During 20 years in the classroom, I’ve read hundred of children’s books. This list represents my Top 10 favorite children’s picture books. Each book is impeccably illustrated and brilliantly written. Also, unlike more basic board books you may have read to your child as a toddler, each book on this list contains a full storyline that will capture your child’s attention while conveying an important lesson. These books are perfect for children ages three and older.
1. Elmer by David McKee
The story about an elephant who looks different from all his friends but learns to appreciate his uniqueness. Elmer loves making the other elephants laugh, and children love giggling along at his jokes. Also, through this story of self-acceptance, children learn about the importance of identifying how the things that make us different from others also make us unique and special. Understanding that differences make people special (as opposed to making someone “weird,” “strange” or any other similar adjective children may use to label something that is different) is essential for social and emotional development, as it will help children engage more easily with others.
2. Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
An adorable little mouse gets in trouble at school with her new purple plastic purse, and impulsively takes her revenge on her teacher. When she realizes she made a mistake, children get to follow along as she makes things right. Beautifully illustrated, Lily’s expressions of embarrassment, regret, and frustration are priceless. For children, learning to identify when they made a mistake and how to fix that problem is another important social skill, so seeing how another young person (or mouse, in this case) handles a similar situation provides valuable information that a child can apply to his own experiences.
3. Lentil by Robert McCloskey
A young boy with a wobbly singing voice but a talent for playing the harmonica saves the day in his small town. This delightful tale celebrates a child’s perseverance and reinforces the idea that all children are good at something, sometimes you just need to hunt a little to figure out what your “something” is. Perseverance is essential in the classroom, as children will be faced with new and challenging tasks. Learning about a child who is successful only after persevering through a difficult situation sets a wonderful model for children of the rewards that come by working through a challenge.
4. Corduroy by Don Freeman
A small, slightly tattered, bear is looking for a loving home. Most children have a favorite teddy bear or stuffed animal so the adorable character and happy ending make this a treasured story. Also, the book also introduces a wonderful opportunity for parents to talk to their children about empathy and the importance of home and family through questions like, “Why do you think Corduroy is so happy to go home with Lisa?” And, “Why do you think Corduroy wants to find his missing button?” Demonstrating empathy for others is another important social skill that children will need to thrive socially in the school.
5. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.
Lower case alphabet letters climb a coconut tree, with a predictable humorous result. Don’t worry, the upper case letters come to save the day! The book features great rhymes and alliteration that reinforce critical phonemic awareness skills while captivating young children. In short, this story makes learning the alphabet laugh-out-loud fun.
6. Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
A dog who does not like taking a bath runs away and has trouble when he changes his mind about running away and tries to come home. Not wanting to do something (like take a bath) is a common situation that children can relate to. It’s fun for them to first see the predicament Harry gets himself into and then to hear how Harry solves his problem. As with Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, this wonderful book highlights the importance of identifying when you made a mistake and working to solve a problem.
7. Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen
A young boy’s experience on his first day of preschool. Like all children, he is curious if he will have friends at school. With a heart-warming conclusion, all school-aged children will relate to this story and take comfort in the message that yes, you will have a friend at school. This book is a must-read for any young child about to start school as the charming story of young Jim will help alleviate a child’s anxiety about his own first day of school.
8. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
A small donkey finds a magic pebble and realizes, after an adventure, that his family is all he could wish for. Beautiful language about the importance of family and equally beautiful images make this a heartwarming story that draws children in. As with Corduroy this book is a wonderful way to begin a dialog with your child about the importance of family.
9. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin
Barnyard cows find a typewriter and make demands of the farmer who is not so willing to comply. The sheer silliness of the story is very appealing to young children. The book also addresses the importance of compromise, which is a critical part of social and emotional development, since it is essential in facilitating peaceful social interactions with peers.
10. Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes
A kitten attempts to catch the moon, mistaking it for a bowl of milk. The big joke in this book is that it is the moon in the sky, silly kitten, not a bowl of milk! Just as all children strive to feel included, children love being “in” on the joke which makes this a classic favorite.
For me, each of these books is a time-tested classic for two important reasons: it captivates a child’s attention through playful language and beautiful illustrations and encourages additional discussions about important themes like compassion, acceptance, compromise, problem solving, empathy and family relationships.
What can you share with other parents?
I would love to hear what books you and your children love reading together. Are they classics from your own childhood (like Corduroy and Harry the Dirty Dog), or have your children fallen in love with the newer generation of children’s literature (like Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble)?
Making this “Top 10” list was such fun that after hearing all of your favorites, I will compile a “Top 10 Honorable Mentions” list with the top 10 books you recommend so please check back in a few weeks for that!
Image used under Creative Commons from RachelH_.