Winnie the Pooh

Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Children’s Books

Disney’s new Christopher Robin movie hopes to remind us all about the joys of children’s literature. What were your favorite books when you were a kid? If you have children of your own, what have you enjoyed reading with them?

Deirdre Crimmins

As a kid, I loved Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, but the book I begged my father to read me night after night was The Cut-Ups by James Marshall. It’s a simple book, with equally simple illustrations. These two jerk kids are practical jokers, and they thought they were the bee’s knees until they met Mary Frances. She had a rocket ship! And she was clearly much more clever than Spud and Joe combined. Perhaps it was the burgeoning feminist in me, or the fact that it was a book even I could read, but there was something about those two cut-ups that cracked me up. I liked their low-stakes tomfoolery, and their comeuppance always had a satisfying ring to my young ears. Not a classic book, but certainly my favorite for a stretch.

Shannon Nutt

When I was a kid, I remember loving a Sesame Street book called The Monster at the End of This Book featuring Grover. The premise was pretty simple: Grover has heard that there’s a monster waiting at the end of the book, and he encourages the reader to stop turning the pages so they won’t get there. He does everything to stop the reader – begging, screaming, even building a brick wall. Of course, once the end of the book arrives, we learn that Grover IS the “monster” at the end of the book. Even at a young age, I knew it was a pretty creative use of the format, which is probably why I still remember the story as an adult.

M. Enois Duarte

Since I can’t really remember a specific book from my own childhood, I’m going to reminisce for a while on some I loved reading with daughter: the Harry Potter series. When she was growing up, I encouraged her to be a reader and would buy her almost any book she requested. When The Sorcerer’s Stone came out, it was massively controversial in the U.S., which really piqued our shared interest in fantasy fiction and spooky things. We read the book together in about a week, which then started a tradition of reading the rest of the series as soon as they came out. We continued with each film adaptation, so we’re talking about father and daughter bonding that lasted for several years. She met her first boyfriend in her freshmen year of high school, so you can imagine how heartbroken I was when one day, she expressed an interest in seeing the latest Harry Potter movie opening weekend with him instead of me. That was a very sad day for me. Nevertheless, I remain a fan of the book series and film franchise, partly for the nostalgic memories attached but also because they’re good stories too.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Even all these decades later, I still can’t stop myself from quoting “I think I can, I think I can” from The Little Engine That Could on an annoyingly regular basis. Told and re-told in many different forms, this story of a wee, underpowered train’s determination and perseverance continues to resonate. After all, its underlying message of “Believe in yourself and you can do anything!” is still shared with half the animated movies coming down the pike.

Josh Zyber

I’m certain that I read plenty of books as a young kid, including the usual suspects of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, but I’ll be damned if I can remember any of them. All that stuff was purged from my memory over time. The first books that I recall making a real impact on me were The Call of the Wild and White Fang, which I read when I was about 10-years-old. My grandparents gave me a complete collection of Jack London books for my birthday, and I devoured them all. Those two in particular really captivated young me with their thrills and adventure. You may perhaps want to argue that those are more YA books than kids’ books, per se, but that’s as far back as my memory of reading goes.

As a parent myself now, I read a lot of books with my sons, and most of them are garbage. I mean, yes, they’re age-appropriate and deliver important moral lessons and all that, but as storytelling they’re just about intolerable for an adult to read. I’ve actually contemplated creating a new blog to dissect terrible children’s books, but have never found the time to do it.

A major exception would be just about anything by Mo Willems. All of his Don’t Let the Pigeon… and Elephant and Piggie books are simply delightful. Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs is a hoot.

Your Turn

Tell us about your favorite kids’ books in the Comments.

18 comments

  1. Haven’t thought about them for a while, but I really loved reading the Wayside School books. They’re well-written and simple enough for an eight or nine year old to understand on their own.

  2. For me it was all science fiction, particularly Heinlein’s “juveniles”, what would be called “young adult” today.

    I didn’t discover Tolkien until I was a teenager, but I can imagine reading THE HOBBIT to children.

  3. Paul J Anderson

    Where the Red Fern Grows was a pretty special book for me growing up. I also loved the Alfred Hitchcock and Three Investigators series of books. Chewed through those voraciously.

  4. Scott H

    I remember reading Where the Wild Things are, The R.L. Stein Goose Bumps books and The Very Hungry Catapillar among others.

  5. My favorite was (still is) ‘Olle’ by Dutch author Guus Kuijer. Not sure if his work was ever translated to English, but, if not, it deserves to be. Kuijer is still alive, and has since moved on to adult literature. His ‘The Bible for non-believers’ was a major hit. ‘Olle’ is the name of his pet dog (based on his real dog also named Olle), and tells short stories about said dog. Very touching, very nice. Recommended reading.

    M. Enois, why was ‘Harry Potter’ controversial when first released?

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      A small but vocal minority of nutjob religious types believe that stories about wizards and magic are the work of the devil, and complained that Harry Potter was trying to induct their precious children into Satanism.

      (For real. Not kidding. That was the controversy.)

        • Csm101

          Not necessarily. I grew up as one, and almost everyone I knew loved horror movies and would go see them or rent them. I supposed it wasn’t encouraged, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. Like with everything, you can’t generalize every individual in a religious group as a fanatical nutjob. Yes, there are some who are much more wound up than others, but you can generalize that with pretty much any sort of group. It all boils down to the individual.

          • cardpetree

            Makes sense. I worked with a Jehovah’s Witness for several years a long time ago. He would tell me that I should never watch a horror movie. He would say not even Ghostbusters, Lol. He was a good guy though. We had some very interesting conversations for sure.

          • Not even ‘Ghostbusters’, eh?

            ‘Coco’ was all but going to be forbidden in China, for they immediately ban any supernatural movies. Then the board actually saw the movie, and was deeply moved. ‘Coco’ subsequently made a lot of money in China.

      • It was a very small minority. I was at a very strict Christian college when the first movie came out, and we had viewing parties in the common rooms and were exchanging books with each other. Funny those nutjobs had no issue with Narnia or Lord of the Rings (probably because of strong Christian imagery in both series despite them having magic, wizards and witches in them), or The Wizard of Oz.

        I am in seminary now, and the last couple of weeks, several of us took some classes in Oxford. I was discussing Philip Pullman and The Golden Compass, and praising him for being a wonderful writer. Yes, the books are very anti-Christian and Pullman outright admits it. That doesn’t mean his works are not genius and that I cannot appreciate them as great literature.

        There probably are some things that people should stand up for. It is just that the most vocal – or rather the ones who seem to get the most publicity – are the nutjobs going after things that most people don’t care about. And if you are taking a stand for something, you should probably know why and back up your arguments. Most of the nutjobs are just angry just to be angry, and don’t know why they are angry, but it is fun to jump on the bandwagon, point fingers and say “This is what is destroying our nation and our world” rather than looking inward at themselves.

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