So, I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was, um, maybe 30? And I had the eerie sensation, while reading it, of "Wow, I would have really grooved on this had I read it when I was 9." Especially that special weird bank that you nail to the floor.
But the thing was, I didn't read it when I was 9, and so it kind of … wasn't that great. It was more sort of sweet. But it left me cold.
Which makes me think that some books have a sort of shelf life, except it's an age life. (Whereas some, like Green Eggs and Ham, are perfect anytime!) But they have, all of them, true greatness, and it's so worth it to be able to experience it to its utmost.
So, foolishly no doubt, I'm going to go ahead and make a completely talking-out-my-ass stab at listing some of them and the ages at which they should be read (or read to you) the first time. Once you get them in that first time, then you can reread them forever.
And then again, as C.S. Lewis said in his note to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, "My dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not
realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are
already to old for fairy tales…but some day you will be old enough to
start reading fairy tales again.”
That always kills me.
Before you're 9:Now We Are Six
(and all the Winnie the Pooh, books;
Before you're 11:
The Secret Garden
The Jungle Book
Before you're 12:
Anne of Green Gables
All of a Kind Family
Before you're 14:Robinson Crusoe
Before you're 15:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Before you're 16:
Before you're 20:
Look Homeward, Angel
Before you're 25 (but after you're 13, maybe?):
The Book of Daniel
Update: The Book of Daniel is the novel by E.L. Doctorow, and I was too out of it to remember to link it or note that—sorry!