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Q: Best books for children ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   9 Comments )
Subject: Best books for children
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: mharoks-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 05 Feb 2005 16:21 PST
Expires: 07 Mar 2005 16:21 PST
Question ID: 469654
I very much want my two sons (ages 6 weeks and 2.5 years) to develop a
love for reading and books. While they see me reading a lot, and I
read to them, I need to efficiently find the most interesting and
intellectually-stimulating books. Also, as they age, I?d like to be
able to buy them outstanding books appropriate for their age rather
than adopt a hit-or-miss approach (or sit in the store reading dozens
of books myself). I am aware of the Caldecott and Newbury Awards, and
have considered these lists of winners and nominees, but there are far
too many books to sort through (and I know there are other awards
too). Thus, my question: What are the best books for children at
various age groups up to around early adulthood (i.e., when they can
read classic literature and ?non-children?s great books?)? A good
answer will provide not only relatively short lists (say 20-40 per age
range [every year or couple of years]; and perhaps very short
summaries), but also some information regarding the reasons for
selection (e.g., what criteria are used for selection, as this may
well differ for different ages). I will mention a few other important
considerations: (1) books likely to foster an interest in science,
engineering, and/or math are especially welcome, (2) religious books
and books with a very clear religious focus or message are to be
avoided. In terms of our favorite books when my son was between 1-2,
I?d include these: Inside Outside Upside Down and Old Hat, New Hat (by
the Berensteins); I?ll Teach My Dog a Lot of Things (Frith/Eastman);
Good Night, Gorilla (Rathmann), Barnyard Dance and But Not the
Hippopotamus (Boynton), Busy Monkeys (Schindel/Marigo), and Sheep in a
Jeep (Shaw/Apple). The author should assume that I know the other
books by these authors, and at least in the 0-2 year-old range I feel
I?ve examined most of the books out there. We also have the Dr. Seuss
books already, and Iron Giant (I like the movie a lot better). I
realize there is a substantial subjective element to this, and I?d
love to get many comments as well, but I?m sure a talented researcher
can produce a fantastic answer. Any thoughts on developing young
readers would also be nice.
Subject: Re: Best books for children
Answered By: chromedome-ga on 09 Feb 2005 00:31 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello, Mharoks...

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.


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 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
reflect that.

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 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
       Also noteworthy

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
-Baby Animals
-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
my kids.

-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
-Hector Protector
-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
ever owned.

-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. 
Remember him?

-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 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
-Donkey Donkey
       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 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         
hunting down.

-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.



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.

-Charlotte's Web
-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.

-White Fang
-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
greatest plagues.

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.



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          
Save Mankind).

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. 

-Eyewitness Books
       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 need.



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.



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.



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
anymore.  <sigh>

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
of whack.
mharoks-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thanks for the wealth of suggestions, Chromedome! We have the
Winnie-the-Pooh books (which I love, even if my son hasn't really
taken to them yet), and my son loves the movie version of Babar. He
hasn't responded very enthusiastically to The Snowy Day or Curious
George, but he does like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (and all
things related to tractors and construction equipment). This latter
book, along with a few others you've mentioned, can be found in The
20th Century Children's Book Treasury (selected by Janet Schulman).
I've thorougly enjoyed the Foundation Trilogy (actually, all 10 books
in that series -- Foundation's Edge by Asimov is the best in my
opinion), and grew up reading lots of Larry Niven's Known Space series
(my favorites were Protector, World of Ptavvs, and A Gift from Earth).
I haven't read Dune yet (I've seen both movie versions), but eagerly
look forward to reading the actual book sometime (along with Ender's
Game by Orson Scott Card). One thing you didn't mention, that
certainly was a huge factor in my development as a reader, was comic
books. In particular, I loved (and still love) the Donald Duck and
Uncle Scrooge comics done by Carl Barks (and collected in a few
gorgeous bound volumes). I'm not sure about the state of comic books
these days, but I remember loving to read Spider-Man, the X-Men, the
Fantastic Four, and the Metal Men, among others. I appreciate and
agree with many of your personal convictions (e.g., not "forcing" kids
to read when they don't want to). I look forward to examining your
suggestions more closely, as well as the links you've provided.
Hopefully many other people will add their comments about both your
suggestions and their favorites that aren't listed here.

Subject: Re: Best books for children
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 06 Feb 2005 16:19 PST
Hi, mharoks,

I'm sure a lot of people will offer comments on this question, and I
will probably come back myself later with some specific titles, but I
just wanted to make a general comment based on my personal experience.

I've always accepted the wisdom of reading to children, and I still
endorse it wholeheartedly.

My husband and I are great readers and have been all our lives.  We
just took it for granted that any child of ours would have this in
common with us, despite difference in personality and interests,
because we knew that books and reading would be a core value in the
child's upbringing.

As parents, even though we tended to do most of our reading after the
children were in bed, I made sure we were both seen reading for
pleasure during their waking hours so we modeled the habit.  We read
to our two sons (whose age difference is about the same as yours)
early and often, both of us, and when the elder was four we
established a custom called "storytime":  every night the last half
hour before bedtime consisted of full, uncompromised attention between
one child and one parent, and we alternated every night.  We read and
read, moving from picture books on up through classics like Madeleine
l'Engle, and we also discussed, invented, and improvised.

When they were a little older, that reading time became talking
time--an invaluable open door to each child every night through years
of major changes.  (And now that they're grown, my husband and I have
our own storytime once a week, working our way through one full-length
book after another in two-hour read-aloud sessions.)

Our sons are now 21 and 18, and both qualified for Mensa as youngsters
on the basis of private IQ testing.  The older one read the entire Oz
series and the entire Narnia series to himself very competently at the
age of 6-7, and he is currently handling very heavy reading as a
philosophy major on his way to law school.  The younger never had a
favorite book past the age of about 11 and hardly ever picks up
reading matter of any kind for any purpose.  He has a low tolerance
for anything academic, turns to film and computer games for
entertainment, and seems to absorb knowledge out of the air without
cracking a book.  He may not be truly right-hemisphere-dominant, but I
think he is the most right-brained of the four of us.  His vocabulary
is exceptional, and his writing is very expressive, but he just
doesn't read.

The point is, you can do your very best, and I think you should, but a
love for reading and books still depends as much on the inner makeup
of the child as it does on the quality of exposure.

Subject: Re: Best books for children
From: pinkfreud-ga on 09 Feb 2005 01:03 PST
What a wonderful answer! I was sorry when it came to an end!

I'd like to make one recommendation. This is a book of poems that my
mother read to me when I was a preschooler, more than fifty years ago.
When I learned to read on my own, I must have reread it at least a
hundred times. I still have my battered old copy of it, and I can
still pick it up and gain pleasure from its pages.

The book is "Silver Pennies," a collection of poems for children
edited by Blanche Jennings Thompson.

Unlike most collections of poems for children, this one isn't
cutesy-poo or sugary. Along with many memorable pleasant ditties and
ethereal verses, there are some dark, thoughtful, scary poems, and a
few that are rather upsetting, like "The Vinegar Man," which troubled
me greatly when I was young, but which also taught me a vivid and
deeply felt message about tolerance for people who behave in eccentric

Some of the poems and illustrations from "Silver Pennies" may be found here:
Subject: Re: Best books for children
From: rolo1960-ga on 10 Feb 2005 15:06 PST
I know this has already been answered, but I thought I'd put my 2 cents in.

When I was a child, we had the following things in our house:

An encyclopedia.  The first one we got was outdated(a school was
getting rid of their old ones, and we sort of inherited them).  I
loved reading the encyclopedia.

Childcraft How and Why Library.  There was a different volume on
various subjects--nature, technology, poetry.

I believe it was a series called Let's Visit...Each volume covered a
different country's culture and heritage.

For story/reading books:

Harold and the Purple Crayon Series
If You Give a Moose a Muffin
Bread and Jam for Frances

When I was 10, I was fascinated by Walter Lord's A Night to Remember
about the Titanic.

I remember reading a book called Meanwhile, Back at the Castle.  A
family buys an island in the St Lawrence Seaway, between Canada and
the US.  Because of an error in the maps, they find out that the
island does not belong to either country, so they become a sovereign

When I was older, I found a series of books called Choose Your Own
Adventure.  You'd read maybe 10 pages like a regular book, and then
you'd come to a section where it would say something like..if you want
George to go forward turn to page 50.  If you want George to turn
left, turn to page 90.  I wasn't really good at this, and was always
getting killed or into trouble.  I later found a more adult version
played along the lines of Dungeons and Dragons.

When everyone else was reading Nancy Drew, I was reading Trixie
Belden.  It was about a group of teens(3 boys and 3 girls) who went
around solving mysteries.  There were about 30 volumes.  I hadn't seen
them in the bookstores in years, but recently it seems they've
re-issued the series.  I've seen them in Borders and Barnes and Noble.

Oops forgot one.  The Man Who Could Call Down Owls.  The illustrations
in this book are fantastic.  I love this book, but its out of print. 
So is Meanwhile..., mentioned above.  I tried finding the authors on
the net this morning, but I was in a rush.
Have fun!!
Subject: Re: Best books for children
From: chromedome-ga on 10 Feb 2005 20:20 PST
Thank you all for your kind comments.

You're right, Mharoks, about the potential of comic books (and today's
more sophisticated "graphic novels" as attention-getters.  My own
interest in conventional comic books came and went rather quickly,
which perhaps is why they didn't occur to me when preparing this

The two series that stuck with me over the years were Tintin and
Asterix.  The Tintin books, then as now, are great adventure stories
with lively plots and much humour.  The Asterix stories, while not as
sophisticated, offer up a wealth of wordplay and silliness.  I still
binge on both of these once in a while.

I note that I somehow inexplicably left "The Velveteen Rabbit" out of
my list.  That's a good'n too.

Subject: Re: Best books for children
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 20 Feb 2005 10:49 PST
Here's my short list of favorite traditional reading matter for children:

The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings
The Poky Little Puppy (Little Golden Books)
The Winnie-the-Pooh books of A. A. Milne (not Walt Disney)
The Narnia stories of C. S. Lewis
The Oz books of L. Frank Baum
The Andrew Lang fairy tales
Bulfinch's Mythology

Some might argue that the first two don't belong in such exalted
company, but I am proud to have them in my bookcase.  My old copies of
those two were read to rags when I was a child, and my mother bought
me new ones when I grew up.  I believe that every member of my
household could still say "roly-poly pell-mell tumble-bumble" with
vigorous enthusiasm--and without prompting.

I would also strongly recommend poetry, and not just poetry "for
kids."  Let them hear the beauty of the language even if they don't
understand it.  Whittier, Longfellow, Dickinson, Wordsworth, Rossetti,
Keats, Poe.  Especially Poe.

Subject: Re: Best books for children
From: magicmist-ga on 09 Mar 2005 01:24 PST
Subject: Re: Best books for children
From: pauldino-ga on 22 Mar 2005 08:42 PST
What a wonderful list above.
Can I humbly suggest a book for which my wife, Henrietta, wrote a
wonderful text and which I had the greatest joy illustrating.
It is called DINOSAUR ROAR! and I have had many years found it to work
with children of all ages and abilities. All children have their own
dinosaurs and my goofy ones seem to really get them going!
We have sold well over a million copies worldwide and you can see the
'children' of DINOSAUR ROAR! at our new website
where there are lots of games and downloads to enjoy too.
Have fun!
Subject: Re: Best books for children
From: nigglefish-ga on 11 Apr 2005 11:00 PDT
Chromedome's is a fantastic list!
Narnia Chronicals, The Hobbit, The
Subject: Re: Best books for children
From: nigglefish-ga on 11 Apr 2005 13:05 PDT
Chromedome's list is fantastic. If your kids do develop a love of
reading, however, it will soon be them bringing home books for you to
read rather than the other way around. My biggest bit of advice would
be to take their tastes in literature a lot more seriously than the
tastes of any of the posters here. If you can share the experience
with them, even if you need to steal their library books after they go
to bed and discuss them on the way to school the next day, they will,
no doubt, stay enthused about reading. I know that I managed to push
myself as a young reader because of the bond that my parents and I
maintained regarding our fondness of reading and a shared love for
many of the books that I chose myself. I guess it also made me more
receptive to suggestions.

The Narnia Chronicles, The Hobbit and The Hitchiker's Guide to the
Galaxy, are books that I really enjoyed as a kid (and incidentally my
parents read or re-read around about the same time as I did). But I'd
rather talk about a select few that aren't so well known.

The Voyage of Prince Fuji by Jenny Thorne. This is a comic book, but
it is also a work of art. The illustrations are fantastic and the
story is compelling and well worked. There is a lot to be taken out of
every page and the story as a whole is delightful. I got it when I was
5 and it's still a favourite.

The Borribles by Michael de Larrabeiti. Like all good children's books
I didn't feel like I was being treated like a child when I read this
classic. It was tragic and sad and brutal. But it was also extremely
exciting and warm and humorous. Kind of a darker Peter-Pan. I think I
read this around the age of 12.

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman. If a good
children's author is one that doesn't write down to children, a great
children's author is one that writes up to adults. Gaiman writes with
such respect for young readers that there is nothing condescending
when he treats his audience as the children that they are. In fact my
love for this book comes from the fact that I too was blessed enough
to see the world as a child, if only for a few dozen pages, when I
read it last year at 27. It captures the perspective, reality and all
the sensibilities of a child perfectly (for my aging money anyway),
and if it weren't for the surreal illustrations (Dave McKean) and the
beautifully crafted writing you could believe that the story was the
result of an 8 year-old's creative writing exercise. I also recommend
Coraline by the same author for young readers.

(How do I remove the last post that I accidently sent?)

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