Books for Children of All Ages

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?

Our List

    • 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.

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.

Sites About Children’s Books

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