I'm not one to get all mushy about kids' books--I'm of the opinion that the vast majority of them are utter crap, even the award winners--but right now I'm reading my kids John D. Fitzgerald's The Great Brain series, my absolute favorite books when I was my older son's age--around ten. The books are a series of anecdotes based upon the author's childhood in Utah, and in one of the only Catholic families in a largely Mormon area at the end of the 19th century. The narrator, J.D., is a stand-in for the author, and the stories are ostensibly about his brother Tom, a self-styled "Great Brain" who is always getting into--and slipping out of--trouble, or thinking up some (usually successful) money-making scheme.
Of course the stories are really about J.D.'s tremendous powers of observation, and the books comprise an unusually complete and utterly satisfying narrative universe. With their brother, Sweyn, the boys grapple with real moral dilemmas and genuine life problems, including the starving death of a peddler for which the whole town is responsible; the near-suicide and rehabilitation of a boy who has lost a leg; and the recasting of a villainous private-school master as a thoughtful and reasonable man. Fitzgerald constantly calls all his most acute observations into question, and little ever goes as expected. Meanwhile, the characters serve as real role models--I was aware of this even when I was a child, and consciously aspired to Tom's cleverness, Sweyn's maturity, J.D.'s articulateness, their parents' judiciousness and good humor. I hope my kids do the same.
By the way, these books are still in print, and still bearing the terrific illustrations, by Mercer Mayer, that I remember. A nice change of pace from the usual W6 "This book is great but good luck finding a copy."