The school system loves to assign us books to read: usually classics, and usually depressing. But the books you read for school aren’t the only classics worth your time! Without further ado, here are 10 great classics I read outside of school.
*Disclaimer: Many of these I read years ago and are considered children’s classics, but they can definitely be enjoyed by all ages!*
- A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett– Sara Crewe has always gotten everything she wanted from her rich father, and even when she leaves for boarding school, she is treated like royalty. Surprisingly, though, Sara isn’t spoiled: she is determined to act like a princess and treat everyone with respect and kindness. But when she loses everything, Sara’s character is put to the test. A Little Princess is such an uplifting story and it really makes you think about how you treat other people and view the world.
- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery– I love Anne of Green Gables! It’s probably one of the funniest and most endearing books on this list. When Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert try to adopt a boy to help them around their farm, Green Gables, a mix-up lands them with the loquacious, imaginative, and very dramatic Anne Shirley. Anne is not a boy, and she’s certainly not what the Cuthberts had in mind, but they can’t bring themselves to send her back to the orphanage. She may get herself into trouble, a lot, but Anne slowly finds her place at Green Gables.
- Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne– You might have heard of this book but haven’t actually read it. It follows a man named Phileas Fogg who makes an impulsive bet that he can travel around the entire globe in 80 days or less (this was published in 1872, keep in mind!). In the ensuing adventurous race against the clock, he explores the world and meets a cast of exciting people. If you love adventure, definitely read this! The book was originally written in French, and since I’m currently studying French at school, my goal is to one day read a Jules Verne book in its original language.
- Black Beauty by Anna Sewell– If you are a sucker for sad animal books, you will appreciate Black Beauty. I read it when I was probably 10 or 11, in the middle of my horse obsession, and I’m pretty sure it made me cry… the book is told from the perspective of a horse named Black Beauty, and exposed the mistreatment of work horses at the time of the book’s publication in 1877. Sewell’s novel brought public attention to animal cruelty, and actually succeeded in changing some policies regarding the treatment and training of horses. But it isn’t all depressing; the story is entertaining and it’s from the perspective of an actual horse, which is definitely unique. A must-read for horse lovers!
- The Story of My Life by Helen Keller– This is Helen Keller’s autobiography, and it is a fascinating book. She explains how she learned to read and communicate despite being blind and deaf, and it’s truly amazing. Learning about her experiences and how she was able to accomplish so much in spite of her disabilities was extremely inspiring. Highly recommended!
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank– I guess I technically did read this for school, but it wasn’t assigned. I read Anne Frank’s diary in fifth grade; my teacher required us to read 40 books in the school year and meet a certain quota for each genre, so I chose this as my memoir book. Through her diary entries, Anne Frank reveals what it was like to hide from the Nazis for years, living in an old office building with her family. This book is very powerful and I think it’s important for everyone to read. It’s extremely sad, and makes you consider how much you take for granted every day.
- The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder– I loved Little House so much that in 2nd grade I dressed up as Laura for Halloween. The books follow Laura as she grows up a pioneer in the 1870s. In the first book, Laura is a four-year-old living with her family in their Wisconsin log cabin. At the conclusion of the series, she is fifteen, courting her future husband and starting her career as a teacher. Each book covers one chapter of Laura’s childhood on the frontier, and the book usually ends with the family picking up and continuing their adventurous journey westward. The TV series is also really good, although not particularly true to the books.
- Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter– Pollyanna tells the story of an orphan named Pollyanna after she moves to New England to live with her strict Aunt Polly. Even though she has a difficult life, Pollyanna lives with one overarching motto: always have something to be glad about. In every single situation, she manages to think of something positive, and her optimism is contagious. She even begins to cheer up her Aunt Polly. But when the unthinkable happens, Pollyanna must find it within herself to stay positive even in the darkest of times. Pollyanna is pretty similar to A Little Princess in terms of the plot line and themes, and it is just as heartwarming.
- The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling– Like half the people my age, Harry Potter was my childhood. I read the series in fifth grade and was hardcore obsessed. I’m pretty sure I reread it upwards of ten times. If you somehow haven’t read it, definitely give this series a try. Everyone knows the basic story: Harry Potter discovers he is a wizard, goes to Hogwarts, and has a series of run-ins with Voldemort, who is so evil everyone refers to him with euphemisms like “You-Know-Who” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”. But I promise you Harry Potter is so much more than that! It can be read as a fantasy series, a bildungsroman, a boarding-school drama; there is romance, action, philosophical questions, symbolism, everything. I don’t even like fantasy books but I love Harry Potter.
- Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen– Finally a book that I first read in the past few years! Pride & Prejudice is probably Austen’s most well-known novel, and it was the first one I read. The story follows Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters. The girls must all get married because it is the only way for them to inherit any wealth, but things don’t always work out perfectly. It is definitely a good romance (Mr. Darcy!) and I loved Lizzie’s intelligence and wit. I don’t want to give away anything, but Lizzie is pretty bold and makes some decisions that were very out of the norm for the time period. She is a great main character.