“A View From Saturday” by E.L. Konigsburg
This understated novel by a master storyteller transcends its simple storyline. Four students who call themselves “the Souls” and their teacher from the town of Epiphany, N.Y., join forces to participate in the Academic Bowl; sly commentary on U.S. educational absurdities and the necessity of civilizing rituals ensues. Rich with allusion and wordplay, the narrative combines first person with omniscient third person, and is alternately heart-rending and hilarious.
“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott
Twenty-five years after its release, Card’s novel about child soldiers seems prescient. Ender, a “third” in a world where parents are limited by a two-child policy, is recruited as a child soldier. It’s a smarter, denser predecessor to something like “The Hunger Games.” The ending shocked me the first time I read it; knowing what’s coming the second or third time around only allows the richness of the story to come through even more. Genius science fiction for young-adult readers.
“A Separate Peace” by John Knowles
Set during World War II, this classic young-adult novel illuminates the realities of war, focusing not on the battlefield but on the friendship and rivalry between Gene, a dedicated if plodding student, and Phineas, a gifted athlete.
“Bedtime for Frances” by Russell Hoban & illustrated by Garth Williams
This book is a classic for a reason. Frances resists sleep, sees monsters and tigers, drives her parents nuts, and finally resolves her issues and goes to sleep. I also love every book in the series that followed.
“Dear Mrs. Larue: Letters From Obedience School” Written and illustrated by Mark Teague
This is an example of how a great illustrator can enhance a children’s book, creating two simultaneous narratives. Ike LaRue, disobedient Jack Russell Terrier, has been sent off to doggie reform school and recounts a tale of misery in his letters. On the page, though, readers are made privy to the discrepancy between his version of events, shown via large thought bubbles in black and white, and his real (quite luxurious) circumstances.