To me and to the millions of other readers young and old who have fallen in love with Hogwarts and its students, Harry Potter is much more than kid-lit. Nevertheless, I have to credit it with making me into such a voracious reader. When I was seven or eight and had read through the first four Harry Potters, I set off on this quest to discover a book which I loved even half as much, a character I identified with as much as Hermione Grange, and a magical world even half as incredible. I never did find one, and still haven't today, but the quest is what first made me such a frequent visitor to the library.
The Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo
Charlie Bone could be called the next best thing to Harry Potter, and so it was to its pages that my search took me next. Charlie Bone becomes a student at the clandestine and exclusive Bloor's Academy, where artistically-talented students study alongside students with special powers, "the Endowed", a group of children descended from the mythical Red King. The series is aimed at younger kids than Harry Potter, I would say, but the stories and the characters are incredible. I believe there are now seven books, and the series is finally finished.
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
I think the magical world of Narnia is one best experienced when you're about the Pevensies' age: this is a happier literary place than Harry Potter's world, despite the White Witch and any number of goblins. My favorite books in the series are: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Horse and His Boy; and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The Last Battle is sad and allegorical-- I could almost do without that one.
The Inkworld Trilogy, The Thief Lord, and other books by Cornelia Funke
Inkheart became my new favorite book when I was ten or so: it was about a girl, Meggie, who could do exactly what I, a shy bookworm, wanted most: to travel into books and call up the characters from their pages into the real world, even to write her own stories into physical being. I can't tell you how many times I read this book-- recently I saw a girl about the age I was when I first read it reading it for the first time, and I'm glad to see that it's still so popular.
Matilda and other books by Roald Dahl
Matilda is another MG-lit heroine who loves books and has a magical power herself. This book was another frequent re-read for me, and I also liked The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The BFG. I still have the Roald Dahl boxset on my bookshelf. His books are true children's classics.
The House of the Scorpion and other books by Nancy Farmer
The House of the Scorpion was maybe my first foray into science fiction, or good science fiction. Anyone, pre-teen or adult, who reads this novel is bound to remember it and its haunting themes and ending forever. The Sea of Trolls and its Norse-myth-based sequels are fantasy, but equally incredible. I love the character of Thorgil and, of course, the elves and trolls.
The Wolves in the Walls, Coraline, Instructions, and others by Neil Gaiman
Yep, I discovered Neil Gaiman at a fairly young age. Coraline was the first I read by him, and the story really impressed me-- it was so much eerier and better written than Goosebumps books, which were my first foray into horror. I quickly devoured his picture books for younger children, as well... I only wish I'd gotten to read some of his newer books for younger people, like The Graveyard Book (which I read anyway, of course) and The Blueberry Girl when I was reading the others and wishing he had more for kids. I loved Gaiman's writing style so much that I starting reading his adult books, like American Gods and Stardust.
Did ya'll ever read any of these books as children, teenagers, or as adults? Which books from your childhood/pre-teenhood are the most memorable to you, or made you into the reader you are today?