1. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
Under the now-famous pen name James Herriot, James Alfred Wight, a British veterinarian, wrote semiautobiographical stories centering on veterinary practice and country life. All Creatures Great and Small is one such collection, following a young veterinarian who moves to the rolling hills of Yorkshire. An international bestseller that was later adapted into a television series, this collection will delight any and all animal lovers.
2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Meg, Amy, Beth, and, of course, Jo. There’s a reason why, since its first publication in 1868, Little Women has endured (check out the five different film and two television adaptations for further proof). And while petticoats and Civil War–era domesticity may not immediately appeal to today’s youth, teenagers with fall in love and identify with fiercely independent and spirited Jo in her quest to find herself.
3. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
There’s nothing like an animal story to get the ol’ tear ducts working overtime, and Where the Red Fern Grows is a classic of the genre. Fun fact: The book was marketed to adults in its initial publication, but after languishing on bookshelves for six years, an agent arranged for the author to speak at a conference for librarians and schoolteachers, who were offered copies of the book. It then experienced a surge of popularity among young adults that has lasted well into the twenty-first century.
4. West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Think Amelia Earhart—but in Africa. Beryl Markham’s remarkable memoir chronicles her life in Kenya in the early decades of the twentieth century. A true nonconformist, Markham earned her pilot’s license and became the first woman to successfully fly east to west across the Atlantic ocean. Featuring action, adventure, an exotic landscape, and a bit of romance—what more could a budding adventurer ask for?
5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Undoubtedly one of the most beloved American coming-of-age stories, Betty Smith’s immensely relatable story focuses on an Irish American family living in a tenement in pre-hipster Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The novel tracks the life of young Francie Nolan from age twelve to seventeen as she transcends the poverty into which she was born in order to further her education in college.
6. Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes
Mother. Dad. Twelve kids. Hijinks, understandably, ensue. In Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel, Belles on Their Toes, siblings Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey recount the barely contained chaos that characterized their upbringing. It will make your dinner-table drama seem tame by comparison.
7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The dynamic wit of Mark Twain prevails in this undeniable American classic. Set in the antebellum South, the story is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Frequently contested and often banned, the novel is a sharp satire of the prevalent racial prejudice that existed in Twain’s day—and that continues to exist even now.