Now that I have a granddaughter, I’m re-familiarizing myself with the world of children’s books. I expect this page to go through a fair number of changes over the next few years.
Books have always been an important part of my life. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t want to go to the library weekly at the very least! In turn, I read to Katie before she was even born, sometimes just whatever I was reading, sometimes something I’d chosen especially for her—fairy tales, poems, nursery rhymes, whatever was at hand. I still remember reading the newly-released, unexpurgated version of Stranger in a Strange Land to her while listening to news reports about Operation Desert Storm. She never once wrote in any book that wasn’t a coloring book or workbook, probably because she was taught to respect books from infancy. She never tore up books or damaged them in any way, despite her paternal grandmother’s dire predictions of what a baby would do if you gave her books! She always had her own books, but was been allowed access to my bookshelves—I tried to read Beowulf for the first time when I was about 6 years old, in Mom’s old high school literature book, so why not give her the same opportunity?
Looking back at the books I loved most, and those I’ve shared with her and intend to share with her as the time comes, I found myself wanting to go back and revisit some old friends. I know I missed some that other folks cite as classics, so I figured I’d read some of those, as well. Then I ran across a feature about the Western Canon Jr. that every child should read, and noted the differences (and similarities) in the books various people included in their own recommendations. I’m curious. What would you recommend?
- A is for Activist and Counting on Community were among the first books I bought for Esther. She loves them!
- Esther also enjoyed Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey.
- Katie’s copy of Jennifer’s Rabbit disappeared at some point, so we had to buy a new copy for Esther. It’s especially fun if you sing the words (it’s based on Tom Paxton’s song of the same name), or play Paxton’s version while looking at the pictures.
- I’m impressed by Richard Dawkins’ book The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. The iPad app of the same name is highly engaging for kids and adults. It’s a wonderful introduction to science and helps to answer many of the questions a curious child wonders about.
- A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry is one of Esther’s current favorites.
- Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein are great introductions to poetry. I’d avoid The Giving Tree, though.
- Tamora Pierce’s works were very popular in our household after Katie discovered them. They’re classified as teen books, but Katie had no problem reading them at nine.
- I find Diana Wynne Jones to be a better writer than J. K. Rowling, but she isn’t as well known. Katie enjoyed the Chrestomanci series.
- Graeme Base’s Animalia is one of the best alphabet books ever. A friend of the family gave it to Katie before she was even born—her very first book.
- Love You Forever by Sheila McGraw and Robert N. Munsch is a marvelously sappy book. Since this wasn’t published until (I think) sometime in the 1980’s, it obviously isn’t one I remember from my own childhood, but it’s a lovely one for any parent and child.
- Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown was one of those books that Katie had me read over and over and over again when she was little.
- Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood. We checked this book out of the library, attracted by the beautiful illustrations by Don Wood, the author’s spouse. Katie loved it so much we bought our own copy. It’s a good thing we got the hard cover edition, as it was read many times. Now Esther likes it.
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (and just about anything else by him).
- Who could forget Dr. Seuss? I don’t think there’s a child in the world who can resist those rhymes.
- Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish is delightfully silly.
- Roald Dahl’s books upset many parents and educators to no end, and have been doing so for years! They’ve been banned so frequently that the recent movie versions of James and the Giant Peach and Mathilda were many people’s first introduction to him. He has many more excellent books, though!
- One Kitten is Not Too Many—this is out of print, but it’s the first book I ever bought for myself, at a book fair when I was in first grade. I loved it and passed it on to Katie in turn. It’s been said that this was my first step to becoming a crazy-cat-lady.
- The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. I loved the stories about Mr. Bass. It’s possible that this was the first science fiction I ever read.
- The Borrowers by Mary Norton
- The Story of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting. I love the version illustrated by Michael Hague.
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. These can be read on so many levels by children and adults that they have a permanent place of honor in our library.
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. One of my favorite teachers, Ms. Keifer, gave me a copy of Lord of the Rings set when I was in seventh grade with one caveat—after I finished them, I had to pass them on to someone else who would enjoy them. I went out and got my own copy right after passing them on, and added The Hobbit, which I enjoyed even more.
- Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum, and all the subsequent books. I’m very glad I read the story before I ever saw the movie—I still much prefer the book!
- The Three Investigators series by Robert Arthur were out of print, but thankfully they’re being reprinted! The first in the series is The Secret of Terror Castle. I remember them being labeled as “Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators” when I read them, but it seems that bit has been edited out now.
- Judy Blume is great for all pre-teens to teenagers, but be sure you read her books first. They deal very candidly with some issues, like sex and mortality, and you will probably want to discuss the books with your kids. I remember kids who would never have read any other book passing dog-eared copies of Forever around our middle school because the book had been banned.
- The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry is magical. I didn’t encounter it until a college French class, but I made sure Katie had a copy (in English) on her shelves when she was born.
- Anything and everything by Madeleine L’Engle, but especially the Wrinkle in Time series. There are more books in the series now than when I was child—they are:
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
- The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. I didn’t discover MacDonald’s fairy tales until I was grown, but I’m catching up!
- Collections of folk/fairy tales, mythologies, nursery rhymes, games, etc. from all over the world. Any time I find another collection, I get it. I fondly recall reading through the children’s section of the Gadsden, Alabama public library and absolutely thrilling to the ways different cultures explained the same things, like what causes lightning, or how the world was created.
- Old Turtle by Douglas Wood.
- Most of our family read Diane Duane’s Wizardry series lately—and we all enjoyed them. There are ten novels and several shorter works in the series, and I haven’t had a chance to read all of them yet. So You Want to Be a Wizard? is first, followed by Deep Wizardry, then High Wizardry and A Wizard Abroad. There are two adult books set in the universe, as well—The Book of Night With Moon and To Visit the Queen.
- Any of Leslea Newman books for children, including Belinda’s Bouquet, Heather Has Two Mommies, and Too Far Away to Touch, are good ways to gently introduce your children to the conept of homosexuality. Belinda’s Bouquet deals with accepting the fact that we’re naturally all different sizes and shapes, and accepting that our bodies won’t all be the same. (Newman has written another novel on this subject for adolescents, Fat Chance.) Belinda has two mothers with no father evident, but it’s presented in a very matter-of-fact manner. Heather Has Two Mommies is, of course, infamous—it’s the story of a little girl who has been told by her preschool teacher that she cannot have two mommies, that it simply isn’t possible—but she does. And Too Far Away to Touch is a lovely book about losing someone you love to a fatal illness—a gay uncle lost to AIDS in this case, but it is a good introduction to talking about any loss with a child. Michael Willhoite’s Uncle What-Is-It Is Coming to Visit!! is also very good.
- Katie introduced me to Lloyd Alexander’s books after she read The Book of Three at school. We’re adding the whole series to our library: The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Lyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King.
- My much-battered copies of Heidi by Johanna Spyri and Heidi Grows Up by Charles Tritten sit on Katie’s bookshelves now. They got banged up from being clutched as I climbed trees to read in peace away from my younger siblings, from being stuffed into a bag on my bike when I rode out into the woods, from being smuggled under the covers and read with a flashlight.
- Socks by Beverly Cleary, along with the rest of her many books, is always a big hit.
- Ursula LeGuin’s Catwings books:
I’d never really thought of LeGuin as a children’s author, but Katie fell in love with these books about a family of kittens born with wings.
- Children need to grow up with a collection of the works of William Shakespeare. I think you should read them in their original form, but there’s a collection of the stories retold for children that’s also a good introduction for youngsters. There’s nothing else like seeing live productions of the plays, of course, but I’d suggest getting kids familiar with the stories before taking them to performances, in case they have trouble following the language.
- Some of my absolutely favorite passages for reading aloud (to children and adults) come from Mark Twain. I’d love to have a complete collection of Twain’s books, but for now we make do with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches and a few others.
- Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are certainly a requirement for a full literary childhood!
- You need several versions of the Arthurian cycles, as well. For kids, T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone is a safe choice. For teens, I really like the twist Marion Zimmer Bradley put on it with The Mists of Avalon. Katie read that one at 10, so it isn’t too difficult for a mature pre-teen.
- You could also safely print out lists of Newbery and
and Caldecott medal and honor winners and find every single book to be a gem.
Books for Parents
There are a couple of books I’ve read for parents and/or about children and parenting in general that I thought I’d recommend.
- Intelligence and Giftedness : The Contributions of Heredity and Early Environment (Jossey-Bass Social and Behavioral Science Series), by Dr. Miles D. Storfer. This is not something you’ll run across on the paperback rack at Winn Dixie, okay? In fact, I’d probably never have run across it, except that I met Dr. Storfer at a Mensa convention while I was pregnant, and attended a session at which he spoke. The book pulls together an incredible amount of research on intelligence and nature vs. nurture. One of the things that fascinated me was a comparison of child-rearing practices in various societies that are believed to contribute to the development of giftedness. The book is very, very dry, though, and certainly a more scholarly tome than what I’m usually reading—the footnotes, bibliography, etc. probably make up half the pages! But it is worthwhile if you are curious about giftedness and how to create an environment that encourages its development.
- Positive Discipline, as introduced in the book of the same name, is a lovely approach to parenting.
- I’ll Tell You a Story, I’ll Sing You a Song by Christine Allison. I found a copy back before Katie was born, and it was invaluable for finding the words to songs I almost remembered from my own childhood.
- My partner and I were pagan while raising our children, so we found Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions by Starhawk, Anne Hill and Diane Baker to be a wonderful resource with an explanation of major pagan holidays and stories, recipes, and craft activities for each holiday. The CD that was included had excellent songs that the kids like, too.