stack of wonder

Ultimate Children’s Booklist (Part 1)

With thanks to Nana, whose literary legacy, passed on by Mom and my older sisters, enriched my childhood so profoundly.

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Looking for books for your kids but don't know where to start? Ta-da! (Cue magic entrance.) In this series, you'll meet over 100 engaging books for children aged toddler to teenager. When I first promised this list, I estimated I'd have 50 books to recommend. Then I started writing everything down, and the list kept growing! (Oh, darn 😉 )

Preschool through Elementary titles are below, except for some favorite authors that just needed their own showcase! Stay tuned for Author Spotlights, and Late Elementary/Middle School+ titles!

P.S. The age groupings below are absolutely just a suggestion. Everyone's reading level and subject interest varies, and “older” books can often be turned into read-alouds (which happens to be a great homeschooling hack), so there's lots of wiggle room!

There are still more titles to add, and I'd love to hear your family's favorites! (Because I have too many books, said me, NEVER.)

Toddler/Preschool Books (available in board book editions)

Guess How Much I love You (McBratney/Jeram) – A sweet, softly-illustrated “love you more” exchange between two hares, father and son.

Who is Coming to Our House? (Slate/Wolff) This rhyming, explore-the-barn tale of Christmas Eve draws young listeners into the animals' anticipation of the special night. (Thanks, Mom, for giving the mouse his personality. The mouse was always my favorite!)

Roadwork (Sutton/Lovelock) – If you have truck-lovers, this book is a treasure trove of vroom, bang, crash, crunch, and all the sought-after sounds of a busy construction site.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle) - Pure colorful delight. Some educational value depicting that caterpillars transform into butterflies, but the hands-down favorite part for my kids is the page with his pickle-to-cupcake-to-sausage feast!

My Big Train Book (Priddy) - A train-lover's delight in a sturdy board-book format. A favorite with two of our boys. I can't wait to check out My Big Truck Book! The only downside for these are the large size, which is difficult to manage in the car(seat).

Little Blue Truck (Schertle/McElmurry) - A fun, well-paced rhyme about a helpful blue truck, with plenty of animal noises for the kids to chime in! This is by far our favorite of the Little Blue Truck series.

Night Light (Blechman) – Woe is the day when the library's copy of this nighttime counting/guessing vehicles book is checked out before we get there. One of our middle son's favorite bedtime books.

Science nerds, rejoice! Now you can have discussions with your baby on Bayesian Probability, Quantum Computing, and Neural Networks - with sturdy picture-books to round out the conversation! Chris Ferrie distills many scientific topics to a level even parents who shudder at the term "science" can enjoy. (Just be prepared for your 6-year-old to ingest them all and know more about Newtonian Physics by dinnertime than you ever remembered from college.) Bedtime stories have never been so...enlightening.

Elementary, Single Books

Frog and Toad Storybook Favorites (Lobel) (originally titled Frog and Toad Storybook Treasury)– This is actually sixteen books in one, each delightful short story sharing an adventure (and life lesson) of two amphibian best friends. Considered an "I Can Read" Level 2. NOTE: with very young listeners, you may wish to skip is Shivers, a “ghost” type story of a giant frog that hunts at night for little frogs.

Corduroy (Freeman) – A timeless story capturing the friendship between children and their stuffed companions.

Sam, Bangs and Moonshine (Ness) – Ness's swirling illustrations pull the reader into Sam's world of stormy coastline and boundless creativity. An excellent story on the beauty and peril of unchecked imagination.

The Bravest Dog Ever (Standiford/Cook) – This STEP Into Reading book (graded 1-3) tells the famous story of the brave dogsled teams that saved the town of Nome, Alaska during the diptheria epidemic of 1925.

The Tale of Three Trees (Hunt/Jonke) – This story speaks with the gentleness of soft wind rustling through leaves, and its powerful message moves me to tears every time!

Swan Harbor (Rankin) – A beautifully illustrated New England counting book. My favorite part is the hint on each page of the creature or plant displayed on the next.

The Snowy Day (Keats) – Just the right amount of text for early “read alone” or read-aloud with wiggly littles. Keats captures children's wonder of a lush snowfall.

Best Loved Doll (Caudill/Gilbert) – The other dolls at the birthday party may have more elegant clothes and accessories, but no award Betsy might win can match her love for the patched and re-patched “Jennifer.”

The Store Bought Doll (Meyer) - This Golden Book brings a variation on the best-loved theme, this time in a brightly-illustrated early 1900's setting.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea (Hest/Lynch) – This sumptuously-illustrated picture book is an excellent introduction to the experiences of young immigrants in the early 1900s. Hest weaves the journey of hopes and fears alongside the delicate lace embroidery with which the heroine brings hope to others.

That's Right Edie - Johnston - Galdone

That's Right, Edie (Johnston/Galdone) – If you can snag this vintage book at a used book sale, its a delightful tale of a plucky first-grader who initially thinks she “doesn't have time” to write her name neatly...until she has to sign for her long-awaited birthday package.

Big Max (Platt/Lopshire) – This “I Can Read” mystery offers a one-line-ing detective and plenty of fun for young readers – and their parents, who'll appreciate the subtle-tongue-in-cheek.

Miss Suzy (Young/Lobel) – Don't let the title or picture of demure squirrel deceive you. This is true knights-and-fair-maiden stock, told in an endearing tale with Lobel's signature illustrations.

Goodnight Moon (Brown/Hurd) – A list of classics wouldn't be complete without Margaret Wise Brown's lilting goodnight poem. For you Charolotte Mason art purists, don't skip this just because the overabundance of green and red in the illustrations (no offense, Mr. Hurd 🙂 ). This magical rhyme will put YOU to sleep by the end!

The Story About Ping (Flack/Wiese) – Ping prefers to play in the waters of the Yangtze river rather than pay attention to the call to return to the safety of his houseboat. When he gets left behind one night, he has a adventure that nearly ends playtime forever, and learns that a little bit of trouble for arriving home late is worth being with his family again. Bonus: social studies exposure: Chinese river-boat life.

The Story of Ferdinand (Leaf/Lawson) – Another cultural experience (for U.S. readers), this time in a quirky tale of a peaceful, flower-loving prize bull who refuses to fight in the Spanish bullring.

James Herriot's Treasury for Children (Herriot/Brown/Barrett) – This beautiful collection of animal-themed vignettes from the diary of an English country veterinarian is truly a treasure for animal-lovers.

Little House Picturebook Treasury (Ingalls Wilder/various) - This is the perfect introduction to the Little House series for young children. Sort synopsis of memorable sections from the series, with lovely art by Renée Graef based on Garth Williams' original illustrations.

Fritz and the Beautiful Horses (Brett) – Jan Brett's decadent illustrations take us through a story which reminds young and old: you can't judge a pony by it's cover.

When I Was Young in the Mountains (Rylant/Goode) – This loving, autobiographical memoir of life in an Appalachian mining community proposes that richness has more than one definition.

Madeline (Bemelmans) – “To the tigers at the zoo, Madeline just said, “Pooh, pooh!” Thus is captured the spirit of our heroine. The illustrations of 1930s Paris offer a peek into another time, and complete the rhyming text to form a truly engaging tale.

 

It's Mine! (Lionni) - Three quarrelsome frogs live and squabble on their island in the pond until one day, a scary storm and a friend's generosity show them sharing really is the most peaceful way to live.

Winter at Long Pond (George/Barrett-George) – Gorgeous illustrations and varied wildlife exposure make this picture book about as close to a walk in (North American) winter woods as you can get while still sitting by the fire.

At Night (Bean) – The soothing wonder of the night sky is captured beautifully in this short and sweet picture-book. A perfect bedtime story.

Elementary Series (NOTE: I haven't read every single installment in each series below. Please preview books for your children so you know what they'll encounter in the material. 🙂 )

Mr. Putter and Tabby (Rylant/Howard) - This darling early reader series sets the bar high: loveable characters, easier reading without the patronizing repetitive phrasing of some "early readers", and humorous, endearing plots that will engage even adults!

Detective Dan (Roland) – This early-reader sleuthing series is plenty of fun, with a short, Scripture-based character lesson woven in, as well as “case notes” (review) at the conclusion of each mystery. My son wishes there were more than four of these! For read-alone, these are a reading level (or two) above Mr. Putter.

Little House (Ingalls Wilder/Williams) – You can't have a list on children's series without Laura Ingalls' captivating memoirs on early pioneer life. A short description here doesn't do justice to the breadth of Ingalls' work in documenting the pioneer experience with its toil, uncertainty, and simple beauty; all from the perspective of a young girl-grown-to-young woman who lived it. While mostly covering the Ingalls family's (and specifically, Laura's) journeys, the series offers much as a springboard for further discussion and study. Garth Williams memorable illustrations complete the series.

Grandma's Attic (Richardson/various) – Four volumes, each with a separate vignette per chapter, makes this a series easy to gobble up. Mabel (whom the author knew as grandma) is a spunky girl growing up on a farm in the early 1900's Michigan countryside. What happens when you try to sneak into church wearing a borrowed hoop skirt for the first time? Life for Mabel was everything but boring, as her (mis)adventures relate. SURPRISE! I thought there were only four volumes in this collection – the entire Grandma's Attic series comprises ten books! Excuse me while I sneak out to complete my collection.

Uncle Arthur's Storytime - Children's True Adventures (Maxwell/various) – This 3-book series offers a collection of short stories with character lessons for kids. Now out-of-print, the stories may seem a bit dated, as they don't reference cell phones or the Internet. Nevertheless, the lessons of perseverance, self-control, kindness, etc are ever-relevant.

The Millers series by Mildred Martin offer short, engaging stories that follow a group of siblings as they grow, make and learn from their choices. This is one of the few children's series I've found where healthy relationships are truly modeled. There are plenty of sibling spats, whispering friends, envy, greed, laziness, and a whole host of struggles common to children (and adults!). Through it all, the children are encouraged to seek and apply God's wisdom to the situation. NOTE: I can't recall any specific Mennonite theology presented. Mostly there is a Bible verse or two that applies to the situation for the children to reflect upon. The most “Mennonite” part are the illustrations, where everyone dresses according to Mennonite code.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (MacDonald/Knight) – Do your children yearn for the day when they don't have to clean their room, take a bath, eat what they're served, or go to bed before midnight? Mrs. Piggle Wiggle knows all about children, and all about how to let them learn, through (humorously outlandish) natural consequences.

Miss. Pickerell Goes to Mars (MacGregor/Galdone) – So much has happened in the world since the indomitable Miss Pickerell stepped into the experimental rocket found in her meadow. But with space exploration again in the news, it may be the perfect time to pull out this series of adventures. BONUS: Did you catch the illustrator's name? Anatole lovers rejoice, Paul Galdone illustrated the first four Miss Pickerell installments!

Winnie the Pooh (Milne/Shepard) – Milne understood how children perceive the world, and his tales offer adults a chance to return to that innocent, wondering time. Classic “Pooh” is a little above early read-alone level, but makes lovely read-aloud material.

Amelia Bedelia (Peggy Parish/various) – What would happen if someone literally “dusted the furniture”, "hit the road", and “collected the garbage”? The lovable, literal Amelia Bedelia turns all our common expressions on their heads in this fun, easy-reader (usually Level 2) series. NOTE: Herman Parish, Peggy Parish's nephew, has taken up the Amelia legacy and written both a young Amelia series as well as more tales of the grown-up character. Have you read any of the new installments? What did you think?

Anatole (Titus/Galdone) – The picture-book stories follow the title character, a classy, resourceful (and sometimes cheeky) mouse through his many adventures in 1930's Paris. My sisters and I may have to duel over who gets which of the original copies from our childhoods. 😉

Basil of Baker Street Mysteries (Titus/Galdone) – A Sherlockian treat for young sleuths (and their Conan-Doyle devoted parents). Chapter-book reading. Bonus for Anatole lovers: more delightful Galdone art. 🙂

The Bracken Trilogy (Massi) - The Bridge, Crown and Jewel, and Two Collars. Exciting blend of fantasy/Middle Ages featuring knights, princesses, castles, dungeons, and a mysterious Wise Woman. Engaging, thought-provoking. Currently out of print, so snag them when you find them! 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Ultimate Children’s Booklist (Part 1)”

  1. YAY! I’ve been waiting for this list. Great mix of stories for boys, girls, and both. I agree; one can never have too many book recommendations. Thank you for the picture AND the pithy description of each title (Miss Suzy’s succinct write-up is less than thirty words, but spot-on!). Mr Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup, Miss Suzy, Ping, and Anatole are always favorite read-alouds to any group of youngsters. I have read many, though not all, of the books and now am itching to head to the library. : )

    For Elementary, I would have to add…
    Syd Hoff (especially “Be Nice To Spiders” and his Henrietta books)
    The hauntingly beautiful “Night Gardener” by the Fan brothers
    The tension-building “This is Not My Hat” by Jon Klassen
    Any book by author/illustrator Brian Floca (especially “Locomotive”)
    Any book by author/illustrator Richard Scarry (especially “Best Word Book Ever” and “The Early Bird”)

    Looking forward to the author spotlights (and hoping this includes Polacco). Can you also do a list of favorite Christmas picture books? Please???

    1. Yes! Patrica Polacco, Richard Scarry, and dear Syd Hoff had so many favorites the Elementary list was going to take two days to scroll. 😉 But, gasp, how could I forget Klassen’s This is Not My Hat??

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