Revisit some classic literature from your own childhood and meet some contemporary favorites.
Great stories really are the gift that keeps on giving. They illuminate the most essential parts of humanity, and children’s books do this with simplicity and a beauty that sticks for a lifetime. We all want our children to live a life full of imagination and curiosity, not to mention learn how to love fully and live honestly.
Take a first look, or a worthwhile second look, at the following titles:
- Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Why it is great: Sendak ranks among the best storytellers and illustrators in the last century, partly because of his skill (the drawings are so detailed, charismatic, and distinct) but also because of his willingness to tackle tough subjects head on, like misbehaving.
What it will teach your child: This story is a beautifully drawn metaphor for how bad behavior is sometimes about the need to be in one’s own world. Children often experience frustration when they feel powerless, and Max, our anti-hero, sails off to another fantastic land where he is the king of the monsters. Parents are just an aside in the story, but their presence and warmth are vibrant characters.
- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Why it is great: Keats brought a subtle humor and a city sensibility to kids lit that wasn’t there before. Using a combination of collage and drawing, Keats introduces African American characters with an everyday charm and humor in a time when books where dominated by a more singular perspective.
What it will teach your child: This book is a glorious depiction of that first winter snowfall, and the sense a child has that the whole world is new and ripe for exploration.
- Blueberries for Sal by Robert McKloskey
Why it is great: The striking details of this book are so alive that the characters, both human and animal, jump from the page. Sal, short for Sally, is a short-haired, overall-wearing adventurer whose curiosity gets the best of her.
What it will teach your child: McKloskey captures the simplicity of country life with a perfect portrait of mother and daughter. In its small way, it hints at the value of exploration but also the value of listening to directions.
- Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Why it is great: Vivid art with and an engrossing but quiet premise, Owl Moon is a story about searching and familial connection. It evokes a wonder for nature that is wordless, and the richness of the moment.
What it will teach your child: A boy and his father go out after dark on a full moon to see if they can find an owl. The boy discovers that to find the elusive creature, you must use patience and stillness.
- Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Why it is great: Because kids love rhymes! This author writes poems about nonsensical people and imaginary creatures that seriously crack kids up. His jaunty style grabs attention for kids and grown-ups. Warm up first because this one is a tongue twister!
What it will teach your child: That the world is not always as orderly as it is seems. That pigs actually do fly, and that if you don’t take the garbage out, the consequences could be disastrously funny.
- Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Why it is great: This kind of simple style isn’t really en vogue anymore, but the imagination it took to create it is totally exceptional.
What it will teach your child: This story is a brilliant metaphor for visualization, the process by which we dream something up and make it actual. Harold’s magical tool is nothing other than a simple crayon, but with this tool he draws himself a whole adventure.
- Olivia by Ian Falconer
Why it is great: Falconer is a New Yorker cartoonist who infuses this laughable story with inside jokes and surprises. The use of black and white is especially striking.
What it will teach your child: Olivia is an irreverent little pig living in the city with her family. She marches to the beat of her own very loud drum, but she also knows when she has taken her antics too far.
- Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmens
Why it is great: You probably remember this series of books that take place in a Parisian boarding school. The art is consummately French and the language is written in catchy rhyme.
What it will teach your child: It’s from another time and place when kids were educated by nuns, and tonsils were still a problem. Madeline herself is an emblem of courage that kids can easily relate to.
- Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Why it is great: This series is a beloved first reader collection that shows the value of friendship, despite obvious personality differences. Half and half pictures and text, the narrative is charming, funny, and a great starter book for when kids are learning to read on their own.
What it will teach your child: Sometimes unlikely characters bond and they must then do unlikely things to solve problems. Sometimes awkward situations pop up but true friends help each other through.
- The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Why it is great: There was never a more fully realized vision of the Spanish countryside (complete with matadors and flamenco dancers) than in Ferdinand. The story is witty and universally relatable.
What it will teach your child: That is ok to be different and that sometimes, doing your own thing presents a distinct advantage.
The beauty of these books is that adults can also get completely carried away to another time and place. Sharing this magic is one of the best things you can do for your child, presenting them with a richer perspective and a bigger sense of the world.