Last evening, I made a list of all the best stories I read as a little kid and in elementary school … I tried to think of the top 10, but the list kept growing. Most of these were books I read when I was quite young, and a few I discovered later. All of them had some kind of a lasting impression on me. Reading has been one of my favorite things to do since about age four, when I got out the Bob books and learned what a comma is. Having progressed a bit since then, here is a list I have compiled of (in my opinion) the greatest children’s books.
In no particular order…
1) Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. This book is full of life lessons about success, failure, wise decisions, and “The Waiting Place.” The analogies in this poem are fabulous because they portray serious truths in ways that children can understand.
2) Ramona Quimby stories by Beverly Cleary. Reading Ramona’s stories feel like reading about myself between the ages of eight and ten. I misunderstood all the same things as Ramona and had lots of the same ideas.
3) From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. This book taught me to love art museums. Someday, I hope to visit all the galleries in New York …
4) The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Despereaux, a little mouse, is one of my favorite storybook heroes.
5) The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. This book, and Potter’s other stories, were staples of naptime reading when I was four. Especially terrifying was the story where the rats try to bake Tom Kitten into a pie.
6) The World of Christopher Robin by A.A. Milne. In addition to creating Winnie the Pooh (and the heffalumps and woozles) Milne was also an incredible poet. My favorite poem from this book is called “The King’s Breakfast.” It always made my brother and I laugh, for some reason.
7) Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson. Ever since reading this book when I was very, very tiny, my dream has been to visit France and see Monet’s garden. Linnea is responsible for my love of French culture and fine art.
8 ) The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Lucy Pevensie will always be one of my favorite literary characters, as well as a fictional role model (alongside Arwen Undomiel). She is a little queen, wise beyond her years.
9) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. What imagination!
10) Nancy Drew, the Boxcar Children, and Encyclopedia Brown series’. Three reasons I considered myself a spy for most of my childhood.
11) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” “Did you ever see … a drawing of a muchness?” “Curiouser and curiouser!”
12) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.” “To love would be an awfully big adventure.”
13) Curious George Goes to the Hospital by Margret and H.A. Rey. Poor Curious George gets into the laughing gas… I learned from this book that the hospital will, in fact, treat a monkey.
14) You Are Special by Max Lucado. This book fascinated me, and I always wondered how it would feel to be the wooden puppet who doesn’t care what people think of her.
15) One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey. This book reminds me of a faint memory I have of digging for clams on the beach when I was little. McCloskey’s illustrations are beautiful. I also loved his book Blueberries for Sal.
16) Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish. She might always get it wrong, but it’s the enthusiasm that counts!
17) The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I don’t know if this is really a children’s book, because you can appreciate Calvin’s sarcasm much more when you’re older, but it is certainly memorable. “I’m just very selective about the reality I accept.”
18) The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. This author’s depiction of childhood is my favorite.
19) A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert. I wore coats like Anna’s for years and years. (Actually … I still do.)
20) Terrible Things by Eve Bunting. Doubtless the most chilling of all the books my parents ever read to me, this book provides an effective allegory of the Holocaust for children.
21) If Jesus Came to My House by Joan G. Thomas. This book never loses its meaning, because the message is not just for children. What does Jesus find in my house? Am I willing to give Him my possessions? Do I recognize Him when He comes?
“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install,
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.”
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
(which is another great book.)