Over the years, my husband and I have been asked what we thought was the most significant reason our children excelled in school. Without a doubt, the most important activity we ever participated in with our children was reading to them as they sat, cuddled in our laps or curled up next to us on their beds as part of their bedtime ritual.
We are a family that reads. My husband and I both grew up checking out books at the local public library as kids, and we were determined to instill a love of reading in our children also. Family nights were often spent browsing in the local bookstores and on Scholastic Book days at school, our kids always came home with armfuls of new books.
I remember flying home from New Mexico when my oldest son was just nine months old. He was a gem on that flight and believe it or not, it was because we spent the time reading. I still have the plastic paged children’s books that I purchased when he was small. During the entire flight, I read him those books over and over again. I pointed out items in the drawings as I read the words, and he listened. I have no idea what, if anything, he understood, perhaps it was just the sound and rhythm of my voice, but it soothed and comforted him during what is often a trying experience for a young child.
All three of our children have very definite likes and dislikes, with completely different personalities. These differences were apparent and still are, in their choice of reading material. Whereas my oldest son loved fantasy books, my middle son devoured books on the civil war. My daughter never left the house without a book in hand and read everything from the Little House on the Prairie series to The Lord of the Rings, but there are a few books that we all agree have to be in a children’s home library.
The first book we all loved was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Some children, younger than four, might be alarmed by the monsters in this unusual children’s story, but my kids “ate it up, they loved it so” just as the monsters threatened to do to the character in the book. Children have strong feelings and need ways to express them and this book provides a safe place to experience those emotions.
The classic Dr. Seuss books rank high on our list of necessities. Children of all ages can relate to his wacky characters and sing-song rhyming words, but our personal favorite was The Lorax. My husband was particularly adept at speaking in a voice that pulled our children into the story of the Lorax plight. Occasionally, he could even be persuaded to perform at reading hour at their school. Don’t be afraid to make up voices as you read the good doctor’s stories, as it only adds to their appeal.
Third on our list would be a book written by Robert Munsch entitled Love You Forever, describing a mother’s love for her son from infancy until he reaches adulthood and how that love continues into the next generation. We loved this book so much my husband gave it to his own mother, just showing, you are never too old for a good children’s book!
A favorite of my daughter’s and fourth on our list of favorite children’s books would have to be Riki Tiki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling. This is not a quick read and would probably work best for the seven to ten year old set, so make sure you have the time to relax and enjoy this one. It is sure to please and encourages a love and understanding of nature.
All three of my kids enjoyed the Little Critter series by Mercer Mayer. There are many titles to choose from and these are mostly geared to the pre-reading crowd, but the ones entitled Just Me and My Little Brother and The New Baby were read over and over as we made the “new baby” transition.
My husband and I would have to put the Babar series on our list as we grew up reading these charming stories, written by Jean de Brunhoff and originally published in 1931. Unfortunately, our children never seemed to develop a love for Babar and his family of elephants, but be sure to give some a try as they are delightful! They are appropriate for infant to preschool and older children may enjoy reading them by themselves.
When my sons were six and three, we went through a very painful divorce. I say “we” because children experience their own sense of loss and grieving during such a time. Every other Sunday evening when they returned from their father’s house, my oldest son would crawl into his bed with Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown and Laurie Krasny Brown. This book did more for his self-esteem and understanding of the situation than years of therapy could have and I highly recommend it. Eventually, we passed it on to another hurt little boy trying to make sense of his parents’ decision to separate. This book is recommended for children ages 4-8.
Seventh on our list would be the Chronicles of Narnia series, beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The tale of two brothers and two sisters and their fantastic adventures in the magical land of Narnia are not to be missed. Although perfect for the elementary grade level, my husband began reading these books to my sons when they were four and seven. When you read chapter books to your children it allows you to experience the stories together and opens up the opportunity to discuss any scenes that might evoke feelings of sadness or fear. In so doing, you give your children the opportunity to stretch intellectually and emotionally.
My daughter insists that one of her favorite childhood books was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. I find this amusing for when I read this as a child it frightened and disturbed me greatly. I, however, was a meek and easily terrified little girl, whereas my daughter was fearless. It’s no wonder she saw in Alice a mirror of her own personality. It was her fervent hope to go down the rabbit hole! Ages 9 and up, depending on your child’s ability to get along with purple-striped grinning cats.
My middle son would not feel that a list was complete without the Curious George series. I’m not sure what attracted him to these books, perhaps he understood the plight of the poor little monkey who could not contain his curiosity and constantly found himself in scrapes because of it, much like a little boy I knew. Or maybe he liked the kind, father-like man in the yellow hat. Regardless, he would always happily settle down to read or be read to any of these stories when he was young. Perfect for four and on up in age.
The tenth book on our list would be The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Many do not realize that this book, which is the prelude to The Lord of the Rings, was actually written as a children’s book. When my daughter was in kindergarten my husband began reading a chapter nightly to her. My son, who was about fourteen at the time, would quietly crawl down the hall to listen to the tale, even though he had read the book himself many times and would have been mortified to have been found out listening to his step-father read to him. The doomed Gollum, read in an eerily creepy voice by my husband, would send shivers down both of their spines. Precious!
Of course, no list of favorite children’s books could be complete without the famous Harry Potter series. Although recommended for ages 9-12, these books could easily be read to younger children. You will know your child has become enamored of J.K. Rowling’s works when their greatest sorrow is not to have received a visit from an owl on their eleventh birthday, inviting them to Hogwarts.
Although many books are geared to certain age groups, a parent must first of all know their children and what they are able to handle as far as difficulty or older themes of family, adventure and emotions. But much as we wish it weren’t so, life can be a frightening and painful place for a child and books offer a way of helping them sort through their feelings. If you haven’t shared these books with your little ones, I encourage you to try a few of our favorite children’s books and make yours “a family that reads”.