I first need to acknowledge that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. Why then, you might ask, did I not include Harry Potter in my list of favorite children’s books? That’s because I consider J.K. Rowling’s opus to be great literature, not children’s literature (even though kids the world over, including my own, love the series). I encountered only 4 of the 7 books on my list during childhood. The other 3 (The Missing Piece Meets the Big O; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; and Everyone Poops) I found during adulthood and have cherished experiencing them as a parent. All of these have something insightful to say about life and living (Fox in Sox may be an exception, but it’s wicked fun).
HERE ARE MY 7 FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOKS:
1. The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)- Keats’ words and Matisse-like illustrations capture the power of a child’s imagination, as well as the magic of a winterscape. Memorable quote– “He told his mother all about his adventures while she took off his wet socks. And he thought and thought and thought about them.”
2. The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, by Shel Silverstein (1981)- It’s so much more than a whimsical story with minimalist drawings. Silverstein uses adroit metaphors to say something profound about relationships and the journey of self-discovery. Memorable quote– “’You cannot roll with me,’ said the Big O, ‘but perhaps you can roll by yourself.’”
3. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert O’Brien, illustrated by Zena Bernstein (1971)- This was my first thriller and once the story gets going the suspense is relentless. Memorable quote– “You must go to the rats.”
4. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst (1972)- Lest grown-ups forget, kids can have bad days just like the rest of us. Ray Cruz’s illustrations perfectly depict Alexander’s dawn-to-dusk misery. Memorable quote– “I think I’ll move to Australia.”
5. Fox in Socks, by Dr. Seuss (1965)- I had to include a Seuss book in here, and this one is just so much fun (and challenging) to read aloud. Memorable quote– “Take it slowly. This book is dangerous!”
6. Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi (1977)- My wife and I have potty-trained three sons, so I know the value of making the subject natural, carefree, and (even) fun. Memorable quote– “A one-hump camel makes a one-hump poop and a two-hump camel makes a two-hump poop. Only kidding!”
7. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer (1961)- My first favorite book is a through-the-looking-glass, rollicking adventure about learning and knowledge. Somehow it manages to be clever on every single page (example- broken numerals dug from the numbers mine, near the city of Digitopolis, are salvaged as fractions). Memorable quote– “There once was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself-not just sometimes, but always.”
In addition to being entertaining, these seven books have come in handy in terms of parenting and my work as a neurodevelopmental psychologist. I’ve used them to push the importance of unstructured playtime for kids (The Snowy Day), talk about relationships and being true to yourself (The Missing Piece Meets the Big O), demystify the whole defecation thing (Everyone Poops), celebrate learning in all forms (The Phantom Tollbooth), help kids understand their feelings and navigate challenges (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), and illustrate the importance of resilience for parents (Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH). And come to think of it, Fox in Sox helps with phonics (rhyming, syllabication) and attention to detail in text.
Why did I hold my list to just seven books? First, seven is my favorite number (so there’s that). Also, I wanted a fairly small number to force me to make some hard choices. That being said, here are some titles that would have made a longer list: Goodnight Moon (1947), Why the Banana Split (1998), The Lorax (1971), Where the Wild Things Are (1963), and Superhero ABC (2006).
Please comment about this list. What are some glaring omissions? Which titles should not have made the cut? What books would be on your list? How have you used your favorites, personally and/or professionally? Share your thoughts here or take to Twitter (@DrCraigPohlman, #favoritechildrensbooks).