My Favorite Childrens Books
Reading to your kids is great for their imagination and reading comprehension, and it's fun, too. Do it for as long as they want you to do it. I recently read to my 17-year-old daughter when she was sick to take her mind off her stomach ache. They may never completely outgrow the enjoyment of having a story read to them.
Following is a short list of my favorite books to read to my children. Naturally, one chooses different material for different ages.
by Margaret Wise Brown
I read this wonderful book first as a board book and then a hardcover, and then at last a soft cover as they were all loved to pieces by my children when they were aged zero to five years old.
All my kids loved the pictures in this story of a young bunny putting off going to sleep by saying goodnight to all the objects within sight as "the old lady" shushes, and a fire in the fireplace warms the room.
The Stinky Cheese Man
and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
In this hilarious book, hapless Jack, of beanstalk fame, attempts to put together a book of "fairly stupid tales." They are like fairy tales, but not so much. In the title story, the Stinky Cheese Man is a different take on the Gingerbread Man story, only not so sweet. Like the Gingerbread Man, the Stinky Cheese Man runs away hollering, "You can't catch me!" The difference is, nobody wants to catch him. Other stories include, "Little Red Running Shorts" and "The Really Ugly Duckling." Oh, don't worry, there's more. This book was popular with my kids from the ages of about six through around ten. The thirteen-year-old still pulls it out and reads it to herself for a chuckle.
Another offering from the Jon Scieszka / Lane Smith duo, this book recommended for "ages >6 and <99". The story starts out with the protagonist, a young girl, is in math class and her teacher says, "...you can think of anything as a math problem." From that moment on, everything in this poor girl's life is a problem. Follow her humorous adventures with time, fractions, logic, and much, much more as she moves inexorably toward her victorious conclusion. I used to laugh out loud while driving my work truck around the city, remembering parts of this book. Excellent punchline ending.
This book is nice, too, because as they get older they are actually studying some of this subject matter in school.
The Lord of the Rings
by J.R.R. Tolkien
This fantasy classic has all the characters you might find in a children's tale: little people, dwarves, wizards, elves, princes, princesses, kings, goblins, an evil sorcerer, trolls, on and on. Maybe I'm a little sick - I've read the book about nine times myself, and I read it once to one daughter and twice to the other. I just really, really, really like it. It is, however, really really long. I read this to my girls when they were 10 or 11 years old.
The White Company
by Arthur Conan Doyle
In addition to his famous Sherlock Holmes works, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote pieces of historical fiction, of which this is one. The hero, Alleyne, according to his fathers bequest, is turned out of the abbey where he was raised from infancy to youth, leaving the shelter of the cloisters for the wilds of feudal England. Early on he falls in love with an inaccessible girl, daughter of the knight, Sir Nigel Loring, with whom he has taken service as the girl's teacher. The story follows his path from his upbringing among the monks to his service as a squire to Sir Nigel to his admittance into the nobility because of his daring and selfless deeds in battle. Doyle's wit and turn of phrase shine throughout.
by C.S. Forester
Forester's masterfully written saga of Horatio Hornblower's rise from Midshipman to Lord, spanning many books, is as rich with historical detail as it is with swashbuckling action. Suspense, danger and intrigue make for a riveting tale for both reader and listener. Hornblower's incredible, yet quiet courage and ingenuity propell the story forward like a tall ship under full sail.
His Dark Materials
by Philip Pullman
The trilogy, consisting of The Golden Compass (recently an ok, but not great movie), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass follows the adventures of a girl in another dimension, Lyra, who is a rather abrasive ten or eleven-year-old, as she is caught up in a great upheaval in the conflict between religion and nature in which the story of Adam and Eve must be re-enacted. Although she doesn't know it, Lyra is to be Eve. Lyra lies, bluffs, and forces her way through the story with stunning audacity.
This work, written for ages ten and up, is somehwat of an argument against the idea of the authoritarian God by a man who does not believe in God. When I read it to my child, it spurred many conversations about the existence of God, our place in the universe, and right and wrong. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to share my own belief in God with my child.
Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart
Mary Stewart's Merlin executes his wizardry more by wit and mathematics than by wizardry, and even then his wizardry originates outside himself. Set in medieval England and Brittany, these richly detailed books follow the course of the wars, politics and intrigue that put King Arthur on the throne. Merlin becomes adept in the sciences of the time, and by putting himself 'in the path of the god' becomes a tool of a supernatural power who is never specifically identified. The work is suspenseful at times, as Merlin often finds himself wedged between violent forces at a confluence of events.
Since Merlin is born a bastard prince, just about every other word out of the characters' mouths in the beginning of the work is, "bastard." With that in mind, you might want to save these books until your child is twelve or thirteen years old, if they still want anything to do with you at that time.
For a seventeen-year-old, should you have an opportunity to read to one, choose short stories written for adults, such as works by John Updike or short stories from The New Yorker or The Atlantic.