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zen habits: Best All-Time Children's Books

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Best All-Time Children's Books

Reading to your kids is one of the all-time best things you can do with them, and for them. I love reading to my kids, and they love reading with me. It is some of the best quality time ever, and sharing a good book with a child is just a wonderful feeling.

I've compiled a list of my all-time favorite children's books -- a list that can start any child's library. It's a starting point, to be sure -- I'm sure you can think of many more to be included. But these are books I truly love (and my kids do too) and I think most kids and parents will love them. These are mostly time-tested classics, so there might not be too many surprises here, but sometimes it's useful to be reminded of books we've forgotten about.

For Younger Readers
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Harold Crockett. One of my most, most favorite books for younger kids. Great imagination, great character. I still wish I could be Harold.

  • Go, Dog. Go!, by P.D. Eastman. Often the book that has taught my kids to read. Warning: they might ask you to read this an infinite amount of times. But that's a good thing for them.
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault. The thing I love about this book is its rhythm. It's so fun to read. Also teaches about the alphabet.
  • Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. I can never get enough of this book. It is truly awesome. Great drawings, great imagination. If I had to choose just 10 books on this list, this would be one of them.
  • Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown. Kids just love this book. Perfect for toddlers.
  • Corduroy, by Don Freeman. One of my favorite books as a little kid. This lovable teddy bear will always have a special place in my heart.
  • Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam Mcbratney. I love you all the way to the moon and back! Fun to read this with your kids, and then later compete to see how much you love each other.
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Joffe Numeroff. This was a favorite for my kids. I love the drawings.
  • The Complete Adventures of Curious George, by H.A. Rey. He's now an international icon, but Curious George has always been one of the most lovable characters in literature.
  • In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak. This is Sendak at his best. He has such a wonderful drawing style, and can tell stories with the best of them.
  • Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Seuss. Speaking of the best of them, Dr. Seuss is it. He's a legend, of course, and everything he wrote is amazing, so it's really impossible to choose, but I love this Horton book, as well as the next two by Seuss. This book is characteristic of Seuss's early days.
  • There's a Wocket in My Pocket!, by Dr. Seuss. A great tongue-twister book, this is the epitome of much of his silly, fun stuff.
  • The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. His most socially conscious book. Although many of his books have a message, this is the most overt. It talks about the dangers of industrialism and environmental damange, in such an easily understood manner that any kid could get it.
  • The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. If Seuss is the best, Silverstein is right behind him. If I had to list just 10 books here, this book would be one of them. Such a sweet, sad, true book, with great drawings of course.
  • The Five Chinese Brothers, by Claire Hutchett Bishop. I read this as a little kid, and forgot about it until rediscovering it with my kids in recent years. It's a classic, and will be loved by any kid.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein. Classic Silverstein, this book and the next are full of incredible poems and drawings that will delight any reader, young or old.
  • A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein. More from perhaps the greatest children's poet of all time.
  • The Missing Piece, by by Shel Silverstein. OK, I should stop with the Silverstein, but I really cannot get enough of him. There's actually a series of books along the lines of the Missing Piece, all of them with interesting life lessons, and wittily drawn. Read them all.
  • The Story of Babar, by Jean De Brunhoff. Another classic, this was a staple of my childhood, and just as good today as 30 years ago.
For Middle Readers
  • James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl. I don't know how he does it, but Dahl has a way of telling stories that is just magical. He creates such real and deep characters, little kids who you cannot help but love and empathize with. This and the next two books are among his greatest, but one should not rule out BFG, his poetry or any of his other stories.
  • Matilda, by Roald Dahl. Perhaps my favorite Dahl book. While reading this book, you want to have Matilda as a friend, and during the time you are with her, she is your friend.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. A classic, of course, and yet another poor kid who inevitably enters your heart.
  • The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Originally published in French, this classic is so unique, I cannot really describe it. If you haven't read it to your child, please do.
  • Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White. Warning: this book will make you and your child cry. But it is worth the sadness for the wonderfulness you will discover.
  • The Borrowers, by Mary Norton. What a fun and adventurous book. Every kid will love this.
  • Stuart Little, by E.B. White. This is an admirable little character that will delight all children.
  • Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh. Written in the hard-boiled detective style, this is just a lot of fun.
  • Encyclopedia Brown Solves Them All (Encyclopedia Brown), by Donald J. Sobol. This is actually a series of books about Leroy Brown, a brilliant kid who solves neighborhood crimes. I could not get enough of this as a kid, and my son loves it too.
  • Magic Tree House Series, by Mary Pope Osborne. A very long series (over 30 last time I counted) of fun, adventurous and educational books. It covers stuff kids love, like dinosaurs and ninjas and knights and wizards, and makes history come alive. My son is in love with this series.
  • Junie B. Jones series, by Barbara Park. Another great series, this one appeals more to girls who are beginning to read.
  • The Ramona series, by Beverly Cleary. Yet another series, this one appeals to both boys and girls. I loved it as a kid.
  • How to Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell. Now on the big screen, this book has portrayed elementary school life accurately for several generations of kids.
  • Freckle Juice, by Judy Blume. This author, Judy Blume, has such an insight into the young mind that any child, young or old, will identify with her characters. This book, and the next, are just two samples from her lovely collection -- any Judy Blume book will be excellent.
  • Superfudge, by Judy Blume. Your kid will crack up at this book, and have a lot of fun with the characters.
  • The Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald. One of my all-time favorite series as a kid. I recommended it to my son, who loves to read but thought this would be boring. He fell in love with it. Told you so!
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L Konigsburg. A timeless novel, the characters in this book come alive for a great adventure.
  • The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain), by Lloyd Alexander. This is actually a series of books, all of which are so perfect you don't want them to end. This tale about a pig-keeper's assistant has been entertaining young readers for generations, and is a must-read.
  • Westmark Trilogy, by Lloyd Alexander. Another series by a true master, this is for slightly older kids than the last series, but just as amazing.
For Older Readers
  • The Chronicles of Narnia Box Set, by C.S. Lewis. What can I say about this series that not everyone knows? Nothing really, except that every new generation falls in love with it as if it were the first time. And for them, it is. Be sure your child is among them.
  • Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1), by Christopher Paolini. One of the more recent books on the list, this was an instant classic. Though it's about dragons, it will appeal to both boys and girls.
  • Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-6), by J.K. Rowling. This series has been super-hyped in the media ... and in my opinion, it lives up to the hype. I got into the series a little late, but read every book to my daughter and am now going through it for a second time with my son. These are the type of books that will hook children on reading.
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkein. How I love this book, and always have. I loved it before I was able to get into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and though the trilogy surpasses the original Hobbit, this little book has a special place in my heart. It will in your child's heart as well.
  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams. This book so enchanted me when I first read it, in middle school, that I read it several times during my teen-age years after that, and even once or twice in adulthood. It leads you through such an adventure, such an emotional journey, and from the perspective of a few rabbits!
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. This is required reading for most middle school students, and rightfully so. As a teen-ager, reading about an island controlled by kids was just too cool.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This is a gripping story with great characters. You can't go wrong with this one.
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. This book hits the teen-ager reader with a pop! between the eyes. A main character that swears! And we're encouraged to read it. Salinger creates a character that is true, and timeless, and captures the experience and sensibilities of youth extremely well. I will always love him for this book.
  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Trilogy, by Ann Brashares. I haven't actually read this book, but my daughter did, and loved it. It got her reading again, after a brief hiatus, and for that, I have to recommend the book. Plus I liked the movie.
  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry. A kind of chilling book, but engaging nonetheless.
  • Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson. Classic story being rediscovered by a new generation because of the recent movie, this story about two fifth graders who create a secret kingdom in the woods called Terabithia will stir your heart.
  • A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle. This warm, loving book has been cherished by so many. Follow the Murry family in its adventures in all the books of this series.
  • Inkheart, by Cornelia Caroline Funke. This writer has such a great imagination, and this ode to books and book lovers will be highly enjoyed by your child. Also read the Thief Lord.
What are your favorite children's books? Let us know in the comments.

See also:


Jeri Dansky said...

You've already named many of my favorites (Charlotte's Web, The Little Prince, and To Kill a Mockingbird) - but I also have a few to add.

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, with art by Michael Martchenko

The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Pinkwater

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass), by Lewis Carroll

Leo said...

Great books, Jeri! Thanks for the comment!

todd said...

You've got quite a span of ages here. My two daughters are 7 and 4.

I'd add at least one more Munsch book, Stephanie's Ponytail.

Elmer, by David McKee, is about a patchwork elephant that thinks he wants to be like everyone else.

The Story of Ferdinand is another classic at our house.

We've just discovered Boo and Baa, by Lena and Olaf Landstrom, and can't get enough.

My Father's Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett, about how Elmer Elevator rescues a baby dragon on Wild Island, tricking Lions, crocs, boars, and other animals along the way.

Well, these are the ones that come to mind...

Kathy Moore said...

Leo, can I just say how much I love this blog? Seriously, I found it through another that I found through another, but of the three, yours is my fave! Thanks for the book list, we have lots of these, but will put some of the others on our library list.

Have a great week!

Leo said...

@Todd: Thanks for your picks! There are some I haven't read yet and look forward to finding them at the library.

@Kathy: Thanks for the wonderful comment! I appreciate that, and I'm glad you've found the blog useful. Also, feel free to email me anytime (or leave a comment) with suggestions for stuff you want to read about. I love getting that kind of input!

Lauren said...

My favorite picture book is, appropriately, Zen Shorts, by Jon J. Muth. It's about a panda named Stillwater who imparts zen koans in story form to several young children. It's an absolutely beautiful book. It just came out here in the States last year.

I second the recommendation of The Big Orange Splot. Another fantastic book!

I read a lot of books for teenagers, and am writing one myself. My favorites are Looking For Alaska, by John Green, I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak, and Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher. The first two are quite recent; the third was published in 1992, I believe.

Loving the blog, by the way. This is my first comment, but I've been reading your archives for the last few weeks. Thanks for all the advice and inspiration.

Elizabeth said...

I'm stunned that you don't have The Very Hungry Caterpillar among the books for the youngest - roughly 3 generations have been through that one, following the holes in each page.

And I absolutely loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books which I first read from when I was about 8.

SpiKe said...

My faves as a kid were always the Redwall series and Animals Of Farthing Wood series of books.

Organize IT

Jenn said...

His Dark Materials Trilogy is a great series for older readers as well.

Great list! If you like children's literature in general, be sure to check out Jen Robinson's Book Page for her great reviews of books and news about children's literature.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I love "James and the Giant Peach," as an adult. The movie version is great too.

kamal said...

Ah, I love "James and the Giant Peach," as an adult. The movie version is great too.

Also, I met the author of "Walter the farting dog." Parents and kids seem to love the book. I love the title.

Leo said...

Great books, guys! Thanks for all the comments. Actually, I wanted to put Zen Shorts on there, because of its beauty and the simplicity of the way its philosophy is presented, but just couldn't knock off any of the others. Same with Hungry Catepillar, which I also love. There are others which regretfully didn't make the list, and many of them are just as worthy of the titles I had here, but in the end, it's a very personal choice, and I went with those that had the most meaning to me and my kids. The Redwall series is a favorite of my son's right now, although I never read it as a child. Another that I didn't put on there that is truly awesome is "Love That Dog". That's a must read.

Thanks, everyone, for the comments so far. It's fun to hear everyone else's favorites!

Anonymous said...

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. Ages 5-9, but great message for all ages.

stayfly said...

great post!

Dinah said...

Verdi by Janell Cannon is my favorite
Excellent art work.
My life story in less than 40 pages.
Great sight. I have recognize all but 3 titles.
Remember to read to your kids every day.
Gma Dinah

CK said...

A book I liked a lot when I was growing up is The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. An oldie but goodie!

Chris said...

"The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster

The wordplay is just fantastic!

wwax said...

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I bought this book for all my neices and nephews when they were born.