Category Archives: reading

Good Books

Posted September 30, 2019

By Sarah Sivright

We know that shared book reading builds and strengthens connections between children and adults.  But does it really matter what you read to children?  Yes!  A study funded by the National Science Foundation demonstrates that even babies respond differently to better books.  Quality books contain thought-provoking characters and plots.  In addition to providing a mirror to our children, quality literature expands children’s experiences beyond themselves.  After many years in early childhood, here are some of my take-aways.

What are “good books?”

There are classics, which by their longevity in the “beloved” category are clearly Good Books.  Folk/fairly tales and nursery rhymes were the classic staple in our grandparents’ era. Nowadays, there is a huge collection of books written specifically for young children.  But, like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, some are very good, and some are very, very bad.*

What I’ve recommended are personal choices, as all books must be.  My choices are partially guided by the belief that young children are routinely under-estimated. “Big messages” are delivered in a heavy-handed, preachy manner, with little or no subtlety. (In that category, Thunder Cake comes the closest to that failing, but has other good qualities.) Also, humor is over-done, like a slapstick comedy.  Some books are fun in that way, but are not usually the ones requested over and over, one of the marks of a Good Book. And poorly illustrated books are just off my list.

*[See the nursery rhyme “There was a little girl who had a little curl…” I was going to include some examples of Bad Books, but that didn’t seem very nice.]


Promoting a child’s love of books involves several key pieces:

  • Being read to from an early age
  • Watching the people in their lives enjoy reading
  • Being exposed to books with text that speaks in some thoughtful, creative way to the child’s mind and illustrations that are beautiful, creative or charming

A note about the illustrations—the Newberry Award is given by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished American children’s book, and the Caldecott is given to the artist of the best picture book, so the “experts” put a high value on both.


Some of my favorites…

Big message

Fire Cat—Esther Averill (a very big exception to my illustration standard!)

Crow Boy—Yashima

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing—Burningham

Owl Babies—Waddell

Thunder Cake—Polacco

Extra Yarn—Barnett

Anything by Leo Lionni


Drama—just scary enough for preschoolers

Three Robbers–Ungerer

Edward and the Pirates—McPhail

Abiyoyo—Seeger and Hays

Tough Boris—Mem Fox



The Mitten–Tresselt

Boo and Baa series—Landstrom

Anything by Jon Klassen


Chapter Books

Frog and Toad series—Lobel

Little Bear—Sendak

Jenny and the Cat Club–Averill



Gilberto and the Wind—Ets

Any nature books by Jim Arnosky—nature info with enough of a story to engage young children.

And the Are you a Bee/Butterfly/Spider series by Allen and Humphries

Owl Moon—Yolen

Peter Rabbit—Potter


Lullaby books

Hush! Minfong Ho

Little Fur Family—Margaret Wise Brown


Grandmas and Grandpas

Nana Upstiars and Nana Downstairs—dePaola

Now One Foot, Now the Other — dePaola

My Little Grandmother Often Forgets—Lindbergh

Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge—Mem Fox

Miss Rumphius–Cooney

My Grandson Lew—Charlotte Zolotow

The Two of Them–Aliki


Nursery rhymes/Mother Goose

Lack of exposure these days, partly because of the increase in good children’s lit these days, but don’t neglect this important part of every child’s education!



The beauty of many of these books is that there is no Big Message.  They are books about children and families just being themselves—many colors, many styles.

Jamaica series—Havill. (African-American).

Louie, Peter’s Chair—Keats.  (African-American) 

Sam—Ann Herbert Scott ((African-American)

Fancy Nancy series—O’Connor/Glasser—individualism of family members, especially Nancy, is supported.

Mrs. Katz and Tush—Polacco—(Jewish)

A Different Pond—Phi/bui (Hmong)

Hush (Thai)

Crow Boy (Japanese)


Happy Reading!

And for some returning families, this blog will look familiar.  We have sent it out before, but I think it merits a second round.