October 22, 2015 5:00 am Children’s Books I Love (That You Might Not Know)
The annual Book Fair is one of my favorite events of school life. And a most enjoyable job for me was advising parents on which books their children would love. The classics and the favorites were easy. But every once in a while, we would encounter a book that flew under parent radar, but that children responded to in fresh and authentic ways.
Mem Fox is an Australian author of many wonderful children’s books. Two of hers stand out for me. The first is Tough Boris. It is a story of few words, about a fierce pirate captain who loves his pet parrot. What is unusual is that the illustrations tell another story, about a boy with a violin who stows away on the pirate ship. The interplay of the two story threads creates an emotional tale. All children love this book, but boys respond totally. My other Mem Fox favorite features a girl: Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild is about a well-meaning but careless girl and her well-meaning but eventually exasperated mother. If the book is read dramatically, children totally pay attention. They recognize the escalation of the mother’s tone, because they live it, and the result is hilarious.
Fortunately, by Remy Charlip, is a gem of a book. Read it to any pre-school child twice and the child will “read” it to you a moment later. The words and the illustrations interact and mesh perfectly, and your child will be so proud to have picked up the story so quickly. He or she will remember it months later.
The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven is an adorable and delightful reading experience. A wonderful story and beautiful, colorful illustrations contribute to the absolutely joyful feeling the book creates.
The four above are great for 3 -5 year olds. I find that kindergarteners and first graders are fascinated by English author Edward Ardizzone’s series about Tim, a little boy who lives by the sea in England. Tim has many friends: Ginger, Charlotte, Lucy and an old boatman who is a mentor for him. They have sea-going adventures, the illustrations are first rate, the danger is palpable. There are at least ten different good titles in the series.
Finally, for older children, Roald Dahl is a wonderful resource. Everyone knows about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, but I love three other less famous books. For 5 year olds, Fantastic Mr. Fox is great; for children ages 6 and 7, James and the Giant Peach; and for the 8 and 9 year old set, Danny the Champion of the World. All have short, exciting chapters that end on a note of suspense and cause the child to want to read on. The stories are not without a tinge of violence, and there are repulsive bad guys, but that makes them all the more exciting for children who do not enjoy sanitized versions of every adventure. One caveat: the original hardback books have wonderful, cozy illustrations. The paperback illustrations by Quentin Blake are cartoonish and unappealing. The library might be a good resource for these hardbacks. FMF is wonderfully illustrated by Donald Chaffin; James, by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, and Danny by Jill Bennett.
We’re entering the Book Fair season. A plethora of new books will be offered but don’t overlook these standouts. I guarantee your children will respond to them enthusiastically and ask you to read them over and over. Their perfect blend of interesting stories, emotional appeal, a hint of danger and wonderful illustrations captivates the imagination of every child.
Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years of experience in working with young children.