favorite children’s books

bedtime ritual web

Lately I’ve been receiving a lot of requests asking me to share my favorite books for children. Maybe there’s something in the water. I happen to believe, of all the baby gifts we’ve ever received, or I’ve ever given for that matter, that the best of them are books. Not just because they last longer than a onesie, but because they last in our minds. I still remember my childhood favorites.

The other day I was at the bookstore browsing for the taters, when I came across a few books I’d forgotten… and even now, I’m not sure what they’re about, exactly, but I remember loving them. It’s such a real gift. Now, when it comes to my favs, there is age to consider… and attention span. When I was pregnant, nesting, I outfitted their room with books I didn’t quite realize wouldn’t be appropriate for them until they were about ready to hang upside down from the monkey bars themselves. So there’s that.

I look at most Dr. Suess books and want to cry. They’re way too long! We read Cat & The Hat together and I want to claw someone. It’s hellacious, that’s what it is. Because no matter my inflection or passion for it, soon they’re up, clawing their way away… Some books are just too long or don’t keep their attention. Here are some of the ones they (and I) love most:


Are You My Mother?, Freight Train, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Tails, The Very Hungry Caterpillar

better freight train
brown bear
the very hungry caterpillar










FOR WHEN THEY’RE OLD ENOUGH TO TELL YOU "NO!" (Wee ones with mouths):

No, David!, How To Speak Politely and Why, Manners Can Be Fun, Winchell Cuts the Cheese

No david
how to speak politely and why
manners can be fun







Olivia Boxed Set, Fancy Nancy: Tea Parties, The Paper Bag Princess

olivia boxed set
Fancy Nancy
better paper bag







KIND SIR’S FAVORITES (Snips & Snails):

The Polar Express, Freight Train, The Caboose Who Got Loose

the polar express

FOR WHEN THEIR WORDS & YOUR WORDS ARE BETTER (Pictures encouraging storytelling!)

Good Night, Gorilla, Flotsam




Their Mutual Favorites

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Mirette on the High Wire, Owen, The Snowy Day, A Chair For My Mother


pigeon drive the bus
a chair for my mother









Books I Loved As A Child

The Five Chinese Brothers, Make Way For Ducklings, Madeline, A Bear Called Paddington, Curious George Goes to the Hospital, The Story About Ping, Bread and Jam For Frances, Corduroy





  1. Where is Goodnight Moon?? Did I miss it? A friend bought it for me in France a few years back and reading the French version as an adult was just as much a pleasure :)

  2. Hey, Stephanie. Been lurking in your entries but have barely commented lately, but this made me “awwww”

    We have Tails and Olivia. Mine loves Little Critter books, especially now that he can read them aloud by himself. And there is always that little spider or mouse on every page. Heh.

    Are You My Mother? was one of my absolute favorites growing up too.
    As was Big Dog, Little Dog

    and another outstanding one is You Are My I Love You (excellent book for a gift, will make a mama cry)

    And a gf of mine gave my little boy this book called The Mitten, which was her favorite as a child. Ever heard of it? At first I was like, this book is ancient, he isnt going to like this! But he loooooves it.

  3. here’s the link for The Mitten (there’s more than one out there):

    it’s an oldie.

  4. Hi Stephanie,

    I wanted to tell you how much I love your blog and your book, ‘Straight Up and Dirty’…it’s so good!

    Here’s a book you should consider reading. It is one of my favourites and my daughters (who are now 19 and 15) still love it.
    It is called ‘Love you forever’ and the author is Robert Munsch. He lives here in Canada but I believe he is originally from the US.

    I realize you probably don’t have time to reply to everyone, but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about this book.

    Thanks again,


  5. When I babysat for boy/girl twins the same age as Sephanie’s I had to read them “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!” at LEAST every 2 or 3 days. They loved it! When they couldn’t sit and listen any longer it was usually cuz they wanted the book so they can try to “read” themselves.

    Definitely one of my all-time-favorites and I still go to my college bookstore and read it every once in a while when I’m in a slump (just did that 2 days ago).

    Another favorite is “Where the Wild Things are”, “Horton hears a Who”, and “Goodnight Moon” (the kiddos needed that one every single night).

    “Fancy Nancy” I loved myself….the kids didn’t really pay attention for that one. But it just shows how different personalities come into play when choosing books.

  6. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass and What She Found there are hands-down my favorite children books. I read them when I was super young (my mom says 3) and haven’t stopped loving them.

    Also, Peter Pan, The Giving Tree, Curious George, Frog and Toad, Nate the Great, Winnie the Pooh, The Wizard of Oz series, and I’m sure there’s others that I’ve forgotten.

  7. This is FANTASTIC! My toddler is at the stage where i have to fight to find a good book not too wordy- to read and keep him engaged. And I tripped over a ‘Hop on Pop’ book by Suess and launched into a speech about how rotten Suess is and annoying to read, repeat. Goddamn I need to keep a jug of water near me to finish one of those. And I hate repeating those ridiculous made up words. Midway I call out to my husband and ask of made up words really contributes to language development? Maddening.
    Glad to know I’m not the only one.

    I *LOVE* Shel Silverstein. Where the Sidewalk Ends is a fave but that’s for older kids. I adore ‘The Giving Tree’ and it makes me all teary. I even gave it to an ex boyfriend as a ‘Bye now’ parting gift. It was my way of telling him I felt like the tree- nothing left to give.
    And of course, The Velveteen Rabbit is fantastic too. I’m writing this list down to help me build his library and get books for my baby on the way. This is so helpful!

  8. I don’t have kids so I can’t speak to that, but The Velveteen Rabbit still makes me cry. The part that gets me is when they’re talking about the Skin Horse and what it truly means to be real.

  9. Stephanie

    I am surprised they will sit for the Paperbag Princess and not Dr Seuss? I always found that the Dr Seuss artwork kept my kids interested. Try the Mr Men and Little Miss books soon (Hargreave). They have great vocabulary (not your usual pre-schooler vocab)and not to much text! (Can you tell I’m a librarian??)

    Having had 3 children relatively close together, I had no choice but to combine ALL their storytimes. They each got to choose 1 bedtime book. Onto the bed we would climb, the baby in my lap, and each of the other at my side. Whose ever book was being read, got my “free” arm wrapped around them. It was a special, special time.
    Now they are 18, 16 and 14 and bedtime stories exist only in memories. But those memories are so very special. Each one of my children will remember storytime long after I am gone.

    Keep reading everyone!!

  10. My hubby’s grandma saved some of his childhood books in a cardboard box. I dug through it and found Go, Dog. Go! It’s long but it is my son’s fav now. I also found some Sweet Pickles! I was so excited to find them because they were some of my favorite books growing up too. They are a little torn but still readable.

  11. ‘Jillian Jiggs’ by Phoebe Gilman was one of my daughter’s favorites. “Jillian, Jillian , Jillian Jiggs, Its like your room has been lived in by pigs! Later I promise, as soon as I’m through. Ill clean my whole room up, I promise, I do.” It is a rhyming story about an imaginative little girl who starts to clean up her room, but has so much fun playing dress-up and make believe with her friend and little sister that she never quite gets things put away. Fun to read and fun to listen to. Delightful illustrations.

  12. Uncle Wiggley, Goodnight Moon, The Velveteen Rabbit, Wind in the Willows. Like you, I also loved The Five Chinese Brothers :)

  13. I think Dr. Seuss is brilliant but I agree, some are way to long! Exhausting to read aloud and what’s worse is when your 7-year old stumbling reader wants to read The Cat in the Hat Comes Back to you. Good god it takes forever and a lot of patience. One of my new favorites is Llama Llama Red Pajama.

    1. My three year old son loves Llama Llama Red Pajama as well. I just ordered Llama Llama Mad at Mama. I also recommend Sandra Boynton books-Particulalry Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaur and Barnyard Dance. Here are some others: The Napping House, Caps for Sale, Max and Ruby books, and Charlie and Lola books and for older kids the Mr. Putter books by Cynthia Rylant-too funny-oh and Space Case by James Marshall.

  14. I forgot to say that I think Book Showers are fabulous. Children’s books are surprisingly expensive and it’s so sweet for everyone to give their personal favorite and to inscribe a wish for the baby.

  15. Stephanie – when Abigail gets older, you need to read with her the “All of a Kind” family series by Sydney Taylor. It’s about five Jewish sisters growing up on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s. All of the Jewish holidays, foods and customs entwined in a really sweet family story. My daughter Ari (she’s 9) and I really love reading these together. I read them when I was Ari’s age – a young Protestant girl who would grow up to marry her Jewish prince, convert and raise my own family in a home filled with Jewish customs.

    1. How did you manage to snag a Jewish guy? This Catholic girl needs pointers… and yes, I am willing to convert! And no, not because of a guy.. It’s because I really do feel a deep and spiritual connection to Judaism.

      1. Hi LolaD — not sure how… I just almost always dated Jewish guys. Like you, I always felt a “deep and spiritual connection to Judaism.” Imagine my surprise, when at the age of 34 I located my birth mother (I was adopted at the age of 3 months) and she was Jewish! Anyhow, I converted, not when engaged, but when I was 7 months pregnant with my fourth baby. I can still picture my huge, naked pregnant belly floating in the mikvah. If you are willing to convert and already feel the connection, why not start taking classes toward conversion? You could meet some people there. Maybe join a Chavurah. I have always been drawn to Jewish men, and they to me. Good luck! I absolutely love living and raising my four beautiful kids in a Jewish home.

    2. “All of a Kind” family series by Sydney Taylor.
      OMG, I have often thought about these books with great fondness but could never remember the author’s name! Now that my daughter’s alomst 17, do you think it’s too late?
      Thank you, thank you , thank you! I just may have to go out and get them for myself.

  16. Silvester and the Magic Pebble! If You Give a Mouse a Cookie!

    (That is all I came here to say.)

  17. I loved reading many of these books to my wee one, who we like to call SuperKid (SuperKid is now 11 and just started 6th grade – yikes!), but I did NOT like ARE YOU MY MOTHER?

    I have to say I found that book so boring! Of course, my Wee One (SuperKid) LOVED LOVED LOVED that book in particular! And I put on my best mommy face and read it again and again….but I was so happy when he started requesting something else!

  18. While researching a paper on how my reading choices at different stages of my life have shaped what I am drawn to read as an adult I came across the children’s book, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. The minute the page loaded I started crying. My mother used to read it to me when I was very very little, and in that moment I realized how much those moments reading with my parents impacted who I am now as an adult.

    That year I bought a copy and gave it to my parents for Christmas. We all cried happy tears of remembrance…

  19. When you wrote a few posts back about your children tearful and upset when you were leaving for LA, I wanted to write you the name of this Book…
    It’s called The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. Its underlying theme is about seperation anxiety. The Mama Raccoon kisses the lil raccoon in the palm of its hand and tells him to close its hand tight not to lose the kiss. Then if the lil Raccoon is lonely without its Mama{or Daddy} it can open its hand and press the side their cheek with the kiss. Insuring them that Mama is right there with them at least in spirit.

    The reading and rereading of that book when I was traveling for medical treatment and had to leave my my dumpling was a life saver. Instead of the tears and gutwrenching pleas we had a routine. As he entered Preschool and then KinderGarten ALWAYS the first few day he went with a kiss in his hand to see him thru. I have purchased more copies of that book for a gift then any other. Whenever possible I try to pick up a Raccoon puppet to go along with it.

  20. The Runaway Bunny! Also the “Sheep” series — Sheep in a Jeep, Sheep in a Shop…

  21. For a little later … Princess Smartypants, by Babette Coal.

    And for later still, the author in you will love to share the illustrated children’s version of Eats, Shoots and Leaves and The Girl’s Like Spaghetti by Lynne Truss. Brilliant illustrations of why — and how — punctuation matters.

  22. “A is For Abigail: Almanac of Amazing American Women”.

    I buy it for every baby shower! Well, every girl baby shower, not that it would hurt a little boy to read!

  23. “The Story About Ping” and “The Five Chinese Brothers” may well be classics in American children’s literature, and there may be elements in them that are imaginative and whimsical, but frankly, as a person of color and as a mother, these books turn my stomach and fill my eyes with tears of rage. They are not “charming” and “innocuous”. These books are entirely inappropriate for children of any age, in my opinion – not only do the illustrations perpetuate harmful and humiliating racial stereotypes, but the stories are rife with cruelty, historical inaccuracy (The Five Chinese Brothers is a poor take-off of a traditional Chinese tale, written by a white author 70 years ago), and bad values (lying in court, corporal punishment, etc.). Racism is an unfortunate part of our history as Americans, and that history has been illustrated in our media with books such as these and films such as “Song of the South,” for example. That Disney has retired that film, recognizing its racial insensitivity, is a step in the right direction. We as parents should take responsibility for our children’s perceptions of themselves and others. I’m sure there will be commenters who might say we should relax, that what I am saying is oversensitive, but there are Asian American children who are still being singled out and alienated every day in our schools for “being different”, just as Asian American people, myself included, still experience on an astonishingly regular basis offensive and ignorant remarks in public. This should not be happening anymore. And the place to start changing this is at home with our own children. Stephanie, as a writer and blogger with a huge following and thus a good deal of cultural power, I ask you to recognize the validity of my position. I have been a fan of yours for several years and this is actually not the first time that I have been deeply upset by things you have written about Asian people. I really want to give you the benefit of the doubt here – please address this issue.

    1. I agree with your point, although I interpreted this post as referring to books her parents read to her 30 years ago and NOT what she is reading to her own children.

    2. Author

      Wendy, I am genuinely sorry to have offended you, not just here, but elsewhere where you’ve said I’ve made remarks that upset you about Asian people. It’s a surprise to me because, like I’ve written before on this blog, our family sponsored a family into America from China, so I grew up with their 4 children… not in their home; we just spent a lot of weekends together, where I learned about their culture. As for the books, like I said, I saw some of them in the bookstore the other day and had no clue about their content, only that I remembered loving them as a child. I don’t read them to my children, so I still couldn’t tell you what they’re about… only that I loved them as a young girl. Now I’m curious to read them so I may see for myself how offensive the books are.

      1. Thanks for your reply, Stephanie. Even though the books were mentioned under the heading of those you had loved as a child, the implication of the post was that all the books you cited are ones that you endorse, that readers might be inspired to look into – this is what bothered me so much; the kind of tacit approval, the easy glossing over of really important, sensitive, and hurtful issues. It’s as if a popular blogger said she had grown up with and loved books in which a young Jewish girl (and her culture) were unequivocally characterized as fat, ugly, and so very different from everyone else who was “normal”. This brings up another point as well, which is the easy and all to common collapse of “Chinese culture,” whatever that truly means, into the reality of being Chinese or Asian in America. To imagine some sort of exotic, mysterious “otherness” in the identity of someone who is just as American as you, whose family may well have been American for generations isn’t respectful of Chineseness, it’s robbing Asian American people of their Americanness. The posts that have disturbed me in the past were “Your Worth in Weight,”I believe, in which you described a childhood incident in which your father was incredibly insensitive about your body image at a Chinese restaurant. The irony was that you used the word “Chinaman” in that post, which is basically like using the N word without realizing that it’s a racial slur. The other one that was really not okay was “Backs and Whacks” in which you write:

        “Argue this: lactic acid drips out of pulled muscles, and you’re finally relaxed, then some Asian chick, who covers her mouth when she giggles, tenses you all up again for your orgasm. Why wouldn’t she and her friend (oh, yes, special customa getta two, special deal, firsta time.) jerk you off at the beginning?”

        Without getting into the whole thing of globalization and the sex industry and modern indentured servitude, A. it makes me really uncomfortable to read you use such a common racial stereotype, the powerless, somehow less than human Asian female (or whore) who covers her mouth when she giggles while mechanically servicing a white male. This is pretty much one of the only images that has been perpetuated in Western media about Asian women from the Bond films on. Do you think it’s pleasant or acceptable for a teenage girl to have “me so horny” shouted at her on the street? This is the kind of de-contextualized image of Asian women that helps to normalize and legitimize such a thing: the dehumanization of a group of people by socially sanctioning that they be categorized as different. If you’re different, then anything can happen to you, right?

        B. It is simply not okay to to mimic Asian accents in the way that you do in that post. Not okay.

        With all this said, I am really surprised that you grew up close to a Chinese family. While it’s of course a kind thing that your family did to sponsor them, do you think that this act of charity entitles you to use and abuse whatever elements you may have gleaned about their culture? It doesn’t seem like you absorbed too much about what was really going on in their emotional lives in what was probably a tough transition to the US if all you got from it was how to make fun of the way they speak English and how exotic they are. Interestingly, though, I have noticed that new immigrants are less sensitive to racial stereotyping, partly because they have so much else to worry about, and partly because coming from a country in which they were part of the majority, they may have a stronger sense of and pride in their own identity than someone growing up as a minority. Another factor in your case may be that the family you sponsored just didn’t let you in on the uglier sides of their experience, since it would have seemed ungrateful or embarrassing after you had sponsored them.

        Once again, I appreciate that you took the time to reply to my comment. In Moose, you wrote that your experience of being bullied at school made you vow never to put others down because you know what that kind of pain feels like. I hope you hear what I’m saying – you seem such a sensitive person, I’m putting my faith in your ability use that sensitivity to take this on board.

  24. I’m surprised that so many people like “The Giving Tree”. I love Shel Silverstein, but I think that “The Giving Tree” is a simply awful story. But, then again, Dr. Seuss has garnered much less approval in these posts, and I’ve always adored his books (both those for children and for adults).

    When your tots are a wee bit older, they may enjoy the Mr. Putter and Tabby series. Another: “Jitterbug Jam” is a wonderful (relatively current) book that my daughter enjoyed very much when she was younger (she is now 9), and repeatedly requested at bedtime. Anything by Maurice Sendak is also swell. As a New Yorker, you may like “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers” (also a frequent request at bedtime several years ago, and quite poignant in our post-9/11 era).

    If you like the manners books, try “How to Behave and Why”. An oldie but goodie, and certainly timeless.

    And think of all the fun you’ll have when they start chapter books! My daughter reads voraciously on her own, but I still read to her at bedtime (a chapter a night, in books reserved for our bedtime reading). I get to read books I haven’t looked at in years – by Roald Dahl, Madeleine L’Engle, and so many wonderful others.

    Enjoy every moment!

  25. The Velveteen Rabbit – a must have for any child, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’m familiar with some of above, and will check out some of the others.

  26. We adored “Caps For Sale”. My kids are in high school and college, many of the books listed are in my attic. I cannot part with them.Your post brought back fond memories of reading these delightful books. Thank you.

  27. Some great books here.

    A couple of my favorites for my four-year-old are “Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon”, “Mommy Do You Love Me?” and “I’ll Always Be Your Friend”

    The first one is all about how being different is okay, and how you should always believe in yourself. The second two reinforce that even if mommy doesn’t like a behavior, she still loves and likes the child. That’s a topic that bears repeating as kids age, especially as mine do :)

  28. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. Great illustrations coupled with the beginnings of a story for you (or the beans) to finish.

    You should also try checking out Half Price Books… cheap, and practically all over Texas.

  29. “it’s okay to be different” by todd parr is a must have for the littles.

  30. Books that I loved as a child: Curious George, The Berenstein Bears, and Madeline. Some of my best memories were from my father reading some of these amazing stories to me before bedtime.

  31. We love all of Berkeley Breathed’s children’s books. Your kids may still be a tad bit young… I think my son started to really enjoy them at around four. They are great stories- entertaining and funny, even for an adult and great books to read aloud to kids!

  32. Thanks for reminding me of those books! I have a two year old and we need a few new books to read. Many of your favorites were mine as well. I can’t believe I forgot about Bread and Jam for Francis. I wonder…where you like me when I was little. Did you wish really hard that Corduroy was real? I used to cry because he wasn’t real.

  33. Pingback: TrainyBrainy » Blog Archive » Posts about Best Gift for a Child as of January 2, 2010

  34. Not sure how I stumbled onto this but I’m happy I did. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.