“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”
My baby boys are 14 and 11 now. But they’ll never forget this sentimental line from one of my favorite children’s books. When they were small, I used to softly sing it to them at bedtime, lulling them into sweet dreams. The book is one of my favorite memories of bedtime reading to my children; reading is of my favorite parts of being a parent. Reading to your kids provides bonding, a soothing routine for both of you, and a natural launch into reading that will encourage a lifetime passion for books. Here are ten of the favorite books my husband and I have shared with our sons. They still sit on our bookshelves and will remain there, I hope, for our children’s children.
Love You Forever
Written by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Sheila McGraw (Ages 4-8)
This poignant classic for toddlers and children tells a tale of the enduring nature of a parent’s love. A young woman holds her newborn son and looks at him lovingly. Softly she sings to him, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” Through simple words and charming, detailed illustrations, the story tells of the little boy’s journey through the challenging stages of childhood to manhood. The relationship between the boy and his mother takes a natural turn as the mother ages and the circle of life unfolds. My boys are at the age now where they would understand why the book is so meaningful to me as their mother. Maybe I’ll take it out one of these nights and read it to them, for old time’s sake. This book is one of my favorite gifts to give an expectant mom, particularly if she knows she’s having a boy.
The Children’s Book of Virtues
Edited by William J. Bennett
Illustrated by Michael Hague (Ages 4-8)
Time and time again we pulled out this compilation of stories, verses and fables, a children’s version of former secretary of state William Bennett’s “Book of Virtues”.
The book is divided into four sections, each covering stories that represent ten virtues. Some of the stories are familiar, some are not, but all offer positive messages about hard work, loyalty and truth that parents can feel good about instilling in young children. Chapter one covers courage and perseverance, with selections including “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “The Little Hero of Holland.” Responsibility, work and self-discipline encompass chapter two, which features “The Little Red Hen.” You’ll find “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” in chapter four, which covers honesty, loyalty and friendship. Beautiful illustrations accompanying each of the stories captivate the reader.
Written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…the smallest one was Madeline.” You know a book has been well-loved when the pages are separated from the spine and it’s a mangled mess. That’s what our copy of “The Big Book of Madeline” looks like. The Big Book is no longer in print, but the original “Madeline” and its five sequels are all still alive and well, along with Madeline dolls and all of the merchandise that surrounds this classic series. The precocious little French girl’s sense of adventure appeals to girls and boys alike and stands the test of time. Though if you asked my boys today, I doubt they’d admit how much they enjoyed Madeline’s mischief.
Dinosaur Bob and his Adventures with The Family Lazardo
Written and illustrated by William Joyce (Ages 2-8)
My husband introduced my sons and me to the wonderful world of this children’s author and illustrator. The book is set apart by its rich, vibrant illustrations, which appear to be set in the 1930s and convey all of the promise of that time. Joyce’s illustrations have graced the cover of several New Yorker magazines and his paintings can be found in national museums and art galleries. Pet dinosaur Bob moves in with the whimsical Lazardo family and craziness ensues. Bob can’t help but get into trouble all around town, whether that means being arrested for disturbing the peace or doing the Hokey Pokey with the Lazardos. Try any of Joyce’s other books, including the magical Christmas gem, “Santa Calls.”
Written and illustrated by David Shannon (Ages 3-6)
I can hear my 14-year-old as a four-year-old enthusiastically chiming in with, “No, David!” as we repeatedly read this book. Kids will be captivated by the illustrations of David Shannon, who tells an autobiographical tale based on drawings he made as a kid coupled with his mother’s frequently frustrated exclamations of, “No, David!” Your mischievous little ones will relate to David as he precariously straddles a chair to reach a cookie jar, runs naked down the street and launches a baseball in the living room, breaking a vase. Each picture tells the story; the only words accompanying the pictures are David’s mom’s exclamations. But all is not lost in the end, as David’s mom reminds him that no amount of living room destruction can match a mother’s love.
By David Small (Ages 3-8)
This is a funny little story about Imogene, a little girl who wakes up and finds she has gown antlers. There’s a subtly positive message in how she so creatively handles the situation, unlike her mother, who can’t stop fainting whenever she looks at Imogene. The charming illustrations bring to life all the humor inherent in the tale. You’ll laugh at the surprise ending.
The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales
By Jon Scieska and Lane Smith (Ages 4-8)
Some famous fairy tales are raucously retold in this sassy storybook. Little kids will laugh and laugh again when they hear, “Run, run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me. I’m the Stinky Cheese Man!” Much of the book’s rebellious spirit may go over youngster’s heads, but once they’ve got some of these wacky rhymes stuck in their minds, they won’t soon forget them. These recycled tales definitely provide a change of pace for little listeners and storytellers alike. Just make sure you’ve got a sense of humor before you try to read “Little Red Running Shorts” instead of “Little Red Riding Hood.”
Written and illustrated by Eric Hill (Ages 0-2)
Long before video games and interactive this and that, there was Spot, the star of the first lift-the-flap series of books. This may seem like a mundane choice, but the Spot series was among my children’s first favorites. Our copies of Spot stories are dog-eared and wrinkled from chubby little hands turning the pages and lifting the flaps. For three decades, toddlers have been looking for Spot in this series that entertains for hours.
Good Night, Mr. Night
Written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (Ages 2-5)
“When the sun slowly falls just over the hill, Mr. Night wakes.” This is the simple beginning to “Good Night, Mr. Night”, a gentle, calming tale designed to ease the minds of toddlers before they fall off to sleep. Mr. Night puts the world at rest, closing the flowers, quieting the animals and calming the sea. The dreamlike illustrations match the tranquil tone of this bedtime beauty.
In the Night Kitchen
Written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Ages 4-8)
While not as well-known as Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are”, the strangely hypnotic prose of “In the Night Kitchen” makes it a book you won’t forget reading aloud. In his dream of a night journey to a spectacular kitchen, main character Mickey falls into some batter and risks being made into cake. The illustrations are rich and dream-like. If you’re your child wakes up in the middle of the night yelling, “Milk! Milk for the Morning Cake!,” you’ll know why.