If there’s one thing everyone likes, it’s a good story.
And if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s what is typically marketed to children as “literature” or “entertainment.”
Children’s literature and television are, for the most part, abysmal. The average children’s cartoon is an assault to the senses composed of cheap animation, lousy voice acting, asinine writing and Elmo. Most children’s books don’t fare any better. To most people, the children’s market is an excuse to insult the customer with shoddy work. Why? Because kids “don’t know any better.”
I detest this, because kids deserve better. I love authors who care enough to put love into something, even if it’s just for kids. Put quality in front of kids, and they learn to recognize and appreciate it. And working in a school and tutoring kids, I’ve always kept an eye out for the best books that should be on every kids’ bookshelf.
I’ve got my picks here (complete with handy Amazon links.) Read through and tell me what else my future kids just have to read!
The Wee Ones
Kids are overstimulated. Everything has to be seizure inducing lights and coma-inducing sugar highs. The cathartic Frog and Toad are the exact opposite. Their lives exist in simplicity, friendship, and solving minor problems. A typical problem in Toad’s life is losing the list he made of everything he is supposed to do, but he can’t look for the list because looking for the list is not on his list of things to do.
Any boisterous child will find something to relate to with Olivia. And the illustrations are unusually sophisticated, as you’d expect from a guy whose drawings have appeared on The New Yorker cover.
Peter Brown is fairly new to the children’s book world, but his retro styled illustrations are lovingly crafted, right down to the hand-written typewriter text.
The Mid Kids
A classic. Alexander’s been having a terrible day for almost thirty years. The story and drawings are amazing and humorous. The new edition features the old pen and ink illustrations with Alexander needlessly colored in.
Munro Leaf wrote the beloved Ferdinand, a book I never really cared for. But much less well known was his series about, of all things, manners. I forgot I ever had this book until I saw a stack of copies at, of all places, Anthropologie. A relic from what sometimes seems to be a bygone era, when kids were expected to behave themselves. Kids will never know how kitschy it is.
The cut paper drawings are some of the most amazing pictures you will ever see in a book. And kids will learn the “truth” behind all the things their parents tell them to do. Why should kids drink their milk? To keep our atomic cows from exploding, of course.
Probably not appropriate for every child, but who can resist some good old fashioned toilet humor, and the true story of a family and their stinky dog?
The Older Kids
I thought everyone aged 8-12 had read Roald Dahl’s books, but I was shocked to find my wife had never heard of James and the Giant Peach, The BFG or The Twits. My only complaint is the new editions feature sloppy and careless illustrations.
My wife and I read these together. What else is there to say? Like all great children’s shows and books, there is a lot of humor that kids won’t even pick up on until they read the books again with their own kids.
Almost completely hand drawn, with kind of a weird “School House Rock” vibe, and packed with fun and weird math puzzles and experiments. Go ahead and get The Book of Think to go with it.
If you got past age 12 without reading this book and its sequel, you did not have a proper childhood. Go back and try again.
Those are my picks, and I know I left out a lot of classics. No Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein. You already know those guys anyway. But tell me what else should every kid be reading?