Through books, kids can be exposed to so much more than they see in their everyday lives. In this way, books help kids gain perspective on how their lives compare to others. They are able to see people overcoming tough challenges, to watch as others choose to keep their honor intact rather than taking the easy way out.
But there are an awful lot of books that I would NOT read to my kids. I find that, especially with many modern books, the standards are being set far too low. Those books glorify people behaving inappropriately and being inconsiderate. Even in many of the seemingly harmless series' (such as Junie B. Jones), I find there to be an insidious undercurrent of disrespect towards others or the family. (Yes, I know I am a book snob.)
So I wanted to share our list of the books that we treasure. These are books that demonstrate people living with character and decency. These are books that expand my children's horizons. I'll start with picture books and then move on to chapter books in a following post. I've left off some of the well-known classics such as Corduroy and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, since everyone seems to know about those already.
Picture Books That Build Character
Dogger by Shirley Hughes - This is a fantastic book that tells of a little boy named Dave and his favorite stuffed animal, Dogger. When Dogger gets lost, Dave's older sister chooses to make a sacrifice to get Dogger back. My kids relate well to Dave and his sister, and they are moved by this story.
Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter - Beatrix Potter's stories are filled with animals who have all sorts of mischievous adventures, and have to pay the price for their misdeeds. This book is a collection that includes nineteen individual stories, along with beautiful illustrations. My kids request that I read this book very frequently.
Among the Meadow People by Clara Dillingham Pierson - This is a collection of stories from the early 1900's that tells of all the living things in the meadow. My children are fascinated by these stories, and they have also learned a lot about the different creatures and plants through these stories. There are many more in the same series.
Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton - When the city gets completely snowed in, all of the truck plows break down. Only one could save everyone: Katy! My kids adore Katy and her perseverance to dig out the post office, the airport, the fire station, and the rest of the city.
The Little Soul and the Sun by Neale Donald Walsh - This is the story of a Little Soul who wants to experience forgiveness. In order to do so, another Little Soul must be willing to do something that needs to be forgiven. This story creates lots of thoughtful conversation whenever I read it to the kids.
Tootle by Gertrude Crampton - Tootle is a train that wants to learn to be a flyer, but first he has to overcome his desire to romp in the field with a horse! My son, especially, loves this story.
Madeline and the Bad Hat by Ludwig Bemelmans - When a little boy moves in next door to the orphanage where Madeline lives, he gets into all sorts of mischief. The little girls spurn him, but finally realize that he just needs a friend. My kids think the little boy's shenanigans are hilarious, and they love to see the happy ending.
Picture Books That Give a Taste of Culture and History
The Everyday Life of an Egyptian Craftsman by Giovanni Caselli - This book tells the story of a young boy in ancient Egypt. My kids are fascinated with life in Ancient Egypt. The detailed illustrations in this book are wonderful. My daughter is in love with all things related to Ancient Egypt, and she loves to read this book over and over.
Gilgamesh the King by Ludmila Zeman - This book is the first in a trilogy wherein the Epic of Gilgamesh is re-told for children. The illustrations in these books are absolutely gorgeous. These books are filled with action and love, making them a great introduction to one of the oldest stories in the world.
My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter - Filled with pictures in the style of Georgia O'Keefe, this book tells the story of Georgia and her unusual life. From her childhood, through life in the city, and finally ending with many years in the desert, the beauty of Georgia's life shines through in this book. My children love to read about Georgia.
Lugalbanda: The Boy Who Got Caught Up in a War by Kathy Henderson - I was fascinated when I heard of Lugalbanda, which is the oldest known written story in the world - nearly 5,000 years old! My children love the illustrations in this book, and love to learn about Lugalbanda, a boy who brings peace to his people.
Mr. Semolina Semolinus by Anthony L. Manna- This Greek folktale tells of Princess Areti, who makes a man to marry out of sugar, almonds, and semolina wheat. When he is kidnapped by an evil queen, Areti must go on a quest to rescue him. My kids think this book is so much fun; they always laugh at the end when the queen tries to make her own man and fails because of her own vileness.
Fun and Silly Picture BooksSome Smug Slug by Pamela Duncan Edwards - My kids adore this book, which tells the story of a slug who travels unawares to the top of a toad, and gets promptly eaten. I have great fun reading this book, filled with an amazing number of "s" words.
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey - Mr. and Mrs. Mallard seek to find a safe place to raise their ducklings in this great story. My kids love seeing the city life in this book, and my son especially loves the friendly policemen who come to the rescue.
Sophie and the Next-Door Monsters by Chris Case - Sophie starts out being scared of her new monstrous neighbors, but in the end she makes a new friend. My kids love seeing the monster child turn Sophie's cat into a potato and then back again to a cat.
The Hat by Jan Brett - Hedgie the hedghog gets a mitten stuck on his head, and soon enough all the other animals want something to keep them warm for the winter, too. We adore Jan Brett's illustrations and the way she shows previews of what is to come on the right side of every page. My kids laugh and laugh at the animals wearing woolens.
Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal- Little Pea hates candy. But he has to finish it before he can have his spinach dessert. My kids love this story; they can't imagine anyone hating candy and I think it makes them more excited about eating veggies too.
Picture Books the Very Young Will Love (and my older kids still like them, too)Babybug - Back when my eldest was an infant, she received a subscription to Babybug magazine for a few years. Here we are 7 years later, and both of my kids still love to read Babybug. It is filled with lovely stories, poems, and pictures. These magazines are printed on very thick paper, so they don't tear easily. We are still cherishing ours from 2007-2011!
A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle - Hermit crab has outgrown his shell and must find a new one. As he settles in, many other creatures from the ocean adorn his new shell. My kids love to watch hermit crab make his way in his new home.
Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo! by Rosetta Stone - This book has a wonderful cadence and rhyme that makes it quite fun to read. My kids love to see all the things that could happen because... just because... a little bug went Ka-Choo!
Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton - I have such fond memories of both of my kids giggling over and over from my lap while I read them this book when they were toddlers. It is simple and funny. It is good for teaching color recognition too.
Cookie's Week by Cindy Ward - This short, simple book tells about Cookie the mischievous cat, and the trouble he gets into each day of the week. Beginning in toddlerhood and still to this day, both of my kids love reading Cookie's Week.
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey - This is the story of Sal and her mother, who get mixed up with bears while picking blueberries to can for the winter. As toddlers, both of my kids requested to hear this book night after night. Now as a preschooler and a 2nd grader, they still like to hear about Sal periodically.
Brush Mona Lisa's Hair by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo - This book, and the others in the same series, is a great child's introduction to art. This books shows masterpieces of art, along with something tactile added to each page. Kids can touch Mona Lisa's hair, touch a lacy collar in another picture, and blow on feathers to make the angels fly. My kids still like to read and play along with this book.
Out and About by Shirley Hughes - This collection of poems and illustrations takes us through all four seasons of the year. It has a way of making me long for each and every season. My kids love to see what the kids do in each season.
What are your favorite picture books to read-aloud?
Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you use these links, your price remains the same, but I earn a small commission. Thanks for supporting this site!