Of necessity, this will be a somewhat truncated list. Remember, I have a family with no formal dining room: we turned the last one into a library and kept the pattern in the new house (confused the movers no end). If civilization as we know it ends tomorrow, I have a sufficient library to keep me happily reading for a lifetime. Thus, the kids have a *lot* of books. As I said once, commenting on their voracious summer reading, if owning twenty books is a predictor for success, then my kids are on track to take over the world.
Nevertheless, here are a few of our favorites, in no particular order. (China- and adoption-specific books will be on a separate page.) I will assume you are already acquainted with Sandra Boynton (the CD’s are a riot), Richard Scary, and Dr. Seuss!
The Vegetable Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta, Bob Thomson, and Edgar Stewart
Pallotta has a whole series of creative alphabet books, but, being a gardener, I love this one, and so do my kids. They recognize things we grow and vegetables at the Chinese market, and they love scolding the worm to move to the “W” page.
The Skippyjon Jones series by Judy Schachner (beware the knock-off sticker books).
Skippyjon is a naughty Siamese who fantasizes about being a heroic Chihuahua. Along with Los Chimichangos, he has swashbuckling adventures, usually after being sent to his room “to do some serious Siamese thinking, Mr. Doodlepaws!” as his Momma would say.
Giggle, Giggle, Quack by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
(also in series: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type and Duck for President)
There’s never any telling what Duck will be up to! My kids prefer this one out of the series, although parents will appreciate the historical references in Duck for President (watch the campaign signs, playing saxophone on late night TV, and the iconic blue-tinged photo of JFK in the Oval Office… but with Duck). It’s the barnyard animals vs. Farmer Brown. They’ll find a solution, but this is no ordinary farm.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
Great interactive reading. Also the genesis of our household rule: “If it’s something the pigeon says, don’t say it!” Warned by the bus driver not to let the pigeon on the bus, the reader gets to keep telling the finagling pigeon, “No!”, no matter what he tries. “I’ll be your best friend… I’ll bet your mom would let me!… It’s not fair!” and one gigantic, doublepage spread tantrum that always puts my kids into fits of giggles.
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and Knuffle Bunny, Too by Mo Willems
These are cute. Willems apparently photographed his neighborhood, then drew cartoons of the people to add in. As one summary explained, this is the story of the time Daddy took Trixie to run an errand, and something went horribly wrong!
Pascual and the Kitchen Angels by Tomie dePaola
DePaola’s work is always simple, but lovely. Pascual is a simple shepherd who feels called to join the Fransiscans. Arriving with a gift of food from his mother, the friars assume he can cook, and Pascual is sent to the kitchen. Not knowing anything about cooking, but afraid of being sent away, Pascual prays, and a miraculous solution to his kitchen problem arrives!
DePaola also illustrated a wonderful biography, Benedict and Scholastica: The Holy Twins about St. Benedict, considered a founder of Christian monasticism, and his twin sister, St. Scholastica, who became a leader of a convent herself.
Rain Player by David Wisniewski
Wisniewski did beautiful, elaborate paper cuts for his books (unfortunately for his fans, he died in 2002). Rain Player is a take on Mayan legends of the Rain God and a brash, but brave, young man who challenges the god to a ball game to win rain for his people.
Sundiata: Lion King of Mali by David Wisniewski
In Sundiata, Wisniewski tells the legend of the deformed heir to the throne who must overcome his handicaps to rewin his father’s throne from his brother and invaders. This legend, based in some historical fact, was the loose basis for Disney’s Lion King.
Many of Wisniewski’s books were re-tellings of older legends and myths. Golem (Jewish) is rather dark. He also did Elfwyn (Viking legend) and Sea Wolf (Pacific north west tribe legend). (If you object to any non-Christian mythology, I would not recommend these.)
Zen Shorts and Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth
Lovely watercolors and a slow, teaching storyline combine for some wonderful books. We initially got one of these as a baby gift for Empress, because of the panda (it was the only panda to be found, apparently). Stillwater (the panda) meets his three young neighbors and tells them adaptations of traditional Zen stories to help them think through problems they are having. Zen Ties has a more traditional storyline, focusing on the summer visit of Stillwater’s nephew, Koo, and helping an elderly neighbor. (For anyone who might be worried about the religious content, I’ll say that I would not recommend these if I thought they were particularly Buddhist. They are good parables for people of any (or no) religion.)
The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau, illustrated by Gail de Marcken
I found this in the gift shop of a quilt museum. Beautifully illustrated, the story unfolds of a generous quiltmaker, a greedy king, and a quest to lose materialism and find happiness. It’s not a short read, but it’s worth it! (In finding the cover art, I found out that there’s a prequel out, too. After several months, I happened upon it at the library: I do not recommend The Quiltmaker’s Journey. Whereas the first was sweet, well-balanced, and thoughtful, the prequel was preachy and chock full of class stereotyping.)
Little Hannah’s family runs a tailor shop. They have invested an incredible amount of time and money into a wedding dress for the princess; if she doesn’t choose their gown, they could be ruined. Hannah, who’s a bit too messy to be allowed near the precious dress, saves the day when her creativity turns a disastrous smudge on the fabric into a trademark “surprise” that catches the princess’s eye.