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I’m pretty sure you’ve read a study or two (or several) confirming what moms already knew: that children who are read to grow up to be smarter, better adjusted, happier and superior in every way. Lol! I would read to my kids even if that were not the case because I love that my kids cuddle into my lap and the world and it’s worries cease to exist for a precious moment.
Because we love books and reading SO much, we thought we’d create a couple of lists of our very favorites. We started with this list and then created a list of our favorite read-aloud books and will next create a list of our favorite young adult books.
Books that I can’t stand to read over and over and over to my children end up donated to the thrift store, and I’m pretty picky. The books on this list are ones that I find valuable enough, endearing enough or amusing enough to have earned a place on our bookshelves. Any of them would make a fabulous gift for a child or an expectant mother! The book pictures are links to Amazon in case you want more information.
This list started out twice as long and was very difficult to edit. My mother-in-law taught elementary school for years and knew ALL the best books. She would search for them secondhand all year and give us a big stack of wonderful picture books every Christmas. She passed on 17 years ago, but left my kids with a wonderful collection of picture books and a love of reading! Here are our very favorite picture books:
Picture books that teach values and Character
Within the sanctuary of a loving family, baby Eli is born and, as he grows, learns to cherish the people and places around him, eventually passing on what he has discovered to his new baby sister, Sylvie: “All the places to love are here . . . no matter where you may live.”
Mole has always led a simple life, but lately, he feels something is missing. When he first hears someone playing a violin, Mole realizes that he longs to make beautiful music, too.
Through practice and patience, Mole learns to play. And even though he plays alone, in the privacy of his underground home, his music changes the world above him in ways that Mole will ever know.
This is one of our particular favorites because my kids all play string instruments.
Every day the small wooden people called Wemmicks do the same thing: stick either gold stars or gray dots on one another. The pretty ones–those with smooth wood and fine paint–always get stars. The talented ones do, too. Others, though, who can do little or who have chipped paint, get ugly gray dots. Like Punchinello.
In this heartwarming children’s tale from the best-selling pen of author Max Lucado, Eli the woodcarver helps Punchinello understand how special he is–no matter what other Wemmicks may think. It’s a vital message for children everywhere: that regardless of how the world evaluates them, God cherishes each of them, just as they are.
Bigger, better, more is how the world determines who’s special and who’s not. It’s a message your kids are hearing every day. But it’s not God’s message.
His truth is simple and never-changing: It’s not what you have, it’s Whose you are. And it’s a truth that the lovable Wemmick, Punchinello, hears again at the knee of his creator in this faithful, fully illustrated sequel to You Are Special.
Punchinello’s lesson in love will help you speak God’s heart to the heart of every child: You are special, not because of the things you have, but because you are Mine.
Sometimes, when you love someone very, very much, you want to find a way of describing how much you treasure them. But, as Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare discover, love is not always an easy thing to measure! “This is a book which both parents and children adore…”
It was the perfect summer. That is, until Jeremy Ross moved into the house down the street and became neighborhood enemy number one. Luckily Dad had a surefire way to get rid of enemies: Enemy Pie. But part of the secret recipe is spending an entire day playing with the enemy!
In this funny yet endearing story, one little boy learns an effective recipe for turning your best enemy into your best friend. Accompanied by charming illustrations, Enemy Pie serves up a sweet lesson in the difficulties and ultimate rewards of making new friends.
The Rainbow Fish is an international best-seller and a modern classic. Eye-catching foil stamping, glittering on every page, offers instant child appeal, but it is the universal message at the heart of this simple story about a beautiful fish who learns to make friends by sharing his most prized possessions that gives the book its lasting value.
With humor and insight, Audrey Wood tells a tale certain to tickle anyone shocked to hear a child utter a bad word; and Elbert’s cure provides an ingenious and hilarious solution. The vivid, hilarious illustrations rendered by Audrey and Don Wood together offer fans a new dimension to their previous collaborations.
Owen had a fuzzy yellow blanket. “Fuzzy goes where I go,” said Owen. But Mrs. Tweezers disagreed. She thought Owen was too old for a blanket. Owen disagreed. No matter what Mrs. Tweezers came up with, Blanket Fairies or vinegar, Owen had the answer. But when school started, Owen’t mother knew just what to do, and everyone — Owen, Fuzzy, and even Mrs. Tweezers — was happy.
Some people might wonder why I included it in the ‘teaches character’ category. I tell ya, every time I read it I marvel at the way Owen’s mother came up with a solution to the blanket problem that respected Owen’s feelings. I tend to be like Mrs. Tweezers and end up running roughshod over my children’s feelings, just demanding obedience when really, it just takes a little thoughtfulness and creativity to come to an agreement that respects everyone’s feelings.
Chester and Wilson had their own way of doing things, and they did everything together. When they cut their sandwiches, it was always diagonally. When they rode their bikes, they always used hand signals. If Chester was hungry, Wilson was too. They were two of a kind, and that’s the way it was – until indomitable Lilly, who had her own way of doing things, moved into the neighborhood.
I love how this book teaches kids to look at one another’s peculiarities as blessings and to be accepting of new friends.
Lilly loves everything about school, especially her cool teacher, Mr. Slinger. But when Lilly brings her purple plastic purse and its treasures to school and can’t wait until sharing time, Mr. Slinger confiscates her prized possessions. Lilly’s fury leads to revenge and then to remorse and she sets out to make amends.
Lilly, the star of Chester’s Way and Julius, the Baby of the World, is back. And this time she has her name in the title – something she’s wanted all along. If you thought Lilly was funny before, you are in for a treat. So hurry up and start reading. Lilly can’t wait for you to find out more about her.
I so appreciate that Kevin Henkes, author of all the Owen, Chester and Lily books manages to create characters that kids can relate to and want to be like, and that he manages to teach character in such a fun way.
Lydia Grace Finch brings a suitcase full of seeds to the big city, where she goes to stay with her Uncle Jim, a cantankerous baker. There she initiates a gradual transformation, bit by bit brightening the shop and bringing smiles to customers’ faces with the flowers she grows. But it is in a secret place that Lydia Grace works on her masterpiece — an ambitious rooftop garden — which she hopes will make even Uncle Jim smile. Sarah Stewart introduces readers to an engaging and determined young heroine, whose story is told through letters written home, while David Small’s illustrations beautifully evoke the Depression-era setting.
The Gardener is a 1997 New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of the Year and a 1998 Caldecott Honor Book.
Picture books that are fun and amusing
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak’s Caldecott Medal-winning picture book has become one of the most highly acclaimed and best-loved children’s books of all time. A must for every child’s bookshelf.
A bunch of literate cows go on strike after Farmer Brown refuses to give in to their demands of electric blankets when the barn gets too cold. “Cows that type. Hens on strike!” How will Farmer Brown resolve his problems?
This book makes my kids laugh hysterically every time.
If a hungry little mouse shows up on your doorstep, you might want to give him a cookie. And if you give him a cookie, he’ll ask for a glass of milk. He’ll want to look in a mirror to make sure he doesn’t have a milk mustache, and then he’ll ask for a pair of scissors to give himself a trim….
This book is a great first introduction to Mouse, the star of the If You Give… series and a perennial favorite among children. With its spare, rhythmic text and circular tale, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is perfect for beginning readers and story time!
My kids also love the other books by this dynamic duo, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, and If You Give a Dog a Donut.
Dance a jig with a silly pig. Play leapfrog with a silly dog. And that’s just the beginning of all the fun! Come along and join Silly Sally and her outrageous friends as they parade into town in a most unusual way. Exploding with whimsy, humor, and zest. . . . Be prepared to read this one a thousand times because your kids will love the rhythm of the rhymes and the silliness of it all will endear this book to them!
“Well hello, little mouse. What are you doing?” My kids can recite the entire book verbatim. I love that the voice of the story, the narrator, talks to the silent mouse all the way through. It’s very clever! The illustrations are sweet, too. Audrey and Don Wood sure do fantastic work!
He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He went to sleep with gum in his mouth and woke up with gum in his hair. When he got out of bed, he tripped over his skateboard and by mistake dropped his sweater in the sink while the water was running. He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Nothing at all was right. Everything went wrong, right down to lima beans for supper and kissing on TV.
What do you do on a day like that? Well, you may think about going to Australia. You may also be glad to find that some days are like that for other people too. I debated whether to list this book under funny or classics, because it is both. If you like this Alexander book, you will want to check out the others about him.
A cozy bed, a snoring granny, a dreaming child, a dozing dog, a snoozing–WAIT! There’s a surprise in store, and little ones will want to discover it over and over again. So pull on your sleeping cap and snuggle in for a timeless cumulative tale that’s truly like no other.
Warning: your kids will want to play napping house and the minute they see you lay down they will be all over you. Every time.
On her day in town with her mother, a little girl starts off with an empty big green pocketbook—just like her mother’s—and along the way collects pieces of her day to put inside, inventing stories for each treasure. ‘Studded with inventive imagery.… A playful and most suitable setting for this winsome story with its timeless theme.
Make way for these lucky ducks. After swimming to shore and finding a bite to eat in the park, Mama Duck and her five ducklings—Pippin, Bippin, Tippin, Dippin, and Little Joe—walk to town. But Mama Duck is the only one to make it across the road, as, one by one, the ducklings slip through the openings of the storm drain. Amid Mama Duck’s anxious quacking, three firemen and a quick-thinking resident with a pickup truck and a roll of cable manage to lift the grate and retrieve the ducklings from the storm drain. Based on an actual event in Montauk, New York, the heartwarming tale features delightfully fuzzy illustrations, some from the ducklings’ perspective, which highlight the concern and relief of townsfolk and Mama Duck alike. The refrain of “Oh dear! That could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t because . . .” encourages participation from young listeners. Pairing with Robert McCloskey’s Caldecott-winning Make Way for Ducklings (1941) is a must. Preschool-Grade 1, –Angela Leeper-Booklist
Peter wants only milk, Lucy won’t settle for anything but homemade lemonade, and Jack is stuck on applesauce. Each new addition to the household brings a new demand for a special meal. What’s a mother to do? Well, she does devise a unique and creative way to deal with all the fussiness. And then a very sweet plot twist turn the tables on mom. You’ll have to read it yourself!
A told B, and B told C, I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree.
In this lively alphabet rhyme, all the letters of the alphabet race each other up the cocunut tree. Will there be enough room? Oh, no – Chicka Chicka Boom! Boom! I think the most enticing thing about this book for my kids is the rhythm of the words. Once you get going you just can’t stop! My kids love to yell the boom, booms and they love the bright, silly pictures.
Picture books that are classics for good reason
This brilliantly illustrated, amusingly observed, Caldecott-Medal-winning tale of Mallards on the move has won the hearts of generations of readers.
Mrs. Mallard was sure that the pond in the Boston Public Gardens would be a perfect place for her and her eight ducklings to live. The problem was how to get them there through the busy streets of Boston. But with a little help from the Boston police, Mrs. Mallard and Jack, Kack, Lack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack arrive safely at their new home.
In a great green room, tucked away in bed, is a little bunny. “Goodnight room, goodnight moon.” And to all the familiar things in the softly lit room—to the picture of the three little bears sitting on chairs, to the clocks and his socks, to the mittens and the kittens, to everything one by one—the little bunny says goodnight.
In this classic of children’s literature, beloved by generations of readers and listeners, the quiet poetry of the words and the gentle, lulling illustrations combine to make a perfect book for the end of the day.
Children will delight in following the peddler’s efforts to outwit the monkeys and will ask to read it again and again. Caps for Sale is an excellent easy-to-read book that includes repetition, patterns, and colors, perfect for early readers.
This tale of a peddler and a band of mischievous monkeys is filled with warmth, humor, and simplicity and also teaches children about problem and resolution.
Here is one of the most classic and beloved children’s stories, with the original illustrations from 1922 – the ideal gift for baby showers, birthdays, weddings, and holidays throughout the year.
At first a brand-new toy, now a threadbare and discarded nursery relic, the velveteen rabbit is saved from peril by a magic fairy who whisks him away to the idyllic world of Rabbitland. There, he becomes “Real,” a cherished childhood companion who will be loved for eternity.
In the original book about the curious monkey, George is taken from the jungle by the man in the yellow hat to live in a new home, but–oh, what happened! Though trying to be good, George is still very curious and takes a swim in the ocean, escapes from jail, and goes for a flying ride on a bunch of balloons.
George is such a curious, mischeivous, loveable monkey that kids easily identify with him. All of the George books are funny, but the original is my favorite.
Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk! Sal and her mother a picking blueberries to can for the winter. But when Sal wanders to the other side of Blueberry Hill, she discovers a mama bear preparing for her own long winter. Meanwhile, Sal’s mother is being followed by a small bear with a big appetite for berries! Will each mother go home with the right little one?
With its expressive line drawings and charming story, Blueberries for Sal has won readers’ hearts since its first publication in 1948.
One rainy day, Sylvester finds a magic pebble that can make wishes come true. But when a lion frightens him on his way home, Sylvester makes a wish that brings unexpected results. How Sylvester is eventually reunited with his loving family and restored to his own donkey self makes a story that is beautifully tender and perfectly joyful.
This was one of my favorite stories growing up, and it still is!
A baby bird goes in search of his mother in this hilarious Beginner Book edited by Dr. Seuss. When a mother bird’s egg starts to jump, she hurries off to make sure she has something for her little one to eat. But as soon as she’s gone, out pops the baby bird. He immediately sets off to find his mother, but not knowing what she looks like makes it a challenge. The little hatchling is determined to find his mother, even after meeting a kitten, a hen, a dog, and a Snort. The timeless message of the bond between mother and child make P. D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? a must for baby showers, beginning readers, and Mother’s Day.
The Poky Little Puppy was one of the original twelve Little Golden Books published in 1942 and went on to become the bestselling picture book of all time. The story of a curious puppy, who digs holes under fences and who has to go to bed without any strawberry shortcake, has delighted families for generations. it is, quite simply, an icon. Delightful to read aloud, The Poky Little Puppy is a cherished story that every child should know.
I loved this book as a child and read it over and over.
“Bill Peet rides full throttle with a happy story and his beautiful, incredible crayon pictures.”
A little bunny keeps running away from his mother in this imaginary game of hide-and-seek. Children will be profoundly comforted by this lovingly steadfast mother who finds her child every time.
The Runaway Bunny, first published in 1942 and never out of print, has indeed become a classic.
Madeline has always been a children’s favorite that appears to resonate with children across the globe. The classic french style piques one’s interest as we read about the unique character that is little miss Madeline.
Every home should also have a version or two of nursery rhymes and children’s classic series like Winnie the Pooh, Dr. Seuss and the Frances books (Bread and Jam for Frances).
If you have toddlers, here are my very best recommendations for toddlers.
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What do you think? Have I left any must-haves off of the list?