When it comes to kids’ books, we all have favorites from our own childhoods as well as from our parenting days. When I was a girl, I was addicted to Goodnight Moon but when I revisited it as an adult, I couldn’t figure out why I loved it so much — it’s really not the most exciting book! As a mom, I have way too many favorites to name and wonderful memories to go along with each of them.
My three kids are voracious readers who now devour chapter books on their own. Sadly, my days of reading aloud to them at night are few and far between — but when they were younger, we shared readings and re-readings of family faves like Stone Soup, KnuffleBunny, Llama Llama Red Pajama, Caps for Sale and more.
The idea of choosing the coolest kids’ reads of all time is daunting. My criteria for this list was that each had to be unique, timeless, and visually interesting. I could read any of these a hundred times and never tire of them — more importantly, so could my kids.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Timeless, tender, and heartbreaking, The Little Prince is as good today as it was when it first appeared in 1943. Saint-Exupéry’s novella is filled with his dreamy watercolors and tells a beautiful story — no wonder it’s one of the best-selling books of all time and was voted the best book of the 20th century in France. I own two copies in English and the original French edition. I love it because it’s filled with commentary about life, friendship, devotion, and human nature – plus unforgettable lines such as: “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
One Amazon reviewer wrote: “Shaun Tan’s The Arrival may be the most beautiful book I’ve ever seen. The Arrival, a 128-page picture book, tells the story of an immigrant. It could be the story of any immigrant going to any new land, but it happens to be the story of a man heading off to a bizarre yet beautiful world… to set up a home for his wife and child. The food, the creatures, the jobs, the way of life, the way of travel…it’s all new and bizarre and told beautifully through Tan’s haunting, sepia toned artwork.” No words are used to tell this story and none are needed — it’s remarkable in every way.
An Awesome Book! by Dallas Clayton
Fun, fantastical, and life-affirming, this vibrant picture book is one of my favorite year-end teacher gifts. Written and illustrated by Los Angeles artist Dallas Clayton, the spirited book encourages kids (and grown-ups) to let their imaginations run wild and dream of “rocket powered unicorns and candy cane machines.” Yes – and yes!
Skippyjon Jones by Judith Byron Schachner
This hip little series about a “Chihuahua” who dreams up fantastic adventures is a blast to read aloud! Even though my kids have outgrown the books, I still pick one up occasionally when I need a good chuckle. Skippyjon is actually a Siamese cat with oversized ears (that make him look like a Chihuahua) and an equally large imagination. He enjoys make-believe romps with his posse of Chihuahua friends, Los Chimichangos, imagines voyages to Mars where he encounters Martian-ito Skippito, and — from the confines of his closet — transforms into a Zorro-like alter-ego, El Skippito Friskito. Skippyjon is irrepressible and incredibly lovable, but what ultimately makes this series so enchanting is the language. The books are filled with quirky rhymes, Spanish phrases (or hybrid Spanglish), and zippy humor that both adults and kids appreciate.
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl never disappoints. He’s my husband’s favorite author and a crowd-pleaser in our house, so it was difficult to pick just one of his masterpieces. This zany romp of a story makes my list because of how much fun it is to read out loud as a family. It’s filled with made-up words, mash-ups, and hysterical hybrid phrases used by the well-intentioned but sometimes misguided title character, the Big Friendly Giant.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
When it was published in 2007, this historical storybook was so unique – they’re hadn’t been a book quite like it. The drawings are spectacular and the story is captivating. Written and illustrated by Selznick, the tale almost defies description – according to Wikipedia it was “inspired by the true story of turn-of-the-century French pioneer filmmaker, Georges Méliès, his surviving films, and his collection of mechanical, wind-up figures called Automata.” Actress and mother, Julianne Moore, picked it as one of her favorite books for the blog, GOOP, saying: “Hugo Cabret is a masterpiece. My son read it on his own when it was first published, and told me he loved it, but I didn’t read it until one rainy day when my daughter was looking for something to do and asked me to read to her. She wouldn’t let me stop and we read the whole book that day. It is a magical, moving book about dreams, achievement, and who you belong to.”
How The Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
I’m not sure anyone will ever match Dr. Seuss for pure, crazy kid magic – he penned so many remarkable stories. This one makes my list because it stars one of the most lovable, curmudgeony bad guys every dreamt up — The Grinch. Watching him go from fiend to friend and discover the true meaning of Christmas always leaves me with a case of the warm fuzzies.
Author Kate DiCamillo is a huge hit with all three of my kids — and given their vastly different tastes in literature, that’s saying something. Full disclosure: I have not actually read this book, but I’m picking it because my three kids adore it and have told me all about it. Last year, my son’s teacher gave each student a Despereaux-inspired gift at the end of the year – a handmade bag containing a gold spoon and spool of thread. I’ll have to read the book to find out what those mean, but something tells me it’s good. This much I know: Despereaux tells a sometimes dark, sometimes romantic tale that begins “within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse.”
The Charlie & Lola Series by Lauren Child
This is a charming British series about a feisty little girl and her very patient older brother. Titles include: But Excuse Me That is My Book, Snow is My Favourite and My Best, and I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed. These books are tons of fun to read aloud and parents will get a kick out of Lola’s persistent personality and her brother’s loving reactions. In I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato, Lola refuses to eat her veggies until Charlie tells her carrots are “orange twiglets from Jupiter,” mashed potatoes are “cloud fluff from the pointiest peak of Mount Fuji,” and so on. Each story of the siblings is told with warmth and wit — we read these over and over when my children were toddlers.
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
I was a kid when this was first published in 1974, but for some reason I never read it as a youngster. It’s hard to know where to begin in praising this beloved collection of children’s poetry. Funny, imaginative, and profound, it contains tales of girls who eat whales, boys who turn into TV sets, and crocs that go to the dentist. “If you are a dreamer, come in, If you are a dreamer, A wisher, a liar, A hope-er, a pray-er, A magic bean buyer …” – even if you’re not a dreamer, this book will turn you into one.
*This post is sponsored by Amazon.