I haven't had much time for Google Answers this past year, but I'm
going to make a point of responding to your question. Many of my
colleagues in the researcher community would be able to give you a
fine answer, but children and reading are an absolute passion of mine.
I myself learned to read at four, and am a voracious reader to this
day. More to the point my two children (now 16 and 11) are avid
readers themselves. Even my wife, who grew up in a home with no books
at all, is now seldom without two or three in progress.
The question you've asked is highly subjective. It is impossible to
say with any confidence what are the "best" books in any given age
group. This answer, then, will be unapologetically subjective as
well. The books and authors I give you will for the most part be
those that I've personally enjoyed, either as a child or with my
children. Some I will list on the basis of strong recommendations
from others whose judgement I trust.
THE DISCLOSURE PART
I will begin by attempting to clarify my own attitudes and preferences.
First, I believe that children become interested in books because they
become interested in the sounds of the words. Silly sounds,
alliteration, wordplay, rhyming, all hold a place in attracting the
attention of a child. Secondly, I believe that the single most
important factor in a child becoming a reader is having a parent (or
caregiver, or grandmother, or cousin, or whoever) read to them *out
loud*. This ties into my first point, as the difference between
passable writing and superior writing often does not become clear
until it is read out loud. More importantly, though, the presence and
participation of the adult is what makes reading a pure pleasure for
the child. The value of the spoken word, the warm presence of a loved
one, the interaction and shared observations of the book's
illustrations and content; all of these things add up to an
emotionally powerful experience. This, more than anything, will
ensure that your children perceive books as one of life's great
A third point, a considerable one when reviewing my recommendations,
is that I do not believe in bowdlerizing books intended for a child's
eyes. This is an unpopular perspective today, but I strongly feel
that "sheltering" children from unpleasantness does them a disservice.
Old-school fairy tales like Grimm seem shocking to us today in their
casual and occasionally gory cruelty. Darkness, however, is necessary
to make the light brighter; even children understand in their heart of
hearts that there is no laughter without tears. What is "Charlotte's
Web" without the threat of Wilbur becoming bacon? Remember Bambi's
mom? Old Yeller?
A prime example of this would be the excellent "Redwall" series of
books by Brian Jacques, the most popular children's series to come out
of England between Narnia and Harry Potter. I have spoken to many
parents who feel that these books are too violent, and do not want
their children reading them (they are pseudo-medieval fantasies, in
which the characters are small animals). I feel strongly that these
books are potent precisely because of the dangers the characters face.
Jacques is perfectly willing to kill sympathetic characters, or even
the main character, to suit the needs of the story. In an age of
video games with abundant "lives," I think it is salutary for children
to recognize that violence means people getting hurt, and sometimes
people you care about.
THE CRITERIA PART
The paragraphs above give you some idea of what I look for in books,
but I'm going to amplify a bit on why the books below are on the list.
My primary consideration is the quality of the writing. That should
go without saying, but all too often does not. I look for writers
whose stories hang together well, who handle the language with grace
and respect, and who demonstrate a sense of fun.
Illustrations are also important, especially with younger readers.
Illustrations make or break a Mother Goose, for example, every bit as
much as the selection of rhymes. Can you imagine the Pooh stories
without Ernest Shepherd's line drawings? How about Garth Williams'
illustrations of E B White and the "Little House" books? Pictures are
where your children first begin to relate to books, and you may find
it rewarding to seek out books by your favourite illustrators, as well
as your favourite writers.
I look for good stories. That's always paramount, especially as
children begin reading for themselves. Some stories are rollicking
fun, others are excitement and adventure, others are love and loss
(that may not be how you think of Heidi, but that's what drives the
plot). Stories are how we learn to interact with others; to find
models of behavior for situations we've not yet experienced. At
certain times, your boys will need to find admirable characters to
inspire them. It doesn't necessarily have to be "The Red Badge of
Courage"; Piglet overcoming his timidity to help Pooh hunt a Woozle is
richly comic, but it also demonstrates courage and friendship. This
is important, when one is a Very Small Person oneself.
Major awards like the Caldecott, Newbury, or Carnegie are a bit of a
gamble. These juries take their work seriously, and most of the
award-winners I've read have been good books, but they're not always
what you want. An award-winner which might be suitable for a
thoughtful 14-year-old, for example, will probably not hold a
rambunctious eight-year-old. Also, children's literature is as
subject to trends as any other field, and sometimes winners will
My reasons for choosing particular books or authors vary, but all of
the books listed below are here because they are of lasting quality.
You may not enjoy or appreciate all of them, but I think they are as
good a cross-section as any. Happy reading!
THE PRESCHOOL PART
The beginning point for any child, any parent, in establishing a
lifetime habit of reading, is a good collection of nursery rhymes.
Accept my opinion or disparage it, I stand by that. A good Mother
Goose is absolutely fundamental, combining all the things that I spoke
of above: word play, rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, silliness, and more.
Many of my happiest hours have been spent with my children (or
others) on my knee, reading and giggling through nursery rhymes.
Mother Goose rhymes seem (and are) rather archaic, now, but that's
unimportant. What is important is that they're fun. Park a little
one on your lap and start reading. Look for opportunities for fun;
when you read "rings on her fingers and bells on her toes" don't miss
the chance to tickle some toes. Look, really look, at the
illustrations. Ask your boys what they see. Ask them to make up
stories about the pictures. Ask them what are their favourites. If
you're musically gifted, make up tunes and sing the rhymes. If you're
not musically gifted, ask your boys to make up tunes for their
Versions of Mother Goose draw on the same pool of rhymes, but are set
apart by selection and illustration. Here are a few noteworthy
-Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes, il. Marguerite de Angeli
This one contains 376 rhymes, and the illustrations are outstanding.
-Mother Goose Treasury, il. Kate Greenaway
Other illustrators who have done excellent Mother Gooses include Tasha
Tudor, Tomie dePaola, and Gyo Fujikawa. This is just a few; by all
means read and purchase two or three good collections. Try to have at
least one solidly-constructed hardcover for reading while sprawled on
the floor, and a couple of lighter-weight copies which are easier for
little hands to hold.
-Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown
My kids loved this one, and so now do my little niece and
nephew. All of the colour illustrations have a mouse in
them. Finding the mouse was a big game for my kids.
By the same author:
-The Friendly Book
-Big Red Barn
-The Sleepy Book, Charlotte Zolotow
Perfect for bedtime
-The Bundle Book, Ruth Krauss
Another bedtime story, a little game between mother and child
-Two New Sneakers, Nancy Tafuri
Nancy Tafuri is a superior writer. Any of her books is a safe
bet. Another good one is:
-Have You Seen My Duckling?
-The Mouse that Jack Built, Cindy Szekeres
Szekeres was always a favourite with my kids. Some adults find
her illustrations too "precious," but kids love them. Most
of her books are very good.
-The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
Lots of fun. His other books are good, too.
-Four Frogs in a Box, Mercer Mayer
Completely wordless, this is a completely charming little book
that even the youngest kids can enjoy "reading" for themselves.
Also by Mercer Mayer:
-Whinnie the Lovesick Dragon
-The "Little Critter" series
Warm and funny books, in which the title character experiences
the ups and downs of preschool life. Big favourites with
-Murmel Murmel Murmel, Robert Munsch
Munsch is one of the most engaging storytellers among
contemporary children's authors. This may be because he
spends so much of his time telling his stories to audiences of
children (if he comes to your town, take your kids; you won't
regret it). His stories are full of whimsy, silliness, offbeat
characters, and great lines for reading out loud. "Murmel,
Murmel" is about a little girl who finds a baby in her sandbox, and
sets off to find an adult to take responsibility.
Others by Robert Munsch:
-The Paper Bag Princess
A self-reliant princess turns fairy tales on their heads.
-Good Families Don't
About a fart. Your boys will laugh so hard their noses will run.
-Millicent and the Wind
Perhaps the most beautifully illustrated of his books
-Wait and See
Olivia blows out her birthday candles, and the wishes come
true...with surprising results.
-I Love You Forever
Go on, try to read it without crying. I can't.
-The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
An undisputed classic. Carle's other books are very good, too.
-Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Virginia Burton
I just loved this book as a kid.
-Make Way for Ducklings, Robert McCloskey
The second book I ever owned. This is one of the true classics
of the last century, with a fun story and McCloskey's signature
illustrations. If your kids don't laugh out loud at the
frantic policemen stopping traffic for the ducklings, I'll eat my
toque. McCloskey's other books are of equally high quality,
mixing realism and whimsy with the greatest of aplomb.
-A Hole is to Dig, Ruth Krauss il. Maurice Sendak
Great illustrations and a simple text, a longtime favourite for
almost everyone I know.
-Goodnight Little Bear, Richard and Patsy Scarry
Although Richard Scarry's books are hugely popular, my kids and
I never really took to them. This one is the exception.
Little Bear and his father play a little bedtime game. Doesn't
sound like much, but my kids really loved it.
-Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter
Potter wrote 23 books altogether, and if you find a boxed set
grab it! Her illustrations and her use of language make her
books a no-brainer for any parent. You'll enjoy them as much
as your kids.
-Winnie the Pooh
-The House at Pooh Corner
-When We Were Very Young
-Now We Are Six, all by A A Milne, il. Ernest Shepherd
I cannot emphasize enough that you should get the original
books, not the bastardized Disney ones. The charm of the
characters never fades, nor that of Shepherd's
illustrations. I think it is important, too, to get all four volumes;
the verse as well as the stories. Children love poetry, and
Milne's was as funny as it was charming. Both of my kids loved
these books, and for a while my son's goodnight routine *HAD* to
include a few of the poems.
-Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
A favourite from its first publication. Most of Sendak's books
have been brilliant, though his later work has been rather
darker. My kids also loved
-Chicken Soup with Rice
-The "Curious George" series, H. A. and Margaret Rey
Really needs no introduction. I always sympathized with the
whole notion of getting into trouble because of curiosity, I
guess. I read every single one when I was five and six.
-Flip, Wesley Dennis
There were several of these beatifully illustrated stories
about a young colt. "Flip and the Cows" was the third book I
-The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense, Louis Untermeyer (ed), il. Alice
and Martin Provenson
My maternal grandfather gave me this book, a year or two before
he died in a car accident. I absolutely loved it, and cannot
recommend it highly enough as a starting point for
children to discover poetry. The verse within this book encompasses a
wide range of authors and styles, but Untermeyer (no
slouch as a poet himself) showed a sure hand as editor. Few
children can resist the absurdism of Edward Lear's limericks, or the
silliness of "Jabberwocky," or the hilariously woeful tale
of The Pobble Who Had No Toes.
-Frog and Toad are Friends, Arnold Lobel
There are several of these books. They are a modest but very real pleasure.
-The Story of Ferdinand, Munro Leaf
The young bull who'd rather sniff flowers than be in the bullfights.
-The Biggest Bear, Lynd Ward
Good silly fun, and wonderfully illustrated.
-Lyle Lyle Crocodile, Bernard Waber
There are several Lyle books. They're fun.
I would also recommend a few good editions of the classic fairy tales;
the Grimms, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, and the various
"Fairy Books" of Andrew Lang (ie, the Yellow Fairy Book, the Blue
Fairy Book, etc).
THE SCHOOL-AGE PART: EARLY READERS
The dividing line between preschoolers and elementary school-aged
children is hard to draw, as far as their reading is concerned. Many
children will be reading confidently by four or five, while others
will still be struggling at six and seven. Many books in this section
could have been in the last, and vice versa. We'll say, for the sake
of argument, that these books will appeal to children under eight.
-Clifford the Big Red Dog, Norman Bidwell
These are longtime favourites for good reason. Lots of fun.
-Petunia, Roger Duvoisin
The first of several very funny books about a goose. My kids
also loved Duvoisin's
The story of a donkey who was unhappy and insecure about the
appearance of his ears.
-Babar, Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff
Another series which needs no introduction. Lots of
personalities in these books.
-The Beast of Monsieur Racine
-The Hat, all by Tomi Ungerer
Tomi Ungerer's wild imagination and hilarious illustrations
made him one of my favourite authors, as a child. Crictor is
the story of a French schoolmistress with a pet boa
constrictor; The Hat tells of a crippled veteran whose life is
transformed by a magic top hat.
-Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, Alice and Martin Provenson
Fun and very real; the animals have memorably vivid characters.
-Crow Boy, Taro Yashima
A withdrawn boy from a poor family is ostracized by his
classmates, but turns out to have a surprising talent. I still
own the copy I got when I was six.
-Miss Suzy, Miriam Young il. Arnold Lobel
Miss Suzy is a grey squirrel forced from her home by a
marauding band of red squirrels. She becomes a sort of foster
mom to a group of toy soldiers. A minor classic.
-The Dragon's Tears, Hirosuke Hamada
His village lives in fear of the dragon, but one small boy
decides to become its friend. The edition I see everywhere has
cartoony illustrations by Tetsuo Kawamoto, but the one I had as
a child had spectacularly gorgeous watercolours. I believe that
edition was illustrated by Chihiro Iwasaki, but I haven't
been able to find it to make sure.
-Never Tease a Weasel, Jean Conder Soule
More silly rhyming. Another longtime favourite with my kids.
-Miss Twiggley's Tree, Dorothea Warren Fox
Miss Twiggley is rather eccentric, what with living in a tree
house...and having bears for friends...so the people in town
shun her. Until the flood comes. You may notice that
several of my recommendations are about people going their own way in
the teeth of widespread disapproval. That's a theme
that runs through many books I've loved over the years; and it
is a factor in my personal life as well.
-The Mouse House, Rumer Godden
Godden was a best-selling author of adult fiction, but her
children's books are perhaps more worthy of notice. These
are superlatively well-written, and all of them are worth
-Mother West Wind's Children, Thornton W Burgess
Burgess wrote several series of stories about a large cast of
anthropomorphic animal characters. I read them all as a
kid, and my two loved them as well. Although he's
occasionally preachy, these books are good fun.
-Amelia Bedelia, Peggy Parish
Amelia is a maid who always gets things wrong, usually in the
most unexpected ways. I read them all as a child.
-A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond
I was occasionally befuddled by some of the Anglicisms, but the
stories were too much fun to let that bother me.
THE SCHOOL-AGE PART: LATER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL YEARS
As I said above, there will be a great deal of back-and-forth about
which books belong to which age group. And that's fine; I still enjoy
reading many of these in my forties. These books will mostly fall
into the grade 4-6 bracket, so we'll say ages 8-10 or so.
It was in this timeframe that my curiosity really began to take off.
I devoured anything I could find about dinosaurs, for example, and
ancient civilizations. I even tackled Leonard Woolley's landmark
"Excavations at Ur," getting perhaps a hundred pages into it before
giving up. This is also where I began to take an active interest in
biography, reading numerous books about noteworthy figures from the
twentieth century and earlier. I also "got into" animal stories
during this timeframe.
-Stuart Little, E B White
White was a master prose stylist, and sly humour permeates
these books. They are immediately likeable for
children, and adults will find unexpected things too. Charlotte
inspired me to learn a whole lot about spiders.
-The "Little House" books, Laura Ingalls Wilder.
No comment necessary.
-Henry Huggins, Beverly Cleary
And many, many others. I didn't read those as a youngster, but
my kids both loved them.
-Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars, Ellen MacGregor
The science-oriented Miss Pickerell series were big favourites
of mine. There are several others.
-The Borrowers, Mary Norton
Little people among us, a perennial theme. Good books.
-Catwings, Ursula K LeGuin
A cat gives birth to winged babies, and sends them away from
the city to find a better place to live. LeGuin is, for my
money, one of the outstanding American writers of the present
day, and this is a good introduction to her work.
-Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink
A sort of "Little House" with attitude. Gotta love those redheads.
-Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
Preternaturally strong, not quite "with it" socially. Gotta
love those redheads.
-Finn Family Moomintroll, Tove Jonsson
There are several books in this series, a perennial favourite
in Europe but hard to find here. They are worth looking up.
The plots meander unhurriedly, but the characters are
-Doctor Doolittle, Hugh Lofting
-Mary Poppins, P L Travers
Another of those books that needs to be rescued from
Disnification. Not that the movie isn't fun, but you're
missing a lot.
-The Secret Garden
-A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Books about persevering, and learning to grow in spite of
difficulties. Not flawless, by any means, but still excellent
-Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
-What Katy Did, Susan Coolidge
These last couple may be a bit "girly" for your boys, but I
loved them so your boys might, too. My daughter devoured all
of the Alcott and Coolidge books over the last couple of
-Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Kate Douglas Wiggin
-Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maude Montgomery
I put these together, because the stories are similar. Good
fun, with scapegrace children getting in and out of trouble.
As an Atlantic Canadian, the Anne stories were part of my
childhood by default.
-Call of the Wild, Jack London
I loved these as a kid.
-Justin Morgan Had a Horse
-King of the Wind
-Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry
Henry was perhaps the best ever writer about horses. The whole
"Misty" series is excellent.
-Just So Stories
-The Jungle Books
-Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling
As much fodder for the imagination as any child could ask, with
much humour and well-rounded personalities.
There are several other well-known "classics" which children at this
age can and often will take a shine to. The Oz books, Peter Pan,
Heidi, Pinocchio, Black Beauty...I could make a whole list of just
books like these, but I won't, since you could do the same yourself.
The ones above are or were particular favourites of mine.
I found that my interest in scientific subjects was sparked primarily
by my interest in the people who pioneered these fields. During this
age group I read biographies of people like Albert Einstein, Nikola
Tesla, Louis Braille, Thomas Edison, Michael Faraday, Louis Pasteur,
Edward Jennings, Alexander Fleming, George Washington Carver, the
Curies, and many many more. Unfortunately, for most of these, I
cannot recall or recommend a specific individual biography. One which
I can recommend, however, is
-Touch of Light: the Story of Louis Braille, by Anna Neimark
Which in turn led me to:
-The Story of My Life, Helen Keller
A specifically scientific tale which fascinated me as a child was
-The Microbe Hunters, Paul de Kruif
The story of how pioneers like Pasteur, Koch, Reed, Erlich and
others isolated the organisms responsible for mankind's
Another good one is
-Gods Graves and Scholars, C W Ceram
A history of archaeology, as readable and exciting as any novel.
The stories of Jules Verne inspired me greatly during this age, as
well. While the science in his books is now laughably dated, his
stories showed great confidence in the human ability to conquer any
difficulty. As a boy I remember reading "The Mysterious Island," a
sequel to "20,0000 Leagues," and being fascinated at how the lead
character (an engineer) could just make things they needed from
This is the age where science fiction and fantasy begin to be
significant, as well. You don't need me to tell you that Tolkien is
essential reading, of course, but there is a great deal of good
writing out there after him.
-The "Redwall" series, Brian Jacques
Heroic heroes, villainous villains, high adventure, laughter,
tears, and feasting; these books are all you could ask in the
way of entertainment. The plots all follow a similar
direction; peaceful fun-loving animal characters are menaced by evil
marauders and are forced to take up arms in their own
defence. The books are saved from formulaic sameness by virtue
of Jacques' imagination, and his skill at creating memorable
characters. My son, at sixteen, is "too old" for these
books, but still re-reads them with glee. So do I.
-A Wizard of Earthsea
-The Tombs of Atuan
-The Farthest Shore, all by Ursula LeGuin
Beautifully-written stories of an archipelago world, with
numerous complex and believable societies. LeGuin's characters
are all-too-human at times, and a recurring theme is
dealing with the consequences of one's actions.
-The White Mountain
-The City of Gold and Lead
-The Pool of Fire, all by John Christopher
Trilogy for younger readers about an alien invasion of earth.
-The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
Better than the usual run of vintage science fiction, this
series goes above and beyond the usual "rockets & blasters"
style. A good introduction to the genre.
Obviously, I've left out much more than I've put in. There are
certain to be any number of comments protesting that I shouldn't have
left out <===fill in the blank ===>, but as I've said from the start
this list is entirely personal, subjective, and idiosyncratic.
Besides, it's time to move on.
THE ADOLESCENCE PART
At this stage, kids will begin to search out their own areas of
interest, and become unpredictable in their reading. Between 11 and
15, for example, I was devouring Shakespeare and Tolstoy, but also
Burroughs' Tarzan and Mars books. And I was still dipping back into
the "series books" like Hardy Boys and Tom Swift.
So, where to start? I remember reading numerous books about young
people learning how competent they can be, under trying circumstances.
A few would be:
-Lost in the Barrens, Farley Mowat
Two boys surviving in the Arctic
-The Island of Blue Dolphins, Scott O'Dell
A young native girl getting by alone on her island, after her
people are slaughtered by Europeans.
-Call it Courage, Armstrong Sperry
Polynesian boy faces his fear of the sea.
-Flight of the White Wolf, Mel Ellis
A boy leads a white wolf away from settled areas into the
wilderness where he'll be safe.
-My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George
A boy decides to take to the woods, living by his wits in the Catskills.
Then there are the animals, and a possible interest in biology:
-Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, Gerald Durrell
A memoir of his childhood and his mania for collecting various
creatures wherever he went. Supercilious older brother "Larry"
is of course a famous writer himself.
-Owls in the House
-The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, Farley Mowat
Mowat also had a thing for adopting animals, or perhaps vice
versa. Very funny.
-All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriott
This is a great age for the gentle humour of Herriott's stories.
We could also look at some more challenging science fiction:
-Dune, Frank Herbert
There are lots of layers to this one. Religion, sociology,
anthropology, political science, ecology...and one heck
of a good story. My son read this at fourteen, and
literally could not put it down.
-The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
-Wee Free Men
-A Hat Full of Sky, all by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett's hugely popular Discworld series has expanded
in recent years to include three titles explicitly aimed at
younger readers. Like the rest of the Discworld series, these
books are gut-bustingly funny. Unlike most humour writers, though,
Pratchett uses the usual trappings of fantasy (elves,
witches, trolls, etc) to deconstruct our society and look
at it in different ways. These books are entertaining at every level,
but will start your kids thinking about the ways people
relate; and the sometimes broad gaps between what we expect
and what really happens. An example of how satire, at its
best, can work to provoke thoughtful evaluation rather than cynicism.
Pratchett has written other excellent books for younger
readers, including the Bromeliad trilogy (Truckers, Diggers,
Wings) and the "Johnny" books (beginning with Only You Can
And then there's the real world:
-The Diary of Anne Frank
Which, in turn, led me to
-The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
Doing what's right, and paying the price. A powerful story at any age.
When it comes to stimulating a child's curiosity, I know of no
series of books better than the Eyewitness series. These are
large-format, heavily-illustrated books with a visually
distinctive style. Sports, nature, history, technology, the
Eyewitness books cover the whole range. Think of them as an
"a la carte encyclopedia."
-Any good hardcopy encyclopedia
There are any number of them out there, from the venerable
Britannica to Compton's to World Book and beyond. These
may seem archaic, in this age of CD-ROM reference works, but I
maintain that they are more potent vehicles, in some ways, than their
high-tech successors. CD-ROM encyclopedias tend to be
rather linear; you follow a given track, click through for
the illustrations; decide between the slideshow or the video, and so
on. Paper encyclopedias, on the other hand, foster serendipity.
You never know what you'll come upon while looking for
something else, or for that matter while curled up in the
windowseat just browsing.
I had the full set of Britannica when I was a kid, and while I
didn't read every single article I certainly *evaluated*
every article to see whether it interested me. A
surprising number of them did.
I offer a relatively few choices in this last age category. This is
partly by design, as your boys will be developing their ow
I offer a relatively few choices in this last age category. This is
partly by design, as your boys will be developing their own tastes in
reading by that time; also partly because I feel I've been on my
soapbox for quite long enough.
Obviously, I could go on for much longer; I could compile an equally
long list consisting just of "recognized classics" in the field. As I
said above, though, you could have done that yourself. I will quite
happily add more titles in any given age group or category if you feel
THE SEARCH STRATEGY PART
Frankly, I had very little recourse to the internet while compiling
this answer. My problem has been less one of finding material, than
of cutting it to fit. The majority of the titles listed here are
those which were either favourites of mine, or favourites of my
children. A few are her because they were recommended by those whose
judgement I trust.
I *did* spend some time on Google, in those instances where I
remembered either the title or the author but not both. I will not
specify the search terms used, given that I just typed in the part I
remembered. You would do the same in my shoes.
I also owe a debt to some of my fellow researchers. Just last week
several of us were trading stories of our childhood favourites, so
this topic is fresher in my mind than it might otherwise have been.
Finally, I spent time in the back pages of the book "Honey For a
Child's Heart" by Gladys Hunt (see Resources, below). Her list is
rather longer than mine, and not all of my favourites are on hers, but
it made a useful aide-memoire.
THE RESOURCES PART
There are a great many books out there, by a great many experts, on
the subject of encouraging your children to read. I am sorry to
report that I have read very little in this line, for the simple and
sufficient reason that my children were good readers before I thought
of looking for input.
I will recommend the "Raising a Reader" website, a good starting point
for any parent in your position:
The Americal Library Association's "Born to Read" program also offers
material, advice, and resources:
The Internet Public Library is a rather remarkable project, and their
"Kidspace" section offers much of interest. I would recommend
entering the "Reading Zone" and referring to their list of e-texts
available online. While this is of little use for contemporary
writing, it is a great way to check out those books which are now out
of copyright (1920s and earlier, at this point). A little bit of
reading, on your part, will allow you to decide quickly enough which
books you wish to own in "hardcopy." The list is at this link:
One book on the subject of children and reading which I *have* read,
often, is "Honey for a Child's Heart" by Gladys Hunt (my copy, 3rd ed.
1989, Zondervan). The discussion of involving books in family life is
clear and cogent, and the bibliography (broken out by age) is solid
gold. When I was initially given this book I spent many delighted
hours reading the bibliography, finding forgotten or half-remembered
friends from my childhood.
I will mention, given your explicit instructions on the subject, that
this book was written by and for Christian parents. This need not be
an issue, as long as you understand that up front. After the first
chapter, the specifically church-oriented content is sporadic and not
especially intrusive. Her main thrust is to explain why it is
important for children to read, and she casts that in Christian terms
for her target demographic. Her reasons why needn't detain you, as
you have your own. The important thing is that the advice is sound,
regardless of your motivation.
THE WRAPPING-UP PART
A few final notes:
I've said this before and I'll say it again; I left out WAY more than
I put in. I'll be happy to amplify any area of this answer that you'd
like to see fleshed out a little more.
Read every children's book that crosses your path. All of the great
authors were unknown once, you'll find some happy surprises. Also, as
with anything else, your understanding and critical faculties will
improve with practice.
Make the reading time fun. When your boys decide they've had enough,
don't force the issue; a squirming and squalling youngster isn't going
to enjoy being read to. Keep it light, keep it funny. Respect their
need for constancy; you'll get tired of their favourites long before
they do. Suck it up and keep going. Focus on the goal, not the
If you like to act out the voices, giving the characters a different
sound, beware of giving one of them a voice that hurts your throat.
You'll be expected to deliver that same voice every time, hundreds of
times. I made the mistake of giving Gimli a very gruff voice, when I
was reading Lord of the Rings to my kids.
Be pragmatic. They'll go through phases of disinterest; don't let it
get you bent out of shape. Most kids will get back to it eventually,
especially if the people around them are avid readers.
Eliminate the competition. Keep TV to a minimum; ideally to specified
time slots or programs. I've never had cable, and my kids had to
agree on what to watch during their sharply limited television time.
We have no video games in the house. We do have broadband internet,
but the kids have to armwrestle their parents to get online time.
Above all, enjoy your time with them while they're small. My "little
girl," at 11, is a substantially-built young woman already, and while
she still loves to curl up on my lap she's just not a good fit
Thanks for offering up an irresistible question,
PS: Apologies in advance for any vagaries in the formatting. We have
a very limited ability to format our text, and sometimes it gets out