This is for a friend who is expecting a long awaited and hard earned baby in a couple of months. She’s a graphic designer too, so I’m sure she will enjoy buying books as much as I did. I was lucky too, to have a daughter that adored books as much as I did. So, I thought I’d get her a starter list. My now 12-year old and I sat down at dinner and recalled books that she and I loved together. Then we went to the shelf and found all the ones that she still had. Ah, good memories.
So, here is the list. My rule was that we had to have read these books at some point. Also, these were all read by age 8. Many of these are too old for babies, but a lot of them were on the shelves by the time she got to kindergarten.
The Story of Ferdinand, Munro Leaf: the first book I bought for Bella, this was one of my very favorite books growing up. The drawings are gorgeous, in pen and ink. The typography is lovely. My mother, I found out years later, read this to me and my sister all the time, because we grew up during the Vietnam War and she thought it had an anti-war message. I didn’t pick up on that until I was in my late 30s. A+
Fish Eyes, Lois Ehlert: Gorgeous little counting book. I showed it to my then 4-month old, who grunted and rubbed the pages upon seeing it. It was destroyed by the time she was 8-months old and I had to buy another copy, which is still on the shelf. All of Lois Elhert’s books are lovely, but this is her best. A
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: eh, I was never crazy about this apparent classic. It didn’t stick around the house very long. It did introduce me to Lois Ehlert. There are better alphabet books. C
Anything by Eric Carle: oh sure, we’ve seen way too much Hungry Caterpillar but that’s because it’s really really good. It’s a shame it’s gotten overcommercialized. We also loved the Grouchy Ladybug and The Mixed-Up Chameleon, as well as the very UUish Draw Me a Star. And Little Cloud is also fun. Mom: B
The Three Pigs, David Wiesner. This is a very silly take on the classic that breaks the story wall. And it’s beautifully illustrated too. A
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, Simms Tabek. My sister bought us this at a library conference and it became a favorite quickly. Clever cutouts and fun illustrations with lots of sneaky things hidden in the margins, along with a great lesson on reuse and repurpose. A
Put Me in the Zoo, Robert Lopshire: I could take or leave this silly little book about an amorphous critter that thinks he should be in the zoo because of all his ability to do tricks. But the kid requested it. And requested it. Mom: B-. Kid: A. (At least when she was 2.)
Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss: Duh. You have to have this one or your kid is culturally deprived. Also, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to read. I was always happy when this one was selected. A+
Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss: Duh again. A+
Fox in Socks, Dr. Seuss: Duh again again. There was a period when my kid was almost 1 when (I kid you not) I would have to read this 5 times a day. I had it memorized at one point. Mom: (when she bought it): A. Mom when she was done: B. Looking back, it’s still an A.
The Lorax, Dr. Seuss: oh sure, a bit heavy handed with the environmental message, but we were OK with that. Depends on what side of the climate change fence you choose, I suppose. In our household, that was obvious. A
Dr. Seuss’ ABCs: “BIG A, little a, what begins with A? Aunt Annie’s Alligator … a, a a.” Mom gives this … an A!
Obviously, we’re big fans of Dr. Seuss and there are plenty of other books. These were our favorites, though. There are some that were published at the end of his life or under his name. Avoid them. They don’t have the same magic.
Snow, Philip.D. Eastman, Roy Mc Kie: no idea why a southern kid who spent her first year in Texas, the next 11 in SC, would adore this book, but this was another one we no longer needed to read. We could just recite it. The kid still has it on her shelf. Mom, however, gives it a B.
Fish Out of Water, Helen Palmer, P. D. Eastman: such a silly story plus it’s so totally set in the 60s. The rotary phone, the firemen, the policeman … it’s that Americana that a part of us all still crave, even if it probably never existed. Fun and light, a favorite. Mom: B.
Pat the Bunny: Dorothy Kundhart: someone will give it to you as a shower gift. To me, it’s very dated and they’re over it by the time they’re 6 months old. And there’s lots of great texture books out there. But the kid mentioned it, so it’s on the list. Just look for other texture books. My kid loved them. But then again, she would also start rubbing our couch when I was trying to burp her at 4:30 in the morning. B-
Olivia, Ian Falconer: the first one was a hoot. The second one was pretty good. Then … she started to become a brat. The kid was too old by then anyway. Still, the drawings are fun and it’s printed on really wonderful paper. I realize this sounds like “she’s got a good personality” but to a designer, that’s a bonus. Best for girls. B
Stinky Cheeseman, Joe Scieszka and Lane Smith: A bizarre book with wacky illustrations. It will make you laugh, to be certain. A nice poke at the some of the hokey old tales. B
Go ahead and buy the entire Roald Dahl catalog. They’re all great. OK, Great Glass Elevator is weird, but the Twits, Matilda, Henry Sugar, Charlie, the Witches, Fantastic Mr. Fox … the dude just put out one after the other. There’s a little bit of meanness in his books, but there’s a little bit of meanness in me too. Plus, it always happens to those that deserve it. A-
Six Dinner Sid, Inga Moore: another one found when the kid was older, but it’s so cute we bought it anyway. Another one still on the shelf. Very cute colored pencil drawings and an awesome little story about a cat with six owners. B+
Olive, Vivian Walsh: another cute, off beat story. The Christmas special is an annual fav in our house. I guess it never caught on because it’s a little different. B+
Mean Soup, Betsy Everett: cute. Drawings haven’t aged well, but the lesson here is almost as much for the mom as the kid. Patience, mom, patience. The kid is still learning to deal with their emotions. It’s up to you to teach them how. B-
Used Up Bear, C. Carmichael: a shower gift from someone who knew this young author. You probably can’t buy it anymore, but I add it anyway. It was a favorite when she was a baby and when she was 13 months old, we found a bear that she simply had to have. I realized later it looked just like the bear in the book. It’s one of the stuffed toys that will never ever go away. B
The liberal UU books I’ll put in one paragraph: Shalom, Salaam, Peace, Howard Bogot; Old Turtle, Douglas Wood; Our Ocean Home, Robert Lyn Nelson: well, to be honest all of these are a little pious. But they’re still worth having. B-
Junie B. Jones, Barbara Park: oh man, my kid could not get enough of these. The Ramona of the modern era. She’s like Lucy in kindergarten. A+
Maurice Sendak: gorgeous drawings. Some of those books are a little out there, like Night Kitchen. And Where the Wild Things Are, well I’ve heard the whole imperialist argument, but I think the kid just wants to have fun and not have people tell him what to do. But the Nutshell Library? So adorable and cute. My husband will still call the kid Pierre when she’s being obstinate. Night Kitchen: B, Wild Things: A, Nutshell Library A
Red Wolf, Margaret Shannon: a MUST HAVE for knitters. I heard this book reviewed on NPR one morning, which they never review children’s books. This is a terrific fairy tale about a princess who is kept under close watch of her father the king and how she manages to break free. Oh, and the illustrations are gorgeous. And did I mention that if you knit, you must own this? A+
Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White: duh. A total classic. While you’re at it, pick up Stuart Little. You might as well introduce the kid to the beauty of the books before they see what Hollywood did to them. And they will see them somewhere. A+
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Judi and Ron Barrett: again, such cool drawings and full of imagination. What else do you need? (And again, show them the original drawings before they see the dang movie. Again, it can’t be avoided. Day care, day camp, grandparents …) A
Miss Hunnicutt’s Hat, Jeff Brumbeau and Gail De Marckhen: another completely totally silly hat that we like. Again, best for girls. Still, a chicken for a hat? Absurd! B
Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey: your kid will be totally absorbed by the silliest books on the list. Let ’em revel in it. It’s one that you won’t read together. Your kid doesn’t need to know you think fart jokes are funny too. A-
Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney: again, not one I’ve ever read but boy did my kid love them. So I’ll give them a B.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, William Stieg: actually any Stieg is good, but this one is so sweet and touching, you’ll read it a lot. The value of family comes through. A+
Shel Silverstein: my friend already knows about Shel, so I’ll throw out Runny Babbit and Giraffe and a Half. A
Everyone Poops, Taro Gomi: hey, everyone does poop and the first three years everyone will be fixated on it. And, Taro also designed Doodles, which is a great collection of unusual coloring books. There’s no coloring outside the lines because there are few lines. Lots of creating instead. A
The Watering Hole, Graeme Base: the most beautiful counting book ever written. And, if your kid loves animals, this one is fantastic. A
Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne: oh c’mon! Required reading. Again, read the original before they see what Disney did to it. A
Aesop’s Fables, Helen Ward: Nice to have the collection of the tales in one book but the drawings here are fantastic! Just a stunningly designed book. A+
My Friend Rabbit, Eric Rohmann: another one I heard on a fluke on NPR. Very very few words but tons of cool and silly drawings involving, yes, more animals. Why not. B
When Pigasso Met Mootisse, Nina Laden: a book I picked up at the local art museum. So cute, with Picasso depicted as a pig and Matisse as a cow. A nice way of introducing kids to fine art as well as becoming friends despite ones’ differences. B+
Diary of a Worm, Doreen Cronin: also, Diary of a Spider and the whole Click Clack Moo series. Cute with whimsical drawings and fun stories, but this is our absolute favorite. B+
Strega Nona, Tomie dePaola: cute story. Drawings are definitely 70s to be certain, but a nice little story anyway. B
Ella the Elegant Elephant, Carmela and Steve D’amico: such a sweet story about a young girl starting a new school and having a tough time with it. Again, beautiful sweet drawings and a nice little moral at the end. For girls. I was surprised that my kid brought this one up. I guess it’s close to her name and the whole fitting in struck a chord. A-
And last, two books I bought because I was charmed by them at their presentations at the UCDA conference.
Bad Baby by Ross MacDonald: Ross is a very cool guy and has done amazing things with letterpress. Not only does he do fun illustrations for magazines, he also creates custom movie props, including the book at the center of National Treasure: Book of Secrets. And, he writes some children’s books. This is one of them. B
Bembo’s Zoo by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich: Good luck finding this one! I managed to nab a copy and I’ll just say I was VERY lucky. In fact, I keep it on MY shelf and gave my kid the website instead. Roberto is … incredible. I wish I had just a touch of his talent. A
What did I miss?