Good Books

Posted April 5, 2018

by Sarah Sivright

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. Now 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.

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 story and illustrations.

[I was going to include some examples of Bad Books, but that didn’t seem very nice.]

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

The Fire Cat

Drama (just scary enough for preschoolers)
Three Robbers–Ungerer
Edward and the Pirates—McPhail
Abiyoyo—Seeger and Hays
Tough Boris—Mem Fox

The Three Robbers

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 & Now One Foot, Now the Other—both by 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
There has been a lack of exposure these days, partly because of the increase in good children’s lit, but don’t neglect this important part of every child’s education!
*See “There was a little girl…”

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

Jamaica series—Havilll. These are simple stories about family, friends, school, where the main character just happens to be African-American
Louie & Peter’s Chair—both by Keats.  A series about Peter and his friends–multicultural children just being children
Sam—Ann Herbert Scott (try reading this one without crying)
Fancy Nancy series—O’Connor/Glasser—individualism of family members, especially Nancy, is supported.

Mrs. Katz and Tush – Polacco – Such a story!

Happy reading!