Who doesn’t love a good tearjerker? We certainly do, and we know children’s literature is full of them, so we asked 17 authors to share the book from childhood that still makes them well up to this day. Here are the stories that hold special places in their hearts.
“There’s something about the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott that gets me every time. The story of sisters, of coming of age, and of the desire to be a published author come together in a perfect mix for me. But, there’s a part of it that’s nostalgia for me personally as well. I read it so many times as a girl, and I remember reading it to my grandmother when she was in the nursing home. I read it to my sisters and to my children, and I shared it with my grandchildren. I’ve purchased every movie ever made that was based off the book. Both the story within the pages of the book, and the memories of reading the book, get me in the heart. Every. Time.”
“I was a sickly kid and spent a lot of time in bed, so I passed countless hours talking to my stuffed animals — all of whom, of course, I believed to be my friends. So as a child, The Velveteen Rabbit stoked my belief in magic, acknowledged that toys could become real, and introduced the horrifying specter of being forced to burn all one’s toys due to illness. As an adult, what speaks to me is the rabbit’s struggle to be Real: sometimes painful, always born of great love, and usually associated with becoming ‘very shabby.’ Hence, the most profound line of The Velveteen Rabbit: ‘…once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’”
Juliet Blackwell is the pseudonym for the bestselling author of the Witchcraft Mystery series, including the soon-to-be-published A Magical Match, the Haunted Home Renovation series, and the upcoming The Lost Carousel of Provence.
“I’ll never forget the first book to make me cry: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I was infatuated with the heroine Sara Crewe — a headstrong, eccentric little girl who loves to tell stories (a bit like me at age nine!). For the first half of the book, she is hugely privileged and lives like a princess. Then her moneyed father dies unexpectedly. I remember running downstairs to my mother, bawling, when it happened. A subtle, raw portrayal of a child’s grief follows, but somehow the story and Sara find a happy ending. I treasured it, and still do.”
“I grew up an only child on a small farm in north Mississippi. Books have been a vital part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was in the fifth grade I read Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. The ending of the book was a watershed moment for me because it was when I first discovered the power of a story to break your heart. I sobbed my eyes out over Charlotte’s death, and I’ve never forgotten the turmoil I felt. That ending still moves me, nearly half a century later.”
“As a father of four children, I have a worthwhile excuse to dust off those old books that I used to love to read when I was a kid. One of my go-to favorites, Where the Red Fern Grows, is one that I like to use to help my children understand the significance of living a good, moral life and teach them about mortality. The part where Old Dan and Little Ann die still touches my heart and, no matter how many times I read it, gets me teary-eyed.”
“I read tons of animal stories as a child — dogs, horses, cats, whatever. My sixth-grade teacher actually complained to my mother about it, saying, ‘All she ever reads is horse and dog stories.’ My mother, bless her, replied, ‘I don’t think she’ll still be reading horse stories in five years. The important thing is that she loves to read, right?’ A lot of those stories made me cry (King of the Wind, The Black Stallion, Misty of Chincoteague), but if they were too horrible or didn’t have a happy ending, I never reread them.”
“My favorite book from grade school is King Arthur and His Knights by Mabel Louise Robinson. I read and reread that book and was horribly disappointed when I learned it wasn’t factual. Even now, I can look through my old copy of that book, feel the pages, smell the used-book smell, and I’m taken back to my childhood. It’s a melancholy story, perfect for a young person who needs to learn there’s something beautiful about a world where not every dream comes true. I love it still.”
“I distinctly remember being deeply embarrassed by my mother’s tears when I was a kid. She would cry at commercials, she would cry at parades, she would cry when she was reading to us. So it is with some wry affection to see my kids roll their eyes when my voice falters as I read the close of Charlotte’s Web. As Charlotte weakens and dies, she says to Wilbur, ‘You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.’ Then my kid looks up at me and calls out, ‘Mom’s crying again!’ and I hear a sister or two laughing in response somewhere else. And in that moment I think of my mom, and I think of my daughters when they become moms, and that, dear friends, is the lasting gift of E. B. White. He was Some Writer.”
“I’d have to say, anything by Beatrix Potter. (If pushed, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.) When I was little, I was obsessed with her books and with her life as a writer. Coming from near the Lake District, which is where Potter lived and worked, and being a budding author, even then, she was my role model — I wanted to be her.
Not long ago, my mum unearthed a book of stories, made by me when I was eight. They were all Beatrix Potter rip-offs! I got misty-eyed reading them, remembering how enchanted I was — and still am — by cozy houses made in tree-trunks, naughty rabbits, tailor-mice, and heroic pigs!”
“Alison McGhee and Peter Reynold’s book Little Boy will always bring more than a few tears to my eyes. My three sons are big now and much of the innocence of boyhood that McGhee describes is all a memory. My boys could never get enough of cardboard boxes and each time McGhee and Reynolds return to the refrain ‘and your big cardboard box,’ I’m transported back to those days of scrounging up boxes to become spaceships, boats, and houses. I never thought those days would end … but here I am now, crying over cardboard!”
“I was a cop for 12 years. I write — and read — dark psychological crime fiction, but A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett turns me into a blubbering wreck. It’s the story of young Sara Crewe, and her life at a London boarding school. When her father dies, leaving no money and lots of debt, the head teacher takes away all Sara’s luxuries and sends her to live in the attic, earning her keep by cleaning the school. Despite this terrible treatment, Sara lets her imagination take her to wonderful places, telling stories to the other schoolgirls and making friends with an Indian man whose pet monkey runs into Sara’s attic room. It’s a sad, beautiful, and ultimately uplifting tale of friendship and positive thought. I love it.”
Clare Mackintosh is the author of Let Me Lie, a thriller about a woman who is unable to accept that her parents committed suicide and finds herself on a mission to find out who could have murdered them.
“The Giver by Lois Lowry was an important book for me growing up. It’s a dystopian novel in which the main character is able to step out of the reality that has been created for him and see beyond. This was an incredibly powerful message for me as a kid. Jonas’s struggles and ultimate realization of the truth always made me teary-eyed as much as it motivated and inspired me to see beyond ‘expectations.’”
“When I was about ten years old, I read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It was my first introduction to science fiction. I was so impressed that I wrote a letter to L’Engle, and to my delight she replied. At that point, I decided that I wanted to be like the characters in the book. I wanted to explore and write about exceptional abilities and invisible realities. I had no idea how one would go about doing that, but as I examine the wrinkle in time associated with my scientific career, I see that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.”
“Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, is the story of a mother’s love for her child — unconditional and unending. It’s my story. My daughter is adopted. For months all I had was a tiny photo of a dark-eyed baby frowning at the camera. That face was etched into my heart.
I remember the first time I saw her.
‘Where are you going?’ my husband whispered.
‘That’s her,’ I said. And it was.
I remember holding my child, promising, ‘I’ll love you forever.’
‘I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.’”
“One of my all-time favorite children’s books was a relatively obscure 1970 novel called Andrew, the Big Deal by much-acclaimed Barbara Brooks Wallace. It’s more of a happy book than a sad one, so if I tear up it is out of nostalgia for a great read that meant a lot to me as an adolescent. A reader can’t help but be on Andrew’s side, not just because he’s funny and lovable, but because his family doesn’t always appreciate him or the stresses he faces after they move from California to Washington, D.C. By the way, Barbara Brooks Wallace is 94 years old, and her website is a delight! Check it out here.”
“It’s always difficult to choose a favorite book from my childhood, as reading played an important role in my upbringing. We read by the fire on a snowy winter day. We read before bed night after night and our requests for ‘just one more’ were always met with enthusiasm. We read on the porch on sultry summer nights, the slight breeze off the ocean lulling us to sleep. Reading was what we did.
Though both my parents read to the four of us often, it was my father who had the gift of bringing stories to life. He put voices to the characters like nothing I’ve ever seen, and he made each book memorable. Miss Suzy by Miriam Young takes up space in my heart to this very day. It’s the story of a little gray squirrel who is chased from her cozy home in the old oak tree by a band of unkind red squirrels. She takes cover in the attic of a nearby home, where she befriends a group of abandoned toy soldiers and creates a home for them in an old dollhouse. In this story of friendship and standing up to bullies, the soldiers help Miss Suzy reclaim her home and return to her life at the tip-top of the old oak tree. To this day, I can still hear my father bringing the soldiers to life and using the story to encourage us to be assertive and confident.
It should be noted, however, that Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola is a very close second. Nobody did a better Big Anthony than my father, and the laughter around the table as he acted out the characters brings happy tears to my eyes every time I walk down that particular path on memory lane.”
“Charlotte’s Web and Old Yeller make me so sad that I can hardly bear to think about them. On a happier note, while I was a huge fan of Nancy Drew, the book that has stayed with me is The Ghost Rock Mystery by Mary C. Jane. It has all the elements of a fabulous mystery for kids. The protagonists are children staying at their aunt’s guest house. A sinister stranger is creeping around on the floor above them, a mysterious light signals someone at night, and they hear the pounding of horse hooves in a rock! What could be more fun?”
Krista Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of the Paws and Claws Mystery series, including its newest installment, Not a Creature Was Purring. She also writes the Domestic Divas Mystery series.
What children’s book still makes you misty-eyed? Share with us in the comments below.