The best "classic" YA titles we think we know but don’t

The Books I Picked & Why

Bambi: A Life in the Woods

By Felix Salten, Richard Cowdrey

Book cover of Bambi: A Life in the Woods

Why this book?

I remember the first time someone told me to read this book, and I replied, “Bambi? Really? No thank you.” I, of course, had only known the Disney-ized version of the story. I assumed it was a book for toddlers, with cute little bunny rabbits and birds singing in the trees. I was very wrong. It is a profound coming-of-age story dealing with family, love, parents, adulthood, loss, intolerance, death, betrayal, and the horrors which humans can inflict on both the environment and each other. It was banned and burned in Germany in 1936 as it was seen as a political allegory of the Nazi Party. A powerful book, and, unfortunately, still a very timely one. 

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By Eleanor H. Porter

Book cover of Pollyanna

Why this book?

Most people only know the term ‘Pollyanna’ from its dictionary definition: “an excessively or blindly optimistic person.” We think of a cutesy, ebullient, ever-happy individual with no worries in the world, almost ‘blind’ to reality. The real Pollyanna, in this book by Ms. Porter, is anything but blind. As Pollyanna holds herself to a death-bed promise made to her father, she actively chooses optimism over pessimism when faced with the hardships of life. And it is certainly not always easy for her. She struggles to avoid despair by searching for the good in even the most difficult of circumstances. It is a book about resilience, belief, kindness...and hope. 

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The Once and Future King

By T.H. White

Book cover of The Once and Future King

Why this book?

If you’ve only seen the Disney movie, The Sword in the Stone (the first part of this book) then you will be wonderfully surprised when you read this book. It may appear from the title to be just another version of King Arthur and his round table of Knights battling dragons and green knights, but it is so much more than that. It is at times hilarious, magical, heartbreaking, tragic—and yet, at its center, it is a profound political allegory about government, political leadership, and the horrors of war. 

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The Prince and the Pauper

By Mark Twain

Book cover of The Prince and the Pauper

Why this book?

Disney got their hands on this title too. Mickey Mouse starred in it.

Mark Twain, in nearly all his writings, continually attacked the hypocrisies found in humankind and society, and never more so than in this book. It is a very fun read—witty, sarcastic, comic—but also a scathing attack against injustice and intolerance. It champions fairness and equality and denounces those who judge others by appearance only. It promotes the idea that all those who make laws, and profess them, should also be subject to them. I wish every political leader would read this book.

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By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Book cover of Frankenstein

Why this book?

Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein when she was only a teenager herself (18). The ‘Creature’ she created is the ultimate ‘other.’ Persecuted and abandoned by the community, he yearns to know why he is hated and what his place and purpose is in the world. Shunned by all and loved by none, he eventually turns to violence.

“I am malicious because I am miserable.
Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind?”

So many relevant themes run through this book: intolerance, injustice, science without ethical boundaries, technical advances based on greed, prejudice, hubris, scientific responsibility, parental responsibility, bigotry, and hatred. The story is all too frighteningly relevant today.

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