Monday, June 02, 2008

Miriam Goderich discovers children's books

I like to think of myself as a fairly well read person. I even enjoy mocking my younger colleagues when they haven’t heard of, much less read, some obscure Victorian author whose praises I’m singing for whatever reason (yes, we’re that kind of office). But there is one literary category that I am woefully ignorant of and which makes them – the mock-ees – feel very superior: children’s books.

Because my earliest years were spent in foreign lands, by the time I got to the U.S., I had not read a single of the classic children’s books that are as much a part of American kids’ experience as frosted flakes and mac & cheese. Closing in on nine years of age by the time my parents and I arrived on these shores, I preferred comic books or more grown-up book fare. So, I missed out on those foundational reading blocks. When, in college, my friends waxed nostalgic about Ferdinand the Bull, Curious George, or Eeyore (everyone, it seems, strongly identified with Eeyore) I just nodded and pretended to know what they were talking about. When they mentioned Corduroy, I thought, “how much fun can a book about fabric swatches be?” and turned back to whatever Russian novel I was engrossed in at the time.

Many years passed in blissful ignorance of children’s books. Then, my son was born. And, I didn’t have a clue what to read to him – Notes from the Underground didn’t seem appropriate bedtime reading, somehow. Happily, lots of wonderful people sent him the classic board books. Along with him, I was introduced to Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and The Runaway Bunny. And, despite the brain numbing repetitiveness (we went through at least two copies of Goodnight Moon) I found that these stories held up remarkably well. They were still charming the 150th time you read them out loud with the exact same inflection all the way through.

But then, my son and I both started getting bored with the limited selection. We wanted more narrative, more suspense, more drama. So, again, I was at a loss. I asked around and Lauren Abramo and Jim McCarthy gave me a list of their favorites. I also started looking at lists on Amazon for suggestions and finally became acquainted with some of those books my friends mentioned lovingly all those years ago. Turns out Corduroy is a bear – who knew? Ferdinand is a very cool, pacifist bull. Eeyore is quite the existential donkey. Harold and his purple crayon are delightfully hallucinogenic. And, Caps for Sale is really funny – especially if you use just the right tone when reprimanding the monkeys.

Of course, my colleagues here always knew about this treasure trove of literature and some, like Michael Bourret have been extremely successful in the children’s and YA markets. As for me, the experience of reading to my kid is made even more delightful by the fact that I’m discovering great books.

What are your favorite children’s books? (I still need lots of recommendations.)


  1. Anything by Roald Dahl. In the middle grades, I loved the Mad Scientist's Club stories, as well as stuff by Daniel Pinkwater,

  2. I read Abarat a YA from Clive Barker a couple of years ago. Then had children.

    I'm a fan of the Muppet Baby collection "Bye-bye Bottle", Dr. Seuss, and Shel Silverstein is a wonderful silly mess of poetry.

    When I was doing research for Elementary Ed, I found a beautiful book called Golem by David Wisniewski, and a great young adventure called The Children’s War by Theodore Taylor (this was one of my favorites during my Children's Lit class).

  3. Phil the Ventriloquist

  4. My children wore out Sandra Boynton's The Going to Bed Book.

    They loved Mercer Meyer's critter books - because the pictures often contradict the words.

    We read Tedd Arnold's Parts over and over too, and my son loved the Franklin books.

    Then we moved on to Magic Tree House and Magic School Bus.

    Mostly we would go to the library and/or the bookstore and try lots of everything.

  5. Hmmm...I was all excited to tell you what you might like, but now I see you mean to read aloud...or share with your son. My Camp Fire Boys and Girls group loved that book MOOSE MUSIC and also the BIG GOOF AND LITTLE GOOF books. I like Darcy Pattison's books for PBs. But if you just want some good books to read, I am thinking that you should get a hold of the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. Of course, I recommend that any chance I can get, and your son wouldn't be the least interested but you might like them! I'm glad Michael Bourret's so good at YA since he's my agent (which I knew)!


  6. My little ones love Sandra Boynton. My 3.5 yo is pretty commercial-driven lately, so we read a lot of Disney stories, Dora, and Curious George. I think she's going to be like me and once she learns to read in the next year or so, will skip right from Dr. Seuss to chapter books. We already have several anthologies that we read most of her bedtime stories out of (a Christmas one, a Princess one, a Pooh one, etc). All the stories in those anthologies are pretty hefty to read outloud, but she always begs for more.

    When we go to the library, she is allowed to choose whatever she likes, and tends to pick a round dozen of the oddest books I've ever seen. Some have become favorites that she looks for again (The Quiltmaker's Journey..don't have the author handy), some she barely has us read once before returning.

  7. For the young ones, things like Magic School Bus, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie/If You Give a Moose a Muffin, Curious George, and Dr. Seuss are great.

    Once they get past the needing-pictures stage, the works of Roald Dahl and Louis Sachar are wonderful. I also quite enjoyed Scott O'Dell once I got a little more advanced in my childhood.

  8. Enduring favorites around our house . . .

    "Stay up Late" by Maira Kalman and David Byrne (Not a good lullabye. . .)

    "When Sheep Cannot Sleep: The Counting Book" by Satoshi Kitamura

    "Tuesday" by David Wiesner (very few words, great story)

    "The Tompten" by Astrid Lindgren

    "The Dumb Bunnies" by Dav Pilkey (6-8 year-olds love his Captain Underpants Adventures)

    "Sharkabet" by Ray Troll

    "Knuffle Bunny" by Mo Willems

    "Wolves" by Emily Gravett (It is so much fun to open the little envelopes and stuff. . .)

  9. Color Kittens, by Margaret Wise Brown!

  10. If it bears the name Shel Silverstein, it'll go over well.

  11. Two books I read to rags as a child were WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and the Little Golden Book starring Grover from Sesame Street called THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK.

  12. My favorites from childhood (that you haven't already listed) were Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings.

  13. The first book I remembered when you mentioned the topic was The Cattail House. The illustrations are lovely, and I used to get the book out just to look at the pictures.

    And I still think that The Fighting Prince of Donegal is one of the best preteen/YA adventure stories ever. I don't mind reading that one over and over, and not very long ago, I got out 101 Dalmations, and read it again, too.

  14. Roald Dahl is amazing. His characters bring out the good in children. If your son is just starting in on easy chapter books I've found that kids love the Magic Treehouse Series. Chris Val Allsburg's illustrations and messages are inspirational.
    P.S: As a teacher, I've found that if you're enthusiastic about reading it is infectious with your child.

  15. My daughter's favorites when she was small were The Three Little Pigs (especially good if you do voices) and The Hungry Duckling. She also had a set of Disney books she loved.

  16. Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs and Harry the Dirty Dog are my personal favorites...

  17. The Little Bear series and Frog and Toad series are by far my favorite children's books to read aloud to my kids (ages 11, 9, 6, and 3), and they all still laugh at the stories, as do my husband and I (especially "Cookies").

    Another favorite, although no one seems to have heard of it, is "Stand Back, Said the Elephant, I'm Going to Sneeze." It's hilarious to read aloud. We're on our second copy and I'm tempted to buy up more just in case it goes out of print.

    For the sentimental, there are the Max Lucado picture books as well as Oscar Wilde's, The Selfish Giant.

    Oh, just so many to choose from!

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    Fortunately, I have all rights back and all the original illustrations in pristine shape.

    or visit...

    (I've snippets of an unpublished Middle Grade novella posted there,(BUGAFICATION), as well as some of my art work.

    Please buy one of the expensive copies and send me 10%!

    If we can't shamelessly self promote, turn this post upside down and all the words will fall off!

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  19. I know I'm repeating some of the ones already mentioned, but here are some MUST-READS for kids:

    The Giving Tree
    Rainbow Fish
    Make Way for Ducklings
    Where the Wild Things Are
    The Polar Express
    If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
    The Velveteen Rabbit
    Laura Charlotte

    These were some of my favorite books growing up. Oh, Dr. Seuss is always a must. Kids don't get enough Dr. Seuss these days, and they should.

    I hope you and your son like these as much as I used to!

  20. When I was a children's bookseller, my favorite picture book was called The Friends of Emily Culpepper:
    It's now out of print. It's about a lonely old woman who wants friends, so she shrinks the people who come to her door (the postman, etc) and keeps them in jars. It's a wonderfully bizarre paranormal picture book. :D

    Anything by Kevin Henkes is hilarious, like Julius the Baby of the World and Chrysanthemum.

    Also, Tacky the Penguin and Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester.

    My kids loved all of these (and so did I!)

  21. This is a great post. It's fun to rediscover favorites and find new ones as we read to our children. Our old favorites (from my childhood) Ezra Jack Keats', Snowy Day, and Maggie and the Pirate, also from the illustrator Trina Schart Hyman, St. George and the Dragon or any of her other collaborations.

    Our new favorites, The Little Red Fish - Taeun Yoo, Adele and Simon - Barbara McClintock, and Before You Were Born - Howard Schwartz.

  22. Junie B. Jones was a big hit with my oldest, and her entire class, as soon as they hit about first grade. (Fun for parents, too)

    I love anything Sandra Boynton for read aloud.

    My daughter's in fourth grade now, and the biggest fad in reading right now is Diary of a Wimpy Kid - you're just not cool if you're not carrying a copy of that one... honestly, any book that can make reading 'cool' has my vote.

  23. If your son is five/six, a wonderful read aloud trilogy begins with MY FATHER'S DRAGON (Garnet)...


  24. Hey Miriam, my 6 year old loves to read Roald Dahl with my husband and I. He and my daughter both love poetry like Flamingos on the Roof (talk about reading and rereading a book). Beth, who's five loves Fancy Nancy and both kids love the Hardy Boys...all these books are read to them at this point, but I figure they'll rediscover them when the can read on their own. For really little kids, Silly Sally is the best and my kids still love to see that one on the shelf even though they're older. Encylopedia Brown's a winner, too. Magic Treehouse...I'm not sure how old your son is, so there's a range in there. Have fun!

  25. Wow, thanks to all of you for all these great suggestions. My son's only 2 1/2 so we have lots of time to work our way through all of these.

  26. I don't see Henry and Mudge listed, so let me put in a vote for those. As much a pleasure to read aloud as they are for the kid to hear (and you can't say that about all children's books!). My son loved them so much that he went as a "mashed prune colored cat"--get Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat, and you'll understand--for Halloween one year. These are fun, short chapters, engaging stories, and for a two and a half year old? You are ready to roll. I urge you to get these--you won't be sorry! And at about four bucks a pop, you can get the whole 20+ of them over time, easy. We also gave many, many copies for birthday presents for friends.

  27. Graham Oakley's Church Mice series. Even little kids like these, and adults find them entertaining too. Oakley is both author and illustrator, and both the text and art in his books are absolutely first rate -- a sickening surfeit of talent in one person. The only drawback is that they are perhaps oriented towards a British audience and some of the humor resonates better if you've spent time in the U.K. But they're still fantastic.

    And our kids loved Mercer Mayer's 'There's a Nightmare in my Closet.' At one point, I could just about say this in my sleep.

  28. My mother didn't read to me, so I was deprived, and didn't discover children's books until I was a teen. My sisters were first and second graders then, and they loved The Berenstains' B Book: Big brown bear, blue bull, beautiful baboon, blowing bubbles, biking backwards. Bump. Bam! ...

    I finally read Peter Pan when I was 30. It's so beautifully written, and no, seeing the movie or the play is NOT the same.

    The Velveteen Rabbit is also one of my all-time favorites.

  29. My girls loved Carl books - they're great for pre-readers because there are no words. Only pictures, all of which are, of course, worth a thousand words. Ha! Seriously, at 2 1/2, I suspect your boy would love Carl and his adventures, because he can 'read' about the friendly, clever dog to you.

    When he's older, 7 or 8, read Old Yeller by Fred Gibson. The book has it all over the Disney movie. Also, Charlotte's Web is wonderful.

    Roald Dahl is fabulous, but you might want to read ahead, if you've never read him - he's pretty twisted.

  30. Each Peach Pear Plum--very clever.

    Stellaluna--so beautifully illustrated.

    Anything by Sandra Boynton--Oh My Oh My Dinosaurs! was the worn out book at our house.

  31. Although I grew up with The Borrowers by Mary Norton and The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, recently I picked up a newer title for a friend's child. Urchin of the Rising Stars, first book in the Mismantle Chronicles by M.I. McAllister along the lines of Wind in the Willows. Delightful story about a squirrel who goes on to do great things.

  32. Absolute tops for "sophisticated" boys and girls:

    ELOISE by Kay Thompson

    & for pure fun:

    RIDE A PURPLE PELICAN by Jack Prelutsky

    -Mom of 3 Readers

  33. The Giving Tree, hands down.

  34. The Bunnicula series - tales of a vampire bunny rabbit that goes around sucking the life out of vegetables. There's 'Bunnicula'; 'Celery Stalks at Midnight'; and other wonderful titles.
    My kids love Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzmann (check spelling) but they're a little bit older.
    My littlies love anything by Phillis Root such as "One Duck Stuck" or Pamela Allen "Waddle Giggle Gargle Paddle Poodle" about a magpie.
    There's a few for starters.

  35. Hi Miriam,

    I love reading these calming stories to my two and a half year old.

    All I See is Part of Me by Chara Curtis (this one is a bit long for an active 2 year old but a great read nonetheless)

    Each Breath a Smile by Sister Susan

    Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee Maclean

    Little Yoga: A Toddler's First Book of Yoga by Rebecca Whitford and Martina Selway

    I just wrote a story for my daughter that has helped her to transition to her big girl bed. Let me know if you want to borrow it for your son.

    Enjoy your little one!

    All the best,
    Aileen McCabe-Maucher

  36. Miriam,

    There are two Dr. Seuss books that I adore and feel that they are not given the attention they deserve.

    The first is Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book. It is wonderful as a bedtime story because you get to YAWN really wide numerous times while reading.

    (The only drawback is that by the time you stop reading that book, you will also need to go to bed after yawning so much while reading the story.)

    The other really cool Dr. Seuss book is Fox in Socks. It is a book filled with incredibly difficult tongue twisters. However, my dad was really good at them and I learned at his knee how to read this book. It's a challenge to read without stumbling, but it so much fun.

    There are other Dr. Seuss books that also are worthy of checking out:

    The Sneetches
    Yertle the Turtle

    and when your child is old enough:

    The Lorax is a marvelous tale about environmentalism.

    Once your son gets enough patience to listen to chapter books, you need to discover Beverly Cleary's books. The easiest place to start for boys would be her Mouse and the Motorcycle books.

    Then there is Megan McDonald's wonderfully funny Judy Moody and Stink Moody series by Candlewick Press. My nine year old son loves Judy Moody books, even if they are about a girl since she's not a "girly girl" and has quite the attitude.

    Enjoy reading to your little one, they grow up so quickly.

  37. Graham Oakley's Church Mice books, if you can find them. Quirky and funny, with fantastic pictures that sometimes tell a different story from the words.

    Lynley Dodd: Hairy McClary, et al. They're aimed at about your son's age.

  38. The Narnia series. And Wrinkle in Time by Medeleine L'Engle.
    My son was into the Bernstein Bears as a child.
    And how about fairy tales? I loved them as a kid, so did my son. Plus the King Arthur tales. The Wizard of Oz series.

  39. For the younger crowd

    Who Took the Farmer's Hat?
    Red Sun, Blue Sun
    (it may not be for everyone, I just remember being fascinated by it in kindergarten)
    Robert D. San-Souci has some fabulously-illustrated books, and I doubt the quality has gone down since I was in elementary school (about 10-15 years ago).
    The Bernstein Bears

    For chapter books, my favorites were The Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner. She only wrote the first two dozen or so (maybe not even that many), but Scholastic carried on the series. I also firmly support the suggestions for Roald Dahl.

    I adored A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, but he'll have to wait a few years for that one (maybe third or fourth grade). Also The Chronicles of Narnia -- ha, the person above me said the same, that's good evidence for you right there.

  40. My daughter is entering the seventh grade.
    Right now, she loves books by Rick Riordan.
    She also loves Judy Blume, and right now she's reading a book called, Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy.

    I've just finished reading (the National Book Award winner for YA Fiction) Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. It was as entertaining as Roald Dahl's "Boy."

  41. My 10 month old and I enjoy
    I Love You Through And Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak

  42. The Serendipity books by Stephen Cosgrove were a wonderful piece of my childhood. I can't recommend them enough.

  43. If you're looking for some good reads, come check out Mommy C's Sanctuary for Offbeat and Quirky Children's Lit
    You'll find reviews on everything from Innuit lit to potty books.

  44. Does George W. Bush's "autobiography" count?

  45. 'Make Way for Ducklings' has been mentioned. The author and illustrator is Robert McClosky. He's quirky and subtle and very funny. His mid-grade Homer Price books (there are two) are absolutely classic developements of the American "tall tale" tradition.

    Hear, hear for enthusiasts of 'The Borrowers.'

  46. I'm very late to this thread, but here are some funny books my boys have enjoyed (and I have, too):

    Read Aloud:
    Wolf Story, by William McCleery. A great father-son reading together story. Every dad should have this book.

    The Giggler Treatment by Roddy Doyle. I'm sorry, but punishing mean adults with "poo on the shoe" is funny.

    some picture books my boys loved:
    Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann, also, Ten MInutes to Bedtime

    Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt

    Anything by Julia Donaldson

    Traction Man by Mini Grey

    Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex

    Olivia books by Ian Falconer

    I my search for great reads I've found the following blogs indispensable:
    fuse#8 at school library journal