We Recommend, Good Girl Edition

This feature, in which we recommend books based on what you tell us in an email, is going to be around throughout our summer vacation. I am trying to catch up on all the kind people who have been patiently waiting for a recommendation.  If you have specific questions, needs, or desires (my child is a reluctant reader who loves carnage but hates cats) send it to us here, and we will do our best to recommend the right book for you. And, as always, please don’t hesitate to put in your own recommendations!

A young lady has just turned 8. She loves chapter books, and she loves to read on her own, but there is a catch: she has trouble relating to the main characters of the books she’s been reading. She herself is quiet and mannerly; she is not boisterous, and she is not a trouble-maker. She likes animal stories but not fantasy, and she is looking for a character she can related to.
This is an interesting problem, because so many of those sweet old-fashioned books seem to turn on the troubles of a rapscallion-like girl in the mores of yesteryear, I'm thinking of Anne of Green Gables and even the Little House books. It's as though she might want to read the story of Mary Ingalls rather than Laura. There are, of course, all the American Girl books, but surely we can do better than that, right? (Though I will tell the mom that that might be a good way to go.)
A caveat: the book I am recommending is a book I remember from approximately 1 million years ago, when I was a little girl. And an additional caveat: after some discussion with my older sister, who this little girl reminds me of a bit, it seems that this book might have a very strong Catholic bent. Whether this works for you or doesn’t is purely a personal choice:

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This book, in my memory, is about a girl who discovers she is almost blind and gets glasses and then everything is different. In the description of the book that I’ve found, it’s about a girl and her family and cerebral palsy. I can’t figure out this discrepancy, but I can say that what I came away from the book with, as a child, was its sense of powerful and genuine sweetness.
I would also consider those excellent horse books, My Friend Flicka et al.
The other book I wanted to recommend is similarly one from childhood, but I can’t remember the title! It’s about a girl who’s the oldest, kindest girl at an orphanage, who spends the summer with two different families: an older single woman, and a hearty, happy farm family. She is such a nice, kind, and helpful girl that they both want to adopt her, and she has to choose which family. Does anyone know the name of this book? It’s been driving me crazy for a bit too long now.
And does anyone know of the right book for this yearning little girl?

20 thoughts on “We Recommend, Good Girl Edition

  1. I know the reader is 8, but I I am not sure how advanced a reader. Maybe some of the following:
    Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley
    Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
    Happy Times in Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgrin
    Little Women and Little Men (one of the simpler versions- almost all are abridged versions so it is just a matter of picking the right one)
    The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
    Baby Island by Caroline Ryrie Brink
    Mr. Popper’s Penguins
    The Betsy Tacy books- the early ones anyway
    All of a Kind Family
    James Herriot’s Treasury for Children: Warm and Joyful Tales by the Author of All Creatures Great and Small
    Four Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright- or our perennial favorite Gone Away Lake

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  2. What about the “Puppy Place” series? The DOGS get into trouble, but the kids are pretty obedient. Or maybe The Boxcar Children?

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  3. Seconding Elizabeth Enright and All of a Kind Family. The kids get into adventures, but I don’t remember them as being too mischievous.
    How about some of Jean Little’s books? Mine for Keeps and From Anna come to mind. And maybe Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.
    For animal books, how about Misty of Chincoteague, or the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel?

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  4. Adopted Jane is the book title you’re looking for — I loved that as a kid, too!
    And I think Understood Betsy would be a perfect title for the little girl you’re talking about.

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  5. A lot of my suggestions have already been offered up, but what about some of the Rumer Godden books – The Dolls House, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. And Margery Sharp’s Miss Bianca series might appeal…Miss Bianca, while adventuresome, was always ladylike.

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  6. I loved the book–currently out-of-print–called “There’s a Rainbow in My Closet.” It was written in the 70s, so it is about a girl whose wonderful grandmother actually arranges for a rainbow to appear in her closet (there’s a prism involved).
    Anyway, the heroine is a little girl who is nice, kind, just a little lonely, and a little scared to meet the grandmother who comes to hang out with her while her mom is away on a business trip. The girl loves to draw, is shy, and thinks she might be a bit out of step with many of her classmates, though she’s not worried about it, per se. It’s a sweet and thoughtful book–not a lot happens, adventure-wise, but all the moments are important. (As you can tell, I loved that book.)

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  7. Maybe you’re conflating Wren with a couple of Jean Little’s titles? From Anna is about a girl who gets glasses (her family finally realizes, only then, that she can hardly see); Mine for Keeps is about a girl with cerebral palsy. (I haven’t actually, um, read Wren, so I could be way off base here. But Karen Killilea had cerebral palsy. Jean Little is in fact blind, or has very little vision.)
    I’m enjoying your blog and have written down a number of suggestions–thanks!

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  8. How about the black stallion series? I started reading it about age 7 or 8 and loved it for years….
    Also, depending on level of maturity – I started reading A Wrinkle in Time at 8 or 9, and loved it and all the sequels….
    Also,
    Charlotte’s Web
    The Boxcar Children
    National Velvet (might be a little old)
    James and the Giant Peach, or The BFG
    A Little Princess

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  9. I second the MIss Bianca suggestion. I know where this little girl is coming from – when I was little, I always felt bad for Beezus when Ramona would act up.
    The Egypt Game has a couple of sweet obedient girls and one somewhat “wild” girl, who turns out to just need some love. Plus the fun of Egyptians.

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  10. How about Julie Andrews’ book, “Mandy?” I loved it as a child. “The Noonday Friends” by
    Mary Stoltz is also great, as is “The Saturdays” series by Elizabeth Enright.

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  11. I’m not sure if it’s too advanced, but my recommendation is “Just David” by Eleanor H. Porter (the author of Pollyanna). It’s a beautiful story about a boy who grows up in the mountains and plays the violin and then is taken in by an older couple when his father dies. He’s very sweet and guileless. I have wonderful memories of reading this as a kid.

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  12. I’m astounded by all the wonderful suggestions. Thank you so very much!! Her birthday is just a month away and now I have suggestions to give each of the grandmothers and more to get from the library!

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  13. One more (sorry, was on vacation): the lesser-known Madeleine L’Engle books, like Meet the Austins, which is written from the POV of Vicky Austin who is a very good girl and is finding her place in the world.
    I also liked Wrinkle in Time for Meg Murray, whose winning personality got me through the sci-fi strangeness of those stories. Austins might be a little old for her, and has some scary themes (the happy Austin family with four kids is turned upside down with the arrival of Maggie, an unruly child who has lost both her parents) but overall is a lovely story full of comfort.
    Also loved the Miss Bianca stories–thanks for the memories and other good suggestions!

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  14. Hi! I thought I would add my suggestions:
    “Swallows and Amazons” – Arthur Ransome
    –A group of boys and girls spend the summer sailing, playing pirates, and having adventures. This is the first book in a series, so if she likes them, there are more!
    “The Borrowers” – Mary Norton
    –A story of little people that live in the floor boards of the house. Also a series.
    “The Littles” – John Peterson
    –Same idea as the Borrowers, little people but with tails. As a child, I didn’t mind the similarity to the Borrowers.

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  15. Oh, and this might be a little old for her, but how about:
    “The Dog who Wouldn’t Be” – Farley Mowat
    — A funny Canadian story, set in the prairies in the 1930s about a boy and his dog’s odd behaviour. (Might be better for reading aloud, as it has some advanced vocabulary. )

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  16. No new ideas, I’m afraid, but I have to second “The Borrowers” and “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” They were both such wonderful books when I was little!
    (Well, possibly “The Island of the Blue Dolphins” or “Julie of the Wolves.” I loved both of those, and they were stories about girls learning to make their way in the world, not battling social norms but the physical world. It might be appealing, and there are animals but they’re not fantasy.)

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