Great children’s literature captures the wisdom of human truth in a manner so simple, even grown-ups can understand. I started reading these aloud to my children more than 20 years ago, and I have returned to them again and again.
For maximum benefit, I suggest reading them aloud. To yourself, if you don’t have the benefit of a young listener.
The Animal Family, by Randall Jarrell
Except for this first, the books are not listed in order of importance. But if you can read only one, make it this one.
Jarrell is a poet, so every word in this story resonates with exquisite light and tone. If you want to understand grief and joy, longing and love, if you want to learn how to accept what comes into your life and what doesn’t, then you need seek no further than this beautiful and tiny – it quite literally fits into the palm of your hand – story.
Or is it a poem? Or a song? A whisper on the breeze? No matter. Call it what you will, it will live in your heart forever.
The Wheel on the School, by Meidert Dejong
A question is born out of wonder. That seed is planted in the fertile imagination of those who are willing to consider possibilities – even impossibilities.
With cultivation, a devotion to explore unfolds, where the known is sifted through for the overlooked and the unknown is braved for the unexpected treasures it holds. Discovery leads to awe. This is a journey we all must take, at least once.
Why not begin here, with storks and wagon wheels?
Fox in Socks, by Dr. Seuss
Read this for the sheer joy of its hyper-kinetic velocity and gleeful linguistics. And because it features tweetle beetles. In a battle. With paddles. In a bottle.
Wolf Story, by William McCleery
It is always about the story. The story within the story, and the story within that story. The different permutations of the same story. The telling of the story and the listening to the story, and way the one affects the other.
Never doubt again the necessity of story, or your ability to change the story.
Walk When the Moon is Full, by Frances Hammerstrom
As we all carry on with our days, and our nights, there are other lives being led right among us, but it is so easy – too easy – to not see. To not know.
This gentle chronicle of 12 walks on 12 moonlit nights is a reminder to us all that we can travel to a whole new world without ever leaving our own. All we need do is make one small shift in our own perspective. In this case: change the time, and see with child’s eyes.
In other words, look with curiosity at the people and the landscape that we encounter every day.
Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne
A gentle and loving portrait of the spectrum of human temperament, the original Winnie-the-Pooh (no substitutions, please!) tempers its profundity with the driest of humor.
Oh, don’t we all know a glum Eeyore? An excitable Roo? An anxious Piglet?
Haven’t we all felt a bit 11-o’clock-ish?
Frog and Toad, by Arnold Lobel
Whether you have the full box-set or only one, Frog and Toad provide a primer on patience (or the lack of it), on acceptance (or the lack of it), and, most especially, on friendship.
Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson
This is more than a bedtime story. It’s about creating a world with one’s imagination.
It is a tale of simplicity and dreamy focus: of artistic flow where one crayon – not sixty-four, just one – is enough to draw up a solution from within.