In Bruce Eric Kaplan’s marvelous, all-too-true picture book, You Have to Read This Book, a father bear desperately tries to convince his offspring that the book Dad treasured as a child (Tom, The Angry Truck) is a must read. The kid refuses, setting off a battle of wills that ends with father taking the son on a “vacation” into “the middle of the desert, alone, with nothing. Just the book.” And still the kid won’t read it.
I hope every grownup has a book or three that became firmly lodged in their child psyche and won’t budge. Those books become part of our identity, a defining element in our personal story, a test for our relationships (“You don’t like The Rainbow Fish? Who doesn’t like The Rainbow Fish?”) and our legacy to the next generation—whether those ingrates want it or not. It may be a classic (however you define it), or a tie-in to a beloved movie, cartoon, or TV show; it may transport us back to soul-nurturing library visits or a person who snuggled with us and read it aloud.
Which is why the arrival of Children’s Book Week, the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country, prompted me to ask the team at Yes& Lipman Hearne to share their favorite entries in kid lit.
It’s a great list, as varied as the people who put it together. Looking through it, I was reminded of one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons, by Charles E. Martin. A family, clearly on a tour of some kind, stands in a magnificently rendered rotunda. The mother breathlessly announces, “Just think, every book that’s ever been published in the United States is right here in the Library of Congress!” To which the small, wide-eyed daughter replies, “Even, The Poky Little Puppy?”
Our Favorite Childhood Books:
Why is this your favorite childhood book?
Good night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
“It is charming on so many levels. There are tons of little details to find in the illustrations, and obvious affection between the characters even though there are so few words. It makes me smile to this day.” — Alexia Koelling
Everyone knows What a Dragon Looks Like by Jay Williams and illustrated by Mercer Mayer
“It is a story about the value of kindness and the importance of not judging others by their appearance. The artwork also features many excellent illustrations of dragons.” — Andrew Ortolano
The Tall Book of Make-Believe Selections by Jane Werner and illustrated by Garth Williams
“I loved the size—it’s very tall and skinny. I also was frightened by the illustrations, so go figure.” — Chris Cacci
What is a Rock? (The What is it Series) by B. John Syrocki
“It was a book we had in my house which I read repeatedly before my parents realized I could read and got me a library card for more suitable books.” — Colleen O’Grady
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes; The Big Green Pocketbook by Candice Ransom and illustrated by Felicia Bond
“I always thought Heidi was a weird name, so Chrysanthemum was a great book for making me feel good about it. And The Big Green Pocket Book romanticized running errands with my mom, which I was forced to do often.” — Heidi Halseth
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
“I love everything about it: The theme of humanistic adaptation to the inexorable march of technology, Mike’s unyielding belief in the steam shovel, Mary Anne, how the entire town is mesmerized by their collaboration, and an ending that feels ingenious and absolutely perfect.” — Libby Morse
If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond
“I loved this book series when I was a kid and now my son loves them too!” — Liz Forgach
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Retold by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell
“I loved the poetry of each story and how creepy the illustrations were—even as an adult I am truly impressed with the entire series, it’s awesome.” — Nina Shin
What Was I Scared Of? By Dr. Suess
“It’s about facing your fears. Who you are afraid of have fears of their own. Your initial perception and reaction to a being may completely change if you get to know them.” — Ruta Daugavietis
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