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We read a lot, a half hour or more pretty much every day.
Our living room, family room, and bedrooms are all lined with shelves brimming with books. It boarders on hoarding. We’re book people.
I have read just about every imaginable book to Grace – board books, picture books, biographies, chapter books, encyclopedias. There is nothing that Grace won’t sit and listen to. (Allie isn’t yet appreciating the art of cuddling and reading a book.)
If you’re looking for something to read to your kids (or to have an older kid read to a younger one), choose something from this list. I think every child should hear every single one of these books before she grows up.
I’ve listed them in alphabetical order because I’m a little uptight like that.
I have girls. My list leans more toward dolls and princesses and other stereotypical girl stuff. I’ve got a girlie girl who’s not the least bit interested in trucks and fireman and things that creep and crawl.
Will you leave your boy-themed additions in the comments?
- 10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle – I really adore Eric Carle’s books, but this one is a special gem. It’s about a crate of rubber duckies that fell off the ship on the way across the ocean (and it’s a true story). It’s adorable.
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst – I saw this book on Reading Rainbow when I was a kid, and I’ve never forgotten it. Alexander is having a bad day. It goes well with The Good Day, below.
- Annie and the Wild Animals by Jan Brett – Looking for a new pet, Annie runs into all sorts of wild creatures. I adore Jan Brett’s illustrations; there is so much to discover on every single page!
- The Apple-Pip Princess by Jane Ray – I love this story; it’s about three princesses who compete to take over their father’s kingdom. The winner, of course, is the one who works diligently.
- Baby’s Best Friend by Rachel Hale – This is a board book, appropriate for babies and toddlers. Its pages contain very large photos of babies and baby animals – kittens, puppies, birds, and bunnies – with short text. Allie is not a book buff, but she will let me read this one from cover to cover two or three times in succession. I love it, too.
- A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond – This sweet story is about a hapless bear who gets into all sorts of messes.
- Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson – One of my favorites! This is the first of a whole series of books about Bear and his friends. They’re all written in rhymes that roll off the tongue. We have every single book in the series; I think Bear Stays Up for Christmas is my second favorite.
- Before You Were Mine by Meribeth Boelts – Anyone who’s ever adopted a pet from a shelter will appreciate this story. It’s about a little boy who asks his new adopted puppy lots of questions about his past.
- Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown – I read this book to Grace every day of her life until she was 2 or 3. It rhymes, and it has the most wonderful language. This is my favorite picture book ever.
- Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lilian Hoban – This one has a great lesson about being a picky eater.
- But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton – Like all Boynton books, this one is silly. It rhymes and uses very short sentences.
- Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina – This traditional story about a traveling salesman and a troop of mischievous monkeys is a good lesson in problem solving.
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. – I have to admit that this isn’t one of my favorites. I always had a hard time finding the rhythm of the text. That aside, Grace really loved it, and we read it often.
- Christian, the Hugging Lion by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Amy June Bates – The first time Grace and I borrowed this book from the library, we ended up spending almost an hour on YouTube. It’s the true story of two men who bought a lion cub at Harrod’s department store in London in the 1960′s. They raised the lion in their apartment, and they eventually took him to live on a preserve in Africa. I won’t tell you the rest, except to say I wept profusely after seeing the YouTube video. The ending of the story (in real life, too) is heartwarming and wonderful.
- Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes – Is there one among us who wasn’t teased about something as a kid? This story is about a mouse who loves her unique name until she goes to school and gets teased about it.
- Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin – This is another of my favorite stories. It is one of a series of books about a bunch of mischief-making farm animals (They go on strike!) and the exasperated Farmer Brown. The other one I really love is Giggle, Giggle, Quack.
- Corduroy by Don Freeman – This is a sweet story about a teddy bear nobody wants and the little girl who takes him home.
- Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? by Eric Carle – I love Eric Carle, and I love books with a smooth rhyming rhythm. This one is about a bunch of different kinds of animals. It’s best for babies and toddlers.
- The Dog Who Belonged to No One by Amy Hest – This is a sweet story about a lonely dog and a lonely little girl. They eventually find each other and then neither one is lonely. The illustrations are really great, too.
- Dougal, the Garbage Dump Bear by Matt Dray – Second chances, everyone has value, being a hero, plowing through scary situations, it’s the inside that counts – there are so many lessons in the pages of this book. For a long time, Grace wanted to read it every night before she went to bed.
- Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems – We’ve borrowed this one from the library so many times that we should buy it. It’s got a great lesson, that kindness matters and always wins. Plus, it has a character called Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie.
- Enemy Pie by Derek Munson – This book contains the recipe to make your worst enemy into your best friend. It’s a really cute story.
- An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni – This is a classic story about mistaken identity and friendship. It’s really, really cute, and preschoolers especially will like the silliness of chicken and an alligator being friends.
- Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor – Another of my favorites! I’ll never forget the first time I heard Fancy Nancy. Joe, Grace, and I were sitting on the floor of Barnes & Nobles, and he read it to us. This book will expand your kids’ vocabularies, teach them perseverance, and help them see the importance of making every day special.
- Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel – This was one of the first books I ever read on my own. I think it was the first book Joe ever read, too. Frog is friendly and outgoing; Toad is curmudgeonly. It’s like the Odd Couple of children’s books.
- A Good Day by Kevin Henkes – Life is about perspective. This book starts out explaining why it was a bad day for everyone, but in the end, the day is great. I love the lesson!
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown – Is there a human being in the United States who hasn’t read Goodnight Moon? It’s a very simple book with lots of repetition. Every child should hear it over and over and over again.
- The Great Pig Escape by Eileen Christelow – Grace and I discovered this one at the library. It’s fantastic, has a bit of a mystery, and the ending is laugh out loud funny.
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss – This story is stilted and nonsensical, and it’s another of my childhood favorites. There is power in persistence and trying new things.
- Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney – Each trying to outdo the other, Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare compare how much they love each other. Most nights, Grace tells me I love you to Jupiter, Momma! There are a bunch of other books about this pair of rabbits, too.
- The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School by Laurie Halse Anderson – This silly story is about crazy hair that is out of control. And then it is not out of control. It’s got a great lesson about not jumping to conclusions.
- Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson – This is a cute story about being resourceful. Harold wants to go for a walk under the moon, so he draws the moon. His drawings get progressively more detailed as the story progresses.
- Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud – We read this over and over. Be a bucket filler by giving compliments and being kind. Bucket dippers only hurt themselves. It’s a little preachy, but a great way to put feelings into terms kids can understand.
- Have You Seen My Cat? by Eric Carle – Joe hates this book, but I’ve always liked it. A little boy goes looking for his cat and finds a bunch of others instead. The cats in the story are wild cats from many different countries.
- Horns to Toes and in Between by Sandra Boynton – This silly story celebrates our amazing bodies with rhymes and short sentences. I’ve been reading it to Grace for years and years.
- I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont – This one is about accepting and loving yourself no matter what you look like and what other people think of you.
- I Love You Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt – Grace used to be afraid of this book, but now she laughs and laughs about the little boy and his mother. He asks if she would love him if he was horrible and mean, and each time, she assures him that she would take care of him and love him anyway.
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff – This is a silly story about not taking advantage of others’ kindness. Or of being kind yourself. Actually, I’m not sure what it’s about, but it’s really cute and funny. There are at least six other books just like it, including If You Give a Pig a Pancake and If You Give a Moose a Muffin.
- I’ll Always Be Your Friend by Sam McBratney – What kid hasn’t struggled with the choice between independence and the safety of her mom? Grace struggles with it all the time. This book is about a baby fox and his mother, but it’s a great message for all kids.
- I’ll Love You Forever by David Munsch – Before I was a mom, I thought this book was creepy. Now, it makes me weepy, if I can read it at all. All kids need to hear that we’re going to be their parents forever and that we’re going to love them forever.
- Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by NW Carlstrom – This classic book celebrates the normalcy of every day. Younger children especially will love it.
- Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback – The moral of this story is “you can always make something out of nothing.” The whole book is a great lesson on making do and being content. It’s a treasure.
- Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes – When Allie was first born, I scoffed at this book. I didn’t want to bring a book home in which the main character was mean to the new baby (and she is). Once real life set in, and Grace was mean to her baby sister, I realized that she needed this book. She needed to feel normal in her jealousy and disdain for the interloper. Plus, this book is laugh out loud hilarious.
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn – Be still my heart. This book is about a raccoon cub with separation anxiety and how his Mama calms his fears. Besides being a wonderful story, this book has magnificent illustrations. They are so vivid that I expected the pages to feel like watercolor paper.
- The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie dePaola – This book has just a couple of words. You use your imagination to tell the story.
- Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems – You know what happens when Daddy is in charge, right? Everything falls apart. (Not really, of course.) This is a great book about communicating, understanding, and frustration. There are a couple more Knuffle Bunny books; we love them all.
- Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems – Have you ever wanted to be something so badly but then when you become it, it’s not what you expected? Yes, that. (And it’s funny, too.)
- Let Me Hold You Longer by Karen Kingsbury – This one is more poignant than most, and may be more for the parents than for the kids. It’s a little like I’ll Love You Forever but without the creepy breaking into the son’s house. Grace really likes it.
- The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pickney – This is another book without words, but the illustrations are stunning. If you know the traditional tale (or even if you don’t), you’ll have no trouble retelling the story. Better yet, let your kid retell it from the pictures. That’s good pre-reading practice.
- The Little Critter Collection by Mercer Mayer – I read Little Critter when I was little, and Grace loves Little Critter, too. They’re simple and help kids to understand their feelings.
- Little Raccoon’s Big Question by Miriam Schlein – Little Raccoon’s big question is “When do you love me most?” He tries to guess the whole way through the book, til his momma doesn’t answer til the end. It’s really sweet, and the illustrations are rich and detailed.
- Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Deborah Guarino – What kid can’t identify with being mad at Mama? I like all of the Llama Llama books, but this is my favorite.
- Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – Sweet Madeline is a tiny and very brave girl who comes down with appendicitis. Written over 60 years ago, the sing-songy text rhymes and is delightful to read. It’s a wonderful book, the first of many Madeline books.
- Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey – It feels like this story could have really happened. A pair of ducks makes their nest in an unlikely place, and a kind police officer looks out for them.
- Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joosse – Like Stinkyface above, the girl in this story asks her mother if she’d still love her if she does all kinds of naughty things.
- Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle – Mr. Seahorse carries his babies in his pouch (really, they do), and he swims past all kind of other daddies carry for their babies.
- The Mitten by Jan Brett – Nicki wants a snow white mitten. His grandmother tells him that he’ll lose them, but he wants them anyway. He loses one, and a whole herd of wild animals climb inside.
- The Money Tree by Sarah Stewart – A strange tree grows up in Miss McGillicuddy’s backyard. Teaching about generosity and contentment, the story and the illustrations are interesting and unexpected.
- Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton – Sandra Boynton is known for silliness and repetition. That’s what this book is about. It was one of Grace’s favorites.
- Ollie & Moon by Diane Kredensor – This one is about two friends; one likes to surprise the other. They live in Paris, and readers get a nice tour of the city while the story progresses. Readers have to wait and guess along with the characters, which is a nice lesson in patience and making educated guesses.
- No, David! by David Shannon – In a prevailing theme, momma loves you no matter how naughty you are. I love this book.
- No Matter What by Debi Gliori – Another book about the unconditional love of your parents. I really like the illustrations in this one.
- Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen – A snappy book about princesses who wear sparkly crowns and soccer shoes. This one is about being yourself, no matter who you are.
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss – You know this one already, right? It’s about perseverance, dreaming big, and succeeding.
- Officer Buckle & Gloriaby Peggy Rathmann – Grace and I laughed together over this book. It’s about safety and teamwork and being interesting.
- Olivia by Ian Falconer – I thought I wouldn’t like this one because I’m not especially fond of the tv show, but I was wrong. I love it. Olivia is an active little girl very much like my own 4-year-old. She wears her parents out but without doing anything horrible.
- One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root – Grace didn’t like this one, but I sure did. It’s full of noises, splishing and clomping and peeping, and repetitive rhymes.
- One Green Apple by Eve Bunting – Anyone who’s ever felt out of place will identify with this book in which a Muslim girl (who knows no English) struggles to fit in.
- One Hand, Two Hands by Max Lucado – Primarily about our amazing hands, this book ends with a call to use your hands to help others. It’s simple and very good.
- Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Paula Kahumbu – We found this at Barnes & Nobles long, long ago. It’s about a baby hippo who was separated from its herd during the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and his unlikely friendship with a lonely old tortoise.
- The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown – Some people think this one is creepy, but I like it a lot. The little bunny says he’s going to run away, and his mother tells him that she’s going to follow him. It’s another about my favorite topic, which is apparently the unconditional love of a parent.
- The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch – This is among my most favorites. A dragon comes and burns up the kingdom, and all that’s left to wear is a paper bag. Princess Elizabeth has to go save her Charming Prince from the dragon. She’s smart and sassy and lives happily ever after without the bum, Prince Ronald.
- Periwinkle Smith and the Twirly, Whirly Tutu by John & Wendy – This story is about a little girl who gets a big paint splotch on her favorite tutu. At first she’s upset, she tries really hard to get it out, and then she accepts it and makes it work. It’s got a great message.
- Petunia by Roger Duvoisin – Petunia is a silly goose (something I call my own children about thirty-eight times each day) who finds a book and thinks it will make her smart.
- The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs – This book made me cry. It’s a touching lesson on generosity and kindness and helping those in need.
- Pinkalicious by Elizabeth Kann – Grace frequently says, You get what you get and you don’t get upset. There’s also a good lesson about taking care of your body and eating healthy foods.
- Pirates Don’t Change Diapers by Melinda Long and David Shannon – This is just plain fun. The big brother loves his baby sister. Even though she is a pain in the neck at first, she proves to be an asset in the end. Plus, there are pirates.
- Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole – The princess in this book rejects all of the suitors and lives with her pets forever. I like it because it’s nontraditional.
- Priscilla and the Pink Planet by Nathaniel Hobbie – The lesson in this one is that too much of a good thing is not good at all.
- Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young compiled by Jack Prelutsky – Think Mother Goose. The rhymes are broken up into groups for little babies (very short), older babies (slightly longer), and toddlers (with finger plays and the like).
- The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant – The real gems in this book are the complex illustrations (even parents will chuckle at the events in the periphery), but the story is good, too. The house is full of relatives; days are exciting and fun.
- Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry – Grace and I pored over this book for two hours one afternoon. We searched each page for Goldbug and Dingo Dog and Officer Flossy on each page. The illustrations are silly and interesting. I don’t remember the story at all (it’s a little thin), but I remember clearly the giggles we had over the pictures.
- Scaredy Squirrel at Night by Melanie Watts – Scaredy Squirrel (a neurotic and hilarious rodent) is afraid of the dark, but he has a plan. He’s never going to go to sleep again. Parents will like this book as much as kids will.
- Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams II & Jean Stoick – This is a photo essay about a stranger who brings food to the woodland creatures. I got it when Grace was an infant, and we read it often. We love it. While I was writing this post, I learned that there are more books in the series.
- Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola – You have to follow the directions or it all falls apart! I met Tomie de Paola when I was in the forth grade; I just thought I’d share.
- Sunflower House by Eve Bunting – This book is about a little boy who plants sunflower seeds and watches them grow. After they’re all grown, he plays underneath, and then he collects the seeds in the fall. It’s a great story.
- That’s Mine! by Jennifer Northway – This is a lot like Julius, Baby of the World. It’s about an older brother who doesn’t want his baby sister to touch his favorite stuffed animal.
- Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco – When the little girl is afraid of the thunder and lightning, her grandmother helps her to make a thunder cake.
- Time for Bed by Mem Fox – I’m not a huge fan of Mem Fox’s books, but this one is a real treasure. It’s made of rhyming couplets and beautiful illustrations of baby animals and their mamas.
- Toot & Puddle by Holly Hobbie – I didn’t realize that this series on tv is based on a book. The premise is really cute; one fella loves to be at home, while his best friend loves to travel the whole word. They are as different as can be, but they really love each other.
- The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! as told to Jon Scieszka – This is exactly what you think: the Big Bad Wolf’s side of the story. The story is good, and I think it’s worth kids hearing that there’s more that one side of every story.
- Tuesday by David Wiesner – Mischievous frogs take flight in this wordless story. The watercolor pictures are magnificent; you won’t miss the words.
- Unique Monique by Maria Rousaka – This is one of Grace’s most favorites. Monique wants to be different. She tries everything, but her teacher thwarts her efforts.
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – This is the probably the most well-known children’s book ever. It’s about a little caterpillar who eats and grows and turns into a butterfly.
- Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray – Everyone is important and valuable, even a dog that farts all the time. Yes, this book is a little crass, but it also has a wonderful message. Grace has been obsessed with poop and farts for most of a year, so she loves this book. I think most kids would love it, too.
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen – I’m not a huge fan of this one, but it’s repetitive and has lots of actions and sounds and kids love it. I’ve read it to Grace and her little friends many times, and I made it into a game we play when we’re sitting around and waiting.
- When You Were Inside Mommy by Joanna Cole – We call this the uterus book at my house. It’s about where kids come from. It’s really good for anytime, but especially if a momma is growing a new baby.
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendek – Another of my short list of favorites, this one is about a little boy who gets in trouble and goes away (in his imagination, of course) to a faraway land where he is the leader of the monsters.
- Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate – This one is about baby Jesus coming to visit. All of the animals guess about who’s coming to visit.
- Will You Be My Friend? A Bunny and Bird Story by Nancy Tafuri – This book has great messages: when you’re too shy to put yourself out there, you miss out on great opportunities; a great friend is priceless; helping each other is always the right thing to do. I love the illustrations, too.
- Willow by Denise Brennan-Nelson – When I was in first grade, my teacher made fun of me in front of the class because I colored the bow on my Christmas wreath blue instead of red. Willow has a teacher just like that. There are coloring pages and an activity guide for this book on Amazon.com.
I intentionally left off some classics because I dislike them. Others I probably forgot, even though I combed through our shelves and the shelves of my local library.
What are your must-read children’s books?
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