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Over brunch this past Sunday, a prominent mother asked me to recommend some books for her children, since most of them have probably read the latest Harry Potter. Perhaps, she said, I could write some recommendations for back-to-school reading. 

I admit students may ignore this list, since they’re forced to read stuff at school. So, students, think of this list as rebelling from what your teachers tell you to read. (But don’t stop reading your Shakespeare!)

The list below is by no means exhaustive, and you can certainly find more books and better advice at your library.

For kindergarten to Grade 3, Dr. Seuss is the obvious and best choice.

Among his unknown masterpieces are I Can Read With My Eyes Shut and Oh The Thinks You Can Think! I’d also throw in Go Dog Go by Philip D. Eastman and, for fun, Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb.

From Grade 4 to 8, if you’re looking for some fantasy reading, try Lloyd Alexander’s five-book series, The Prydain Chronicles; the best are the first two, The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron. Also read Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.

In early high school, from Grade 9-10, if you’re still into the fantasy genre, check out Piers Anthony’s books set in the magical land of Xanth – he’s written about a bazillion such books. Anthony’s also got some good books outside of Xanth, my favourite being On A Pale Horse.

Staying in early high school, mature readers should go through Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Don’t let their reputation fool you; these are not simply children’s books. Roald Dahl is another good author to try. Of course, read his standards James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

His unknown works are worth a look, too – my favourite is The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, and Six More.

As cynicism begins to set in by Grade 11-12, it’s nice to read authors who agree with you about the crumminess of the world.

You ought to read anything by Kurt Vonnegut, as well as J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version.

Those of you attending post-secondary school should forget about reading anything heavy; between assigned readings and “extra- curricular activities,” you won’t have any time to bash through a novel.

However, you’ll have time for short stories, so check out Jorge Luis Borges.

Most of the stuff he wrote was only a few pages long, but don’t let the length fool you – his short stories are very challenging. And I wouldn’t be a good library student if I didn’t especially recommend Borges’ The Library of Babel.


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