Generation-Defining Books

By Sara Hoffmann
Senior Editor

What are the children’s books of your generation? You know the ones I mean. The ones that lined the display cases in your elementary school’s library. The ones your teachers read to you when you were growing up.

Here’s my (partial) list. See if anything on it brings back memories.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
This classic book by Judith Viorst follows the plight of young Alexander as he finds gum in his hair, trips over his skateboard, and drops his sweater in the sink. Ray Cruz’s pen-and-ink illustrations perfectly capture Alexander’s despair. The drawing of our hero looking humiliated as he’s forced to wear his choo-choo-train pajamas to bed is priceless. Alexander was always a favorite in my elementary school classrooms. I know a lot of people my age who can still quote from it by heart.

Miss Nelson is Missing!
(cover pictured)
Harry Allard’s Miss Nelson was often met with cheers when my teachers would read it aloud. It tells the story of a misbehaving class who comes to school one day only to find their kindly classroom teacher missing. She’s been replaced by Miss Viola Swamp, an evil substitute dressed in trademark spiky heels and a long black dress. Miss Swamp frightens the students into good behavior. The next day, when Miss Nelson returns, the class is good as gold. But a glimpse into Miss Nelson’s closet reveals a long black dress. Was Miss Swamp really who the students thought she was?

Where the Sidewalk Ends
This collection of Shel Silverstein poems is as fresh today as it was when I was in grade school. Classics such as “Sick,” “For Sale,” and “Boa Constrictor” hold endless appeal for kids (and adults too)! Other Silverstein favorites like A Light in the Attic and The Giving Tree were also popular read-alouds. LPG’s hilarious Brian Cleary books—especially Rainbow Soup—always call Silverstein to mind for me.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale
This selection by Verna Aardema is a cautionary story about lying. In it, Mosquito tells a tall tale that sets off a disastrous series of events. Mother Owl ends up so upset that she’ll no longer hoot to wake the sun. In the end, order is restored among the animals. But Mosquito develops an annoying habit: She buzzes in people’s ears to ask if they’re still mad at her.

Don’t see the books of your generation here? Leave a comment and tell me all about them!