Recommendations

 
 
           

 

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My All-time Favorite Children's Books

I often get asked for recommendations of titles for certain ages, so here is a list of books I've loved, many of them from my own childhood. I've broken them down in age and format categories. They're all full of wonder and magic. Click any picture to jump to Amazon.com.
   
 

 

Picture Books
(Ages 3-8)

 

 
 

sylvester and the magic pebble
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
by William Steig. At the top of any list of children's picture books I'd make, this terrifying and heartwarming classic has been giving me goosebumps since I was a toddler.

 
 

blueberries for sal
Blueberries for Sal
by Robert McCloskey. Gorgeously illustrated story of a young boy blueberry picking when he meets a bear and her cub in the woods. It's scary, exciting, and surprisingly soothing. A close second McCloskey favorite is the adorable Make Way for Ducklings.

 
 

flotsam
Flotsam
by David Weisner. An astoundingly moving tale of a found underwater camera filled with wonders. The visuals are breathtaking.

 
 

ferdinand the bull
The Story of Ferdinand
by Munro Leaf. Ferdinand is chill. He just wants to sit and smell the flowers. This story of the most tranquil bull ever and his non-violent serenity has been rightfully beloved by readers for more than 75 years.

 
 

 

Novelty Books
(Ages 3-up)

 
  very hungry caterpillar


The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle. In brilliantly colorful and innovated illustrations, the caterpillar munches unstoppably through the die-cut pages until its big final transformation.

 
  haunted house
Haunted House by Jan Pieńkowski. My favorite childhood pop-up-book, with goofy, spooky, surprising paper engineering. It's just scary enough to give some mild chills and thrills followed by laughter.
 
  pat the bunny


Pat the Bunny
by Dorothy Kunhardt. Quite simply, this book taught me the language of touch, and I was obsessed with it as a baby. I can still instantly recall the feels and smells of its tactile pages as permanent sense memories.

 
  alice in wonderland pop up


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll (author) and Robert Sabuda (illustrator). Paired with Carroll's classic mind-bending text, Sabuda created a three-dimensional feast of paper marvels. It's gorgeous and keeps going down the rabbit hole.

 
 

 

Coloring and Activity
(Ages 3-8)

 
 

laugh out loud jokes for kids
Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids by Rob Elliott. I was obsessed with joke books when I was a kid, and this collection is a good, clean, inexpensive best-seller.

 
 

peeps coloring
Peeps: Let's Play Outside!
by Elizabeth Lynch. Ha, I edited this Peeps coloring & activity book, and it still always makes me laugh. There's something about the inertness of the marshmallow chicks and bunnies that I find endlessly hilarious and endearing. Plus it includes stickers!

 
 

paper airplane
The World Record Paper Airplane Book by Ken Blackburn & Jeff Lammers. When I was little, I couldn't get enough of paper airplanes. They're awesome origami toys!

 
 

how to draw animals
Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Animals
by Ed Emberley. A contender for the most fun drawing book ever. The instructions are easy and adorable, using simple shapes so any child can feel successful at drawing. I still draw some animals this way! Once the animals are mastered, your artist can move on to the expansive Make a World.

 
 

 

Early Readers
(Ages 5-9)

 
 

one fish two fish red fish blue fish
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
by Dr. Seuss. Wonderfully weird drawings accompanied by brilliantly simple and silly rhymes by the master that will get permanently stuck in a beginning reader's head. It was a close tie between this and the slightly-younger-skewing Hop on Pop.

 
 

amelia bedelia
Amelia Bedelia
by Peggy Parish. One of the funniest children's books ever written, with hapless housekeeper Amelia Bedelia misunderstanding all of her stuffy employer's instructions by taking them literally. She bakes delicious pies, though!

 
 

frog and toad are friends
Frog and Toad Are Friends
by Arnold Lobel. These warm, homey, and familiar stories about friendship resonate and enchant as young readers work out the words to go with the delightful drawings.

 
  the giving tree


The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein. Really more of a picture book than an easy reader, I put it in this section because the story's themes are so tricky and ambiguous and interesting. Is it a tale about unconditional generosity and pure, perhaps motherly love? A meditation on greed and selfishness? A cautionary tale about not letting anyone take advantage of you? Yes. In the simplest pictures and words, the book hints at the complex relationships of adulthood.

 
 

 

Chapter Books
(Ages 7-10)

 
  beezus and ramona
Beezus and Ramona
by Beverly Cleary. The plot seems deceptively simple: a somewhat uptight older sister (Beezus) tries to love her annoyingly wild younger sister (Ramona), even when Ramona nearly ruins Beezus's birthday party. But that doesn't factor in Beverly Cleary's wisdom and accuracy about children's feelings, or her wonderful humor. This book is funny, and feels like real life.
 
  Encyclopedia Brown box set


Encyclopedia Brown
by Donald J. Sobol. This box set of the first four books of this boy detective series will give a good sense of these enjoyable mysteries. I've never been a big fan of the mystery genre, but I gulped down this series. Encyclopedia Brown is both smart and cool, and spending time with him is always a blast.

 

 
 

bat poet
The Bat-Poet
by Randall Jarrell. With beautiful illustrations by Maurice Sendak, this book focuses on a bat who isn't like his fellow creatures of the night, which leaves him feeling lonely. He doesn't want to mindlessly catch bugs; he wants to write poetry. So he composes verses about the other animals in the forest. This primer on creativity is heartfelt, lyrical, and overflowing with empathy for the outsider and artist.

 
 

flat stanley
Flat Stanley
by Jeff Brown. Stanley Lambchop gets crushed by a bulletin board while he sleeps, and wakes up only half an inch thick. His flat adventures are inventive and funny, and changes a child's perception of his space and place in the world. The book has found a huge new audience as schools help students mail drawings of Flat Stanley around the globe to be photographed by far-flung friends and family.

 
 

 

Middle-grade
(Ages 8-11)

 
  wizard of oz box set
Oz
by L. Frank Baum. This five-book hardcover set collects all 15 of Baum's magical books about the Land of Oz. I was obsessed with the musical movie The Wizard of Oz as a child, and the book it's based on, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is included, although that tale pales in comparison to the wild and weird adventures in the titles that followed it. Astoundingly strange, fantastical, disturbing, and uplifting, these books were the first stories I stayed up all night reading under my bedcovers. I usually credit them as the reason I became a children's book writer.
 
  james and the giant peach
James and the Giant Peach
by Roald Dahl. Sure, everyone knows the fabulously demented Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory better, but with his teasing good humor, outlandish imagination, and casual cruelty, Dahl is at his peak as a master storyteller in Peach. The book starts off dark, lonely, and frightening, until a stroke of magic causes the giant peach to grow. After James meets the oversized insects inside the peach, they set off on a thrilling adventure into the outer reaches of the possible, facing unrestrained freedom with aplomb.
 
  greek myths
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths
by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. The deep roots of western storytelling can be found in the mythology of Ancient Greece, and the d'Aulaires wrote down the most exciting parts. With vibrant and strange illustrations, the underpinnings of civilization unfold in the amazing adventures of gods and mortals. What's truly mind-blowing is how little has changed in humanity, our heroes and villains, our light and dark emotions, our high and low fantasies, in thousands of years.
 
  mary poppins collection
Mary Poppins
by Dr. P. L. Travers. This 80th anniversary collection includes four books starring the cranky, frightening, no-nonsense, and yet wonderfully magical nanny Mary Poppins. If you only know her from the Disney movie (which I love), you're missing out on her snooty British pragmatism that balances the imaginative wonder of the world around her as she takes her charges on increasingly fantastical adventures among some of the most offbeat characters ever created in children's literature.
 
 

 

Tween
(Ages 9-12)

 
  harry potter collection
Harry Potter
by J. K. Rowling. Packaged in a trunk, this hardcover set of all 7 books in the series might be only for the serious collector, but shows how wild the fanbase is about Harry. More inexpensive editions are available everywhere, as this series broke all kinds of bestselling records. At their core, the books are ultimately and compulsively readable, with twisty plots, oodles of good humor, believable magic, and strongly sustained characterization. The Harry Potter books' biggest gift to the world of literature may be how many children and adults were brought back into reading through the powerfully engaging storytelling inside their covers.
 
  a wrinkle in time
A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle. This terrific science fiction primer is lovely, spare, and idiosyncratic, with strong messages of independence, originality, and love. The mind-bendy story is so tightly plotted that it reads like a thriller. The novel celebrates unusual intelligence and follows disillusionment with acknowledging that it's our so-called faults that make us special and strong. Plus Aunt Beast makes me cry every time I read it. The sequels A Wind in the Door and especially A Swiftly Tilting Planet are terrific, too.
 
  island of the blue dolphins
Island of the Blue Dolphins
by Scott O'Dell. Based on a true story, this inspiring account of courage and fortitude in the face of overwhelming tribulations and loneliness puts one's own problems into sharp perspective. Karana, the preteen girl who finds herself in solitude on a tiny island for 18 months, survives her adventure with dignity, bravery, cleverness, and a solemn charm.

 

 
  then again maybe i won't
Then Again, Maybe I Won't
by Judy Blume. While the same author's justly famous novel of religion and menstruation Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret gets most of the attention, I've always preferred this book, probably because the pitch-perfect modern young male point-of-view hit much closer to home. Blume doesn't shy away from Tony's awakening sexuality while the overwhelming suburban stresses of his life start to make him physically sick. I recognized this character and this setting all too well. It's a terrific stepping-stone to J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.
 
 

 

Young Adult
(Ages 12-up)

 
  hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams. This collection of all the funny wackiness of the "trilogy in five parts" parodies, satirizes, and deconstructs all the science fiction tropes as silliness, without somehow losing humor, warmth, a sense of adventure, and humanity. Which is ironic, appropriately, as the overarching theme of the books could be read as a firm dismantling of humans' belief in our central importance in the universe. The book is also full of sparks of painfully clever insight and witty turns of phrase that have repeated in my head throughout my life.
 
  lord of the flies
Lord of the Flies
by William Golding. In those harsh years of disillusionment and vicious cliques, as the coddling of childhood falls away, this book shows how primal, bestial, and dangerous preteens can be. We don't like to think about how shallowly our savagery lurks beneath our surface, but this story's wildly exciting lost-island adventure has its message hit home hard while never being less than thrilling in the honest terror from its unforgettable characters.
 
  sandman preludes and nocturnes
The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes
by Neil Gaiman. This gorgeous graphic novel introduces us to the immortal realm of the Sandman and his siblings in a modern mishmash of mythology, fantasy, realism, and folklore. It's a hip, fascinating trip through dreams, destruction, death, delirium, despair, desire, and destiny through the outlook of imaginative collective unconsciousness narration, often going meta to comment on the concept of storytelling itself. With its expressive illustrations, The Sandman creates a full realized and interconnected conceptual world. All ten graphic novels (all collections of individual comic books) in the series are highly recommended.
 
  pride and prejudice
Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen. What, pray tell, might a 200-year-old book have to offer and interest the young adults of today? Everything: sharp sarcastic humor, breathless and bewildering romance, obsessions over bling and cash, ridiculously embarrassing families, haughty snobs, handsome and untrustworthy young men, and a clever heroine to root for and adore. It's much more accessible than anyone remembers, and once readers have discovered Jane Austen, all of English literature is their oyster.
 
 

 

For a list of books written by J. E. Bright, click here.

 

 
 
   
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