I could make the whole list out of Dr. Seuss. His books embody everything I looked for when I was choosing reading material for my young sons: fun with language, stories that promote ideas that will enrich my boys’ lives, but without preaching at them. I would not read them stories that required unmotivated villainy – and they knew that went for TV shows, and as they grew up, movies and music.
These are the picture books. They are all as beautiful to see as they are to read and to hear read. But the words were vital in every case. My husband, the boys’ father, sometimes tried turning two or three pages at once, and simply reading through, but the boys knew the books so well that they would pipe up with a favorite phrase they had missed. And we continued to read these books – we to the boys and the boys to each other and themselves – as long as they were at home.
So here they are, in no particular order except that these are just the top three Dr. Seuss books. Please, carry on and read the others with us too.
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – Because the message of sustainability is set in the Seussian universe, it is timeless and applies to all kinds of issues. I carefully inspect every stump for the little guy with the big moustache, and even without sight, I can hear him “speak for the trees,” and the turtles, and the whales, and the panthers, and the mosses, and the butterflies, and …
Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss – No, the trailers on TV were more than I wanted to see of the most recent movie. The message, thank goodness, is stronger and sweeter than that. Read the book. If you must, watch the original animation. And listen, again, for the little voices.
Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose by Dr. Seuss – Saved by his natural life cycle, but willing to be used in helping all who ask. Thidwick may be my favorite Christ figure in literature.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein – Wackiness on a slightly calmer scale, with quiet grace and a pure example of love, illustrated and told in unforgettable form.
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey – And we’d moved to the Boston area when my first son was an infant. Thirty years later, I need only suggest a little something about a duck, or the name Jack, and either boy is off and running to name the ducklings.
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams – I tear up pracktically thinking about it. The wise old skin horse promises you can become real, and you won’t need to be told when it happens.
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback – “… It was old and worn.” So Joseph makes something new and useful of it, until that is old and worn. The book is a tactile as well as visual delight, constructed by the author with die-cut pages that show the future and the past of Joseph’s garment project. My boys would flip the pages back and forth and study them for hours.
The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear – Maybe it doesn’t qualify as a book, but we read it again and again because my own Aunt Kathleen knew it by heart and recited it to me. We had an edition with wonderful, charming illustrations.
Digby the Only Dog by Ruth Carroll – We’re cat people, and were even when my big brother was given this book back in the 1950s. Let it be said that it’s about a dog on a lighthouse island. You can imagine, but I hope you’ll track it down. The illustrations are gentle line drawings in brown, but they’re so rich and so joyful, you’d never want for more.
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag – If you don’t know it, with its unusal and striking illustrations, I’m amazed. It’s another recitation occasion. “Hundreds of cats, …”
By the way, my boys both grew up to be writers. They were known in school for their vocabularies, if not their spelling abilities. They tend toward poetry, though not the rhyming kind this list might suggest. What I take some credit for is introducing them to the beauty of the English language, the fun of playing with it, and the way it can interact with visual art. Did I mention they both paint?