The best heartwarming books about life in a small town

Brad Whittington Author Of Welcome to Fred
By Brad Whittington

Who am I?

When I was in sixth grade, I was kidnapped by pirates, aka parents, who smuggled me from a city in Ohio to a desert island, aka a middle-of-nowhere, piney woods, East Texas town called Fred. The city limit signs were 0.9 miles apart, without a single stop sign or red light to get in the way. Not even a flashing yellow. To survive, I enrolled in a hands-on crash course in Small Town, aka baptism by fire. I regularly get notes from readers all over America saying Welcome to Fred transported them back to their childhood growing up in a small town.


I wrote...

Welcome to Fred

By Brad Whittington,

Book cover of Welcome to Fred

What is my book about?

Mark Cloud has his doubts. He's not sure if he'll ever feel at home in Fred, Texas. He's not sure that he can work up the nerve to declare his love to the girl of his dreams. He's not sure he will survive another ride with Darnell Ray, Terror of the Back Roads. And he's really not sure that he buys the whole God thing. Which is an uncomfortable position for the son of a Baptist preacher.

Excerpt from a reader email: A guy on the plane said, “What the heck are you reading? One minute you’re crying, then three minutes later you’re laughing out loud.” I showed him the cover and he wrote it down. “I’m getting that book!”

The books I picked & why

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At Home in Mitford

By Jan Karon,

Book cover of At Home in Mitford

Why this book?

In 1990, after multiple rejections from publishers, this novel first saw print in installments in a small-town paper. Jan Karon continued to submit it to publishers, and four years later, an acquisitions editor called her. 

Ten years later, that same acquisitions editor called me. Fortunately, I was able to give the right answer when he asked me if I had read his pet project, At Home in Mitford. But that was really my wife’s fault.

She bought the book when it first came out and pestered me to read it. I took one look at the cover and resisted. Then our teenage daughter drank the KoolAid. Still, I held strong. But when our teenage son, reader of westerns and sci-fi, gushed about it, I relented. 

I’m glad I did. For an hour or so every night, I disappeared into another world far removed from my hectic life of juggling three jobs while trying to raise two teenagers. When I got to the end, I went directly to the next book, and the next.

If you haven’t read this book, correct that error immediately. It’s good for what ails you.

At Home in Mitford

By Jan Karon,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked At Home in Mitford as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first novel in #1 New York Times bestselling author Jan Karon's beloved series set in America's favorite small town: Mitford.

It's easy to feel at home in Mitford. In these high, green hills, the air is pure, the village is charming, and the people are generally lovable. Yet, Father Tim, the bachelor rector, wants something more. Enter a dog the size of a sofa who moves in and won't go away. Add an attractive neighbor who begins wearing a path through the hedge. Now, stir in a lovable but unloved boy, a mystifying jewel theft, and a secret that's…


Lake Wobegon Days

By Garrison Keillor,

Book cover of Lake Wobegon Days

Why this book?

In 1985, back when I had only one job at a time, we bought our first house, a 70-year-old, two-story monster built back when it was in the good part of town. The next Saturday evening, I heard something and investigated.

The guy next door was leaning back in a chair, his feet propped on the porch rail, sipping a glass of iced tea, and listening to a radio show. And thus, I discovered Garrison Keillor and Lake Wobegon. 

I recognized the people. I grew up with them in Fred, Texas. They hang out at the Sidetrack Tap and the Chatterbox Café. They shop at Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery, and the women get their hair done at the Curl Up and Dye.

The first chapter is written in a style I call Midwestern stream of consciousness. Read it and you’ll know whether you want to read the rest. I read the rest and looked for more.

Lake Wobegon Days

By Garrison Keillor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lake Wobegon Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Lake Wobegon Days is about the way our beliefs, desires and fears tail off into abstractions--and get renewed from time to time. . . this book, unfolding Mr. Keillor's full design, is a genuine work of American history." The New York Times

"A comic anatomy of what is small and ordinary and therefore potentially profound and universal in American life...Keillor's strength as a writer is to make the ordinary extraordinary." Chicago Tribune

"Keillor's laughs come dear, not cheap, emerging from shared virtue and good character, from reassuring us of our neighborliness and strength....His true subject is how daily life is…


Dandelion Wine

By Ray Bradbury,

Book cover of Dandelion Wine

Why this book?

In 1972, Jerry Jenkins, the high-school band director, turned me on to science fiction. I tore through the sci-fi shelf of the school library like a plague of locusts, frustrating Mrs. Sullivan and devouring everything in reach, until I stumbled upon Ray Bradbury and camped out. This was not just rockets and ray guns. It was music on the page.

Fahrenheit 451 terrified me. The Martian Chronicles melted my head. But Dandelion Wine won my heart. It was not sci-fi. Not even close. The story follows 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding as he navigates the summer of 1928 in Green Town, Illinois, realizing for the first time that he is alive. 

There’s Leo Auffmann, who builds a Happiness Machine in his garage, until it burns down, and he discovers that he had one all along. There’s Miss Fern and Miss Roberta and their Green Machine, the electric car that brings them joy and sorrow. And there’s the darkness of The Ravine and the threat of The Lonely One.

It’s more spell than story, but one that will haunt your waking moments as the implications sift through your soul.

Dandelion Wine

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Dandelion Wine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dandelion Wine is a 1957 semi-autobiographical novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois — a pseudonym for Bradbury's childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. The novel developed from the short story "Dandelion Wine" which appeared in the June 1953 issue of Gourmet magazine.


Homer Price

By Robert McCloskey,

Book cover of Homer Price

Why this book?

In 1968, a beautiful thing happened. A book fair came to the gym of my elementary school in Middletown, Ohio. My lunch money could buy only one book. After half an hour, I made my purchase. Even back then, I would rather read than eat. 

I read those six short stories multiple times, at least once a year, and when the time came, I passed it on to my kids, who also read it and passed it on to theirs.

Yes, this is a kid’s book. And half a century later, you can still get it for the price of lunch. Aw heck, splurge a little and read it while you eat lunch. It will improve your digestion.

In this age of schedules and screens and stress, a trip to the simpler times of Centerburg, Ohio is probably the best thing you could do for your sanity. 

Homer Price

By Robert McCloskey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Homer Price as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Welcome to Centerburg! Where you can win a hundred dollars by eating all the doughnuts you want; where houses are built in a day; and where a boy named Homer Price can foil four slick bandits using nothing but his wits and pet skunk.

 

The comic genius of Robert McCloskey and his wry look at small-town America has kept readers in stitches for generations!


Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners

By Naomi Shihab Nye,

Book cover of Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners

Why this book?

That’s what a minute said to an hour
Without me you are nothing

I know what you’re saying. First a kid’s book, now poems? Yes. Even though she has lived in St. Louis, Ramallah, Jerusalem, and now San Antonio, you would swear that she probably lived right down the street from wherever you are. In fact, she lives right down the road from me.

The wind never says
Call me back,
I’ll be waiting for your call.
All we know about wind’s address is
somewhere else.

Even though we share a birthday with Jack Kerouac and James Taylor, we have never met, but when I read her poems, I feel like I’m having a cup of coffee with a close friend, the friend you haven’t seen in years, but you know that if they walked in the door right now, you’d just pick up where you left off and talk for hours.

Be nice to yourself. Read this book.

Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners

By Naomi Shihab Nye,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Voices in the Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Nye once again deftly charts the world through verse."-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A beautifully constructed, thoughtful, and inspiring collection."-School Library Journal (starred review)

Young People's Poet Laureate and National Book Award Finalist Naomi Shihab Nye's uncommon and unforgettable voice offers readers peace, humor, inspiration, and solace. This volume of almost one hundred original poems is a stunning and engaging tribute to the diverse voices past and present that comfort us, compel us, lead us, and give us hope.

"I think the air is full of voices. If we slow down and practice listening, we hear those voices better. They live…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Illinois, Minnesota, and community?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Illinois, Minnesota, and community.

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