middle of nowhere, the boys of Camp Green Lake must dig 5×5 feet holes daily to “build character”. Stanley soon finds out they are digging holes for the Warden, who is looking for an ancient buried treasure… Packed with adventure, humor, and treasure, Holes is a great treasure for older children.
Peter by Anne Holm
Peter is left with nothing to do in a boring house when his friend Morten moves. Until, the mysterious painting above the fireplace, The Boy in Yellow, takes Peter to an exciting place – Ancient Greece! Peter later travels to medieval England. Filled with adventure and history, Peter reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia, how in the end everything fits together like a puzzle and how Peter gets magically transported from one period in time to the other.
I Am David by Anne Holm
This is by-far my favorite novel of all time. I Am David was originally published in Denmark as David, published in the USA as North to Freedom, and then reprinted as I Am David after the 2003 film. David has been in a concentration camp for as long as he can remember. When a prison guard gives him a mysterious chance to escape “north to Denmark” – David seizes his chance. The only thing he knows about the outside world is from a friend, Johannes, and the other men in the camp. Although multilingual from the men in the camp, David must learn how to do simple things; use a fork, take a bath, smile.
When David decides he needs a God, he picks the God Of the Green Pastures and the Still Waters, Johannes’ God. This is a crucial aspect of the novel, because at one point things take a turn for the worst and David gets very angry at God. However, David slowly learns God is teaching him a very valuable lesson on forgiveness. David has extremely high moral standards, mostly from his incredibly wise and loving friend and mentor, Johannes – the only friend he has ever had. Through his journey, David experiences the beauty of the simple, wonderful things in life. This book is not graphic, but you can find a content review here if you have questions about content. To top it off, the writing is beautiful, inspiring, and FULL of wisdom. Although written for a third-person POV, it is written strictly through David’s eyes.