The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Dover, $3). The first truly and wholly American novel, and still one of the best, Huck Finn is filled with the entire panorama of childhood, from joy to fear to self-awareness. If you haven't read it since 10th grade, take another look. It will astonish you.
Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss (Random House, $18). One of the most exciting and brilliant books about childhood ever written. I have no children, I'm 63 years old, and every time I read this book, I get the feeling that the endless perils of my endless childhood will inevitably lead to a place in the road where I will be victorious.
Canada by Richard Ford (Ecco, $28). Here is childhood in peril. In Ford's new novel, Dell Parsons's loving family breaks apart when his mother and father decide to rob a bank. Dell flees to Canada, learning along the way that some borders can never be uncrossed — like the one that leads away from the innocence of American boyhood.
The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn (Picador, $20). With bitter humor, the Melrose novels depict the aftermath of a single act of violent sexual assault by a father against his son. Humor is the one protection that the narrator has against the horror and repulsion that fill his heart. From moment to moment, St. Aubyn shows us that children, above all, are survivors.
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson (Ecco, $14). Some childhoods are neither paradise nor damnation, they're just plain weird. Wilson's funny and touching debut novel concerns the offspring of demented performance artists and what happens to them when their parents mysteriously vanish. Is the disappearance yet another piece of performance art, or a genuine crime?
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (Back Bay, $15). No one has spun more gold out of the dross of a dubious childhood than Sedaris, and he has done it hilariously. Overweight, gay, odd — he once asked for a vacuum cleaner for Christmas — here Sedaris writes masterfully about the fact that it's okay just to be who you are.