Family Stories that Spark the Imagination

There are certain books that jumpstart the imagination quicker than others. I would imagine the type of book that does this best is a little different for everyone. The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer was one of those books for me.

The Trolley Car Family is the story of a family that suddenly finds themselves in a tough situation. The dad, a trolley car driver looses his job because all the trolley cars in the city are being replaced by buses. Eventually the family decides to move the trolley car out into the country and live in it. 

There was something about setting up the trolley car as a home and figuring out life in a new place that would get my imagination going the multiple times I read it. I remember thinking about that trolley car and designing my own hideaway. I would look for houses or forts behind bushes and up in trees. I would imagine what it would be like to set up house and live in a new environment like they did in the book. 

I loved how the kids had a level of independence that allowed them to explore and imagine and contribute. It was inspiring to me as a child and I still love reading these types of books as an adult. They take me back to my childhood and they still spark my imagination.

Today’s list contains books in this vein. These are books filled with families and children living and learning together. They are books where kids are allowed to have adventures. They are books in which ordinary days are filled with ordinary-turned-extraordinary adventures through the magic of storytelling. They are some of my very favorites.

The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright

From Amazon on Book #1, The Saturdays:

Meet the Melendys! The four Melendy children live with their father and Cuffy, their beloved housekeeper, in a worn but comfortable brownstone in New York City. There's thirteen-year-old Mona, who has decided to become an actress; twelve-year-old mischievous Rush; ten-and-a-half-year-old Randy, who loves to dance and paint; and thoughtful Oliver, who is just six.

Tired of wasting Saturdays doing nothing but wishing for larger allowances, the four Melendys jump at Randy's idea to start the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club (I.S.A.A.C.). If they pool their resources and take turns spending the whole amount, they can each have at least one memorable Saturday afternoon of their own. Before long, I.S.A.A.C. is in operation and every Saturday is definitely one to remember.

This book has been around for decades, but the story-telling is strong. Written during a time when red finger nail polish was scandalous, I read this for the first time this spring and loved it. The characters are wonderful and sweet and the children’s adventures in the city left me pondering the question, what would I do with an afternoon in the city all by myself. I haven’t read the remaining books in this series yet, but I want to.


The Moffats by Eleanor Estes

From Amazon on Book #1, The Moffats:

Meet the Moffats. There is Sylvie, the oldest, the cleverest, and-most days at least-the responsible one; Joey, who though only twelve is the man of the house...sometimes; Janey, who has a terrific upside-down way of looking at the world; and Rufus, who may be the littlest but always gets in the biggest trouble.

Even the most ordinary Moffat day is packed with extraordinary fun. Only a Moffat could get locked in a bread box all afternoon, or dance with a dog in front of the whole town, or hitch a ride on a boxcar during kindergarten recess. And only a Moffat could turn mistakes and mischief into hilarious one-of-a-kind adventure.

Another one of my favorites, and if you’ve been a reader of this blog for long you have probably figured that out by now. This is not the first time I have recommended The Moffats and it won’t be the last. I love the simple adventures the children go on. This book made me laugh and search for more books about this lovable family when I was done. 


The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

From Amazon on Book #1, The Boxcar Children:

The Aldens begin their adventure by making a home in a boxcar. Their goal is to stay together, and in the process they find a grandfather.

The Boxcar Children are a timeless classic and their adventures are a wonderful way for young readers to jump into the world of chapter books. Geared to early readers, the children’s adventures, in the first book especially, are sure to jumpstart the imagination. My youngest loves these books and has read most of them. The Boxcar children are simply the best.


Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

From Amazon on Book #1, Little House in the Big Woods:

Little House in the Big Woods takes place in 1871 and introduces us to four-year-old Laura, who lives in a log cabin on the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin. She shares the cabin with her Pa, her Ma, her sisters Mary and Carrie, and their lovable dog, Jack.

Pioneer life isn’t easy for the Ingalls family, since they must grow or catch all their own food as they get ready for the cold winter. But they make the best of every tough situation. They celebrate Christmas with homemade toys and treats, do their spring planting, bring in the harvest in the fall, and make their first trip into town. And every night, safe and warm in their little house, the sound of Pa’s fiddle lulls Laura and her sisters into sleep.

Another timeless classic that almost everyone has read, but still. These books are classics for a reason; they are so good. They offer readers a great look into life in the late 1800s, but more than that, they present family and ordinary life in the most delightful way. The audio books are excellent too, if you are looking for a series the entire family can enjoy together.


All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

From Amazon on Book #1, All-of-a-Kind Family:

Meet the All-of-a-Kind  Family -- Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie -- who live with their parents in New York City at the turn of the century.

Together they share adventures that find them searching for hidden buttons while dusting Mama's front parlor and visiting with the peddlers in Papa's shop on rainy days. The girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises.

But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all!

Confession, I haven’t read this series yet, but it felt like it needed to be on this list. It is on my TBR, maybe you will add it to yours?


The Penderwicks by Jeannie Birdsall

From Amazon on Book #1, The Penderwicks:

This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.

The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget.

I love the Penderwicks. These books are more modern than the previous recommendations on this list, but they have a classic feel. The characters are lovely and become more real with every book. This is one of my favorite series and I recommend it often.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser


From Amazon on Book #1, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street:

The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It's practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home. 

I loved so much about this book. I loved the strong sense of community both within the family structure and outside of it. I loved the sibling relationships as well. It was a book I read, loved and wished for more (some characters you just can’t leave behind after one read). Thankfully, more is on the way! The second Vanderbeeker’s book is releasing later this month (yay!). 


Let’s keep the list going! What book or series would you add to this list? Or, what books sparked your imagination when you were a kid?