Favorite Children's Books
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These are all books that my son and/or I have loved (books we just liked didn't make it to this list). It's so hard to determine what age a book is appropriate for, but I've put them roughly in order, starting with books for infants and moving upwards from there. So, although I may refer to books as Preschool, Elementary, or Young Adult, don't take my word for it - each child is different. While all these books can be listened to, some just beg to be Read Aloud to the Whole Family, especially Poetry. There are also a few Magazines that we recommend. I've also included a section of Classics that I return to again and again when I'm sad or in bed with the flu. I hope you enjoy reading these books as much as we did - compiling this list has brought back many happy memories! This page is a work in progress, so please keep coming back to see new additions.
Some of these books may currently be out of print, but available in your local library. Most of the books on this page link to Amazon.com - buying through these links helps defray the cost of running this website. For used or out-of-print books, Abebooks is a useful resource and also helps support this site. Another useful site that can often find books not available elsewhere is BookFinder.com.
We also loved Helen Oxenbury's Tom and Pippo books, many of which are board books.
Leo Lionni writes gentle, beautifully illustrated books. We particularly enjoyed Frederick, Swimmy, and A Color of His Own. Other books we enjoyed included Corduroy and The Snowy Day (Picture Puffin) by Ezra Jack Keats, Millions of Cats, The Carrot Seed, Harold and the Purple Crayon (this one should have a parental warning - beware of reading it to children who love drawing on walls!)
After reading Where's My Teddy? by Jez Alborough about a million times, my 2 year old's first words upon seeing a woods were "It's dark and horrible in there!" (you'll have to read the book to see why).
Gail Gibbons writes wonderful books about how things work. From The Post Office Book : Mail and How It Moves to The Reasons for Seasons to How a House Is Built, every book was a winner with my son (and me!).
When I started looking for books when my son was a preschooler, I was pleasantly surprised to find many favorites from my own childhood. We had many happy hours reading and re-reading Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (and we also loved the musical video version), The Story of Ferdinand (Railroad Books Series), The Story About Ping, Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business - all books I'd loved as a child. I was especially thrilled to find The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, since I grew up in New York and remember many drives to New Jersey over the "Great Gray Bridge" (otherwise known as the George Washington Bridge).
No list of books for young children would be complete without the works of Robert McCloskey. For the youngest readers, there's Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings, while One Morning in Maine has an older Sal and her little sister Jane.
Every child can relate to Max in Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are (which also has truly awesome artwork) and Judith Viorst's Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books (Frog and Toad Are Friends, Days with Frog and Toad, Frog and Toad Together) gave us many hours of pleasure. We also enjoyed the stop-action videos of the books - they are very faithful to the stories, and Frog and Toad Are Friends includes a great section on how the animation was done, while Frog and Toad Together has some fun songs at the end.
It wasn't until I was a mom that I found out Jane Yolen wasn't just a fantasy writer. Her Commander Toad books (Commander Toad in Space (Paperstar), Commander Toad and the Space Pirates, Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes) had us Lost in Silliness.
When it came time to discuss difficult issues with my preschooler, I found that the Mr. Rogers books were far and away the best for us. His book on Moving was very helpful, and when our dog died we read and re-read Mr. Rogers' book When a Pet Dies and Judith Viorst's The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. I was sorry that Let's Talk About It: Divorce didn't come out until after we'd passed that sad milestone.
My son and I both laughed over Bette Bao Lord's fictionalized account of her adjustment to the United States as a young girl, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson.
In Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, a young girl goes to live with her country cousins and blossoms as she learns independence.
Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Rule Stiles Gannett - these three books about Elmer and the dragons are perfect for young readers.
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwater - what happens when a small-town housepainter is given a houseful of penguins?
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden - a Connecticut cricket finds his way to the 42nd Street stop of the New York subway and becomes friends with a boy, a mouse and a cat.
Dave Pilkey's Captain Underpants books are a great present for reluctant readers. Silly (and annoying to adults), with goofy visuals.
Elizabeth Enright is another of our favorite authors. Her books about the Melendy children - The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five (the only one that contains a scene that might be difficult for sensitive children), and Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze - always make me wish I could join the family. Thimble Summer is a gentle story of summer on a Wisconsin farm.
British author Noel Streatfield wrote about gifted young dancers, actors and skaters, as well as their less artistic siblings. Ballet Shoes, Theater Shoes, and Dancing Shoes are still in print, while others in the series can be found at your local library.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien is the account of a widowed field mouse with a sick child, who turns for help to the super-intelligent rats who have escaped from the labs of NIMH.
E. L Konigsberg is a favorite author of ours. I'd loved re-reading her account of two children who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (a childhood haunt of mine), From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and we both enjoyed her story of a group of four brilliant, shy 12-year-olds and their teacher, The View from Saturday (we listened to the nicely done audiocassette version).
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle is a perennial favorite. I remember during exam week my freshman year at MIT, someone discovered that a classmate had a copy in his room - for the rest of the week there was a constant parade of students picking up the book, settling on John's bed for a good read, then passing on the book to the next person in need of comfort reading.
Fifth Chinese Daughter is the autobiography of Jade Snow Wong, daughter of Chinese immigrants in 1930s San Francisco. A moving account of her struggle to navigate between her parents' strict Chinese household and the American world, plus to find her independence in a culture that only valued sons.
Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, is a fun retelling of the Cinderella story. If you enjoy this, you'll probably also like Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris, and Robin McKinley's books (see Young Adults).
Johnny Tremain is a cocky young silversmith's apprentice in pre-Revolutionary Boston. Esther Forbes' book brings to life the excitement of this period, and has "guest appearances" by John Hancock, Paul Revere, and other notables of the period.
Nathaniel Bowditch grew up in 18th century Salem. Too poor to get much schooling, his mathematical brilliance led him to make great contributions to navigation, correcting the charts that sailors used. His work is still used today. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham is a fictionalized account of Bowditch's early life and gives a well-drawn portrait of New England sailing life during the period just after the Revolutionary War.
In Patricia McKillip's only book for the younger crowd, The Changeling Sea, fifteen year old Peri lives in a fishing village and has lost everyone she loves to the sea. The appearance of the king's son and a mysterious sea monster, not to mention a young magician, are woven into an enchanting tale.
Before writing her Newbury Honor Book, Surviving the Applewhites, about a quirky homeschooling family, Stephanie Tolan wrote the more serious A Time to Fly Free about a boy's journey from school to homeschool.
As a girl, I loved Zenna Henderson's "People" stories. They have an emotional power that reaches out to sensitive adolescents in the throes of self-discovery. Although some people find them overly sentimental, I have read and re-read them over the years, and find in them comfort and inspiration. Henderson's stories have been reissued as Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson. My son and I read these together, and it brought back the feelings I had when I first read them at his age.
I love and highly recommend Robin McKinley's books (with the exception of Deerskin, which is not appropriate for young readers). She's the only author I know who has retold the same fairy twice, yet made both books worth reading - Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast and Rose Daughter are two versions of Beauty and the Beast. McKinley also gives her own stamp to Sleeping Beauty in Spindle's End. In addition to fairy tales, McKinley has two fantasy novels that go together - The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword. Her latest book, Sunshine, more adult and darker, is an interesting, McKinley-esque twist on vampire tales.
Patricia McKillip's Riddle-Master of Hed Trilogy combines a compelling story with beautiful language. Her fantasy of land rulers, wizards and the end of an age is populated with beautifully drawn characters.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Don't settle for the movie.
Chaim Potok is one of my favorite authors. His books are full of insight into the human soul, in the context of Jewish life. In particular, The Chosen shows the deep abiding friendship between two exceptionally gifted boys from very different backgrounds. My Name Is Asher Lev examines the dilemma faced by a brilliant artist for whom staying true to his gift means breaking with his Chassidic family and community. Davita's Harp, his only book with a female protagonist, follows the daughter of radical activists as she rediscovers the Jewish roots her mother left behind.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best books I've ever read and re-read. This book has layers upon layers of story and meaning. It's about racism and standing up for what you believe in and growing up in a small Southern town and family and love, all seen through a child's eyes.
The only trouble with reading aloud naturalist Gerald Durrell's accounts of the years his eccentric family spent living on the island of Corfu, My Family and Other Animals and Beasts in My Belfry, is that it's hard to speak while laughing so hard!
We also enjoyed listening to all of James Herriot's books about his life as a country veterinarian in Yorkshire. From All Creatures Great and Small to Every Living Thing, there were times I nearly drove off the road because I was laughing too hard to safely drive. The audiobook versions are read by Christopher Timothy, who played Herriot in the British TV series - he does a wonderful job with all the accents and characterizations. This is one of the few times where I recommend the audio over books, due to the quality of Timothy's acting.
The Pushcart War by Jan Merrill - when trucks and pushcarts have to share the streets of New York City, anything can happen!
We've read Norman Juster's Phantom Tollbooth twice, at ages 7 and 12, and laughed over it equally each time. Similar in tone, James Thurber's The 13 Clocks was also welcome at a time we needed some light relief. Thurber's My Life and Hard Times is not written for kids, but my son still enjoyed many parts of it.
Jean Craighead George's books The Tarantula in My Purse : and 172 Other Wild Pets and There's an Owl in the Shower are engaging accounts of various wild animals that lived with her family over the years.
Not your usual princess-meets-dragon stories, Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles kept us in stitches as we followed Princess Cimorene's adventures. Great fun for all. We enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of the first volume, Dealing With Dragons, which is a nicely done dramatization.
Then, there's William Goldman's The Princess Bride: S Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure. No one reading this book would be surprised to learn that Goldman's a screen writer (and not just because he tells you in the first chapter) - this is a vividly visual book.
Listen to the wonderful BBC production of The Complete Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, then go back and read The Universe of Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy/the Restaurant at the End of the Universe/Life, the Universe and Everything/So Long, and Thanks for the Fish.
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey has nothing to do with the newly released movie. The true story of turn-of-the-century efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their family, this book had us in stitches over the antics of kids and father alike. The sequel, Belles on Their Toes, continues the story after Frank's untimely death. Time Out for Happiness is Gilbreth's more serious biography of his parents and discussion of their work, which I greatly enjoyed.
You Read to Me, I'll Read to You by John Ciardi was a childhood favorite of mine. I was delighted to discover that it's still in print so I could share it with my son, who also loves it.
Jack Prelutsky writes poetry that will delight children and their parents.
In our household, regular doses of "Jabberwocky" and "Custard the Dragon" are considered necessities. These poems and many more can be found in our favorite anthology, Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris.
Cat lovers will relish T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, perfectly illustrated by the inimitable Edward Gorey - this is another we read aloud regularly. You can also listen to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical version, Cats (1981 Original London Cast).
I was introduced to Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle when I was in junior high school. This collection of poetry was carefully selected with adolescents in mind. A quirky, thoughtful collection of poems you are unlikely to find anywhere else, accompanied by some beautiful photography.
Heidi by Johanna Spyri is the story of a young girl growing up in the Swiss Alps.
Nothing like the movies - Mary Poppins and Story of Doctor Dolittle are great to read aloud. Mary Poppins is no saccharine-sweet milksop - she's an acerbic, no-nonsense British nanny - while Dr. Doolittle's menagerie will engage and amaze.
My son and I both enjoyed Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, where two young difficult children blossom and grow strong in the fresh air of the Yorkshire moors. Girls will laugh and cry over her other classic, A Little Princess.
We also enjoyed Caddie Woodlawn and it's sequel Caddie Woodlawn's Family (originally titled "Magical Melons"), which I'd somehow managed to miss when I was a child. Carol Ryrie Brinks wrote these books about her grandmother's childhood in the woods of Wisconsin in the mid-1860s.
Less well known than the Anne of Green Gables series or the Little House books, Maud Hart Lovelace's equally enjoyable stories of Betsy, Tacy and Tib growing up in Deep Valley, Minnesota were based on her own childhood. Betsy grows from a youngster in Betsy-Tacy to a newly-wed in Betsy's Wedding. Lovelace's other books set in Deep Valley, such as Emily of Deep Valley, are also very good.
Written as the letters from orphan Judy to the anonymous benefactor who sends her to college, Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs is a delight from start to finish.
Many public libraries have a selection of children's magazines that can be borrowed. We found this an excellent way to explore publications before taking the plunge and paying for a subscription.
Muse is a favorite in our house - both my son and I eagerly await every issue. It's covers an eclectic array of topics, from science through history, pirates and dragons, with regular features on math, interesting science news, and always lots of commentaries from the Muses themselves. It's billed as being for kids ages 9 and up, and there is a sister magazine - Ask - for the 7-10 year old set.
For several years, my son enjoyed Sports Illustrated for Kids - it was a great way to get a reluctant reader reading.
For girls, especially in middle school, New Moon: The Magazine For Girls & Their Dreams provides an advertising-free alternative, with articles written and edited by girls age 8-14. To learn more, see their website at http://www.newmoon.org/
These days, by far the most favored magazine is Star Wars Insider.
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Last updated Friday October 06, 2006
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Meredith G. Warshaw