Help Needed: Mom Seeks Free-Range Children’s Book Suggestions

Folks rnsddfkdrs
— Something to ponder on a Sunday:
Dear Free-Range Kids: As a Free-Range parent living in England, I look to classic children’s literature for inspiration and confidence about giving my sons the freedom to be children, exploring and having adventures on their own.  I thought I would pass along a suggestion to other Free-Range parents and hope to get new ideas in return.  The Swallows and Amazons books, by Arthur Ransome, were favorites of mine as a child.  Written in the early 1930s, the language is dated in places, but the children seem surprisingly modern and I bet today’s kids would love them, too (my sons are still too young).  I re-read the series this summer, this time paying more attention to the wise adults as role models!  The series is appropriate for ages 8+ (but I read them as a teen).

What books do other free-range parents and their kids enjoy?

Robin Fawcett


This kid does not look particularly Free-Range, but she IS copyright-free. (Painting by Richard Caton Woodville, who’s great. Just discovered him!)

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104 Responses to Help Needed: Mom Seeks Free-Range Children’s Book Suggestions

  1. Cindy August 11, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    Eddie’s Valuable Property by Carolyn Haywood
    Children of Summer by Margaret Anderson

  2. Linda Wightman August 11, 2013 at 8:12 am #

    I’ll have to think more about this, but I heartily endorse the Swallows and Amazons books. I find them not so much dated in terms of content as in that there are a couple of books — the ones that are fantasies within the context of the stories — that show racial attitudes common when they were written but unacceptable today. But you can skip (or discuss) those two, and the others achieve a great free-range balance, with wonderfully independent children who are deeply respectful of each other and of the adults in their lives.

    Our family has found that these are great read-alouds from any age.

  3. Linda Wightman August 11, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    The Saturdays and others by Elizabeth Enright.

  4. nancey August 11, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Anything by Roald Dahl,
    My kids noticed the freedoms of the kids in Judy Blume’s books about Ramon and Fudge. In the Fudge series, the 12 y/o brother talks about walking through Central Park on his own. He knows a kid that has been mugged and his parents have told him how to handle the situation, should it arise. He and a neighbor girl baby sit Fudge and take him to the playground, where he somehow lands on his face and loses a tooth. While the girl is understandably upset, the mother just washes up Fudge and commiserates with him about not having a tooth to give to the tooth fairy.
    There are lots of great books, find some written in the seventies, when “free range” was normal.

  5. Kierstin August 11, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Rousseau’s Emilie is the father to all great free range and “natural” child thinking. Its not a terribly hard read and definitely worth it.

  6. Kierstin August 11, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Also, here is a list of Newberry winners

    Almost all of these have very independent kids getting into all kinds of scraps lol

  7. Really Bad Mum August 11, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    I loved The Famous Five, maybe because the names where dick and fanny ( in Australia fanny is the front bit of a girl not the back bit) lol just felt my maturity level drop. Still find it absolutely hilarious lol

  8. sylvia_rachel August 11, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    The early (1950s-1970s) Beverly Cleary books are great for this — not just the Ramona/Beezus books but the connected Henry Huggins books, the ones about Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford, and also the semi-autobiographical Emily’s Runaway Imagination (I mean, just look at that title!). Also the pre-1980s Judy Blume books, BUT beware new editions that silently substitute computers for mimeograph machines and CD players for record players!!

    Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl is excellent.

    Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher has a terrific free-range / anti-helicoptering message, but some people find it a bit preachy; YMMV.

    Pretty much anything by E. Nesbit is going to be full of kids doing stuff on their own without much reference to or interference by grown-ups. Like Enid Blyton, there will also be some wacky gender and racial politics here and there because of the time period.

    Second the rec of Elizabeth Enright!

    Also (Canadiana plug of the day), there are some great (set in a kinda-sorta Victorian England, but written very recently) books by Howard Whitehouse and Bill Slavin, the Emmeline and Rubberbones series:

  9. Melissa August 11, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    For little kids – The Snowy Day – or really almost anything by Ezra Jack Keats.

    The funny thing is that almost all classic children’s books are pretty much free range.

  10. jen August 11, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    The Country Bunny and the Little Golden Shoes by DuBose Heyward. A 1939 Easter story empowering to both kids and moms!

  11. Rebecca Davies August 11, 2013 at 9:31 am #

    Definitely Tom Sawyer.

  12. Emily Guy Birken August 11, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is one I remember fondly from my childhood. A brother and sister decide to run away and go live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and figure out how to get there, live there undetected, and thrive on their own. They also uncover a secret about a mysterious sculpture, and are taken seriously by the wealthy woman who donated it. The kids are 12 and 9.

    I also loved The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It’s about 16 heirs to a mysterious will from millionaire Samuel Westing. They have to figure out the puzzle of the will in order to inherit. Even though there are plenty of adult characters in the story, the kids always seemed to be the smartest, and they were the ones who figured out the mystery. I especially loved the little girl nicknamed Turtle, who turns out to be a stock market genius.

  13. Daven August 11, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    — Anything involving orphans, including Harry Potter series.
    — Books by Beverly Cleary.
    — “Harriet the Spy” and sequels.
    — Encyclopedia Brown series.
    — Books by Roald Dahl.
    — Little House books.
    — “The Phantom Tollbooth” (also, the 1970-era film opens with a great scene of the kid walking a long distance home from school alone through San Francisco).
    — Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden series — unless they’ve been updated to appeal to “today’s parents”? The editions I read in the 1970s had hardly any adults in them.
    — “Peter Spier’s Circus!” — This is a picture book, and it’s not about children specifically, but it’s wonderful and shows the acts that whole families perform in a circus (including the children, who are included like anybody else).

    And I’ll agree with Melissa that almost all classic books are what we’d call free range.

  14. Mama N August 11, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    The majority of classic children’s books the children are “free range”. Alice, Dorothy, Peter Pan, Jim Hawkins, Christopher Robin all went on adventures. Even Fancy Nancy visits the neighbors without mom and dad. I’m reading a book called Huck’s raft the history of American Childhood. It’ s pretty fascinating.

  15. Laura F August 11, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald!

  16. KarenElissa August 11, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Emily beat me to “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” it is one of my favorites, I love the idea of living in a museum.

    “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George is about a boy who runs away from home and lives in the wilderness.

    On the more recent end, “The Penderwicks” by Jeanne Birdsall is a great book about four girls growing up. They run all over the neighborhood, take care of each other, and have adventures.

    “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart is about three kids who work together, solve puzzles and work to save the world.

    The “Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket is about a family of orphans who get put in the care of all kinds of horrible people and how they escape.

  17. David Schweizer August 11, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    How about adding some non-fiction to the list? There’s a lot of encouragement and empowerment in the recently republished How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself by Robert Paul Smith (

    Vinson Brown’s books (How to Make a Miniature Zoo, How to Follow the Adventures of Insects, The Amateur Naturalist’s Handbook, etc.) are accessible to younger readers yet implicitly address the reader as independent and autonomous. Plus, they assume the kid is outside and interacting with the natural world.

    And finally, no free-range parenting bookshelf is complete, in my opinion, without Gever Tulley and Julie Spielger’s 50 Dangerous Things! (

  18. Alec from Child's Play Music August 11, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    I’m right there with you on Swallows and Amazons – I rate it as the greatest children’s adventure novel of all time, and it has profoundly influenced my life.

    Read my blog post about Swallows and Amazons The core message of the book is that children can (and should be) trusted. All the things the children do in the book were absolutely normal activities that many children did when it was written. Reviewers said things like:

    “It is written about real children for real children”

    “The story of their adventures on a little island in the middle of an English lake is thrilling just because it is not fabulous.”


    “To read of their busy and adventurous days is to envy them their good fortune and their sensible relatives, who had enough imagination and self-control to keep out of the serious business on the island.”

    Fantastic book that changed my life!

  19. Jennifer S August 11, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    “Bridge to Terabithia” by Donna Diamond is about kids two go off and play in the woods all day and let their imagination take over. “Where the RedFern Grows” by Wilson Rawls is the story of a young boy who hunts in the woods on his own. Both of these books have sad moments but the adventures are remarkable. The “Little House on the Prairie” series (based on a true events) and anything by Roald Dahl were favorites of mine as a child.
    “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”, too. For little ones, “Where the Wild Things Are, ” “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” and original tales like “Alice and Wonderland” or “Little Red Riding Hood.”

  20. Jet August 11, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    Also The Time Quintet, starting with A Wrinkle in Time is outstanding. It’s also a Newbery award winner, but worth mentioning on its own.

  21. Donna August 11, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    My daughter’s current favorites – The Boxcar Children, The Magic Treehouse series, Chronicles of Narnia, The Wrinkle in Time series

    The Secret Garden and Heidi which both show the damaging nature of over-coddling children and how they flourish if left to do things on their own.

  22. Rachel August 11, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    I loved “The Great Brain” books! What about The Boxcar Children, or The Babysitter’s Club series? Or Anne of Green Gables? The Black Stallion? The “colored” Fairy Series? They’re the ones with names like “The Green Fairy Tale Book” or “The Lilac Fairy Tale Book.” Older versions of fairy tales, but you need to calibrate that carefully-the farther back you go, the darker and more adult they get.

  23. Randy August 11, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    _My Side of the Mountain_ (1959) by Jean Craighead George is a good choice, especially for kids that like the outdoors.

  24. Jessica August 11, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    How about the Louisa May Alcott books? Little Women, Little Men, Jack and Jill, an Old-Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, etc. The Little Britches books are great as well.

  25. HarleyPig August 11, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    Anything by E.B. White, at least the kids books. Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web …

  26. Angela August 11, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    No one mentioned Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. From Wikipedia, Nine-year-old Pippi is unconventional, assertive, and has superhuman strength, being able to lift her horse one-handed without difficulty. She frequently mocks and dupes adults she encounters, an attitude likely to appeal to young readers; however, Pippi usually reserves her worst behavior for the most pompous and condescending of adults. Pippi’s anger is reserved for the most extreme cases, such as when a man ill-treats her horse. Like Peter Pan, Pippi does not want to grow up. She is the daughter of a buccaneer captain and as such has adventurous stories to tell. She has four best friends: two animals (her horse and a monkey) and two humans, the neighbor’s children Tommy and Annika.
    Growing up, she was my hero.

  27. K August 11, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    For younger kids, the picture books “Roxaboxen” and “Weslandia” are two of my favorites.

  28. Hillary August 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    For younger children, Ladybug Girl by David Soman & Jackie Davis is fantastic. It is about a young girl about five years old who gets bored in the house and heads out to the yard to explore in her superhero persona…balancing on logs, lifting rocks, climbing trees, etc. without supervision or help.

    There’s another picture book called Sound of Colors by Jimmy Liao that’s about a blind girl riding the subway on her own. It’s quite long (80 pages) but not much text per page (almost more a poem than a story) and it’s a great read-aloud for preschool on up.

  29. Lauren August 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    I’ll have to second the Famous Five. Although the ones I read didn’t have a girl named Fanny in them.

    Enid Blyton has a number of kid’s books, although a little dated now. The Famous Five, the Secret Seven, the Adventurous Four are very free-range. They range from sometimes small kids helping solve local mysteries, to kids helping out in World War II.

  30. Stevie August 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    I love the Homecoming series by Cynthia Voigt, I think there’s 7 books and it is probably best for ages 10 and up. Although I read it to my 6 and 7 year old. Touching story about 4 siblings that are left by their mother in a mall parking lot and try to make their way from there to their grandmother’s home. The first book details their journey and I remember reading it as a preteen and wondering if I could manage all the things that the older sister Dicey manages to handle. I also still remember in one of the later books how a teacher assigns the students the task of making a meal plan on a budget. Dicey completes it using the method she actually used to feed 4 kids on the road and the teacher flunks it as not meeting healthy standards or being realistic. I’m sure that’s exactly what would happen in today’s world!!!!

  31. Susan August 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    One of our favorite picture books is ” Trust Me, Mom” by Angela McAllister. It’s about a boys first walk alone to the market on an errand for his mom (set in the current day!). He encounters, and deals with, bears,a witch, a ghost, etc. but makes it through fine. My kids, now 8 and 10 have continued to pick this one up long after they otherwise stopped reading picture books.

    Cottonball Colin by Jeanne Willis also has a good free range message although I think it focuses more on the mom’s anxiety than the child’s confidence and resourcefulness.

  32. Susan August 11, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    Also, the Ivy and Bean series by Annie Barrow has two kids who have a pretty free-range life, with parents who are around but not over involved in their lives. A favorite is when one dad says they need to earn money to buy something they want and encourages them to write a neighborhood newspaper like he did as a kid. And he stays out of the project completely, except to tell them they need to do more work when their first effort is really weak.

  33. Uly August 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    The Penderwicks series, the Clementine books, and anything written by Nesbit spring to mind.

  34. Uly August 11, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    Oh, and a personal favorite – The Museum of Thieves.

  35. Are we there yet? August 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    I read the Swallows & Amazons books — aloud — to my two, fortunately before the name “Titty” was going to be a problem. Seriously, search and replace that with some other diminutive of Elizabeth…wonderful stories of independent and resourceful childhood aided by wise and supportive adults. “We didn’t mean to go to sea” is the high point, in terms of showing the benefits of free ranging.

    Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series features a young but wise girl who deals with life issues we know about and some fantasy issues that will allow kids imaginations some latitude.

    The Moomin books by Tove Janson are worth a look.

  36. Sarah August 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    As mentioned above, I would definitely recommend Swallows and Amazons. One of my family’s all-time favorites. Roxaboxen, which is a picture book, was also another favorite.

    Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
    Little Britches by Ralph Moody
    G.A. Henty – pretty much anything

    For younger kids I would recommend both The Summerfolk and Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn. The Raft by Jim LeMarche. Sleep Out and others by Carol and Donald Carrick (although some of the Amazon reviewers don’t think it is a good idea for a young boy to camp out on his own).

    I am sure I could come up with more that my boys enjoyed, but I’d better stop now!


  37. anonymous this time August 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    The “Moomin” books by Tove Jansson feature creatures who are not human, but live in a very loving family and extended family, and the “children” go on many adventures without their “parents.” Fantastic and emotionally subtle.. they’re amazing. I just discovered them and the 9-year-old is hooked.

    Right now I’m reading a book called “The Girl with No Name” by Marina Chapman. It’s a true story of a girl who ended up alone in the jungle at age 5 and spent 5 years living with monkeys until she decided on her own will to rejoin human society. AMAZING STORY, would be accessible to any strong reader in grade school or above, and what a testimony to the ability and adaptability of even a very young child! I’m transfixed by this book.

  38. Leslie August 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden isn’t fiction, but it is full of empowering activities and ideas. I think they may have one for girls now too.

  39. Emily August 11, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    Nobody’s mentioned the Adventure books by Enid Blyton, but I loved those when I was a kid. Looking back, they’re a bit formulaic (group of four kids, two boys and two girls, and each book starts with a vacation trip of some kind that goes horribly wrong), but when I was nine, they were thrilling, and I often stayed up way too late reading them. My parents enforced lights-out in spirit, but I think they looked the other way a few times. Anyway, it’s a series of eight books, and they’re probably available at least online (if not in brick-and-mortar stores), either individually or as a box set.

  40. Emily August 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    P.S., I forgot to mention, the Adventure books are written in a loose chronological order, and books 2-8 have brief allusions to previous books, but other than that, they’re pretty self-contained, so you can read them in order, or mix them up.

  41. SKL August 11, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    For somewhat older kids, Isabel Allende has some books with free-range protagonists.

    Clyde Robert Bulla books are excellent for young readers.

  42. Matt in GA August 11, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, is only a couple years old, but it takes place in New York City in the 1970’s and is incredibly Free Range.

  43. Cindy Karlan August 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    Most, if not all, books by Gary Paulson. He wrote “Hatchet”, “The River”, “Brian’s Winter”, “Brian’s Return”. All survival stories. Great books that my kids, my aunt (former elem. school teacher), and I LOVE!

  44. Quantum Mechanic August 11, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    I always loved “the Mad Scientists’ Club” books by Bertrand Brinley, especially the first one.

    It was written (and set) in the 1960s and is about a club of small-town kids (all boys, sorry) who are into science, pranking, etc (think of the sorts of technically interesting but harmless pranks you hear about MIT students doing). The kids are very independent and adults aren’t involved in their adventures. However, they do have good relationships with their parents and the adults in town.

  45. Virginia August 11, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    I third the recommendation for pretty much everything by Elizabeth Enright, and I’m also a big fan of “Understood Betsy,” preachy though it may be. And Pippi Longstocking rules the universe! A couple of other classics that both my kids and I really loved: “The Cricket in Times Square” by George Selden, and the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. Also, “Half Magic” and other books by Edward Eager are also tons of fun.

  46. Virginia August 11, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

    P.S. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but a great free-range book for parents is “Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickam, the movie on which “October Sky” was based. The kids in that book do things that would curl my hair, starting with but not limited to mixing up rocket fuel in the basement. I would never let my kids do most of those things — but I read the book when my son was a baby, and it really made me think about what kids can accomplish when they’re given the necessary freedom and responsibility.

  47. Christina August 11, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    Haven’t read the comments yet, so sorry if I’m repeating, but the kids in Trixie Belden were seriously free-range. Also, of course, Madeleine L’Engle, Pippi Longstocking, Nancy Drew (the original) and Heidi all spring to mind.

  48. AnotherAnon August 11, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    It’s very easy to find free-range kids in literature, actually. The idea of children who aren’t allowed to go out and have adventures is very new, and kids who don’t have them are boring. By default, any story about kids having a good time is going to be about kids of the free-range variety.

    My own free-range heroes were Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the girls in the Betsy-Tacy series.

  49. lollipoplover August 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    Here’s my son’s most loved books:

    “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen (he then devoured “Brian’s Winter”, “The River”, and “Brian’s Hunt”, all by Paulsen)
    “Matilda” by Roald Dahl
    “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” Roald Dahl
    The Boxcar Children series
    “Freak the Mighty” by Rodman Philbred
    “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio

    I love posts with book recommendations.
    Can’t wait to pass on some of the others from above to my kids. Thanks!

  50. Nathan Weathington August 11, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I see Roald Dahl on here several times. But when it comes to free range kids, and in my opinion the greatest relationship between a father and son in all of literature there is only one:

    Danny Champion of the World.

  51. Sara August 11, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

    Others have mentioned them, but The Great Brain series of books by John D. Fitzgerald are some of my all-time favorite books and convey exactly the sort of community of children that flourishes in free-range communities. The kids, from age four or so on up, are constantly outside with their peers, deciding what games to play, betting each other, and dreaming up and carrying out adventures. The titular “great brain” is ten-year-old Tom who is constantly dreaming up schemes to earn money from his peers, some quite involved such as constructing a sort of roller coaster and building a raft and charging for rides down the river . The stories are set around 1900 in Utah and the details from that time period are fascinating as well.

  52. Kenny Felder August 11, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Picture books:

    * Mirette on the High Wire
    * And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street
    * When I Was Young in the Mountains

    Beginning chapter books:

    * Wagon Wheels (Barbara Brenner)
    * American Girls novels (the older ones such as Kit, Molly)
    * The Trumpet of the Swan

    When you get past that, I think it’s great to real biographies of real-life kids. We read biographies of John Paul Jones and Soloman Story among others. But of course almost anything written more than 20-30 years ago will make a wonderful demonstration of childhood!

  53. John Flaherty August 11, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    “Definitely Tom Sawyer.”

    I see someone beat me to the best recommendation yet.

  54. Gail August 11, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

    I loved the girl series books growing up…Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and my favorite (but hard to come by these days) Judy Bolton. I read those over and over again and still enjoy them as an adult. When my daughter was about 6 or 7, she asked me to read the Boxcar Children books to her. They had all the older original stories at our library. You can’t get much more free-range than four kids living on their wits in an abandoned boxcar! Harriet the Spy was fun too. Those older stories are not only great adventures, but offer a big boost to the vocabulary. They were written before the curriculum was “dumbed down.”

  55. Fugazi August 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Some great suggestions on this list. I’d just like to add “Five Children and It” by E. Nesbit. And our family’s personal favourite, “The Secret World of Og” by Pierre Berton.

  56. Karah August 11, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Understood Betsy. Absolutely 100% describes a free range child and how she goes from being coddled to being brave and smart! Old old book but can be found online. My 12 year old boy and 9 daughter loved it!!

  57. Denny August 11, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    Danny, the Champion of the World was one of my favorite books when I was about nine.

  58. Jenn August 11, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    Books I recommend to my students and children are:

    -anything by Roald Dahl
    -Mr. Stink by David Walliams
    -The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton
    -The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (the rest of the books in the trilogy are better with older children)
    -From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
    -I Want to go Home! by Gordon Korman and the Bruno and Boots series (I’m not familiar with his more recent books)
    -the Dear Canada series (or My Canada series for boys). They are fictional diaries from a child/teen at a moment in Canadian history. A favourite with my students to learn about history from a child’s perspective!
    -Silverwing and Airborne series by Kenneth Oppel
    -Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (my students laughed at how the main character made fun of how adults won’t let them play on the padded playground and other ridiculous `child protecting measures’ of today)
    -The Babysitters Club series
    -Series of Unfortunate Events
    -The Spiderwick Chronicles
    -Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat
    -Tuck Everlasting
    -When Santa Fell to the Earth by Cornelia Funke, as well as Inkheart
    -Judy Blume books
    -Beverly Cleary books

    My favourite picture/story books would be:
    -Owl Babies (mom leaves the nest and the babies worry but all is okay!- great for little ones to find out that they can be away from their parents and nothing bad will happen)
    -Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
    -Ira Sleeps Over
    -Miss Nelson is Missing
    -A Promise is a Promise
    -The Paperbag Princess
    -many Robert Munsch books however, Love You Forever has the mom driving at night to her adult’s sons house to rock him while sleeping, nice sentiment about love but it’s kind of creepy!
    -The Table Where Rich People Sat
    -Where the Wild Things Are

  59. Tealatwo August 11, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott Odell was my favorite book as a pre teen.

  60. Jen Juhasz August 11, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    I’ve got toddlers and under, so my reply is geared towards the little guys:
    Where the Wild Things Are
    Owl Moon
    We also have a series of pop-up books by Maurice Pledger that really encourage exploration of the natural world
    Thrump O’Moto
    We also share our own field guides with our older son, who loves learning and memorizing facts…gives him something to look for outdoors when we go hiking and exploring. 🙂

  61. Patricia Grunseth August 11, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    Pippi Longstocking

  62. Taylor M August 11, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    It’s definitely true that most children’s books are “free-range”, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story.

    +1 to the Great Brain series. This was the book series set closest to my childhood home.

    +1 to the Gary Paulson books.

  63. pentamom August 11, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    The Wrinkle in Time series, by Madeleine L’Engle. Kids travel all over time and space sometimes in partnership with adult figures but not in a passive relationship with them. The actual parents in the story model a very Free Range attitude, they aren’t just absent.

    The Little House books — on the one hand , the children are fairly strictly brought up, but on the other hand, they have responsibilities and freedoms almost unknown in our age.

    The Chronicles of Narnia — starts when the kids are taken out of London without their parents during the Blitz and taken to a country house where they are left to their own devices most of the time. Thereafter, other situations arise where the kids are fending for themselves in various ways.

  64. Ronni August 11, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

    A few of the memorable series from my childhood that come to mind:

    The Boxcar Children

    Babysitter Club books

    Little House on the Prairie series

  65. Kathryn August 12, 2013 at 12:39 am #

    “Dicey’s Song” features children facing an extraordinary, trying situation with competence and bravery.

    The Narnia books and the Wrinkle in Time series feature competent, adventurous children exploring novel places all on their own.

    I always loved child detectives. Encyclopedia Brown, The Bobsy Twins, The Three Investigators, etc. And Nancy Drew, although she as a character was a bit older… late teenager if I remember correctly?

    Recently, my daughter and I enjoyed “The Cats of Tanglewood Forest”, about an intelligent girl navigating a series of troubles competently and with grace, all on her own, and which is also beautifully illustrated.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder books, the Anne of Avonlea books, and Louisa May Alcott books, Judy Blume’s books, and Beverly Cleary’s books, among others, all show youngsters being independant, inquisitive, actively engaging the world around them, and visibly benefiting from the freedom and independence which they enjoy.

  66. Gina August 12, 2013 at 12:47 am #

    For little ones: GOOD DOG CARL…not sure if you can be more free range than letting a rottweiler babysit!

  67. Per August 12, 2013 at 2:46 am #

    There’s no need for a separate list of books for free range kids. “Free range” is the normal state of child rearing almost everywhere in the world, except parts of the USA, and even there it was the norm until very recently.

    Take any top-100 list of children’s books and, once you get past the Dr. Seuss age, they are all about kids who sometimes go on adventures unsupervised. (The only exception I can think of is “The diary of a young girl”. Still a very good book.)

    It’s the non-free-range parents who are in need of a list! Where do you find a good book about kids who always stay within 10 ft of their parents?

  68. Laura W August 12, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    What an awesome list! Ditto on the Little Britches recommendation I saw by Sarah. There are several in that series by Ralph Moody which are based on the story of his growing up in Colorado, we read them all aloud…just might need to do this again soon.

    Also for the younger set: Milly, Mollie, Mandy books are wonderful fun.

  69. Dot August 12, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    I haven’t read the whole list yet, but here are a few I didn’t see in a quick scan that my boy loves, that :

    – The Dark Is Rising sequence (Susan Cooper). One of my favorite series as a child.

    And more modern:

    – The Golden Acorn (available free or cheap on Kindle)

    -The Search for Wondla (futuristic)

    – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own making.

  70. Max Elliot Anderson August 12, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    All of my middle grade adventures & mysteries would fit into the free-range category.

    Sam Cooper Adventure Series

    Lost Island Smugglers ISBN: 9781935600022
    Captain Jack’s Treasure ISBN: 9781935600145
    River Rampage ISBN: 9781935600152
    This Property is Condemned – Coming Soon!

    Stand-Alone Titles

    Barney And The Runaway ISBN: 9780984559848
    When The Lights Go Out ISBN: 9781936695478
    North Woods Poachers ISBN: 9781936695058
    Terror At Wolf Lake ISBN: 9781936695966
    Legend Of The White Wolf ISBN: 9781936695690
    Newspaper Caper ISBN: 9781936695263

    (10 more books are already contracted)

  71. marie August 12, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    Golly…only one mention of Harry Potter? My son was in kindergarten (if not before) when I began reading the series aloud. Of course when I started, I thought I was reading one book…that was before we fell under the spell. I read the whole series aloud…twice. Tons of fun and I LOVE what the books have to say about good and evil, about doing the right thing even when it is very difficult.

    I agree with many of the recommendations already made and will add Gary Paulsen’s Mr. Tuckett series about a boy who is separated from his family on the Oregon Trail.

  72. pentamom August 12, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    “Golly…only one mention of Harry Potter? ”

    Well, how many times do you need to say it? 🙂 I’ll admit I listed ones that had been listed before (except maybe Narnia) but that’s because I didn’t read all the comments first, though I did read some. I saw Harry was there, so I didn’t feel the need to mention it again, along with some others.

  73. Katie August 12, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    I have to laugh- I must be the only one here who didn’t like *Swallows and Amazons*! Nothing wrong with it, just didn’t’t enjoy it myself. I have a wonderful friend about old enough to be my mom, who has no children but loves kid lit. She lent it to me several years ago and I didn’t like it much. Oh well.

    The Carolyn Haywood books are rare as hen’s teeth but splendid.

  74. Papilio August 12, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    Hah. I’d say anything by Thea Beckman, Jan Terlouw, J&P Nowee, perhaps Tonke Dragt, and of course Annie MG Schmidt for the little ones, but I have no idea how many of those books have been translated to English! 😀
    Crusade in Jeans anyone?

    A non-classical series I also liked as eh, I think a young teen? was the Animorph series by K. Applegate.
    I second Roald Dahl, the Famous Five and Nancy Drew, I don’t recognize the other titles though 🙂

  75. marie August 12, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    Roald Dahl…meh.

  76. squishymama August 12, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Blueberries for Sal for the little ones

    And yay! someone else mentioned my very favorite book as a girl, Island of the Blue Dolphins. I have waiting on my bookshelf for my girls; I can’t wait until they can read it!

  77. Jen B August 12, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Two of my favorites were/are:
    Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
    The Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenske

  78. Gabe Tetrault August 12, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    My Dog Skip – Willie Morris
    Little Brother – Cory Doctorow

  79. Ellie August 12, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    I saw the Edward Eager books mentioned: they are all great! Half Magic, Magic by the Lake, The Time Garden, Seven Day Magic…the kids have magical adventures remarkably unmonitored by adults (in fact, when the kids meet grownups, it’s the children who usually figure things out and get the adults out of trouble).

    Also, Madeleine L’Engle’s other series besides A Wrinkle in Time, starting with Meet the Austins, is also terrific. No magic or supernatural stuff, just a regular family with conflict and crises (but since it was written a while ago, a bit tamer than today’s teen books about parents being murdered and siblings being kidnapped or addicted to drugs).

  80. Librarymomma August 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    I second the “Half Magic” Series by Edward Eager. Another great set of books that I read to my son twice is the Mushroom Planet series by Eleanor Cameron. Not only are the parents free range, but they help their kids fly off to an unknown planet and encourage them to befriend and travel with an eccentric, unmarried older gentleman.

  81. mindy August 12, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    The Children of Noisy Village- Astrid Lindgren (chapter book)

    Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren (chapter books)

    Roxaboxen- Alice McLerran (picture book)

  82. August 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    The Hardy Boys. Read the bulk of the series to both my boys when they were still taking naps. They love the adventures. Looking forward to my oldest being able to read these on his own soon (almost 7).

    and Nancy Drew for the girls?

  83. Hels August 12, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    Astrid Lindgren has more books than just Pippi for kids and about kids, and very much in free-range spirit… Karlsson on the Roof, Emil, etc…

    Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were already mentioned – but don’t forget Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper too…

    Kipling’s Just So stories for Little Children has a wonderful story about invention of writing and overall a lovely book.

    The spirit of growing up as a result of an adventure is the theme of Lagerlof’s Wonderful Adventure of Nils.

    I think that everything that was written more than 50 years ago probably qualifies… Even the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

  84. LS August 12, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    The Secret Hide-Out — by John Peterson

  85. EdmondsWolf August 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    I would also toss in the following:
    “Brian’s Return” (Paulsen, part of the Brian series that begins with “Hatchet” – in which a 13 year old boy has to survive in the Canadian north woods after a plane crash. Series goes “Hatchet”, “The River”, “Brian’s Winter”, “Brian’s Return”, “Brian’s Hunt”)
    “Dogsong” (Gary Paulsen again, about a kid who takes a sled dog team out on his own).
    “Julie of the Wolves”/”Julie”/”Julie’s Wolfpack” (Jean Craighead George, about a girl who survives on the Alaskan tundra after running away from home).
    “On The Far Side of the Mountain” (George, a continuation of “My Side of the Mountain”)
    “Frightful’s Mountain” (George again)

  86. Lori August 12, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George was always one of my favorites – I thought it would be AWESOME to be able to do that!

  87. sylvia_rachel August 12, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    Somebody mentioned a Lois Lenski book above — I *loved* Lois Lenski when I was maybe 8-12, and I don’t know how many of them are still in print, but they were all very good.

    I also forgot The Dark Is Rising and its sequels, but they are great too (the earlier ones, IMO, are better than the later ones, but YMMV).

    I think someone else mentioned Anne of Green Gables; another Montgomery novel that I think of as very free-range is Jane of Lantern Hill. Rather gender-essentialist in parts, but an excellent story about how much better life is when you get to do things for yourself and make your own choices.

  88. lsl August 12, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    All of a Kind Family, Bobsey Twins, Girl with the Silver Eyes, Ender’s Game, Septimus Heap, anything by Tamora Pierce.

  89. Carolyn August 12, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    A few that I can think of off the top of my head…
    Adam of the Road (a minstrels son in the middle ages, wandering alone)
    The Five Children and It (kids making wishes that came true for a day)
    The Sign of the Beaver (a pioneer boy left to take care of the homestead for months)

  90. carriem August 12, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    I have to second anything by Beverly Cleary or E. Nesbit. Great books, kids love them, and the kids do all kinds of ordinary things that today are considered extraordinary. I’d also like to nominate the ‘Half Magic’ series by Edward Eager for consideration. Written in the 50s, these kids walk to the library and around the neighborhood and go to the movies alone! (And discover a magic wish giving coin)

  91. Linda August 12, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    The Famous Five, and The Secret Seven series of books are great. And for younger kids, The Magic Faraway Tree series – I loved reading those when I was four.

  92. Linda August 12, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    The Famous Five, and The Secret Seven series of books are great. And for younger kids, The Magic Faraway Tree series – I loved reading those when I was four. Also, The Machine Gunners, Stig of the Dump, The Borrobles (only if your kids have ever watched The Wombles), and The Princess and the Goblin/the Princess and Curdy.

  93. Marion August 13, 2013 at 3:47 am #

    Age 8 – 10, 11 :

    Frances Hodgson Burnett – The Secret Garden

    Astrid Lindgren – Ronia the Robber’s daughter

    also by Astrid Lindgren: all the Emil books, the ‘Noisy Village’ books, just about anything the woman wrote, really.

    Cynthia Harnett – The Wool Pack (excellent fiction set in fifteenth century England)

    Rumer Godden – The Diddakoi
    (Rumer Godden is also my favourite author of grown-up fiction, so mum could ferret out a few books for her own enjoyment, such as the truly wonderful ‘An Episode of Sparrows, which is ABOUT children, but not FOR children)

    For slightly older children, 12 and up:

    Rosemary Sutcliff’s excellent historical fiction, such as:

    Warrior’s Scarlett (about a handicapped boy who has to prove his worth in Bronze Age Britain)

    It’s such a pity that so many brilliant books of my childhood were never translated into English, and those who are are really badly translated. Even so, I recommend Thea Beckman’s ‘Crusade in Jeans’, about a 20th century boy who timetravels to the Middle Ages and gets stuck there during the Children’s Crusade. Talk about free range kids!

  94. Roberta August 13, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    One of my favorite picture book series as a child I have also read to my kids: Flicka Ricka and Dicka
    A set of Swedish triplets who are always having every day adventures like taking care of their aunties’ pets while they are traveling, and making things at home, where they take on big (for them) responsibilities, go places on their own, and fix their own mistakes. The books are extra fun because of the details about every day life circa 1930’s that are so different from today – like the fact that they take a pitcher to the store to buy milk.

  95. Cindy August 14, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    I didn’t know Carolyn Haywood’s books are hard to find. She was a friend of my great-grandmother and Betsy ( part of her stories) were taken about my aunt so I owe A LOT of her books. Love all the books mentioned. What about newer one, Gregor the Overlander by Susan Collins

  96. BL August 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Tough to find (try interlibrary loan, I think it has a different name in England but I think you know what I mean) but worth the search is Gunnel Linde’s “The White Stone” about two Swedish pre-teens who issues each other challenges, the winner getting possession of a white stone and the right to make the next challenge.

    One challenge was “borrowing” an elephant from a circus and tying it to a tree in front of a schoolteacher’s house. 🙂

  97. Jen (P.) August 14, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    It seems to me that “free range” children’s books are more the rule than the exception. The only kids doing something interesting enough to read about are those who are left to their own devices for a time. That’s why so many characters in children’s literature are orphans (or at least missing one parent). That plot device allows them the freedom to go off on their own and have adventures without mom hovering nearby to be sure they stay safe.

    One of my favorite free-rangey kids books that I don’t see mentioned here is The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie (Andrews) Edwards.

  98. Dan August 14, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

    For boys, you can’t beat the Willard Price “Adventure Series” books.

    2 brothers helping their father capture animals for zoos. They always get separated from the adults and have to survive on their own.

    Headhunters, volcanos, hurricanes, gorillas, you name it.

    These are the books got me hooked on reading.'s_Adventure_series

  99. mellong August 15, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    I think, in the true spirit of free ranging kids, we should allow our kids to go and pick what they want. I remember, during my own childhood, hours at the library where I sat in the aisles and just looked at the books at random. I do the same for my kids too. I bring them and they pick out what they want to look at and bring home. Open ended. Libraries have kids sections so just bring your kid there to find their own stuff while you check out your own books. The best way to get your kids to be life long readers, which we ALL want, is to show them that it’s important to you and that it’s an activity that you engage in.

  100. pentamom August 15, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    “I think, in the true spirit of free ranging kids, we should allow our kids to go and pick what they want. ”

    Free Ranging doesn’t mean we cease to be parents who can suggest stuff they might like, and wouldn’t find on their own. Letting them pick their own stuff is certainly a good idea, but you don’t have to be absent from all their choices to be Free Range.

  101. Helen August 15, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    As the world’s foremost expert on The Famous Five (!), I just want to point out that Fanny was the aunt – George’s mum. The things those kids went through – today’s kids would need therapy! I read them repeatedly as a kid and still go back and plow through the whole series once in a while. They had a profound influence on the person that I have become.

  102. Anna August 16, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    For younger kids, You Can Do It Sam is a great story about a boy and his mom baking cupcakes and then the mom encourages him to deliver them to the neighbors himself. Also, Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth features kids on their own meeting a wise panda.

    There are a number of series about kids helping out as vet apprentices and animal rescuers–ask your local librarian.

  103. molloaggie August 21, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    My 5th grade teacher read this book to me and I was hooked ever since.

    Down the Long Hills by Louis L’amour