Let Freedom Ring: 5 Books to Inspire Childhood Independence

by Sharon Holbrook

Photo credit: tara reese, Flickr State/Getty Images

Amid the current controversy (and kidding) about free-range parenting, most of us parents are searching for a middle ground.

We want our kids to enjoy more freedom, and develop more responsibility, and we know the two go hand-in-hand. Here are five reads to inspire children’s confidence in their own capability and independence, and that just might prod us parents into letting out a bit more rope for them to roam free.

  • Little House Series

    by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams

    Give children chores. Read aloud about young teen Laura Ingalls supervising her younger sisters for an entire week while their parents were in another state. Pay close attention to the bit about how she surprised Ma and Pa by spring-cleaning the house from top to bottom. Ma and Pa Ingalls’s parenting secrets are laid bare right there in the pages of the series, beginning with Laura collecting kindling, making her bed, and drying dishes at age four in Little House in the Big Woods, the book first in the series. We can’t look at our children’s abilities and responsibilities the same way again — and we realize we could trust our kids with a whole lot more. (Maybe just not leaving them home alone for a week!)

  • Snow Comes to the Farm

    by Nathaniel Tripp, illustrated by Kate Kiesler

    Teach children about the outdoors, and then open the door. In this lesser-known picture book, two siblings head to the woods near their farm to await the first snowfall of the season. At ease in the forest, and capable, they build a fire to keep warm while they wait, and do not return to their nearby home until both snow and darkness have begun to fall. The moody beauty and measured pacing of this book evoke nature’s slow beat, and invite the reader to stop the busyness, go outdoors, and take time to wonder. And, of course, build campfires.

  • The Penderwicks Series

    by Jeanne Birdsall

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    Give kids space to work through problems. Sister trouble, friend trouble, neighbor trouble, boy trouble, even 4-year-old-in-the-bull’s-pen trouble. In this first installment of Birdsall’s beloved series, the four Penderwick sisters work it all out over the course of a two-week vacation in a bucolic New England setting. Dad, a widower, is kind and loving, but does not insert himself into the girls’ play nor their everyday difficulties. When troubles get even bigger, too big, and the sisters harbor a runaway friend, Mr. Penderwick knows it’s time for an adult to step in. Happily, the charming Penderwicks appear in four more books, including the series finale, The Penderwicks at Last.

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  • Charlotte’s Web

    by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams

    Allow a pet. This beautiful classic is usually remembered for the touching friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur, and that relationship’s bittersweet ending. But the book also opens with a similar mixture of darkness and tenderness, as Fern’s indignant anger softens her father’s resolve to slaughter the runty pig, and Fern is rewarded with the weighty responsibility of a pet. “You’ll see what trouble a pig can be.” Instead, the reader, together with Fern’s father, sees just how loving and responsible a child can be when charged with the care of a helpless creature. Garth William’s deft illustrations of Fern doting on baby Wilbur are some of the most memorable of the book, with good reason.

  • Ladybug Girl Series

    by Jacky Davis, illustrated by David Soman

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    Give unstructured play time. Lulu, the young heroine of the Ladybug Girl picture books, is no true free-range child. As with most modern children, her parents accompany her to the park, and aren’t terribly far away when she is outdoors. Yet, she’s in her own world. She lives within her own unstructured imagination, free play, and exploration, and climbs and wanders without a hovering adult. Lulu is the queen of her own play, and her parents are distant observers. What happens when we opt out of the rat race of hyper-supervised extracurriculars? Ladybug Girl just might have the poignant answer.

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