I Can’t Part With These Books

As I was packing up mountains of ‘baby’ books from the shelves in my 9-year-old son’s room recently, his 14-year-old sister and I had a revelation. Several of these books (moved to his room years ago when both big sisters grew out of them) have become much, much more than just books to us. They’re part of our family lore. And they’re not going anywhere. We’re saving them for the precious memories…and the grandchildren.

It occurred to me that my family’s favorite stories might appeal to you, too. Truth be told, this is my list. These are books I never tired of reading, which may be at least part of the reason my children enjoyed them so much as well. As my acting teacher used to say, “If you are thinking it, the audience knows it,” and there is no more sensitive, aware audience than a young child.

First Year

Like most babies, mine liked Pat the Bunny and books with photos of animals, or babies doing fun stuff with their mommies and daddies. But earlier than I expected they also appreciated a narrative (even if told only through pictures), especially humorous ones like the “Max” books or atmospheric stories like Rain Talk. And these were also more enjoyable for me to read…

1. Max’s Breakfast, Max’s Bedtime, Max’s Birthday, Max’s Toys by Rosemary Wells

2. The Owl And The Pussycat by Edward Lear, illustrated by Jan Brett

3. The Furry Bedtime Book by Margo Lundell, illustrated by David McPhail

4. Wake Up Mr. B.! by Penny Dale

5. Rain Talk by Mary Serfozo

6. Good Dog, Carl, Carl Goes Shopping and Carl’s Masquerade by Alexandra Day

Second Year And Up

I don’t believe in ever pushing or rushing a child’s cognitive development, but I discovered that by exposing my children to both spoken language and books that were a little beyond their understanding, their language skills grew in leaps and bounds. I remember reading a long time ago (wish I could remember where) that mothers intuitively know how to extend a child’s vocabulary this way, adding increasingly difficult words to the conversation. (I imagine that the new breed of hands-on fathers do, too).

If children don’t comprehend a book enough to enjoy it (or just aren’t in the mood), they clearly indicate their disinterest. Mostly, my children astonished me by enjoying books that I would have thought were way beyond them.  So, when in doubt, try it!

You’re  probably already familiar with popular classics we loved like: The Complete Tales of Winnie The Pooh (great on audio CD, too), The Little Engine That Could, Peter Rabbit, The Ugly Duckling, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, Madeline, Paddington Bear, Yertle the Turtle and The Lorax, to name a few.

If I had to pick one children’s author for my hall of fame, it would be Arnold Lobel.  Second and third would be Russell Hoban (especially his Francis series) and Rosemary Wells. I’ve read their books a million times and it isn’t enough. They are eloquent, silly and smart, have the quirky humor and uplifting view of life that can cheer me at the end of dreary day, make me appreciate life again. If you haven’t yet discovered these books, you’re in for a treat.

Arnold Lobel favorites include Days With Frog And Toad (great in audiobook, too), and all the other Frog And Toad stories, Mouse Soup, Uncle Elephant, Owl At Home, Grasshopper on the Road

Russell Hoban’s Bedtime For Francis, A Baby Sister For Frances (great for new big brothers or sisters), Bread And Jam For Frances (an especially helpful story for picky eaters) and Best Friends For Francis.

Rosemary Wells’ atmospheric The Island Light and First Tomato (From her “Voyage to the Bunny Planet” series, which they now have all together in one book HERE–love these!) and her Max and Ruby picture books, Bunny Money, Bunny Cakes and Max’s Dragon Shirt were all read thousands of times in our home

Mommy Tear-Jerkers

I never once read these books without tearing up, which disturbed my children a little at first, but eventually they got used to me. If you need a good, happy kind of cry, these magical favorites might do the trick…

1. Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and illustrated by Barbara Cooney (an all time personal favorite that kindles my childhood memories of playing “Town”).

2. I Love You The Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse (which I highly recommend for children dealing with new babies or younger siblings.  Beautifully captures the feeling of loving more than one child.)

3. The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde

4. The Adventures of Taxi Dog

Speaking of dogs

If you love dogs like we do, you’ll get a kick out of the Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant, especially Henry and Mudge Get the Cold Shivers and Henry and Mudge and the Wild Wind. You’ll also like the hilarious Three More Stories You Can Read To Your Dog by Sara Swan Miller.

Kid’s choices

Each child is unique, of course, and though mine all appreciated these books when they were very small, their tastes soon diverged. When I recently asked, “What first books come to mind?” the 18 year old remembered classics she first read by herself, Go Dog Go and Are You My Mother? The 9 year old surprised me by mentioning the rather obscure, but cool Ladybug At Orchard Avenue, and the 14 year old (biggest book lover in the family) said “Auntie Claus and also insists on holding onto the entire Berenstain Bears series (which we really do have in its entirety). Interesting that many of the books that I know where extremely special to them when they were infants and toddlers they don’t seem to remember! Locked away in their unconscious, I suppose.

My children liked these… Me, not so much.

The Amelia Bedelia series (I imagine kids love it that an adult, Amelia, gets things so wrong!). And (though I feel blasphemous saying this) a couple of the Dr. Seuss books like The Sleep Book (it’s supposed to be monotonous, right?) and One Fish Two Fish were tough reads for me. I admit to surreptitiously skipping some pages.

Last, but not least

These two books would not be great favorites, except that they are responsible for experiences that I will never forget…

Silly Tilly’s Valentine by Lillian Hoban is the first short chapter book my middle daughter read all the way through, and I can still hear the jolly lilt in her voice. She was 4 ¾, sitting on the sofa in my bedroom while I lay in bed nursing her new baby brother. He was colicky and not a sleeper. I was overwhelmed, depressed, exhausted. Her moods had been shifting between showing empathy for me (and making touching, spirited attempts to cheer me up), excitement about her new brother, anger and grief over my lack of availability for her since the baby. In the midst of all of this she had been teaching herself to read and it was with Silly Tilly that I realized, Oh my gosh, she’s really reading!

Mr. McMouse is an odd little story and not my favorite book by Leo Leoni, but my son could never get enough of it. During his second year, he asked for it at every bed and naptime. Maybe he liked it because at the end this rather lost character (Timothy) becomes a hero after saving another mouse from being killed by a cat. The triumphant conclusion: “When finally the Headmouse called Spinny and Timothy to the speaker’s stand, there was thundering applause, for by now every mouse in the castle knew their story…”

When my son was almost 2 ½, his big sisters and I went to visit friends in England for a week and left him home with his dad. It was the longest period of time that I have ever left any of my children. I’m no good at it. I remember calling my husband from the car on the way home from the airport. I was beside myself with worry about our boy’s feelings during this long separation. My husband put our son on the phone and when I said “Hi Benny!” he replied in his sweet high-pitched voice, “Every mouse in the castle!”

Do you have a favorite book to share? Funny, now that I’ve written mine down, I think I might be able to part with a few of them.

(I’m so sorry to note that a few of these books are no longer available!)

Thumbnail photo by Sara Prince       


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Me? I still remember the toffee pops in ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’. And I loved Babar the Elephant, though the running writing text frustrated me… so hard to decipher even for an early reader! My son loved the Hairy McLairy series, Dear Zoo, Enoch the Emu, Wombat Stew and too many more to mention… anything that made him laugh was a favourite.

    1. I’ve only heard of Babar the Elephant. Are those Australian books? They sound interesting… And I know what you mean about “too many more to mention”. If I wasn’t giving away books, I could never have zeroed in on just a few favorites.

      1. No! Babar is French! Sorry, that isn’t meant to be an angry, “no!” more of a really excited, “no!”
        In my brain, Babar and Madeleine are inseparable, probably due entirely to the fact that they are both French and I think both have illustrations with a lot of yellow in them.

    2. Jennifer C says:

      I really loved Madeline, Corduroy and The Snowy Day as a child and was so excited to get these for my kids. I also loved Meet the Triplets and it was one of the first books I really tried to read to myself, but when I read it to my kids, I change some of the words. It’s a bit old fashioned in making dad only “helping” and a focus on one of the triplets always being interested in food — calling her a piggy. So I leave that bit out. I will probably have to write in my version as my kids learn to read! So many wonderful books out there!

  2. Oh my, even only at four and two and a half our list is too big to count. The four year old’s favorites at the moment are the Little Red Train series by Benedict Blathwayt, and the littler one is loving the Mouse a Cookie/Moose a Muffin/Pig a Pancake books by Laura Joffe Numeroff.

    Both of them are huge book lovers, I hope it continues into their reading years! Happily, if I hear quiet, I’m not worried about ‘what they’re doing now’ because nine times out of ten they’ll be sitting quietly somewhere with a pile of books around them. And then we read at least five books to them every day, a very important part of our bedtime routine.

    And of course the nine month old just likes to pull them all off the shelf. 🙂 He’ll pull one out, look over at us, grin and clap his hands. Having them all off the shelf like that encourages the kids to remember old favorites too.

    One of my current favorites (both story and illustrations) is The Day the Babies Crawled Away by Peggy Rathmann.

    1. Wonderful suggestions… The Peggy Rathmann book sounds especially intriguing. Thank you, Holly! In my experience, your children’s early love of books will definitely continue (and pulling them off the shelf is half the fun, if you ask me).

  3. my son is only into board books at the moment, he went to bed with one of his favorites “Daddy loves me” He just recently is able to say Daddy instead of Dada and he’s as proud of himself as we are of him.

    Another one he loves to go to bed with is “Hello New York City” its amazing how I think he can relate it to so much in his little world.

    1. “Daddy Loves Me” and “Hello New York City”…don’t know them, but those are great, life-affirming titles!

  4. my mother still imitates my father hoping aloud, at dinner, that i wouldn’t choose one of my many ‘Ant & Bee” books for bedtime stories. a favorite uncle gave them to me–about an ant and a bee who travel together. i LOVED them.

    my first favorite for our 13 month old was the first book we were given–The Green Sheep. *his* favorite is a book of baby faces called “Smile.” but mostly i’m astounded that since about nine months or so he’ll sit quietly with a basket of board books, paging through them and talking to himself. it’s one of the sweetest things i’ve ever seen. and while i don’t want to push my own love of literature on him, i like to think it bodes well for his lifetime acquaintance with the magic of books.

    1. Yes, I think I’ve seen those “Ant & Bee” books. And you remind me that my son also remembers the Miss Spider books fondly.

      Lindsay, I love hearing about the basket of board books and talking to himself. Sounds like heaven…

    2. Erin Neville says:

      Love these suggestions, and I just love anything to do with children’s literature! Some of the ones here are stalwarts of ours as well, including Rosemary Wells and the Frances books. My favourite of all time is the British author Shirley Hughes who also does the most gorgeous and detailed illustrations for her books. Two that I’d especially recommend are “Dogger” and “Out and About” which my siblings and I loved when we were little and my 2-year-old asks for now.

      1. Haven’t read the second one by Hughes, but we loved Dogger as well! We had an old (and obviously enjoyed!) second hand copy. Thanks, Erin!

  5. One of my favorite books growing up was The Paperbag Princess, and as luck would have it now my daughter (a year and a half) adores it as well. Her other favorite is Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea.

    I remember the Babar the Elephant books, but mostly because in them he falls in love with and marries his cousin which as children my brother and I could never seem to get past. 😉

  6. Thank you so much for posting this list! I take my 2 year old to the library every week, and when we get there I just stand there wide-eyed in the ‘easy fiction’ section wondering what the heck to get while my son pulls books off the shelf at random. I needed some author names badly, and now I have them!

    1. Carriede, you are so welcome. Gosh, do I miss those trips to the library with my little ones…checking out giant stacks of books. Wonderful memories!

  7. What a fun post. My three year old currently loves book by Kevin Henkes, such as Wemberly Worried, Owen and Lilly’s Purple Plastic purse. She also greatly enjoys books by Mo Willems, both the Knuffle Bunny books and the Elephant and Piggy books. Another favorite author is Emma Chichester Clark, who wrote It Was You, Blue Kangaroo and other books about Lily and her blue kangaroo. She is also a fan of the Rosemary Wells books and the Russell Hoban books.

    My one year old loves the book, Slide Already by Kit Allen, books by Leslie Patricelli such as No No, Yes Yes and lift the flap books like Where’s Spot?

    1. Great additions to the conversation, Caitlin. And you’ve reminded me that Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes has been a favorite in our house.

  8. My 1 year old’s favorites are “What a Wonderful World,” because he loves the song and the illustration is beautiful, “On the night you were born,” because he likes when I raise my tone for the phrase “high in the sky” and he can wave his arms up high in the air, and most of all “I love you through and through.”

    He has recently taken to carrying around an Isabelle Allende novel as his lovey. A bit strange, but very sweet nonetheless.

    1. Oh, my, gosh, that is adorable. Pamela, I also add sound effects to my children’s favorite books… perhaps adding to their appeal. 🙂

    2. Pamela, who is the illustrator of “What a Wonderful World”? My 3yo nanner loves that song, too!

  9. I remember Roxaboxen – it was one of my favorite books! For around 2.5+, The Big Orange Splot is great – it’s about a man who lives in a community where all the houses are the same, and a bird flies by (although I always change it to an airplane) and drops a can of orange paint on his house…
    Also An Egg is Quiet is fantastic – it’s full of pictures of eggs, and has a simple sentence at the top of the page and more details in smaller print. With a younger child, you can just read the simple phrases, and then as they grow older you can read all the words. It’s also great for reading together, so the child reads the simple sentence and the adult reads the details.
    These are tried and true in a toddler class 🙂

    1. Wow, Megan, love those titles… The Big Orange Splot and An Egg is Quiet sound like my cuppa tea!

    2. The big orange splot sounds like one I will have to find for our son!! Thanks for sharing!

  10. My daughter and I absolutely love peggy Rathman’s Good night, Gorilla. And also try Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario’s Margarita, it’s just beautiful. my grandmother used to read it to me and now I read it with my daughter. it is the book I always like to give as a gift. Taking Flight, by Piki Nestares Phelps is also a favorite.

  11. Great thread. My 2 1/2 yr old daughter loves many of the ones mentioned above. I would add Richard Scarry to the list — his “Word Book” was what taught her how to talk (she learned how to say “black eyed susan” about the same time as “up” ;)); she now loves his “Cars & Trucks & Things That Go” for its silliness factor.

  12. My one year old is quite attached to
    Moo, Baa, LaLaLa” by Sandra Boynton an “reads” it to herself 10-15 times a day, in addition to the 2-3 times I read it to her.
    I’ve collected 3 copies already = it’s in our bedroom, living/play room, and diaper bag.
    My heart warms a little every time I see that book and I imagine I’ll have it memorized for the rest of my life!

    1. My little one used to love this book too! It used to make her laugh and laugh!

  13. My 27 month old son has developed a keen interest in magic and dragons. I happened to pick up a book called, “Goodnight, Dragons” from the bobok store one day, rather by accident. We wasn’t really interested in any of the books, so I grabbed that one on a whim and it has become a quick favorite for both of us.

    There is imagination building as the boy falls asleep at the great chestnut tree and dreamed of dragon things, so he comes to realize that there are real dragons in the forest. They are only angry and fire breathing because, “everyone needs a cuddle, maybe dragons more than most.” So after some cuddles with a favorite blanket and some hot chocolate, the little boy settles the dragons in for a nap and cuddle. It’s the perfect book to snuggle with and is a perfect length!

  14. Great blog post Janet thanks!
    Like Aunt Annie I too was a fan of Hairy McLeary (by a New Zealalnd Author called Lynley Dodd). My little love seems to enjoy the new touch and feel variety that has just come out. Lots of nice ‘dog fur’ for her to feel.
    Anthony Brown is another favourite – but for a bit older perhaps.

  15. What an awesome post! Thanks for the wonderful book ideas! Both of my boys have always loved books! We are still in the toddler book “board” book type phase with our little one! Favorites for both of our boys are this age are:
    Jesse Bear books, especially Jesse Bear what will you wear?
    Tumble Bumble
    Hands, Hands, Fingers, Toes
    There’s a Wocket in my Pocket
    I love you, because you’re you
    I love you through and through
    : )

  16. Thank you for the great list! My kids’ (2 and 4 yrs) favorites right now are Julia Donaldson’s books. She is a rhyming genius! Room on the Broom, The Gruffalo, Stick Man, the Highway Rat, One Ted falls out of Bed… And so many more! I don’t get bored of them either. 🙂

  17. My 4 year old’s favourites right now are the Toys go out/ Toys come home series by Emily Jenkins. Wonderful introduction to chapter books for him and the stories are sweet but occasionally tackle some surprisingly heavy issues in a really nice way. Other favourites are Richard Scarry, Robert Munsch & Julie Donaldson’s books.

  18. A great one is We’re going on a bear hunt’ we love acting it out around the house! So much fun!

  19. margaret joyce says:

    Totally agree on “Roxaboxen”. But I also can’t part with “A Special Trade” by Sally Wittman. The children in my childcare program were especially fond of “Jellybeans for Breakfast” and Betsy books…can’t remember author for either.

  20. Ruth Mason says:

    When we lived in New York City, my husband was an expert at bringing home obscure picture books no one had ever heard of that the kids loved including Visit with a Mermaid and Lily of the Forest. I enjoyed reading all the Madeleine books out loud and they loved them too. I did not enjoy Mrs Piggle Wiggle, or Amelia Bedelia but they did. For older kids, the Orphan Train Quartet stands out —and so many more! I also can’t give them away.

  21. Thanks Janet you’ve given me lots of books to discover. These are our family favourites – quite a few Australian and NZ authors here.

    Fav baby – 3 yr old books are – Where is the Green Sheep? (Mem Fox) Kissed by the Moon (Alison Lester), The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and Guess How much I Love You by Sam McBratney.

    Favourites for 3 up are – Possum Magic, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge, Wombat Stew (Mem Fox), Hairy Maclary and Slinki Malinki series (Lynley Dodd), Ruby Red Shoes series (Kate Knapp), Magic Beach by Alison Lester, Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beatty and Where the Rainforest meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker

    Fav kids chapter books are all the Roald Dahl Books, Harry Potter and Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree series.

    Truly too many cherished stories to name but these are our absolute favourites 🙂

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