7 books you will enjoy reading to your kids

Boy, this list was much harder to make than I expected!  Too many subcategories.  I’ll just have to be satisfied with a general theme of “sevenness,” but I’d like to do more reading lists later.  Or is that boring?

These are just seven books which I enjoyed as a child, which my kids read or wanted to hear over and over again, and, most importantly, which I didn’t mind reading to my kids over and over again.

There are so many books which have good stories, but aren’t told well – they’re clunky, wordy, repetitive in the wrong way, or just aren’t crafted with any understanding of how kids listen or think.  But these seven are books that got it right, and have fantastic illustrations, too.

Check out Conversion Diary for more links to everyone else’s 7 Quick Takes!

Seven Books You Will Enjoy Reading to Your Kids

–1–

Half Magic by Edward Eager.

I never understood why this book isn’t more widely-read (and I think it would make a great movie, too).  One summer, four children find a magic talisman which grants half wishes, which leads not only to complications and surprises, but ethical dilemmas (they accidentally made an iron dog half-alive.  Should they make it turn back into iron, or bring it fully to life?).  The story is incredibly original, it moves along so nicely, and the children and their relationships with each other are so funny and real–it’s a perfect read-aloud book.  The illustrations by N. M. Bodecker are also charming and really add something to the story.  The author wrote six other books in the same vein, and all are worth reading, but Half Magic is by far the best.

–2–

The entire Frog and Toad series, Owl at Home, Fables, and Mouse Tales and Mouse Soup written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel.

Lobel also wrote several other books, but these are the best.  So simple and deft, so gentle and witty and full of affection.  Frog and Toad are imbued with more personality than any character in a modern novel that I can name — but Lobel does it in five pages of easy-reader words.  The vocabulary is simple, but it’s no Go, Dog, Go phonics slog– his prose is a delight to read, never a chore.  You never have to go back and reread, because you said some dialogue with the wrong expression–it’s all there.  Arnold Lobel ought to be studied in writing classes, and “The Dream” ought to be required reading for first confession classes.

–3–

Tales From Grimm told and illustrated by Wanda G’ag.

All the unvarnished truth about fairy tale characters, bloody feet, gouged out eyes, and all.  These aren’t just stories, they’re little masterworks of rhythm.     The illustrations are otherworldly and unforgettable, and the book includes many less familiar stories, too.  Snip, snap, snout, my tale’s told out!  (Also by this author, and recommended:  The Funny Thing, Millions of Cats, Snippy and Snappy)

–4–

Granfa’ Grig Had a Pig and Other Rhymes without Reason from Mother Goose selected and illustrated by Wallace Tripp.

I feel like my kids should know Mother Goose, but in most editions, the illustrations are creepy, sappy, or bland.  This is because the subject matter of nursery rhymes is often bizarre, and no one is sure how to handle the weirdness.  Wallace Tripp, one of my favorite illustrators, lets the lunacy and hilarity come through (often providing sly commentary on the rhyme).  They are full of detail to fascinate kids, and they’re just funny and refreshing.  He also has inluded lots of lesser-known rhymes that you will be glad to know (“Slug abed, slug abed barley butt, / Your bum is so heavy, you can’t get up” comes to mind).

–5–

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

Demeter and Persephone

All of the books written and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire (I just like saying those names!) are wonderful, but Greek Myths is the one I liked the best as a kid.  The illustrations always make me think of William Blake on summer vacation:  the same primitive feel, the same slightly over-determined composition, and the same naked emotionalism of the faces — but more color, more flesh, more fun.  And the stories are just right:  they have lots of action, lots of humor and pathos, but manage to be decorous–no easy feat.  Those gods were weird.

–6–

Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories.

"The Mixed-Up Feet and the Silly Bridegroom"

For a wonderful introduction to Jewish storytelling, here is a collection of seven sweet, strange, and funny stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, unforgettably illustrated by the master, Maurice Sendak.  I’ve read other books written and illustrated by this pair, but this one shows them both at their best.

–7–

Homer Price, More Homer Price, and Centerburg Tales.

Another undeservedly neglected collection.  A young boy in a rural town (where, without explanation, several of the inhabitants are named after classical heroes and authors) gets into peculiar adventures with skunks, superheroes, balls of yarn, giant ragweed, mysterious mousecatchers, and disastrously catchy rhymes.  Just satisfying and entertaining, and, again, lively and funny illustrations by the author, another favorite of mine, Robert McCloskey.

links to image sources:

Homer Price

Zlateh the Goat

Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Half Magic

Greek Myths

Wallace Tripp

Frog and Toad

Happy weekend, everyone!  I’ve been in a fog all week, and can’t get ahold of my syntax.  Sorry if anything above doesn’t make sense.

  • Sarah

    GREAT list, Simcha. We just finished reading Stuart Little, which was even more bittersweet than I remembered, but that’s E.B. White for you. Half magic is wonderful, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I thought I was the only one who like Homer Price… I’m going to have to find that Singer/Sendak book. WE have an ancient copy of a book called ABC bunny by Wanda G’ag, i love her illustrations, I think they are woodcuts. Speaking of illustrations, I’ll have to show you our Mother goose collection, illustrated by Michael Hague. He’s one of my top favourites.

    P.S. NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/simchafisher Simcha Fisher

      I’ve always had a hard time enjoying EB White. I can see that they’re very good, but not enjoyable (except I did like the Trumpet of the Swan).

      Frog and Toad give us so many family sayings!

      • Tracy C.

        Finally, I thought I was alone on the E.B. White thing. Trumpet of the Swan being the only enjoyable one for me…

  • http://sweetfamilytimes.blogspot.com Lisa Sweet

    Thanks, Simcha, for the book recommendations. I’ve never heard of Half Magic before, but it sounds great. I’ll have to find it and read it to the kids.

    Have a nice weekend.

  • Tiffany

    The reviews you’ve given these books makes me want to RUN to the library and borrow them all. They all sound so wonderful!

    I am only a tiny bit hesitant because I fear you may have the same taste in books that The Jerk has in movies.

    Perhaps I’ll start with ONE book and see how that goes…!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/simchafisher Simcha Fisher

      Ha ha – not even The Jerk has The Jerk’s taste in movies. I think your older kids are old enough for Half Magic, and the family dynamics are very real – they would like it.

  • http://writinglivingepistles.blogspot.com Abigail

    These all sound great, and are actually mostly different suggestions than what I commonly hear, so thanks so much for sharing! Half Magic sounds a bit like Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It, where children are granted wishes, and thereby learn about consequences. I’ll add these all to my list for when my 1 year old is old enough to be read something other than Good Night Moon and Mr. Brown Can Moo. Along the same lines – have you ever read Honey For A Child’s Heart? It is my hands down favorite annotated list of great children’s literature.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/simchafisher Simcha Fisher

      Yes, the speaker in Half Magic actually recommends E. Nesbit to the reader!

  • http://helloself.blogspot.com el-e-e

    Hi, found you at Conversion Diary – just have to chime in that I adore Frog and Toad, and my son has loved them, too. When he was first able to read, he nearly devoured a collection of Frog and Toad stories in one sitting. :) I’ll have to look for some of your other picks! Good list!

  • http://www.enanoslivo.blogspot.com kris

    We are enjoying most of those books – Frog and Toad are a big favorite.

    You might like The Sisters Grimm, if you enjoy fairy tales. We just read the first book out loud and everyone loved it. Including the reader (me)!

  • http://www.unequally-yoked.com Leah

    I’m so glad you highlighted Half Magic! I LOVED Edward Eager when my parents read him to me, and his books were my go to present for my friends for a long time. A big part of why I loved them is that the characters are themselves so in love with reading and fantasy novels.

    Another series that also has book loving protags is Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series. In the first book So You Want to Be a Wizard the wizard manual begins “Wizards love words. Most of them read a good deal, and indeed one strong sign of a potential wizard is the inability to get to sleep without reading something first.”

    It was love at first read.

    –Leah @ Unequally Yoked

  • http://sortacrunchy.typepad.com Megan@SortaCrunchy

    I am so sad to say that we have NONE of these books! I am already building book lists for the girls’ Christmas gifts from family (is that bad? It is ALMOST August after all), and this is so helpful. Thanks, mama!

  • http://suburbancorrespondent.blogspot.com/ suburbancorrespondent

    Zlateh the Goat is fantastic! And Wallace Tripp has another book: A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse To Me. Clever drawings, with lots of hidden jokes, to accompany lesser-known rhymes.

    I could never understand Frog and Toad. Maybe I just don’t like Amphibians. Or are they reptiles?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/simchafisher Simcha Fisher

      Maybe I’ll write a whole post about it at some point. I feel pretty strongly about Frog and Toad.

  • Kelly

    I was also going to chime in with Five Children and It. I’ve never heard of Half Magic, so I’ll have to find it.

    One of my favorite picture books that is perfect for the large family (says the person with *only* four children) is Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman. It has a great rhyming structure and the pictures add so many extra amusing parts to the story.

    I’m rereading the Pooh stories with my four year old, and am reminded at how much I love those. My 9 and 7 year olds are also listening in, and we all laugh together.

    Maybe next time you could do 7 stories that you DON’T like to read over and over? My children all love the Curious George books, but they put me to sleep. And while I could read Green Eggs and Ham all day, I don’t care for the other Seuss books, either.

  • http://mydailyround.blogspot.com/ Barb @ My Daily Round

    I can’t wait to find these at the library and read them aloud. We have Arnold Lobel on CD reading from the Frog and Toad series. His reading reminds me of Charles Kurault reading Winnie the Pooh.

    What age group would you recommend Half Magic for? I’ve read one of Laura Ingall Wilder’s books and Charlotte’s Web to my four and six year olds, and they (both boys) liked both books.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/simchafisher Simcha Fisher

      I think Half Magic is for slightly older kids than yours, but you could give it a shot! Amazon says it’s for ages 8-12. I haven’t actually read it in a while, but it may be that the vocabulary is more advanced than I remember (the characters are book-lovers, so they speak somewhat above their ages).

  • Anna

    I’m with Kelly. A list of seven books you hate to read would be great. I also really dislike Curious George, mostly because they’re just a bit too long. I want to stop about 3/4 of the way through the book.

  • Brooke

    My 3 eldest and I thank you. And Ebay. We had only one Eager book, and soon there will be 6.

  • Ann

    Great list! We have read most but sometimes with the younger one I forget what we liked. I second the Five Children and It if you haven’t read it. We like E. Nesbit quite a bit.

  • Kelly

    My favorite E. Nesbit is The Magic City. It always inspires the kids to make a big block city.

  • Bob

    That’s funny. When I read Kelly’s comment about “seven stories that you DON’T like to read over and over,” I immediately said out loud, “Curious George.”

    Actually, the problem is that we were given a copy of The Complete (and believe me, unabridged) Adventures of Curious George. I actually like (or used to like) the very first story, “Curious George,” quite well. After that things get a little…redundant.

    Since the motion already has been seconded, I guess I third it.

    Seven Quick Takes: Seven books you will NOT enjoy reading to your kids.

  • Kate

    I already know and adore about half your list, and I’m going to have to find the other half!

    My addition is that I can read just about anything by Tomi De Paulo as many times as my boys can stand. :-)

    I loved Half Magic, and I’d never heard anyone else discuss it so I’ve always felt like it was my own personal little discovered treasure. :-D

  • Tressa

    We love Wanda Ga’g here. (She is actually a friend of my mother-in-law.) But I loved “Millions of Cats” even as a kid. I wonder if anyone loves Bill Peet books as much as we do, especially the rhyming ones like, “No Such Things.”

  • http://Www.cultivatingthegoodlife.com MamaBee

    Has anyone mentioned Shel Silverstein? Maybe obvious, but I grew up reading his books over and over again. I will never tire of his crazy drawings and rhymes. I also love the message in “The Missing Piece” – a rejection of perfection.
    Also, I love The Secret Garden – the Tasha Tudor illustrated edition. Just lovely.

  • Tressa

    I’m sorry, but I happen to love Curious George! but only the old ones, not the new, PBS inspired stuff.

  • Denise

    Thank you very much for this list! Well, I love your posts indiscriminately, they give me such a boost of laughter and joy, but talking about books… you’re really into my thing, now.

    Frog and Toad are IT, let me tell you. Almost all the others are new to me and (yay!) some other brilliant reader(s) petitioned our library in the past, so that now I get to preview them all for free.

    Very much second your adoration of Robert McCloskey. And Homer Price – how could I have forgotten about him?? I read him as a child and all I had to see was the illustration you included to have it come flooding back. Ah, warm memories…

  • Sal

    Another wonderful Wallace Tripp book: Marguerite, Go Wash Your Feet.

    Mine are all grown, but we still recite from that: “Punch, brothers! Punch with care, punch in the presence of the passenjare!”

    We loved the first of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books and most of the second. After that, they fade out into repetition.

    I was an indefatigable reader-aloud. Some of my most precious memories.

    Wandered over from The Anchoress. Very nice blog.

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