Books I Loved Reading to My Kids (Part 2)

A few several months ago, I shared a post describing some of my favorite children’s books.  (You can check it out here if you like).  To my utter amazement, the post was Freshly Pressed.  I’m still delighted that a subject so personally meaningful to me was appreciated by the WordPress gurus as well as by the many wonderful people who stopped by to like the post and/or comment on it.  I promised at the end of that post to write another one about my favorite novels for reading out loud to my kids.  After months of procrastinating, I’m finally getting around to it.  For those of you who have been hanging around Whimsey Pie just for this post, I apologize for the delay.

The Whimsey family graduated from picture books to novels at bedtime with the acquisition of Despereaux, purchased from the now extinct Zainy Brainy toy store.  My munchkins were about 7, 5, and 3 at the time and although that may seem a bit young, the switch worked well for us.  Each night, I (or my husband) would sit in our darkened hallway, reading by flashlight to our sleepy children who had been scrubbed clean, prayed over, and tucked snuggly in bed with their stuffed friends.  In those last wakeful moments of the day we would embark on thrilling adventures, travel to far away lands, and encounter heroes large and small.  Many times when I stopped reading, thinking everyone had fallen asleep, a little voice from one of the bedrooms would say “Just one more page, Mommy”.  The whole family eagerly anticipated the next chapter of our bedtime book in the evening.  Over the years, I (and my husband) have shared numerous tales with our kids in this way and enjoyed every second of it.

It never ceases to amaze me how the stories we read together during that time have become part of the my family’s unique collective history.  We often talk about the books we experienced in those quiet hours and have even been known to quote favorite lines.  I’ve picked out a few gems to share with you here, but I have to say that editing the list to a manageable size was no easy task.  And please note: the books aren’t organized in any particular sequence other than the order in which they popped into my brain.

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DeCamillo.  Despereaux Tilling is a tiny mouse with big ears who behaves in a most un-mouselike manner – he’s born with his eyes open, he reads books instead of eating them, and he loves a human princess.  Understandably, this causes him all sorts of problems – among his fellow mice and in the castle at large.  The story has the feel of a fairy tale and celebrates individuality, courage, forgiveness, and redemption.  The style of writing, with the narrator speaking directly to the reader, makes for an engaging listening experience.  It’s a great read-aloud book and was the first novel we read as a family.  We just couldn’t help falling in love with Despereaux the mouse.

My Father's Dragon   

My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett.  To be honest, the cover art hooked me even before I knew what treats were hidden inside.  Imagine, then, how tickled I was to discover that the contents of each book were as quirky and delightful as the packaging.  The stories revolve around Elmer Elevator, a young boy who runs away from Nevergreen City on the coast of Popsicornia to save a blue-and-yellow-striped baby dragon named Boris from cruel slavery on Wild Island.  Their subsequent adventures take them to many interesting places where they must use their cleverness to manage very difficult situations.  These enchanting vintage tales (written in 1944) are pure imaginative fun and are timelessly sweet.  This is make-believe at its believable best!

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron.  I first encountered this book in second or third grade when my teacher would read a chapter of it to us after lunch every day.  I loved it.  When I happened upon it in a bookstore several years ago, I knew my kids would love it, too.  The story revolves around two young boys, David and Chuck, who answer an unusual ad in the newspaper to build a small spaceship without adult supervision.  With the help of Mr. Tyco Bass, who placed the ad in the paper, the boys fly their completed spaceship to a small undiscovered planet called Basiduim located close to earth.  After reading this book in the evenings, my kids literally dreamed about flying their own homemade rocket ships to little planets in outer space.  This is another vintage book (published in 1954) that still has the ability to spark an impressionable imagination.  It’s timeless kid-style science fiction.

Inkheart (Inkheart, #1)

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Inkheart is a stellar fantasy of epic proportions for book lovers.  We began this story as an audio book on a trip to Niagara Falls and finished it by reading at night.  Mo and Meggie are a father/daughter duo who make the care and keeping of books their livelihood. Mo’s nickname, Silvertongue, describes his ability to “read” characters and objects out of books and into to real life.  Some unsavory characters that Mo accidentally reads out of “Inkheart” kidnap him to use his special skill for their evil gain.  This magic-infused book is filled to the brim with interesting characters and suspenseful plot twists.  Even so, be warned: Inkheart is a long, meandering tale (a quality that makes it perfect for bedtime reading) so patience is a virtue that will bring a satisfying reward at The End.

The Magician's Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia, #1)

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis.  During the time that we were reading novels together at bedtime, we devoured several of the books from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series and enjoyed them all.  The Magician’s Nephew became a favorite because it chronicles the creation of Narnia.  Aslan (the lion), Queen Jadis (the White Witch), and even the lamppost are introduced through the adventures of Digory and Polly.  With the help of a magic ring, the children are able to travel to the Wood Between the Worlds, a place dotted with puddles of water which are portals to fantastical places.  Through these portals they accidentally bring the White Witch first to England, with disastrous results, and then ultimately to Narnia, just as it is beginning to come alive.  Although Lewis’ style of writing can feel a bit old-fashioned, the mystical quality of the plot, the infusion of magic, and the idea of the Wood Between the Worlds are the stuff dreams are made of.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.  I’ve already talked about this book here but it deserves another mention.  If your family likes humor and isn’t turned off by children behaving badly (because they can’t help it) this is a great Christmas read.  My kids love it and have since read it numerous times on their own.  Very funny!

Eragon (Inheritance, #1)

Eragon by Christopher Paolini.  Eragon an epic tale of dragons, fairies, and destiny that borrows heavily from Tolkein and McCaffery.  As a lover of Tolkein and someone acquainted with McCaffery, I personally felt the borrowing bordered on obnoxious at times.  However, my kids had no background for comparison so they couldn’t wait to go to bed to hear more of the story.  Eragon, a poor farm boy, finds a blue stone that turns out to be a dragon egg.  He and the dragon hatchling, Saphira, find themselves in the middle of an epic battle between good and the evil forces of the Emperor. The story is filled with action, adventure, and magic that my kids ate up like candy.  There are some rather violent sections, but I just skimmed over what I thought was inappropriate and they were none the wiser.  A caveat: This is a long book and the material is best suited for older kids.

The above list of favorites is by no means an exhaustive one.  As an honorable mention, I’d like to suggest the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osbourne. These easy-read books subtly educate about history through the surprisingly thrilling adventures of brother/sister team Jack and Annie, who travel through time in a treehouse.  Also, between big novels, we sprinkled in fairy tales, Greek myths, legends like King Arthur and Robin Hood and many, many Bible stories (favorites included David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Queen Esther, Daniel in the lions’ den).

My final suggestions for this post are books I have recently read myself but have not shared with my kids.  Please consider The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, and The Giver (and its series) by Lois Lowry as bed time reading material for older kids.  Although I can’t speak to the popularity of these books in relationship to my family’s tastes, I loved them all.  Sadly, the Whimsey family no longer reads together at night.  With teens and tweens, bedtimes and agendas vary so much that it is impossible to find everyone in bed at the same time at a reasonable enough hour to do some reading together.  It is a very sad thing to realize that season of my life is over but I also feel blessed to have experienced it at all.

I’ve spent many hours of my life on this post.  But honestly, the specific books don’t really matter.  It is in the intentional and active pursuit of reading with our children that they learn the value of it and develop a love for it.  And I believe that far more important than the actual type or quality of story or even the development of a life-long love of reading is the focused time spent together in each other’s company.  My fourteen year old son, Buddy, summed it up in a few words that caught me completely off guard and made my heart melt.  When I asked him what he remembered about The Magician’s Nephew, this is what he said:

“I don’t really remember much about that story, Mom.  I just know I loved listening to your voice when you read it to us.”

What books do you think make great read-aloud novels for kids at bedtime?  I would love to hear your suggestions.

Books I Loved Reading to My Kids (Part 1)

Ace celebrated his 11th birthday last weekend.  Now firmly entrenched in the tween years, he has left his childhood in the dust.  The fact that my baby is no longer even a little kid has thrown me for a loop.  Perhaps that’s why my thought life is taking a decidedly sentimental turn.  Memories of the kids when they were small – the adorable and idiosyncratic things they did, the funny words they said, and the soothing rituals we shared – keep popping into my brain unbidden and at the oddest moments.  While I don’t want to relive that particular period of my life (frankly, it was a lot of work), I’m certainly enjoying the warm fuzzies that come from remembering.

Some of the sweetest memories I have are wrapped up in reading together.  Snuggling with a picture book was wonderfully intimate and I especially looked forward to nap time and bedtime reading rituals.  Each of my children had their favorite types of books.  Lovey liked fairy tales, friendship stories, and Richard Scarry.  Buddy preferred anything about heavy machinery, animals (especially frogs), and Curious George.  Ace always wanted to hear about pirates, dogs, and history.

I have my favorite children’s books, too.  Unlike my kids, I don’t care as much about subject matter.  Instead, the poetry of the words, the thoughtfulness and beauty of the illustrations, and the synergism of the two are the things that make a book special for me.  A little kid story that has some grown-up concepts deftly woven in also gets a thumbs-up.  And finally, a good dose of silliness is icing on the cake.  You’ll find that my list doesn’t contain many classic children’s books.  I don’t know why but I tend to gravitate toward lesser known but still wonderful little pieces of literature.  The books below are arranged in order of age appropriateness only (youngest to oldest), not in degree of favoriteness.

My Favorite Picture Books

Tumble Bumble

Tumble Bumble written and illustrated by Felicia Bond.  A tiny bug starts out on a walk that becomes an adventure in accumulating new animal friends.  The illustrations are simply adorable and the rhyming prose is catchy and filled with great descriptive words of all kinds.  Tumble Bumble is reading fun, plain and simple.  Unfortunately, it would seem I’m the only one who thinks so.  None of my kids remember reading this board book even though it’s falling apart from use.

Big Red Barn

Big Red Barn written Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Felicia Bond.  Margaret Wise Brown is probably best known for the classic Goodnight, Moon.  Big Red Barn has the same quiet, soothing rhymes but is not as simplistic in content.  The story, again perfectly illustrated by Felicia Bond, follows a day in the life of the farm animals who live in the big red barn.  My board book copy has been loved to the point the pages are falling out.  I think it’s the perfect nap time read for little ones.    

Rock-A-Bye Farm written by Diane Johnston Hamm, illustrated by Rick Brown. Miss Hamm has written the quintessential bedtime book.  I don’t believe the version illustrated by Rick Brown is in print any longer which is a very sad thing.  His quirky illustrations are a major part of the charm of the story for me.  And what is the story?  The Farmer takes time to rock his baby and all the farm animals to sleep before he rocks himself and climbs into bed.  Very simple text and lots of repetition are great for inducing sleepiness.  My favorite illustration shows the cow being rocked to sleep in the loader bucket of The Farmer’s tractor.  A newer edition of the book is available with a different illustrator, but for me it just isn’t the same.

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.  What is there to say that hasn’t already been mentioned about this treasure?  My own personal joy was listening to Ace growl and roar like a wild thing himself as a toddler while I read the story to him.  Let the wild rumpus begin!

Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo written by Kevin Lewis and illustrated Daniel Kirk.  Before Kevin Lewis wrote this book, he worked as a children’s book editor.  Chugga Chugga Choo Choo is proof that he knew the recipe for a great children’s book.  The magic of his book lies in the combination of easy rhyming text with its rich use of onomatopoeia and the artistic primary color illustrations depicting a world of lovable, hard-working toys.  Both of my sons were train lovers at one time or another, so this book got a lotta lovin’ from us.  Me?  I just liked making the train sounds.

Too Many Pumpkins

Too Many Pumpkins written by Linda White and illustrated by Megan Lloyd.  When Ace was little, he called pumpkins “bupkas”, so in our family we have always called this book Too Many Bupkas.  It’s the story of Rebecca Estelle, a woman with an intense and life-long hatred of pumpkins.  When a farm truck loaded with pumpkins hits a bump in front of her house, a pumpkin falls out and smashes to pieces in her front yard.  She decides to ignore it.  The rest of the story is all about the consequences of that one decision.  This is a very heartwarming story about transformation and personal growth, about taking something hateful and turning it into a worthwhile experience.

The Old Woman Who Named Things

The Old Woman Who Named Things written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Kathryn Brown.  Cynthia Rylant is a prolific children’s writer probably best known for her Henry and Mudge books.  The Old Woman Who Named Things tells the tale of a lonely old lady who only names things that will outlast her.  These things include her car (Betsy), her house (Franklin), her chair (Fred), and her bed (Roxanne). When a small brown stray puppy starts hanging around, they develop a friendship and her naming policy is severely challenged.  This is probably my favorite book in the list.  The delicate watercolor illustrations are perfectly matched to a story that touches on concepts like loneliness, friendship and love.  I get misty-eyed every time I read it.

The Fabulous Flying Fandinis

The Fabulous Flying Fandinis written (and illustrated ?) by Ingrid Slyer.  In this fanciful book, Bobby’s new neighbors are a family of circus performers.  They are forever trying to get Bobby, the “normal” kid, to try something new.  For most of the story he refuses, but then finally changes his mind in a big way.  I’ll admit that the main attraction for me is the illustrations.  They are so detailed and whimsical.  I don’t usually say this, but the words aren’t even necessary to enjoy and “get” this story.  In my heart, I secretly wish I was Mrs. Fandini.

Tikki Tikki Tembo

Tikki Tikki Tembo retold by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent.  My Mom often read this book to my sister, brother, and me when we were young.  Imagine my joy when I saw Tikki Tikki Tembo several years ago at the local Barnes and Noble.  I did a little jig and then immediately bought it for my kids.  In this Chinese folktale, the firstborn son, Tikki tikki tembo-no so rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo, falls into a well and almost drowns because his long name slows down the process of getting help.  Because of this almost tragedy, all Chinese children now have little short names.  It’s a fun story to read out loud because Tikki tikki’s full name shows up at least 10 times during the telling of the tale.  At one point, Chang almost passes out from lack of oxygen because he is so out of breath from running around and saying his brother’s name.  As the narrator, I always empathize with poor Chang’s predicament.  The spare and simple illustrations are funny and have a very Chinese-like style.  They complement the story beautifully.

I hope I’ll be forgiven for this very self-indulgent post. Writing about books I’ve loved reading to my munchkins has been a very pleasant distraction from reality.  We all need that every once in a while.  Give some of these books a try, if you haven’t already.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  And stay tuned for Part 2.  I’ll be writing about chapter books and novels I’ve enjoyed reading to my kids.

Do you have any favorite children’s books you’d like to share?


Woo Hoo!