An Annotated Booklist of Children’s Classics
By Christopher B. Warner
There is nothing quite so delightful as sitting down by a crackling fire in the living room with the entire family on a chilly evening and reading aloud a great story. It doesn’t have to be the Bible or the life of a saint, but you want it to be good. Christian leaders from the beginning understood the importance of reading secular literature when it is compatible with a Christian ethos. Clement, an early-third century bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, wrote that it is important to be familiar with the stories of secular literature, gleaning whatever is noble and beneficial for catechesis and human formation.
Secular literature, read in light of Christian anthropology and moral truth, naturally compliments and prepares one for more serious learning because great literature fosters contemplation on the human experience. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis wrote about the importance of fantasy, story, and myth which inspires the moral imagination and trains young hearts to feel rightly about good and evil so that they can think clearly as adults.
This does not mean that all secular literature is good. Some children’s books can actually pervert and damage young minds by teaching them to respond disorderly to things that are good or to befriend things that are evil. It is totally naive to deny that there are secular authors who are indoctrinating our children with very dangerous ideas through literature. As a guide to critiquing children’s books in general, because there are so many children’s books, I recommend Michael O’Brien’s, A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for your Child’s Mind (1998). O’Brien’s guidelines are full of common sense principles and perennial wisdom for parents of young readers. Reading a biographical sketch of an author and a particular work on Wikipedia may be another good place to start. Is the author someone you would like to have over for dinner? If not, maybe your child should not be reading his books.
As a fourth grade teacher, parents sometimes ask me for good book recommendations. Often I have handed out reading lists to parents without having read all of the books on the list – booklists written by literature experts who are doubtless much more knowledgeable about literature than I am. However, one thing I have noticed that is lacking in most of these booklists is an explanation of why these books are important to read. The aim of this list is to recommend a few particular works and give one or two reasons why I recommend them. Properly assimilated, good books will inspire wonder, foster virtue, and tutor the emotions. The child who is deprived of good books will not be sufficiently formed as a human and, consequently, will not be able to comprehend and integrate the great ideas of Christianity nor the arts and sciences of Western Civilization.
Different books are read for different reasons. Some stories are told for the purpose of frightening children away from bad behavior, while other stories showcase heroes that are obviously meant to be imitated. Other books, like Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, can be dangerous for an immature child with poor habits of virtue, but beneficial for a mature student who can distinguish Tom’s treacherous employment of imagination, time, and energy from the author’s exquisite picture of 19th century, rural life on the Mississippi River. Parents most know their children and what they are ready for.
Undoubtedly, one of the strongest reasons for reading a plethora of classic English literature is precisely because it helps young readers gain a command of the English language for reading comprehension, conversation, public address, and composition. Unfortunately, this important point has been overstated by English literature professors who almost exclusively value written prose based on the composition of well crafted sentences and the use of exquisite vocabulary while ignoring, or even praising, the moral perverseness of literary content. Children’s literature must be both beautifully, well written and contribute to the virtuous formation of youth. While many novels come close to what one might call ‘pure entertainment’, I would encourage parents to vigilantly guard their children against impure, immoral content.
It would behoove parents to read books before their children do and talk to them about the stories they are reading. Here are a few questions that can be asked which will assist in training a child to experience what C.S. Lewis would call ‘right ordered emotional responses’ to literature: What are the virtues and vices that stand out in the main character; and in supporting characters? How do these virtues and vices develop and bear fruit in the character’s growth as a human person? What are the consequences of bad decisions and how does this play out in the story?
Often times, classic stories feature children or adults who make bad decisions and consequently suffer. These stories reinforce virtue by deterring children from bad behavior. The child can see that suffering was the result of poor judgment in a character. However, sometimes this point needs to be pointed out to children. A conversation between parent and child can bring out the subtle themes of a story. Literature can present the invaluable opportunity of learning from other people’s mistakes without having to learn a lesson the hard way through life experience. Parents know when their particular child is mature enough or in need of such a story.
There are a few old books that are part of the corpus of English classics because of the universal importance they have played in the childhood experience of Western youth throughout time. These are important to read for cultural literacy. These stories often come up as examples in the arts and sciences and in modern literature. Those who neglect these works will be the person who nervously laughs at a literary reference out of courtesy instead of comprehension. Being on the ‘inside’ of Western cultural literacy also sets a foundation for the communication of ideas. There are certain stories English authors assume one has read as a child: the Greek and Roman myths, Aesop’s Fables, Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Mother Goose, the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson, and a few others. But John Senior, the late comparative literature professor at the University of Kansas once said that one should read a thousand good books in one’s lifetime. Here are a number of good books that have stood the test of time. The following is obviously not an exhaustive list but rather a short list of good books that I have read and that I recommend.
I have divided the list into five sections which correspond to school grades, stages of reading development, and intellectual maturity: Grades K-2 (learning how to read), Grades 3-4 (the age of reason), Grades 5-6 (pre-adolescence), Grades 7-9 (adolescence), and Grades 10-12 (young adults who are beginning to see the realities of the world). With the exception of the first stage, these are books that children can be reading on their own. If an adult is reading to a child, a higher level of reading is possible, for example, our four year old loves the Little House Series. No good book is too elementary for an older student to read.
GRADES K-2 AND UP
Aesop: Fables – From Ancient Greece, these are classic animal tales with an explicit moral.
Anderson, Hans Christian: Fairy Tales and The Brothers Grimm: Fairy Tales - These stories form a child’s moral imagination by creating stories which teach the love of good and the hatred of evil. Young children are also warned about dangers that cannot be openly discussed at their age, such as kidnapping and pedophilia (the big bad wolf), through allegory. Vigilant parents will pre-read ahead in these collections.
Harris, Joel Chandler: Uncle Remus (Brer Rabbit stories) - Not at all politically correct and written in dialect, these stories are meant to be read out loud. They are comical morality tales which give a good insight into Southern culture before the Civil War.
Kipling, Rudyard: Just So Stories and The Jungle Book - Just So Stories are of the nonsense genre of literature which is important for learning vocabulary and language constructions. Young children love the goofiness of this type of story and poetry.
Lear, Edward: Nonsense Omnibus - Lear is the master of nonsense poetry.
Mother Goose - These and other anthologies of children’s poetry are generally good as long as the words have not been tampered with in order to make the poems politically correct. Mother Goose poems accompanied by beautiful illustrations are best. Poetry is meant to be memorized and children will memorize these poems effortlessly, if you read them over and over again.
Milne, A.A.: Winnie the Pooh and others - These stories capture the sentiment of a boy whose stuffed animals come to life. The various personalities and temperaments represented in the funny characters expose the child to the richness of personal relationships and ironical humor. The delightful adventures also inspire play outdoors.
Potter, Beatrix: Peter Rabbit and 23 others - These charming tales introduce children to the everyday activities of animals. The detailed stories, related with superb vocabulary, help children develop the imagination and be more observant of nature.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls: Little House in the Big Woods and the Little House series - Stories of pioneer life, this is another series that could be read aloud and enjoined by family members of all ages. The Ingalls family is a model family of Christian virtue. This series can be read and re-read.
GRADES 3-4 AND UP
Brink, Carol: Caddie Woodlawn - This is the story of a pioneer girl who grew up in Wisconsin. Similar to Laura Ingles Wilder
Collodi: Pinocchio - This is a story about a boy who always gets into trouble and never learns his lesson. The intent of the author is to purge the young reader of any desire to be disobedient, stupid, or bad.
Edmonds, Walter: The Matchlock Gun - Young readers will love this book about a boy who has to be brave while his father is away with the militia. American settlers and hostile Indians…
Henry, Marguerite: Justin Morgan Had a Horse, King of the Wind, and others - These are enjoyable stories for the horse lover.
Irving, Washington: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and others - Humorous tales from early America written in exquisite prose.
Knight, Eric: Lassie, Come Home - This is a heartwarming story about a boy and his loyal dog. It is a culture study of Northern England and Scotland.
Lang, Andrew (ed.): Arabian Nights - This is mostly for cultural literacy. The value of it will become clearer with time as the child reads countless other books which reference these stories.
Lewis, C.S.: The Chronicles of Narnia - Lewis was a master of Christian allegory. One will recognize themes from Lewis’ philosophy and theology illustrated throughout his stories. These are great books for evening, fireside reading as a family. Children will enjoy them numerous times during one’s lifetime.
Malory, Sir Thomas: The Boy’s King Arthur - This is the edited version of Le Mort d’Arthur for children. These stories of chivalry are essential for fostering loyalty in friendship and gentlemanly conduct among boys.
Porter, Eleanor: Pollyanna - Pollyanna is a virtuous girl who helps others around her to be grateful for the blessings in life. Pollyanna is one of many stories that were ruined by Walt Disney (I am not a fan of Disney who was visibly anti-Christian, overtly pagan, and systematically corrupted the minds of youth for decades. For more on Disney see Michael O’Brien, A Landscape with Dragons). I recommend the book, Pollyanna, not the Disney movie.
Porter, Gene Stratton: Freckles and others - These stories inspire wonder for God’s creation. They are about children who spend most of their time outdoors – books like this will assist in supplanting video game culture with a culture of outdoor life.
Pyle, Howard: Some Merry Adventures of Robin Hood; and others - Unfortunately, Disney and other moderns made Robin Hood into a Marxist who ‘steals from the rich to give to the poor.’ This is not the real Robin Hood. Older versions of Robin Hood, like the Pyle version, show his true colors as a loyal subject to the true king, defender of the oppressed, a man of prayer, a chivalrous gentlemen, and a skilled man at arms.
Rawls, Wilson: Where the Red Fern Grows - This is another heartwarming tale about a boy and his dogs peppered with themes of loyalty and friendship.
Sewell, Anna: Black Beauty - The story of a 19th century London cab horse. The adventures are told from the horse’s perspective and written in beautiful prose.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls: Little House on the Prairie, and all the others - The Wilder family is a model family. These stories are the classic pioneer tales for children. Centered on Laura, these semi-autobiographical novels weave together themes of perseverance, hard work, obedience, love, forgiveness, agrarian life, and self-sacrifice. Laura captured the ‘pioneer spirit’ on paper for all succeeding generations.
GRADES 5-6 AND UP
Alcott, Louisa May: Little Women, Little Men and others - Less well know than Little Women, Little Men is a great story about boys who learn virtue through school activities, gardening, and play. Their character is tested when a wild boy joins their school.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice: Tarzan series - These stories glorify the ape-man, Tarzan. Burroughs was influenced by Darwin’s macro-evolutionary theory and Rousseau’s false idea of the ‘noble’ savage. Nevertheless, besides being highly entertaining, they do give an interesting insight into the communal nature of man. Without human interaction, Tarzan has developed into a sub-human beast. It begs the questions of whether or not rugged individualism is good. Tarzan is obviously a savage, not a saint.
Burnett, Frances Hodgson: The Secret Garden - The Secret Garden is about finding healing. All of the characters are wounded, physically or psychologically, and find healing through restoring a garden to health.
Dickens, Charles: Christmas Carol - This is a great short story to read and discuss as a family around Christmas time. Dickens is a master novelist who will be especially enjoyed by children as they age and mature. This novelette is a good introduction to Dickens. The use of language and the Christmas time images are charming. A story of redemption and selfless generosity…
Defoe, Daniel: Robinson Crusoe - This is the original ‘castaway’ story about a man who survives a shipwreck and learns to live self-sufficiently through his ingenuity on an uninhabited island. Part of the literary canon, this story will not fail to entertain the young reader and fill his mind with schemes of survival in the wild.
Dodge, Mary: Hans Brinker - There are many good themes in this book. One theme is that of selfless love between family members. The story takes place in mid-19th century Holland and is a study of that country and culture.
Forbes, Esther: Johnny Tremain - About a Boston boy who lives through the war for American independence, this story give accurate cultural insight into the time period.
George, Jean: My Side of the Mountain - The premise for this story is not very good – a boy runs away from home to live in the woods. However, it is an engaging modern day version of the Robinson Crusoe theme and a 1960 Newbery Medal Honor.
Grahame, Kenneth: Wind in the Willows - This story would be best understood if read aloud as a family; written at a middle school level, if read out loud, the whole family will enjoy this story. Similar to Beatrix Potter, it blends human habits and emotions with animal behavior in a hilarious tale about friendship and adventure set against the backdrop of a charming, English, rural setting.
Henty, George William: The Young Carthaginian (2nd Punic War), In Freedom's Cause (William Wallace), With Lee in Virginia (Civil War). Boys will particularly enjoy Henty as one of the great British historical fiction writers. Henty died in the early 20th century so his novels take place before then and are written from a British perspective. However, he is very anti-Catholic so pre-reading of his other hundred novels is recommended.
Latham, Jean Lee: Carry on Mr. Bowditch – This 1956 Newbery Award Winner is one of my very favorites. This is an epic adventure story about New England sailors. Bowditch is a navigator who will inspire any student to take their studies in hand as lifelong learners. The story blends adventure with practical applications of mathematics, astronomy, and the arts.
Montgomery, L.M.: Anne of Green Gables – Young ladies will take delight in learning from Anne’s mistakes. A quick tempered, hardheaded, lofty minded, endearing girl gets into a lot of trouble. Thankfully, Anne learns from her mistakes, as well, and matures into a fine young woman.
North, Sterling. Captured by the Mohawks - This 17th century novel tells the adventure of a young French-Canadian who has adventures among the Indians.
Serrailer, Ian (trans.): Beowulf - This epic is the oldest tale we have in the English language. It is about a warrior-hero who fights monsters – a must read. Serrailer captures the essence of the tale without getting bogged down in the genealogical mire of early medieval literature.
Speare, Elizabeth: The Bronze Bow, and The Sign of the Beaver - Speare is a two time Newbery medal winner, an exceptional 20th century children’s book author. The Bronze Bow is an historical novel which takes place in Palestine under the Roman Empire during the time of Christ. This book is hard to put down. The Sign of the Beaver is a story of courage and growing-up. A young boy is left alone in the woods and befriends the Indians.
Spyri, Johanna: Heidi - This is an inspiring story about the love and loyalty of family members, which takes place in the breath-taking Alps.
Stevenson, Robert Louis: Treasure Island; Kidnapped, and others - These stories are about good guys and bad guys. The boy, Jim, in Treasure Island has to fight pirates and make many ethical decisions under difficult circumstances. Most of Stevenson’s poetry is also very good and recognizable.
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit - This story has a special place in my heart because my father read it to my siblings and me several times when we were young. I have many fond memories of sitting around the open fire in the living room eating lembas (sesame seed, honey candies) and listening to Dad read. My father was my 4th grade teacher and he read The Hobbit to us as part of our classics curriculum. He also taught us the Tengwar alphabet used by the elves. Like all good fairy tales, The Hobbit is a story of good conquering evil through trial and heroic sacrifice. Although Tolkien disliked explicit allegory, the dragon has always been an icon of the devil. There is no better way to inspire healthy spiritual development in young boys then to fill their imaginations with the works of bold men who cleave goblins, stab spiders, and slay dragons.
Verne, Jules: Around the World in Eighty Days; and many others - These are entertaining travel and adventure stories. Verne is one of the fathers of the science fiction novel.
GRADES 7-9 AND UP
Cervantes, Miguel: Adventures of Don Quixote - The humorous adventures of a Spanish “knight” will bring out the optimist. Don Quixote sees everything in a noble, innocent light.
Crane, Stephen: Red Badge of Courage - This story is about the realities of ephemeral courage on the battlefield where not every man is a hero. A civil war classic…
Dana, Richard Henry: Two Year Before the Mast - A contemporary of Melville, Dana tells this adventure from the common sailor’s perspective. Entertaining and rich with 19th century vocabulary, this is the unromantic tale of a seaman on duty – arduous sea duty. Relive the days when sailing from San Diego to Boston meant several months of hard sailing and the treacheries of frigid Cape Horn!
Dickens, Charles: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Old Curiosity Shop, and others - David Copperfield was important for me to read before I got married. Secular society has always been full of funny ideas about what will make us happy in life. Asking Katy to marry me was the best decision I ever made. I contribute this to God’s providence and to the principles I learned from the wisdom of such great men as Charles Dickens. The young protagonist of this story, David, learns through trial what kind of a woman makes a good wife. Yet, it is hardly a romance novel, per se. Dickens explores several themes: poverty, the nature of friendship, starting a career, death, scandal, and the vital importance of distinguishing good from bad ‘character’ in others.
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: Sherlock Holmes series - Sherlock Holmes is a master of observation and logical deduction – perfect for adolescence.
Dumas, Alexandre: The Count of Monte Cristo - Themes include: fidelity, friendship, courage, and perseverance in action packed, 19th century France.
Hamilton, Edith: Mythology - These are the classic Greek, Roman, and Norse myths, which are most important for understanding countless literary references for the rest of one’s life.
Henty, George William: The Young Carthaginian (2nd Punic War), In Freedom's Cause (William Wallace), With Lee in Virginia (Civil War). Boys will particularly enjoy Henty as one of the great British historical fiction writers. Henty died in the early 20thcentury so his novels take place before then and are written from a British perspective. However, he is very anti-Catholic so pre-reading of his other hundred novels is a recommended. Between 5th and 7th Grade, boys will start to enjoy Henty; he is an expert in Old World history. He is also an outdoorsman who likes to work practical knowledge about woodcraft and seamanship into his novels.
Hilton, J.: Good-bye Mr. Chips - This story features English school boys in a boarding house with their teacher, Mr. Chips, who becomes like a father to them.
Hubbard, Elbert. A Message to Garcia - This short story is an inspiring tale about a soldier who overcomes all obstacles to do his duty. It is about taking initiative.
Hugo, Victor: Les Miserables and others - Les Miserables is an epic tale of selfless love, romance, and adventure set during the French Revolution.
Keith, Herold: Rifles for Watie - This is a Civil War fiction about a boy and his adventures as a scout. A 1958 Newbery Medal winner, this story is a well researched historical fiction of that beloved era.
Kipling, Rudyard: Kim and others - An Irish orphan boy in India becomes a spy. Kipling’s descriptions of India capture a very unique period in history, British colonialism. This story about Kim will, like Sherlock Homes, inspire attention to detail and keen observation. The setting for this story is so intriguing; it is also a great introduction to world religions.
London, Jack: Call of the Wild and others - London, like Edger Rice Burroughs, was very much influenced by Darwin. I recommend these with caution. London’s stories include the theme of ‘survival of the fittest’ in the wild. They are harsh adventure stories of the frigid Northwest. However, London’s descriptions and use of language outweigh his faults as long as the reader is mature and able to recognize the brutality of his rugged individualism.
Malory, Sir Thomas: Le Mort d’Arthur - These stories of chivalry are essential for fostering loyalty in friendship and gentlemanly conduct among men. I recommend these stories with caution to adolescence because of the sexual content. Parents should discuss these tales with their children. The context of this ‘adult’ content is right ordered because it upholds virginity and condemns fornication and adultery, but parents should be aware of this content.
Scott, Sir Walter: Ivanhoe and others - Chivalry, knights, good stuff…similar to the above.
Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein - The purpose of Shelley’s novel is show the difference between what science can do and what it ought to do. This story should lead into discussions about stem cell research, cloning, etc.
Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V - Aristotle said the purpose of Tragedy is to purge the soul of disordered passions through fear, pity, and affection for the characters. Tragedy acts out a defect of character, in one or many of the players, to its logical, natural, tragic conclusion. Romeo and Juliet illustrates the twin follies of adolescence: unbridled infatuation and violent machismo. It warns of its inevitable consequences: suffering and avoidable death. I prefer watching Shakespeare plays to reading them, but recommend both.
Sienkiewicz: Quo Vadis - A historical novel and love story which takes place against the backdrop of the early Christians in late, first century Rome.
Song of Roland - The oldest epic poem in French literature, this amazing story of pride and bravery is about a tragic battle during the reign of Charlemagne.
Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver’s Travels - One of the oldest, English, children’s story writers, Swift is a master of details. He inspires wonder for everyday things through a different perspective on them – everything is in miniature or humongous.
Tolkien, J.R.R.: The Lord of the Rings - Tolkien is the master of fantasy and myth. His stories of struggle between good and evil are epic tales of fidelity, courage, trust, friendship, and mastery over temptations. Tolkien set out to write a mythology for England and succeeded in inflaming the imagination of millions. Tolkien is worth reading again and again.
Twain, Mark: Huckleberry Finn (but not others) - I recommend Twain with caution, but Huckleberry Finn stands out as both well written and morally profound. Tom Sawyer is exposed by Huck as a bad egg and a liar, but Tom doesn’t come into this story much. The hero of the story is the negro, Jim. Huck is a humble protagonist who often does the right thing without realizing it. They both have a delightfully original sense of morality that contrasts colorfully with slave-state prejudices.
Wallace, L.: Ben Hur - An historical novel that takes place during the time of Our Lord’s life on earth, it is a story of adventure, escape from captivity, revenge, conversion, repentance, and redemption. Here again, I will also recommend the epic movie starring Charlton Heston, one of the greatest movies of all time.
GRADES 10 AND UP
Augustine of Hippo: Confessions - This is St Augustine’s autobiography of conversion from paganism to Christianity – very appropriate for our post-modern age.
Austen, Jane: Pride and Prejudice, and others - This novel is exceptional and perhaps Austen’s best. Young men and women will give much thought to the formation of their character in preparation for marriage after reading these books.
Bronte, Charlotte: Jane Eyre - A love story about a tragic secret, fidelity, and a happy ending
Cather, Willa: My Antonia, Death Comes for the Archbishop and others - Cather captures the pioneer days for adults. Cather is an author whose novels exude a lightness of spirit and a gentle beauty.
Chaucer Geoffrey: Canterbury Tales - This is the classic 14th century collection of short stories written in Middle English. Begin with the Prologue because it lays out the entire work. Try to read it in Middle English; it helps to read it out loud.
Columbus, Christopher: Four Voyages to the New World - The true story of Columbus in his own words. Columbus was a devoted Christian and a good man, but proud, yet, not the villain he is often made to be.
Dickens, Charles: Our Mutual Friend, Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities and others - Our Mutual Friend is about the difficulties of owning a large sum of money; hilarious plot; great characters. Great Expectations is a little depressing, but it shows the importance of true love and friendship vs. the dangerous illusions of external beauty and popularity. Tale of Two Cities is a beautiful love story about selflessness during the ugly French Revolution.
Dostoyevsky, Feodor: Crime and Punishment, Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot - Dostoyevsky is the master of psychological drama. Dostoyevsky will take you into the mind of a murderer in Crime and Punishment and you will think you did the murder yourself. My favorite is The Idiot. The Idiot follows a simple, virtuous man trapped in the insufferable drama of late 19th century ‘high society.’ The ‘holy fool’ is a beloved character of Russian literature.
Eliot, George: Silas Marner, Middlemarch, and others - Silas Marner is a beautiful story about finding true wealth in family relationships, not in gold. Middlemarch captures the tragic drama of life in mid-19th century England – a time of political turmoil.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel: Scarlet Letter - This novel illustrates the hypocrisy of puritanical New England. It is a story of redemption, service, and agonizing conscience.
Herriot, James: All Creatures Great and Small series - These are charming semi-autobiographical stories about a country vet in Yorkshire, England. His stories are a delightful culture study of early-20th century Yorkshire farmers.
Homer: the Iliad and the Odyssey - One who skips these will miss countless references. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology gives an introduction to the stories. A bird’s eyes view may help get the ball rolling if you are overwhelmed by the size and archaic language of these tales. The Odyssey is much easier to read than the Iliad which may be too much blood and gore for the faint of heart.
Lagerof, Selma: Jerusalem - This is a powerful story about the dangers of unbridled spiritual mysticism, Christian individualism, and blind discipleship vs. the necessity of the Church sacraments as ordinary means of grace.
Melville, Herman: Moby Dick - Melville gives great descriptive detail about New England whaling vessels and their crews. His use of language is remarkable. The last fifty pages are worth the wait.
O’Connor, Flannery: Short Stories - A major theme of O’Connor’s stories is redemption. She strips all glamour of sin away from her stories, which are written in a genre of Christian realism. She is a Catholic who is well in tune with human suffering. Her stories teach one to cherish the world while enduring its less than romantic twists and turns.
Shakespeare: Hamlet, Macbeth, Henry V, As You Like It, and others - See above notes on Shakespeare and tragedy. Aristotle thought tragedy was very important for the formation of our character. Henry V is one of his great historical dramas. Memorize the Saint Crispin Day speech. Kenneth Branagh captures this play very well on film.
Tolkien, J.R.R. (trans.): Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - This is an Arthurian romance written in 14th century Middle English. Read it in the original or translated into Modern English by Tolkien.
Tolkien, J.R.R.: The Silmarillion – The story of the creation of Middle-Earth is the first tale in this collection of myths from the early days of Middle-Earth, before The Hobbit adventures. Tolkien’s creation myth is the most beautiful allegory of the Judeo-Christian creation account that I have ever read. Middle-Earth is a pre-Christian world but Tolkien portrays his heroes with the noblest of human virtue.
Tolstoy, Leo: War and Peace - This is perhaps the greatest historical novel of all time. It covers Napoleon’s march to Moscow and so much more. You will grow to love the characters like your own family members. Tolstoy’s short stories are also very good.
Undset, Sigrid: Kristin Lavransdatter - This is a story about the consequences of fornication - very powerful. This is recommended for young women especially.
von Schell, Capt. Adolf: Battle Leadership - This German classic is about a young officer who excels in adaptation and mission accomplishment during World War I.
Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray - This is an excellent story about the effects of sin and the beauty of redemption.
[This list is a work in progress, feedback is welcome.]
[This list is a work in progress, feedback is welcome.]