Must-Own Children’s Booklist

by Ivory Soap on 02/03/2010

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t really enjoy reading lame-o literature to my children.  I LOVE reading the GOOD stuff, though.  In the whirlpool of the “At least they’re reading!” market, it’s now getting really hard to remember what quality children’s literature looks like. So this is my list. It’s not a list of sentimental favorites. (The second string contains a few of those.) It’s my list of THE GOOD STUFF. These books will instill a love of great literature. The top 30 of you-must-be-exposed-to-this-as-my-child-or-I-have-failed-as-a-kiddie-lit-authoring-parent.

Blueberries for Sal (Robert McCloskey)
Bread and Jam for Frances (Russell Hoban)
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Bill Martin)
Caps for Sale (Esphyr Slobodkina)
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Bill Martin)
Corduroy (Don Freeman)
Curious George (H.A. Rey)
Frog and Toad series (Arnold Lobel)
Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown)
Harold and the Purple Crayon (Crockett Johnson)
Harry the Dirty Dog (Gene Zion)
Horton Hatches the Egg (Dr. Seuss)
Little Bear series (Else Minarik)
Madeline series (Ludwig Bemelmans)
Make Way for Ducklings (Robert McCloskey)
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel (Virginia Lee Burton)
Millions of Cats (Wanda Gag)
Mr. Gumpy’s Outing (John Birmingham)
One Morning in Maine (Robert McCloskey)
Stone Soup (Marcia Brown)
Strega Nona (Tomie De Paola)
The Carrot Seed (Ruth Krauss)
The Little Engine the Could (Watty Piper)
The Little House (Virginia Lee Burton)
The Ox Cart Man (Donald Hall)
The Relatives Came (Cynthia Rylant)
The Story of Babar (Jean de Brunhoff)
The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf)
The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)

That’s my top 30 of NECESSARY Picture Books. But if you still have book money in the bank, or space in your wish list, here are some more amazing books that every child with more than 30 books should own. It’s a mix of greatness and sentimental favorites. You’ll have to sort those out yourself.

A Visitor for Bear (Bonny Becker)
Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst)
Angus and the Ducks (Marjorie Flack)
Bear Snores On (Karma Wilson)
Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss)
Chrysanthemum (Kevin Henkes)
Click Clack Moo (Doreen Cronin)
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (Barrett)
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (Mo Willems)
George and Martha (Harry Allard)
Goodnight Gorilla (Peggy Rathmann)
Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)
How Does a Dinosaur Say Goodnight (Jane Yolen)
How I Became a Pirate (Melanie Long)
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (Laura Numeroff)
Jamberry (Bruce Degen)
Jennie’s Hat (Ezra Jack Keats)
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (Simms Taback)
Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Miss Rumphius (Barbara Cooney)
Owl Moon (Jane Yolen)
Petunia (Roger Duvoisin)
The Best Pet of All (David La Rochelle)
The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash (Trinka Hakes Noble)
The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson)
The Napping House (Audrey Wood)
The Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats)
The Story About Ping (Marjorie Flack)
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen)
Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak)
Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears (Verna Aardema)

I’m sure I missed a few favorites in here, but I feel confident that any child that is regularly exposed to these sixty books will be leading a very charmed literary life.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Carla February 3, 2010 at 7:36 am

What a lovely list! Your taste and mine coincide, Ivory! Many of these we owned when our daughter were young and many we checked out of the library. I agree: reading the (ahem) Precious Yellow Metal Books is typically a huge bore while these, these offer more substance to both child and parent. From these the family can smoothly move onto the easier chaptered books and then, the not-so-easy. I encourage all families to have a read-aloud time when they can ALL be together so that children know it is not just mommies who read.

Share February 3, 2010 at 9:06 am

Although I may not currently own all of the books on both of your lists, I am proud to say that I have read ALMOST ALL of them to my children at one time or another.
Fabulous list!
Thanks for sharing!

Dara February 3, 2010 at 9:38 am

Obviously I must find a copy of The Relatives Came somewhere! Other than that I think my list and yours would be identical.
I’ve been struggling on creating a similar list of my own for a month now. Thanks for the inspiration!

M February 3, 2010 at 10:44 am

There were some great picks in there. I especially love Miss Rumphius, Bread and Jam for Francis, and Llama Llama Red Pajama.

Little girls are often bombarded with terrible messages from princess tales. They are generally very passive and live happily ever after once they meet some prince with whom they have little familiarity. I love books that tell more empowering stories about princesses. You can’t get away from the princess but perhaps we can redefine what the princess is capable of doing and what she should be looking for in life and in a partner if she chooses one.

“CinderEdna” by Ellen Jackson tells the story of two women Ella and Edna who are in similar circumstances . The traditional Ella is depicted as beautiful but suffering and passive. She meets the handsome prince who doesn’t even know her name and marries him. Edna is a homely looking gal with a spunky spirit and can-do work ethic. After putting work money aside to pay for her own gown and taking the bus to the ball, Edna meets another prince (smaller and somewhat physically unattractive- gasp!) and they get to know each other and discuss recipes and recycling and tell jokes. It shows the difference in attitudes of the women (one wanting to be saved by someone else, the other saving herself), and the differences in the relationships (one based on appearances, the other based on common interests and mutual enjoyment). At the end the book asks “Guess who lived happily ever after?”. I love any story that makes a kid think and this one presents such a contrast to all the other princess stories out there. A must have for girls!

“Princess Smartypants” by Babelle Cole tells an irreverent story of a princess whose parents insist she find a husband and they send a slew of suitors to win her hand, but Smartypants is very happy on her own. So she must outsmart all her suitors to maintain her independence and single status. I love that this suggests we do not need a husband in order to be happy and that happiness comes from within.

“The Paperbag Princess” by Robert Munsch tells a story of a princess whose prince is stolen by a dragon who burns down her castle and all her clothes. She dons a paperbag and chases down the dragon, outsmarts him, and wins the release of the prince, who in turn tells her “Elizabeth, you are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled, and you are wearing a dirty paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess” and she replies “Ronald, your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.” ” And they didn’t get married after all” (close w/ picture of girl jumping for joy). Again, I love the independent mindedness of this, the story showing a strategic girl who fights for what she wants, and the realization that it’s ok to be on your own , especially if your other options show themselves to be less than worthy.

“Caterina The Clever Farm Girl” by Julienne Peterson tells a story of a farm girl who impresses a king with her wit. But once they marry he sees her as a threat. Caterina must once again use her smarts to show him her values and find balance in their relationship. I love stories that show troubled relationships bc it helps children to understand that in reality they will have to work out issues with their significant others. “Happily Ever After” is at fault for our ridiculous divorce rate as far as I’m concerned. Conflict resolution is a part of life. Also, we have a strong heroine in this story.

Rebecca February 3, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Great list! I’m a high school English teacher and we are expecting our first little one in April. It’s not too early to start stocking up on some great kiddie literature now! I really like the Madeline series. No Babar???

Karen Sue February 3, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Owl Moon – one of our favorites!!

debmoulton February 3, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Where’s The Lorax?

Jessica February 3, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Don’t forget ‘Love You Forever’ by Robert Munsch!

Handful February 3, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I love The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash!

You should also check out A Giraffe and a Half. It was one of me and my son’s favorites. Hilarious with good illustration.

Elizabeth February 3, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Oh, what a superb list!!! I am a pre-k teacher and that is a PERFECT selection of quality books. I am familiar with them all and agree that they are good choices for what GOOD children’s literature is. Love the blog, by the way! I am a newbie and can’t wait to see what is new each time I visit.

Leah February 3, 2010 at 10:17 pm

What a wonderful list! We have many of the books you listed and will add a few to our wishlist.

I believe the George and Martha series is by James Marshall. It’s a favorite series for my eldest.

M February 4, 2010 at 12:08 am

I love your list. Frog and Toad series is one of my very favorites ever, classic. But it was so nice to be reminded of books I’ve only recently found as well (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is a riot!) Of course, everyone is going to have their favorites that didn’t make your list, so I will join right in with “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. It still makes me cry, even now.

silverilex February 4, 2010 at 5:08 am

Shirley Hughes is a charming storyteller. Her books range from baby to about 5th grade. Particular favorites were the Lucy and Tom series, Alfie and Annie Rose series, and the Tales of Trotter Street. Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child Garden of Verse is magnificient! Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge, Berenstein Bears, Nick Butterworth’s Percy the Park Keeper all have their place on our bookshelf. And the first 20 or so of the Boxcar Children. But everyone has their own opinion on great books, so don’t take my word for it!
I agree about the drivel laden children’s books. With my son now 11, it’s a struggle to find books for him (besides the great ones we already owned that were passed down from his siblings).

Stephanie - Green SAHM February 5, 2010 at 1:00 am

Some great choices there. My kids are nicely addicted to books, with the oldest reading on her own often enough that I don’t worry about doing her school-assigned reading times. She does more than that on her own most weeks. A good selection a books is a part of why.

Linda Stahr February 8, 2010 at 9:54 pm

There are only two that I feel are MUST haves and NOT on either list:

Euphonia and the Flood (where Euphonia teaches if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well), and The Day Fletcher was Hatched. Both are excellent books, and have wonderful lessons for children to learn. My children still love to read both of those books – even though they’ve been placed on the “Do not touch these books unless Mom is there” shelf (they’re falling apart, they’ve been read so much!). Thanks for the list though – they’re great additions to our homeschool library!

Heyes February 15, 2010 at 9:50 am

This is a fabulous list! But don’t forget children’s poetry… Shel Silverstein, Dennis Lee and a new favorite : Doodads, by Carrie Heyes

Ivory Soap February 16, 2010 at 9:01 am

silverilex–GOSH, I love people with great book taste!

Ivory Soap February 16, 2010 at 9:03 am

Rebecca—It’s under “The Story of Babar” further down. I would NEVER leave him out!

mom-and-rn October 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm

This book list is PERFECT. As a mom of 4 and former preschool teacher (before the rn thing) I have most of these books. Even saved them for my someday grandkids (no I am not a hoarder). Saved the legos, brio train, bittybaby stuff and these books. My kids loved these books and still get excited when they pick out a book to share with their much younger cousins. They (3 grown boy’s) get into the “mommy” I remember when mode. I will not name names for fear they will be hazed. Especially my 20 year old Marine.

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