These are what I consider the best in Children’s Literature. These are the stories I read to my children, and now to my grandchildren. Some are stories I heard as a child. Fully ninety percent of the books I see in the libraries and in book stores for kids today are what I’d consider truly garbage. Yuck! Ugly pictures, stupid stories – we do not need to talk “down” to children! If you can’t find these books in your library, then I strongly suggest you add them to your Christmas and Birthday shopping lists. These are the stories that your child will want to hear again and again. The best way to raise a reader- read to them often. Read to them great books. Provide great books at home. Libraries are great, but children will want to own their own copies of their favorites so they can return to them again and again.
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginal Lee Burton. Actually, I will list anything by this author. She wrote a number of children’s books – some of them Caldecott Award winners – for her own two boys. This story is a classic, timeless tale of a man, his trusty steam-shovel, and the work they do. As progress makes steam shovels obsolete, Mike and Mary Ann work together to find a solution. Written in 1939, this book has it all, “heroes and happy endings, lively illustrations, and a dash of nostalgia for extra charm.” (quoted from the publisher’s website). The publisher is currently offering extended activities for this story. You can click here for the website to download the activity sheets. I looked through the activities, and would recommend them for older preschool children, kindergarten, and even first grade. Her other books include Katy and the Big Snow and The Little House. Of course, if you’re going to buy Mike Mulligan for your little one, you might want to get a steam shovel from Tonka to go with it! Pairing a toy with a book is a great way to grow a book-lover.
Corduroy by Don Freeman. This charming story is about a Teddy Bear who wants to go home with a little girl. During the night he explores the store, looking for his lost button. He has a great imagination, is a warm and friendly character and one that small children can certainly relate to. In the morning when the girl returns to the store to buy him, he realizes that she must be a friend. He always wanted a friend! There is a sequel to this story, A Pocket for Corduroy, which is just as cute. (You can get the book Corduroy with a matching Teddy Bear.
Sand Cake by Frank Asch. Papa Bear amuses Baby Bear during an afternoon at the beach. Warm, family relationships, cute story, charming pictures. This author is very prolific! Most of his work is excellent. I especially recommend Popcorn, Milk and Cookies, and Bread and Honey.
But No Elephants by Jerry Smath. This is a silly story, but adorable. The kids love it. Just the right mix of humor, lively illustrations, and caring, compationate characters. Check out other books by this author, as well. He wrote and illustrated 40 books, and illustrated a hundred more.
The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Yaroslova. I mention the illustrator, as well, because this story is a classic Ukranian folk tale, and there are other versions available. This is the best of them all. A little boy is out fetching wood for his family, but loses a mitten. A woodland mouse finds it, and makes a home in it. The mitten stretches and stretches as more animals climb in beside the mouse to escape the cold. Jan Brett, a fantastic illustrator, also did a version of this book, but the story isn’t quite as charming. Alvin Tresselt has done many other books, as well, including White Snow, Bright Snow, and Wake Up, Farm!
Annie and the Wild Animals by Jan Brett. She is absolutely the best illustrator! Her pictures are detailed and colorful. Her intricate boarders add little clues about “what happens next” before you turn the page. I’d buy her books just to look at the pictures. However, as far as stories go, they are somewhat lacking. This one, though, is the exception. I loved Annie and the Wild Animals, and so did my children. My copy is in the mail – can’t wait to see my grandchild’s face on Christmas Day! We do own Brett’s The Three Snow Bears. It’s okay as far as story goes. We love it, because we also run sled dogs. Here is a Jan Brett treasury of board books, for younger children.
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. “Strega Nona” means Grandma Witch, the title the people in the village have given an old woman. She is not a scary sort of witch, though. She can cure headaches, help girls find husbands, and get rid of warts. Big Anthony comes to work for her, and gets into mischief. It is a delightful story, the illustrations are perfect. This is a Caldecott Honor book, and well-deserving! One reviewer even suggested that children who grew up loving this tale became Harry Potter fans. Interesting concept. Another reviewer compared this tale to Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and said that this one was less frightening. I just know that I loved reading it to my children. You really have to like the books you buy for them, as you will have to read them at least a hundred times each. You can safely buy ANY book by Tomie dePaola, and know you are getting a classic. I especially recommend Tomie dePaola’s Book of Bible Stories, The Clown of God, The Miracles of Jesus and Mother Goose.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I didn’t care for this story as much as my kids did. I thought the story was a little bare, as were the pictures. A little boy goes outside to play in the snow. He puts a snowball in his pocket to keep it safe, and when he goes inside, it melts. On the other hand, this book would probably appeal to a much younger crowd – ones, twos, and young threes. If your child does enjoy this book, you make want to check out Keats’ other stories, especially Peter’s Chair, Whistle for Willie, and A Pet Show.
Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina.I loved this story! Another classic tale retold, a man’s caps are stolen by some monkeys. He tries everything to get his caps back, but not until he gets so angry that he takes off his own hat and throws it on the ground, do the monkeys comply. A cute, monkey-see, monkey-do theme. This story is fun to read, if you make a fist and imitate the poor salesman. It can generate a discussion about emotions, as well – anger, frustration, etc. This is really a story worth owning. It’s been around for more than fifty years!
The Story About Ping, by Marjorie Flack. This one is a must-have. Ping is a young duck with a huge family on the yellow waters of the Yangtzie River. Ping gets separated from his family, has some adventures, and eventually finds his way back home safely. Colorful and charming, this classic tale is a must-have.
Tkiki Tikki Tembo, by Arlene Mosel. This is a great retelling of a classic Chinese folktale about why the Chinese give their children short names. The older brother in the story had a great, long name. Children love the rhythm of this story, and will repeat the long name with you over and over. “Tiki Tiki tembo, No Sa Rembo, Chari-bari Ruchi, Pip Peri Pembo”. Poor little Chang is quite out of breath as he runs for help, to inform his mother that his brother is at the bottom of the well. This book is a perfect read-aloud. Don’t get this story confused with “Riki Tiki Tavi” – a story for older children by Rudyard Kipling.
Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey. There’s an excellent review of this book at Amazon.com, by a Professor Donald Mitchell. I’d almost forgotten this story, but it was one I read to my children often. It talks about parental love and concern for keeping their children safe. It was based on a true story, I believe. One day in Boston a family of ducks were trying to cross a busy street to get to the pond in the park, and the police got out to hold up traffic for them. Get yourself a copy, and share it with your children. There are even used copies available, which surprised me. Most kids wear this book out. The gold circle on the cover is a “Caldecott Award” – awarded annually for the “most distinguished American picture book for children.” Robert McCloskey has several other titles that are charming. I especially like “Blueberries for Sal” because I remember picking blueberries as a child.
The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper. I don’t know if this story even needs a review – who can’t remember it? The little engine had a big load to carry to all the good boys and girls, but he had to go over a tall mountain. He only made it by sheer determination, chanting “I think I can, I think I can, ” as he slowly made his way. A good lesson story, with bright, colorful pictures. I did think the “good little girls and boys” phrase got a little sappy halfway through the book, but you have the right to skip words and phrases when you read – your child isn’t going to know! Until, that is, it’s a favorite of his. Then he’ll know it better than you and he’ll remind you when you miss something.
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf. I don’t remember actually liking the pictures in this book when I was little, but my kids liked the story anyway. The pictures are lovely line drawings, but at least the copy I had was tacky, two-color acetate overlays. Maybe they’ve republished the book with better color recently? This is a story about a bull who does not want to fight. He likes to stand in the field and smell flowers. Cute story, and a good one to share with children about learning to be true to themselves.
No Roses for Harry, by Gene Zion. I laughed the first time I read this one to my kids, and I still chuckled after the fiftieth time I read it. If any book can make you smile that much, it must surely be a keeper. Grandma knitted a sweater for Harry (the dog), but he didn’t like it. It has roses on it. He tried to lose his sweater, but someone always found it. Then one day at the park, as he was worrying a loose thread, a bird grabbed it (unraveling the whole sweater) to make her nest. I wonder if kids especially relate to this story, because someone – a grandma, or aunt, or neighbor – has probably given them something they didn’t like to wear either? There are several books about Harry, including Harry the Dirty Dog. I’d guess they were all great, but this is the only one I had.
Henry’s Awful Mistake, by Robert Quackenbush. Poor disaster-prone Henry. He’s expecting someone for dinner, when he sees and ant. As he tries to get rid of the ant, he makes a big mess and destroys his house. There is nothing to do but cancel dinner. He has to move into a new house, and the next time he sees an ant, he looks the other way. Kind of cute and imaginative. The illustrations are perfect, and the story moves along. This was very popular with my children. Henry has more adventures, including Henry Goes West.
Pickle Things, by Marc Tolon Brown. Personally, I didn’t really like this story the first ten times I read it. My kids did, though. And as I read it again and again, I grew to like it. Silly rhymes, but children love rhymes. “Pickle up, pickle down, juggled by a pickle clown. Pickle in, pickle out, pickles from the water spout.” Silly and colorful, children quickly memorize the poem and will “read” it right along with you. This illustrator is also the creator of the Arthur books, if your child happens to be an Arthur fan.
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. I imagine most of my readers already know this story. It is still popular, even though many of the other classic books I read to my children are no longer readily available. A little bird falls from his nest and wanders around looking for his mother. He meets a variety of animals and even a big piece of machinery, before he finally finds his mother. I wondered if very young children might be scared by this story, afraid of losing their mom, but maybe they focus more on the happy ending. I know that my two younger girls simple LOVED this story. I had to read it a whole lot more than I wanted to.
The same daughters and now my granddaughter absolutely adore his “Go, Dogs, Go!” These two books aren’t quite what I’d consider “five stars”, but they sure are popular with children.
Septimus Bean and his Amazing Machine, by Janet Quin-Harkin. Another cute rhyming story. Septimus creates a great machine, but doesn’t know what it does. Everyone helps him try to figure it out. I can’t find my copy, but I will definitely be buying a new one for my granddaughter. The rhyming is precious! And at the end of the story, they find the perfect use for his amazing machine. Amazon.com doesn’t carry this story any more, but there are sellers who will sell it through Amazon.com. I found one hard cover copy for under five dollars.
James Herriot’s Treasure for Children by James Herriot. This is the famous country veterinarian author of “All Creatures Great and Small”. This picture book is a collection of some of the sweetest animal stories you’ll find anywhere, with the most beautiful illustrations! If your child loves animals, this is sure to become his or her favorite book of all.