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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!)