Books for a great children's book collection?
July 2, 2014 8:56 AM   Subscribe

I want to buy some great, high-quality books to read with little kids. Suggestions?

Left to his own devices, my 4-year-old stepson will read media tie-in books (superheroes, Thomas the Train etc). I recently found a favorite from my own childhood to read to him, and to my delight, he loved it. So now, I want to get him more 'real' books so we can read together.

My criteria--

- He is 4, so they should be fun and appropriate. But I don't want anything he will outgrow too quickly. I want this to be a bedtime story collection that will hold us for awhile and that we can use for future children.

- I want them to be beautiful. I use ebooks almost exclusively for my own reading, because it doesn't matter how they look. With kids books, it does matter. I want him to love these books!

- Series books are okay (Hairy McLary was the book which started this whole thing) but no media tie-ins please. He has enough of those to look at himself. I am aiming for something else with this :-)

I am a teacher and have access to many books but I am overwhelmed by the selection. I need help narrowing it down. Books on my to-buy list already include Alligator Pie and Mike Mulligan & his Steam Shovel. What else?
posted by JoannaC to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Their grandma recently started my four- and five-year-old nephews on 'The Faraway Tree', by Enid Blyton, for bedtime stories. They're lapping it up, and she has the rest of a Blyton box set to continue with.
posted by Salamander at 9:04 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

A great place to start is the New York Review Books children's series. Great books, beautifully printed and bound. Their website has books grouped by age; here's the age 3-5 section. (Plus it's associated with the NY Review of Books, so you can feel intellectually superior by association, even as you're reading about talking animals.)

Usborne is another wonderful children's publisher. They have a much bigger selection, so more options, but harder to sort through.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:05 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dr. Suess books were great fun when I was growing up.

I still have:

Doodles the Deerhorse. It'll be used, it's been out of print forever.

Ditto, Some Snow Said Hello. There's also A Song in my Drum. For reference, the Hobans did the Frances series.

I'm sure there are more modern books, but these were my favorites when I was a kid.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:07 AM on July 2, 2014

As the mom of a nearly 6 year old, I'd recommend going to the library and letting him pull books off the shelf.
posted by k8t at 9:08 AM on July 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh, and here are some excellent lists that the UK Book Trust compiled in 2013: best children's books, categorised by age, from the past 100 years:
posted by Salamander at 9:12 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Happy Hocky Family is great to read out loud together (simple illustrations but so, so funny)

For engaging illustrations:

The Stinky Cheese Man
Tales from Outer Suburbia
The Talking Eggs
anything Graeme Base

As he gets older, Roald Dahl stories for sure. James and the Giant Peach is probably the best one to start with. The copy I had was illustrated by Nancy Burkert and the pictures are all oddly creepy but delightful. I loved them.
posted by phunniemee at 9:13 AM on July 2, 2014

Press Here by Hervé Tullet

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

Along a Long Road is simple but beautiful, although he might outgrow that sooner rather tan later.

Pretty much anything by Robert Munsch is fun to read aloud.

The Balloon Tree and Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman have fabulous illustrations, as does anything by Jan Brett.

Not sure if you're also looking for chapter books to read aloud but The Borrowers and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are good starts.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 9:14 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Almost anything by Maurice Sendak (and especially Where the Wild Things Are).
posted by goggie at 9:19 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thereis a lovely version of The Owl and the Pussycat illustrated by Jan Brett.

Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, the D'Aulaires books of myths, Robert Munsch, I loved the books about Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gilman, Graeme Base.
posted by jeather at 9:25 AM on July 2, 2014

I don't know about "beautiful", but Daniel Pinkwater has some great kids' books. Tooth Gnasher Superflash was a favorite among the preschool kids I used to teach. Funny, cool pictures, stuff the kids remembered.
posted by Gorgik at 9:28 AM on July 2, 2014

Best answer: Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train, both by Sherri Duskey-Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:34 AM on July 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

William and the Night Train has a fabulous rhythm to its writing. We've read this one for years.
posted by jbickers at 9:43 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are looking for chapter books to read out loud, My Father's Dragon is fantastic. I was quite young when my mom read them out loud to my brother and I, and this reviewer talks about reading them to her four-year-old son.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 9:51 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

There is a silent animated short film version, I think it's on YouTube.
posted by Safiya at 9:53 AM on July 2, 2014

The series about Mr Putter & Tabby by Cynthia Rylant has great illustrations and the stories are hilarious.

Also, I Need My Own Country! by Rick Walton is excellent.

Piggies by Don & Audrey Wood has wonderful art (and a charming story).

Tuesday by David Wiesner is also excellent. Although now that I think about it, I don't think it has words in it. Hm. Worth a look, anyway. June 29, 1999 by him is also great.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 10:17 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mr. Wuffles (also by David Wiesner) was recommended to us by a librarian friend, and my three year old LOVES it. It's a picture book and you have to basically describe pictures rather than read, but it's pretty cool.

We're also big fans of Dragons Love Tacos and several Dr. Seuss books, particularly Horton Hatches the Egg, which I've read every night this week. We also still love Sandra Boynton, though I imagine her books are a bit too young for a four year old. I feel like four is the perfect time for Shel Silverstein's poems, due to all of the silliness and word play.

Thank you for posting this thread! I am always looking for more recommendations for kid's books.
posted by hought20 at 10:31 AM on July 2, 2014

When my husband and his brother were divvying up their childhood stuff, Little Bear was the one they both wanted, and had to finally decide on a shared custody arrangement (note - illustrated by Maurice Sendak).

I'm going to recommend Big Fat Little Lit (Picture Puffin Books).

Also, consider The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series, books by Jon Scieszka and Shaun Tan - if not now then when he gets a bit older - for Shaun Tan something like Lost Thing or The Rules of Summer.

Seconding David Weisner for beautiful (though wordless) picture books - Flotsam is a great one. They would be something to look at together and then talk about the illustrations and what is going on in them. He would then be able to "read" them any time on his own.
posted by gudrun at 10:33 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books are very funny.
posted by Francolin at 10:48 AM on July 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

James Marshall's George and Martha books are delightful for kids and adults; I never get tired of re-reading them. There's a collection that is well worth seeking out.
posted by mogget at 11:11 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding Mr. Putter and Tabby.

Also good:
The Houndsley and Catina series by James Howe

The illustrator of that series, Marie-Louise Gay, also writes lovely books about a girl named Stella and her brother Sam.
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:42 AM on July 2, 2014

Best answer: Dr. Seuss was my favorite at that age. I was also addicted to Harold and the Purple Crayon. Early in elementary school there were fights over Shel Silverstein books. Eric Carle (sp?) books were a hit with my 4-6 year old ESL students. Has no one really said Curious George yet?
posted by kathrynm at 11:43 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

My kids loved the books by Shirley Hughes. You can get hardcover books with several stories in them. I think we had one called "All About Alfie" that was read until its binding gave up. "Lucy and Tom's Day" was another one that was much enjoyed.

The Old Bear books by Jane Hissey went over well too.

The Church Cat books by Graham Oakley were well loved. So was anything else by Graham Oakley.

If you can get a hold of a first edition version of "I Have to Go" by Robert Munsch I recommend it. But you need to get the first edition which ends with the little boy speaking up in the dark "I wet the bed" because the sanitized high self esteem we-are-dry-at-night bowdlerized version is long joke without the punchline. Also good and also by Robert Munsch is "The Paper Bag Princess"

"The Mouse and His Child" by Russel Hoban was a heart breaker which was dearly loved for the catharsis from reading it. Another difficult but still much loved picture book was "Sam, Bangs and Moonshine"

"Mummy, Buy me a China Doll" was loved enough that I had to recite it in train stations and on buses and in doctor's office. "The Story of Horace" was another one that became an oral tradition.

Once they were about six or so the Narnia books went over well.

They quite liked it when I could get my hands on graphic novel versions of the classics, any of the Classic Illustrated were good, but there are a lot of different graphic novels worth starting a kid on.

Good illustrated versions of Robert Louis Stevenson, especially "Treasure Island" are fun to read aloud.

"The Sword in the Stone" and "Mistress Masham's Repose" were good books for me to read, both by T. H. White. These are long books read in installments over several nights, possibly even weeks. If possible get Mistress Masham with the original illustrations.

I thought it was important to let them pick the subject matter and not to make all the suggestions so we read a lot of Pokemon books because that was the series my son liked and a lot of Scooby Do and Disney books for my daughter. Basically, I never complained about reading stuff that was awful dreck and they never complained about listening to stuff that was old fashioned, Anglophile and well above their reading level. So I would definitely let him have lots of say in what you read.

It would be really good if you could get to a nice brick and mortar bookstore than has a big selection of kids books, not just Schoolastic. Often you can find a treasure by browsing and then a book turns up that is a cozy weight and the illustrations are breath-taking. Since bookstores like this are getting very thin on the ground, I would take him to the library if at all possible. And the first place I like to browse in a library is the cart full of books that have just been checked back in and are waiting to be re-shelved. You know somebody already liked them enough to take them out.

Whenever possible I would read a book to the kids before letting them see the Disney movie. If they saw the movie they became less willing to sit through the book and I gathered that they were less able to picture the scenes I was reading because they could only picture the scenes in the movie and wanted my reading to be at the same pace. But if they had already been read the book they still loved it even after the movie. I'm thinking of stories like Peter Pan, The Rescuers, The Sword in the Stone and Alice in Wonderland.

Oh, yes, "The Rescuers" by Margery Sharp might be well liked.

Also "Charlotte's Web".

"Harold and the Purple Crayon" was a decidedly bad influence...

I would recommend that you avoid the Newberry Award books as they are usually about a dog, which dies. But there are plenty of good ones there if you first make sure that the nobody dies at the end before you bring them home.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:26 PM on July 2, 2014

The SkippyJon Jones books are fun to read aloud; they're got a great rhythm.

We've also been grooving on Dragons Love Tacos, Those Darn Squirrels and Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin.
posted by neilbert at 1:42 PM on July 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have a two-year-old niece and a four-year-old nephew and I'm currently lobbying their parents to allow me to buy them this gorgeous collection:

The New York Review Children's Collection 10th Anniversary Set

If I had the space, I would buy myself a set.

Also all of the Frances books by Russel Hoban and Lillian Hoban.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:08 PM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Google for a children's bookstore near you. Not a section in a chain, but a single shop specializing in children's books. We have two in our city, and taking my daughter into them is always magical. She loves books but in a big bookstore, she'll basically run around like a nut and find anything by Disney, but there she will browse. The children's shop doesn't have the media tie-ins but more classics and selected titles. Slightly more than ordering, but the experience of browsing for children's books and seeing them is worth it.

Wink reviews books that are 'better in paper than on screen' and they've got a good selection of children's books now.

And you can't go wrong with 99% of Usbourne books. Same with most of DK. They're well-made good books.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:33 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Snowy Day
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day
Anything by Jack Prelutsky (I just loved Rolling Harvey Down The Hill when I was a kid!)
Amelia Bedelia
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile
Clifford The Big Red Dog (yes, there was a TV show, but the books were first!)
posted by SisterHavana at 9:59 PM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've got you covered. Check your MeMail.
posted by Dansaman at 10:21 PM on July 2, 2014

I'm sure I learned about it here on the green, but my 3.5 year old and I love the book Locomotive by Brian Floca. Gorgeous illustrations, and the writing is lyrical and satisfying to read aloud.

In the same subject field, we've also been reading How to Train Your Train by Jason Carter Eaton. This one is clever and funny.

Some Barbara Cooney books might also fit the bill - I especially like Roxaboxen and Miss Rumphius.
posted by linettasky at 11:45 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

In addition to Dr. Seuss (of course), books that really made an impression on me as a child were those by Richard Scarry and Roger Hargreaves (the Mr. Men and Little Miss books).
posted by neushoorn at 2:16 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gosh, I miss working at the public library. These were always hits for us:

Tiger Can't Sleep by S.J. Fore. A little boy is trying to go to bed, but there's a tiger in his closet who keeps doing things like playing the tuba, tap-dancing, and crunching on potato chips!

My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza. It's a fun trickster tale.
posted by luckyveronica at 6:39 AM on July 3, 2014

Mo Willems is the man. Fun and funny for both grown ups and kids.

Also n'thing going to your local library. That's where we discovered many of our son's favourites.
posted by fings at 2:10 PM on July 3, 2014

Best answer: Look! a Book! and Look! Another Book! by Bob Staake.
posted by Leontine at 7:17 PM on July 3, 2014

Oh! I just thought of something. You can get the Reading Rainbow ipad app and browse a curated list of lovely books, all available in print. My daughter was very excited to recognise some books she'd read previously on RR, and I have some new titles I'd like to buy/borrow from her pleasure at reading them on RR. That's a neat way if you want to 'test drive' a good selection of books with him first.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:34 PM on July 3, 2014

I definitely agree that you should take him on a few trips to the library. You each pull a bunch of books, take them home, and then you observe which ones he chooses repeatedly. Then do it again. After you've done it several times, you'll develop a good sense of what will grab his attention. It may surprise you! I've learned SO much about my son from reading with him and discovering what kinds of books he enjoys.

Go through the catalog at Candlewick Press. I LOVE their books. I've plugged them before on Metafilter. I'm not a shill, I have zero connection to them, I've just noticed time and again that when my kids and I find awesome books at the library they are frequently published by Candlewick and its imprints. We are particularly in love with the Bear and Mouse series that starts with A Visitor for Bear. They're funny and sweet and the watercolors are to die for.

If you want a follow-up list of some of our favorite Candlewick (Nosy Crow/Templar Books/etc) titles, let me know and I would be happy to oblige.

Here are some of our favorite authors:

Richard Scarry. We read him almost every day. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. Best Mother Goose Ever. What Do People Do All Day? Busy, Busy Town. Best Storybook Ever. Peasant Pig and the Terrible Dragon. (Watch out for the recent ones like A Day at the Fire Station. Scarry died in 1994. The recent ones are by the "Richard Scarry Corporation" and they are even stupider than you might imagine.)

Britta Teckentrup. One of our faves is Busy Bunny Days.

Emily Gravett. Lovely watercolors, simple language, but always witty and cheeky. Try Dogs; Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear; Again!; and if you're up for something a wee bit more twisted sophisticated, Wolf Won't Bite!, The Rabbit Problem, and Wolves!.

Margaret Wise Brown. Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, of course, but also many other treasures, like The Train to Timbuctoo, Home for a Bunny, The Little Fur Family, and The Sailor Dog.

Mo Willems.

Dr. Seuss. Of course.

Penny Dale's Dinosaur Dig, Dinosaur Zoom, and Dinosaur Rescue (TRICERATOPS DRIVING A FIRE TRUCK!).

Graeme Base: Animalia. The Water Hole. The Eleventh Hour, which is one of my favorite books ever. My preschooler is just getting into it because of the lavish illustrations of animals in costumes, but for the older child, it's also a giant riddle, and there are clues and secret codes hidden on every page. I went back and cracked all of the codes again a couple of years ago just for kicks.

Robert McClosky. Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, and so many more!

Audrey and Don Wood, esp. King Bidgood's in the Bathtub.

Tomie dePaola. Strega Nona, Charlie Needs a Cloak, The Legend of the Bluebonnet, The Art Lesson, The Knight and the Dragon.

Literally everything by Byron Barton.

The classic, non-licensed-character Little Golden Books are wonderful. (Unfortunately there's no way to link to just those!)

The DK Eyewitness Books, nonfiction with tons of photos, attention-grabbing for little and big kids.

Gail Gibbons' forty-something (!) brightly illustrated and clearly written nonfiction picture books.

Life-Size Zoo and other books in the collection.

Here's a list of books featured on Reading Rainbow. (Oddly missing The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, which my son and I both adore.) Excellent books all around, and RR was great about choosing books representing a wide variety of races and cultures.

Here's a list of Caldecott Medal winners.
posted by a fair but frozen maid at 5:47 PM on July 4, 2014

And absolutely, as suggested above: Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, the Frog and Toad books, the George and Martha books, and all of SisterHavana's suggestions.
posted by a fair but frozen maid at 5:52 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

My five-year old loves Richard Scarry, he laughs so hard he wets his pants... (but as someone mentioned above, watch out, the new ones are no good).
Luckily I saved mine from childhood, and four was about the age he started appreciating the outrageous humour.

As for beautiful, I would recommend books by Leo Lionni. These are also books I kept from my childhood, the story of Frederick the mouse being a favourite.
My son loves especially this one here about the green tail mouse:
The Green Tail Mouse

Some of his are obviously for younger children, but a lot of them can be read for a long time to come. I kept mine from childhood as I have always loved the illustrations as much as the stories.

Also Eric Carle books:
His Website
He is most famous for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but there are lots of other fun ones for older children too.

A completely different style of illustrations are classics illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger
List of books from Amazon

Her books make beautiful keepsakes but not really suitable for age four. Now, with five, he is beginning to appreciate them: most recently, the Ghost of Canterville - he loved the story (which I would not have chosen but his Grandma did) and her humouros illustrations.

Also, as several mentioned above if you can take him to a children's book store or library. My son loves browsing the shelves and this way I can find out what he likes.

One we found this way was the story of the mole:
link to Amazon
At that age a story about poop is the best joke!
posted by 15L06 at 3:34 AM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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