1. Make Way for Ducklings What? You didn't grow up in Boston? Get a taste of the best city on earth (politics excepted) through the illustrations in this book. Ironically, I understand that the author studied ducks for the illustrations in his apartment in that other northeastern city. This book was at my grandmother's house, and it is the first book my mother buys for her grandchildren.
2. Ping Ping is also about ducks, but Ping is domestic, kept by a family living on a boat in China. Ping gives us a peek into a China that is nearly gone--a China where big families are typical. Ping has siblings, and so do the children in the wise boat. Contrast this with the Ping-inspired, lavishly illustrated China of Daisy Comes Home. This new China has no families, no siblings, and like the people of post-revolutionary China, unrelated hens are crammed into quarters with each other. When one hen resists and runs, she is relentlessly hunted down and forced back into the communal life. The little girl who cares for the hens is so similar to the little girl on the "one child" billboards in China that it gives one the creeps.
3. The Five Chinese Brothers are lucky they have each other. Had the first brother been born under the one child policy, he'd have been put to death for sure. This is one of my favorite books of all time. Every time I am at the beach at low tide I think of the first scene, where the first brother swallows the sea. This book was always at my grandmother's house, and I read it over and over again as a child.
4. Blueberries for Sal Trip once told me that I never read this book enough. Poor Paul does not even remember it. The bear is the best part. I suspect that McCloskey did not keep a bear in his apartment while illustrating this classic summertime story.
5. Jamberry More Berries! During the same discussion we had about Blueberries for Sal, Trip told me he wished to live in Jamberry. It's not just about the berries, but the canoe and the waterfall!
7. Millions of Cats OK. So the cats have a big fight and eat each other. Don't let that put you off. The last kitten is so sweet. Read it with funny voices, especially for the cats.
8. Harry the Dirty Dog I love this book more now since we actually had two dogs that resembled clean and dirty Harry. And it's also a view into places in the city that only a dog would visit.
9. The Wall Back to communism. Were you enthralled by the illustrations in Daisy? Here's a first hand look behind the iron curtain's colorful veneer. What jolly drab fun, comrades! Rejoice with the author as he escapes to the Land of the Free.
10. Rapunzel (Zelinsky) When it comes to fairy tales, the creepier the better. These are cautionary tales of the best type, and are meant to frighten. We enjoyed the illustrations in this version, and the story, but...This isn't Disney. Rapunzel is visited by the prince and falls pregnant! The notes at the end explain the historical accuracy. Perhaps this is a version best left for more mature readers.
11. The Wild Swans And when it comes to brutal fairy tales, no one tells a better one that Andersen, whose characters are as cruel as the thrashing sea that threatens to swallow the eleven enchanted bothers and their sister. The image of crushing nettles into flax and spinning and weaving the fibers has stayed with me since childhood.
12. Stephen's Feast The simply-told story based on the carol Good King Wenceslas earns a place on this list because it makes the lyrics clear to little ones. The illustrations are lively, ranging from warm and fire-lit to cold and snowy. The page from the second verse is the eponymous Stephen.
13. Stone Soup Stone soup, nail soup, whatever you call it, this is a story of sharing, and is not to be confused with the miracle of the loaves and fishes, though there seems to be some trend in canned homilies to turn the feeding of the multitudes into some kind of hunger-crazed mob sharing event. This is also an interesting reminder that we, too, have troops coming home from wars. How do we (people, not government) treat them?
14. The Huckabuck Family is one of Sandburg's funniest and weirdest tales. I have not tried it, but this book might be a good launching point for a gardening unit. Try growing popcorn, or placing a small Chinese slipper buckle on a squash blossom and see if the fruit grows around it, revealing the buckle when the squash is cut. Be careful, though...your luck might change! Also? Try calling your family members by their first names twice (Paul-Paul!) to see if they respond more quickly.
15. Peter Rabbit The only thing I can say here is what a shame it is that the Peter Rabbit game we got from the Traditional Game Company (SAC) is no longer made. Hours of Peter Rabbit fun in a box enhanced our reading! Some few online interactive games and more are out there, though. Peter is a disobedient rabbit who finds there is a reason for the rules. Check out Potter's other books, especially Ginger and Pickles, The Tale of Two Bad Mice, and the horrible Tale of
16. Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain (and other Tim books) Before reading Swallows and Amazons, read these. Ardizzone's illustration take us to the quay side. These are stories of daring rescues, tall ships, and kids who talk to strangers. As we always said, "Everyone's a friend on the sea!"
17. Letters from Father Christmas Tolkien. Christmas. What could be better? Goblins! a polar bear! What will happen next year on the North Pole? Unlike the author's children, yours ill not have to wait a whole year to find out (unless you read one letter per year). All the letters are in one place. And Tolkien's own illustrations bring the book fresh from the author's mind into your home.
18. Madeline We'll always have Paris, as long as we have Madeline. Really. when the girls and I were in Paris for Libby's concert tour, all they kept saying was, "Remember when Madeline was here?" It was a real picture book tour, and we were not even trying. The one thing we didn't see much of were vines. There were plenty of old houses, but no vines covering them.
19. The Little Island Is another terrific pre-Swallows and Amazons book. Read this, and take the kids to a little island. Sometimes, a little island is a pile of mud in a puddle. Sometimes it's a biggish island in a bay. Sometimes it's just a rock at low tide on the sound. In any case, an island is a place the children will find unique creatures and adventures they can call their own. Enticed by an island in the marsh beyond my aunt's house, Trip was determined to make this journey.
20. The Shoemaker and the Elves is one of the few fairy tales with a nice cast of characters. the evil is poverty, but the elves and the shoemaker and wife are just nice. My favorite retelling was on a film strip in elementary school. Heh. Remember film strips?
21. Many Moons Thurber. Funny, thoughtful, and fresh. Grab a copy with the 1943 illustrations by Slobodkin, if you can. This is a story of common sense triumphing over the brains of the elite. Oh, if we only had more of that today. After reading this, I wanted a moon necklace. Someday. But it has to really be the moon.
22. The Magic Fish Bone A Dickens short story. This is the tale of a very poor princess and her family, how she came to have a magic fish bone, and how she learns to live by "contriving" instead of by magic. It is, if nothing else, a story of patience. Those soft-hearted among you might want to skip the very last sentence, wherein a pug meets a bad end.
23. Where the Wild Things Are This is a book for every child who has ever misbehaved, and for every loving parent to read to that child. Not too many children's books include gnashing of teeth, but this one does. Of course, any book with a sailboat is for me.
24. The Little Red Lighthouse A local treat for us New Yorkers is this story of the red lighthouse in the harbor and the George Washington bridge. Every time we cross the great gray bridge over the Hudson the kids look for the lighthouse. Since there is usually terrific traffic on the bridge, the search for the lighthouse is a great distraction. And any lighthouse then becomes a magical place.
25. Trolls No picture book survey would be complete without a selection from the D'Auliares. The Greek Myths, The Norse Myths, and the historical books are all a bit long for simple picture books, though they are gorgeous and ought to be part of your collection. Trolls is a big, wonderful tour of a very northern part of the world of Norse mythology. These ugly, icy creatures will frighten and delight the kids. This is a favorite book for all ages.