The Classics: 27 Recommendations
1. I am a Bunny Illustrated by Richard Scarry.
I am a Bunny is a timeless story about a rabbit named Nicholas who lives in a hollow tree. Nicholas likes to pick flowers and chase butterflies in the spring; lie in the sun and watch the frogs in the summer, and blow tons of tiny dandelion seeds into the air. In the fall Nicholas likes to watch the leaves falling, and watch the animals getting ready for winter. And when the snow comes, Nicholas likes to catch the flakes before curling up---in his hollow tree.
2. The Little Engine That Could (from the original story by Watty Piper).
"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can..." are still the words I remember from having this book read to me as a kid. Although this board book version is not the original version, the book maintains the story's integrity as the little blue engine and all the dolls and toys make it safely up over the mountain. "I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could..."
3. A Pocket for Corduroy by Don Freeman.
You can't have a list of classic board books without Corduroy. The beloved bear, realizing that he doesn't have a pocket, wanders off from his perch at the laundromat in search of the perfect one. But a little too much curiosity leads to Corduroy being snatched up with a pile of wet laundry and tossed into the dryer. The next morning his dear friend Lisa finds him still at the laundromat. Corduroy, explaining that he wants a pocket gets rushed home where Lisa proceeds to sew on a bright purple pocket to his overalls. Corduroy could not be happier.
4. Freight Train by Donald Crews.
A book that goes by almost as fast as a train, Freight Train gives children the basics. From a caboose, a tank car, a hopper car, a cattle car, a gondola car, a box car, a black tender, to a black steam engine, the pages flip to reveal a big, long train. "Moving fast. Going through tunnels. Going by cities. Crossing trestles. Moving in darkness. Moving in daylight. Going, going, gone." A fun little quick read with ample opportunity for train noises.
5. Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss.
I always remember this one from when I was a kid. The familiar objects that Dr. Seuss uses to highlight various concepts from a pup in a cup, to a cat on a bat, to a mouse in a house, makes Hop on Pop a very accessible book for children. And of course, who ever gets tired of Dr. Seuss' tongue-twister rhymes?
6. Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown.
"Spring, spring, spring sang the robin. It was spring" and a little reddish-brown bunny goes looking for a home. A book that reminds me of Are you My Mother? Home for a Bunny shows the curiosity of young ones and a determination to find answers. The little bunny, not knowing where to make a home hops around to nearby animals and asks where they live. But none of the homes seem right for a rabbit...until, the little bunny hops right up to another bunny. And together, they make a home.
7. Peter Rabbit P is for Peter.
I know this is not the original Peter Rabbit. They do make a Peter Rabbit board book but I thought I'd highlight this one instead. With familiar illustrations and bright colors, P is for Peter is easier for wiggly toddlers to get through and a popular read around Easter time (or any time of the year).
8. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
Children for the most part love repetition, rhyme, and finding things! With each page, Each Peach Pear Plum leaves children eager for more as they search for fairytale and nursery rhyme characters. "Each peach pear plum, I spy Tom Thumb. Tom Thumb in the cupboard, I spy Mother Hubbard." A great little book and one that will encourage children to look closely at the details of the illustrations in order to find the various characters described.
9. Curious George Loves to Ride
I don't ever remembering reading much of Curious George as a kid but our son loves the series. In Curious George Loves to Ride, George uses all different types of transportation to get to his destinations. "How does George ride high up in the sky? He hangs from balloons, and glides on a kite, and sometimes he rides in a helicopter." And at the end of the day, he rides home with his friend, the man with the yellow hat.
10. Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? By Bill Martin Jr. & Eric Carle
Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?, while tedious to read at times due to the constant repetition, is one of many beloved Eric Carle books. I am also particularly attached to this one because it was one of the very first books I started reading to N when he was an infant. The clean background and two-page spread of each animal is also particularly attractive because you can very clearly see what's on the page. Many picture books have multiple animals per page (which I think is fine for a toddler) but can easily get confusing for an infant who might do better with looking at one animal at a time. Brown Bear Brown Bear is also a wonderful introduction to colors and I would definitely recommend Eric Carle's other "what do you see" books like Baby Bear Baby Bear What Do You See? or Panda Bear Panda Bear What Do You See?
11. Paddington Bear All Day by Michael Bond
Paddington Bear All Day is such a cheerful board book. With detailed, cozy illustrations by R. W. Alley, Paddington All Day shows Paddington excitedly going through the steps of his day. From bounding out of bed, to getting dressed, to messily attempting to pour tea and spread marmalade on his toast, to getting ready for bed. A wonderful book to start the day off with, or to read before bed. (I sometimes read it to N when he wakes up from a nap. It never fails to put a smile on his face.)
12. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
We all know it! "In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of---the cow jumping over the moon..." I personally am not a huge fan of the illustrations. I know they were extremely unique when the book was first published, especially because the book undulates from color to black and white, but the red carpet contrasted with the dark green walls looks a bit eerie to me. However, the story is one that resonates with many parents and children---at the end of the day, it's time to say goodnight to the world around you and go to sleep. "Goodnight room, goodnight moon, goodnight cow jumping over the moon, goodnight light and red balloon, goodnight bears and goodnight chairs...." Goodnight, goodnight.
13. Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton.
There's nothing a good, old, steam shovel can't do. In Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, Mike and Mary Anne (the steam shovel) have been working together for a long time. Together, they've dug canals. They've made paths for roads, and they've dug the foundations for tall skyscrapers. But then one day, the new gasoline shovels, and the new electric shovels, and the new Diesel shovels take over. Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne didn't know what to do. Until... Mike Mulligan has an idea. They'll dig the foundation for the cellar of a new town hall. In one day! So off they went -- digging as fast as they could to prove to all the town that Mary Anne was a better steam shovel than all the new gasoline shovels, and electric shovels, and Diesel shovels. The two, dug, and dug, and dug until the entire cellar was finished in one day.
But there was one problem. They had dug so fast that they had forgotten to leave a way out for Mary Anne. "Why couldn't we leave Mary Anne in the cellar" a little boy asked. "Let her be the furnace for the new town hall." And so, that's what they did. The town hall was built up around Mary Anne and she happily stayed, with Mike Mulligan reading the paper in his chair, "Warming up the meetings in the new town hall."
14. Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni
Need something measured? You've come to the right place. Inch by Inch is an adorable story about an inchworm who avoids being eaten by a Robin by saying, "Don't eat me. I am an inchworm. I am useful. I measure things." The Robin, excited to learn that his tail is five inches long, takes the little inchworm to measure all of the other birds. Then one day, the inchworm meets a nightingale. And when the nightingale says, "Measure my song or I'll eat you for breakfast" the clever little inchworm measures and measures until he safely inches himself away from the nightingale.
15. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.
A timeless classic, Harold and the Purple Crayon pulls you into a world where dreams and the imagination can take you anywhere...as long as you have your purple crayon.
16. The Mitten by Jan Brett.
Another childhood favorite, The Mitten introduces us to a boy named Nicki who wants his grandmother to knit him a pair of white mittens. But his grandmother warns him, "If you drop a white mitten in the snow, it will be hard to find." But Nicki doesn't listen, and soon after he receives the pair of white mittens he loses one while playing in the snow. And before long...a mole finds the mitten and burrows in. (One of the things I love about Jan Brett is her illustrating. She always manages to keep you on the edge of your seat with her illustrated sub-stories that take place outside of the main double-page spread). A mole, a rabbit, a hedgehog, an owl, a a badger, a fox, AND a bear, all burrow into what used to be a tiny mitten. It's not until a mouse scurries by hoping to join in on the cozy fun that all the animals sneeze---sending the mitten and all the animals flying up into the air and back down again. And at that moment, Nicki spots his mitten falling form the sky. "See Baba" he says. "I have both my mittens." Baba just smiles.
17. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is one of the most creative alphabet books I've seen. Instead of your typical, A is for apple, B is for balloon, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom creates an entire story around a group of friends -- perhaps you've heard of them -- there's A, B, C, D...and so on, all the way to Z. Up they go, up they go to the top of the coconut tree until "Chicka chicka BOOM BOOM" the entire alphabet falls out of the tree. But A is ready to lead the way back up the tree. And we all know---once A goes, B, C, D, E, F, and G, along with 19 others will be right behind.
18. 1 is One by Tasha Tudor.
All counting books should be this enduring, have this many realistic illustrations, and rhyme this nicely. "1 is one duckling swimming in a dish. 2 is two sisters making a wish. 3 is three swallows up in the sky. 4 is four sheep nibbling rye." And so on. A great little book.
19. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco.
With new illustrations by Charles Santore, The Velveteen Rabbit is a heartwarming story about what it means to be real. As the wise horse says, "Real isn't how you are made...it's a thing that happens to you when a child loves you for a long, long time."
20. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.
Everything in Alexander's day is going wrong. He wakes up with gum in his hair, he drops his sweater in the wet sink, he doesn't find any toys in his cereal box, and in the car, he's squished in the middle. It was going to be a "Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." At school, nobody likes his invisible drawing or appreciates his loud singing. And while everyone else has dessert in their lunchbox, Alexander doesn't. The list goes on and on, and at the end of the day Alexander is ready to move to Australia. But "Some days are like that" as Alexandra's mother says. "Even in Australia."
21. My First Real Mother Goose
From Baa, Baa Black Sheep, to Jack and Jill, to Ring Around the Rosies, and One, Two Buckle My Shoe, among others, My First Real Mother Goose is a lovely introduction to the Mother Goose rhymes.
22. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
One of our son's favorite lift-the-flap books, Dear Zoo is an adorable story about a child who writes to the zoo and asks for a pet. "I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet. They sent me an..." (lift-the-flap picture of an elephant). But of course, the elephant was too big so he is sent back. Every animal that the zoo sends is sent back until..."They [the zoo] thought very hard, and sent me a...(lift-the-flap picture of a puppy). "He was perfect. I kept him."
23. The Little Train by Lois Lenski.
Engineer Small is a train conductor and every day he rides in his train . People get on, people get off. The train chugs by cows, horses, and fields, and Engineer Small even sees a boy wave from a fence with his dog. Once Engineer Small and his passengers reach their destination, Engineer Small stays in a big city before taking the train all the way back to Tinytown the next day. Because that, is what train conductors do.
24. The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss.
With a little perseverance, love and hard work, you never know what will happen. For the little boy in The Carrot Seed, he did just that. He plants a tiny carrot seed and although everyone around him assures him that it won't come up, he pulls up the weeds around the tiny seed every day until...a carrot comes up! Just as he knew it would.
25. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.
Another one of my favorite stories. A beautiful little house sits happily in the countryside, until, each year more and more roads and buildings are built around it until the poor little house is surrounded by towering skyscrapers, trolly rails, dirt, and smoke. Then one day, a passerby notices the little house and says "That looks like the little house my grandmother lived in when I was a girl, only that little house was way out in the country." And of course, the little house in the big city is the same house that used to be happily nestled in the countryside. Taking pity on the poor little house, the house is picked up and towed all the way back to a lovely countryside where it can enjoy the spring and the summer and the fall and the winter once again.
26. We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.
I've said this before, but I am such a big fan of Helen Oxenbury's personality-filled illustrations, and We're Going on a Bear Hunt is no exception. A rhythmic text, the book follows a family of five as they travel through fields, through a river, through a forest, through a snowstorm, and through a cave until they find...a bear! Then back they go---through the cave, "Tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe" through the snowstorm, through the forest, through mud, through the river, through the grass, back to their house to conclude "We're not going on a bear hunt again!" A really fun story to read. The rhythm is almost like singing a song.
27. Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann.
Such a wonderful book. I didn't love it at first glance -- it hardly has any words and some pages don't have any words at all -- but if you look at it carefully you'll catch the humor. As the zookeeper walks through the zoo, checking on all the animals to make sure they're tucked in for the night, a sneaky gorilla snatches up the zookeeper's keys...and so a line of animals begins to form behind the zookeeper, following him all the way into his house. But when the lights are out and Mrs. Zookeeper says "Goodnight dear" everyone is startled when all the animals reply "Good night, good night, good night, good night, good night, good night, good night!" So back they go, all except for the gorilla and the tiny mouse, who pride themselves on managing to sneak back into the house a second time. This time, to stay. Good night zoo!