Reading has always been one of my favorite hobbies, but as a child and then a reading teacher my books choices tended toward children’s or YA fiction. I also love a good cozy mystery, and the occasional best-seller, but my reading life was certainly not well-rounded. Last year I resolved to choose books from a wider variety of genres, especially adult fiction and literary fiction, neither of which I’ve read much of (so overwhelming I didn’t know where to start!) Then I discovered the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and summer reading guide, and my TBR (to be read) list exploded! I did a deep dive into more serious literature and modern fiction this summer, and while I enjoyed several of my selections (others not so much) all the heavy themes, tortured characters, and realism left me longing for sweet, simple stories with happy endings. So I put the brakes on modern fiction and went back to some of my very favorite classics. Most of these I read as a teen, and some I haven’t picked up in years. There is a broad spectrum, even among a group of “heartwarming classics,” but I can pretty much guarantee that these books will “warm the cockles of your heart.”
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
This is the sequel to Alcott’s Little Women (if you haven’t picked that one up in a decade or so then start with it!) and centers around Jo’s family and the boys’ school they started at Plumfield. The endearing characters have their flaws, but they are mild and easily modified. The plot is character driven, and features such delightful scenes as berry picking, a play kitchen, an egg hunting business, pillow-fights, and cozy contemplation in a big willow tree. The characters from Little Women and their children are frequent visitors, and it is a delightful escape into a simpler, much less busy way of life. This book kept me smiling and made me wish I could open my own Plumfield School.
Christy by Katherine Marshall
This is another book about a school, but that is where the similarities end. Christy is the story of a nineteen year old girl who volunteers to go teach school at a place called Cutter’s Gap in the middle of the Smokey Mountains. Of course her idealistic crusade for bringing hope and education to these impoverished people gets a rude awakening as she plunges into this very foreign sub-culture that includes corn liquor, superstitions, homemade medicines, and primitive living conditions. Christy slowly comes to recognize the strength and dignity of these backwoods people, and though she stumbles regularly over her own preconceptions and prejudices a passion for helping them burns brightly inside her. This story gets pretty dark, full of tragedy, injustice, and despair, but ultimately its message of friendship, hope, and the power of God at work in us leaves the reader satisfied. I will say that I wish Marshall had included one more chapter to wrap things up a bit more neatly, but then I like a tidy conclusion with no loose ends. 🙂 Also, I watched and loved the mini-series they put on TV a while ago, but as they say, the book is always better.
Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter
The main character of this story is a one-handed teenage orphan boy who is given the improbable job of guarding a stretch of timber inside the great Limberlost Swamp in Indiana. It is a wonderfully told story of courage, beauty, self-discovery, and love that is sure to please. I haven’t read this recently, but I have read it multiple times and it always draws me in and leaves me with a smile and a few happy tears.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I loved this story as a child, and even more as a grown-up! We follow spoiled, sour-tempered Mary as she is sent to live with a distant uncle after her parents die of malaria in India. This change is a shock to her system that almost overwhelms her, until she discovers a key that opens a whole new world (quite literally) which cultivates her little soul and makes her bloom, just like the flowers in her “secret garden.” I love a good transformation story, and there are many as each character goes through their own soul awakening journey. Beautifully told and richly detailed, I can hardly wait to read this aloud with my girls (although four might be a bit too young still).
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
This is a lovely old childrens’ story about an impoverished but plucky little family, a widow and her five children. Sure the language is antiquated and the characters are impossibly cheerful and sweet to each other, but that’s its charm! I read this as a kid and am in the middle of it now, so I don’t remember how it ends, but so far the Peppers have weathered making a birthday cake with a broken stove, been given “a bit of butter” by the kindly minister’s wife, and now half of them are down with the measles, including the two oldest children Polly and Ben who are Mrs. Pepper’s steady support. Things are looking bleak, but I have full confidence that they will pull through. 🙂
Are any of these your favorites? What heartwarming classics would you recommend to someone looking for a satisfying, happy ending? Please share!