Quality Children's Books - Recommendations

Updated on April 10, 2013
A.B. asks from Pittsburgh, PA
27 answers

Ok, this has been dogging me. Has anyone else noticed how "dumbed down" childrens books are today? It's ridiculous!

We love to read and my son (3yo) really enjoys longer stories now. He LOVES Curious George. I like them, too...the stories are well structured, and the writing flows like actual language. This would be one of the reasons he speaks so clearly - it's what he hears modeled for him when we talk and read books like this. Makes sense! Then we go to some of the newer stories and...

1. Awkward dialogue
2. Poor grammar - that really gets me! How are some of these people published?
3. Unclear references to actions - age inappropriate inferences/ assumptions
4. No pronouns --> dumbed down sentences and lack of language flow (who talks like that?)
5. All around poor, disengaging writing or even worse, sarcasm and slurs

Yes, I'm a big, fat nerd. I'm ok with it. =)

But have you noticed this? Can anyone recommend some really well-written childrens books / classics? Somewhere between Curious George and the original Winnie The Pooh (which was SO verbose even I had trouble following it!) I'd like to have a nice library for my kids. We have always loved to read and I cherish many of those classics today - but I don't have many from when I was that young...


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answers from Pittsburgh on

So many great responses -- here are a few more:
Mo Willems - Elephant and Piggie series
Leonardo the Terrible Monster
Eric Carle - Slowly Slowly Slowly Said the Sloth
The Bear Under the Stairs
Kipper the Dog series
Kevin Henkes - he has a few where the main characters are boy mice - the Lilly ones were too girly for my son's tastes
There's an Alligator Under My Bed and You're the Scaredy Cat by Mercer Mayer
Henry and Mudge series
Mabel O'Leary Put Peas in Her Eary
Tiger Can't Sleep
Make Way for Ducklings

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

My kids love all books, but respond best to humor and wit.

Arnold Lobel - Frog and Toad books and one of their favorites; Owl at Home.
Mo Willems - The Pigeon books are good, as are Knuffle Bunny, but watch out for City Dog Country Frog: it will bring you to tears.
Kevin Henkes - they love Owen the best
Roger Hargreaves - Mr. Men books
Jon Klassen - I Want My Hat Back

Have fun!

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Tulsa on

Go to www.ala.org. This is the website for the American Library Association. On the left side of the screen is a box and one option is "Awards and Grants" Under that there are many choices. You can find the lists of Caldecott award books and Honor books (pictures books) and Newberry awards (chapter books). There are also their lists of "Notable books for children" and many other lists and awards for children's books. Your local library probably has a list of great books specifically for 3 year olds and maybe even 3 year old boys. There are a ton of great books out there. But yes, I agree that if you just go to Barnes and Noble most of what you find will be "commercially profitable" and pretty dumbed down. The library is a much better place to start.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

We love books by Tasha Tudor, Virginia Lee Burton, Astrid Lindgren, Alice Provensen, Jane Yolen, Eve Bunting, Alvin Tresselt, Cynthia Rylant, lots of folk tales and fairytales. There are many more, but those are our favorites right now. Some of our favorite books and tales we are reading right now:
(The bookshelf is right next to me :)

Owl Moon
The Tomten and The Fox
Corgiville Fair
The Mitten
Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm
The Little Red Hen
The Little House
Blueberries for Sal
City Dog, Country Frog

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i am SO with you on how appallingly frequently bad grammar gets through these days! i recently wrote a review on amazon of a decent book that was almost unreadable due to the terrible sentence structure and grammatical errors. the author (i think) responded, very upset. but my review was more aimed at her editor than her. why be an editor if you're going to let good english slide?
i taught a course a few years ago called 'archetypal themse in children's literature.' basically it was just an excuse to visit my old favorites and discuss them<G>.
alice in wonderland. the wind in the willows. pretty much anything by p.d. eastman (thanks, tracey, for reminding me of my beloved robert the rose horse!) where the wild things are. james and the giant peach. jamie o'rourke and the big potato. the happy prince. call of the wild. my friend flicka. black beauty. the little white horse (there's a desert island book there.) huck finn. moonfleet.
okay, clearly i'm due for a wallow in my old favorites.
:) khairete

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I wrote a HUGE reply and it got deleted!! Ugh, I will try to replicate. :( I'll list it by author, then a few of our favorites (though most of these authors have lots of others that I also love)

Robert McCloskey - Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal

Julia Donaldson - The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom

James Marshall - Miss Nelson is Missing, George and Martha, Space Case

Virginia Lee Burton - Katy and the Big Snow, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, The Little House, Choo Choo

David Shannon - A Bad Case of Stripes

David Gordon - The Three Little Rigs, Hansel and Diesel, The Ugly Truckling

Rosemary Wells - hers are mostly silly but a lot of fun for the kids to read.

Russell and Lillian Hoban - Arthur's Pen Pal, Arthur's Funny Money, A Bargain for Frances, Bread and Jam for Frances (for the Frances books, make sure you get the full versions and not the ones marked "I Can Read, which cut a lot out)

Arnold Lobel - Frog and Toad, Mouse Soup, Uncle Elephant

Paulette Bourgeoise - Franklin is Messy and other Franklin books

Mercer Mayer - dozens of Little Critter books

Jean Van Leeuwen - Tales of Oliver Pig, Tales of Amanda Pig

Marc Brown - Arthur's Nose and many others (this is the same Arthur that has the series on PBS)

Jonathan London - Froggy books

There are so many more that we love! Hopefully this will get you started. :)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

You know, one of the classes I took as a part of my English Lit degree was a "children's/young adult literature" course and it really opened my eyes, and mind.
I hear you about the grammar stuff, even my own kids hated the Junie B. Jones series, for this very reason (mom why does she talk like that?) LOL!
But with picture books, it is more about the rhythm and rhyme of words, the sounds and the "music" they make, that helps very young children sit up, listen and pay attention. And of course the illustrations MUST be attractive and engaging, to THEM. An adult's viewpoint is skewed, and quite different than that of a young child.
I can't possibly explain a semester's worth of learning in one post, but I promise you if you connect with a really good ECE teacher, or a great children's librarian (go to the library!) you will get excellent recommendations for age appropriate books.
Oh, and as they get older they may LOVE books you find stupid, like The Dumb Bunnies, or Captain Underpants. I hope you don't thwart their love of reading with your own preferences and tastes. Save YOUR favorites for chapter book read alouds, before they can read those on their own, like EB White, and Roald Dahl. My kids and I have very fond memories of me reading those stories to them :-)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

Awesome question! We are big readers here & our interests are widely varied. We have our fun reads that I don't particularly care how well written they are - it's rhyming & flow for the little ones & I just deal with it. If I'm reading it though I prefer it to be a ltlle better :-)
As a family we are reading through the Little House series & alternately reading/listening to the Boxcar Children series.
Most of my son's (7yr) reading is from our schooling (Charlotte Mason) and the booklists on Amblesideonline.com are a great source for age appropriate (not dumbed down) reading. My oldest daughter (5) will be starting that same curriculum soon & my youngest (2) is still in the silly book stage.
I pulled the recommended reading list for Year 0 (KG) and it has many titles already listed by others but here is it:

Winnie the Pooh series by AA Milne and Ernest H. Shepard Four titles: Winnie-The-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young (purchase), Now We Are Six (purchase).
Beatrix Potter series:
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies
The Tale of Tom Kitten
The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle
The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher
Two Bad Mice
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck
The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse
The Little House by Virginia Burton
The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack
The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Ox-Cart Man by Barbara Cooney
Stone Soup and other folk tale retellings by Marcia Brown
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
The Story of Little Babaji by Helen Bannerman
Brer Rabbit books by Joel Chandler Harris
Poems and Prayers for the Very Young by Martha Alexander
A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
Illustrated classic poetry such as Poems for Young Children compiled by Caroline Royds
A good collection of classic children's poetry such as A Child's Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa (purchase); The Golden Books Family Treasury of Poetry selected by Louis Untermeyer (purchase); The Oxford Book of Children's Verse edited by Peter Opie (purchase)

Well, that was rather long :-) Hope you find some amazing and wonderful books that will be great for you and your little one.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

Yes one of the main reasons I'm homeschooling is to avoid the dumbed down "literature" the public schools use to "teach". I have a program where all of our grammar, dictation, writing, reading exercises etc come from classic literature which was originally written for kids WHEN THEY WERE SMARTER and way more advanced than they are now thanks to the dumbed down subjects and books. My seven year old reads at an "extremely advanced level" (she breezes through that original Winnie the Pooh-and yeah-hard for me!) which would have been typical for a 7 year old in Victorian England. I get stacks of library books every few weeks and when it came to very young easy fiction books....yeah, agreed...dumb dumb dumb! It's FINE for babies....and then there gets to be decent literature again for older kids....but somehow that market for 3-5 year old books get really dumb and I don't know how lots of those books get published.

My kids are 7, 5 and 3, and ALL of them LOVE the poems and stories in the two volume set: "The World Treasury of Children's Literature" Selected and with commentary by Clifton Fadiman. Some stories are long and some are short, but they are all enchanting (even stories I'm not sure about, the kids want to hear again and again) and well written. There is also a great reading list for kindergarten and preschool on the Charlotte Mason site along these lines. My three year old follows along very well with older books being read to my oldest for school, so she'll be way ahead too. Same with my 5 year old. To me there really is no reason to cater a book to a three year old basic level like so many new books try to do. Reading is meant to bring children forward, not leave them arrested developmentally.

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answers from New York on


Frog and Toad!!!

Classics, that were not tampered with!

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answers from San Francisco on

I totally agree with you. Steer clear from the Disney stuff! W got a really great book for a gift called blueberries for sal. Also a few Australian classics we love are possum magic and where's stripey. If you can get your hands on those they are worth it. We also love Curious George and little critter too. Another favorite Is cars and trucks and things that go. I would say go to the library and when you really like a book put it on your must own list. I have found many great older books in our local library.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Salinas on

Look to the classics and older books. We never read the Disney stuff or cartoon take offs. Just like adult literature you have to be selective.

Lots of adults like cheesy romance novels or poorly written adult books. Just look at the best seller list. That doesn't mean it's good literature or well written.

Nothing new here, just ignore the junk and look for the good stuff, there's plenty out there!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Oh heavens, yes. I have complained about this for years, to the point that one woman I nannied for once teased me "H., you'll hate this book. It has NO COMMAS."

The Magic Treehouse books are good stories, but the writing is so stinking bad. I keep reminding myself that they are for early readers, and good for that!, but when I read them aloud, I cringe. And then, I start compounding sentences because six five-word sentences in a row is enough to send me over the edge.

Okay, enough flipping out. I feel strongly about kids books...

"Blueberries for Sal" or "Make Way for Ducklings" by Robert McCloskey.
"The Day the Sun Danced" by Edna Thatcher Hurd, Clement Hurd
"The Little Island" by Margaret Wise Brown
"The Good Brown Earth" by Kathy Henderson
"The Wishing Ball" or "The Friendship Wish" by Elisa Kleven (explore her books, they are sweet)
"Little Blue and Little Yellow" by Leo Lionni
"Frog and Toad are Friends" by Arnold Lobel (pre-read, a few stories discuss 'scary' things)
"Kids" by Catherine and Laurence Anholt (great book for discussing feelings)

I'm sure I'll think of some others later, and I'll try to remember to come and add them to this. I have a lot of longer titles as well, but I know for threes, sitting through some of those favorites is a bit hard to expect!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Syracuse on

Robert the Rose Horse by P.D. Eastman, even though there's a bank robbery scene I still think it's a great book, one of my favorites from childhood.

I agree, so many times I'll take out books for my kids and am disappointed. I don't like sarcasm in young kids books, my 4 year old doesn't get it. My kids love Curious George as well, my 3 year old speaks very clearly and is very articulate- I too think stories like Curious George have helped!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

When reading picture books to my girls there were not many like that that I recall. Now there were some that I did avoid like Dr. Seuss *gasp*!

If you think the picture books are bad then you will really "enjoy" Junie B Jones. I would avoid that series at all costs.

My friend recently complained about Flat Stanley but we never got to that series. Plus once my girls got to chapter books they read independently.

I guess I would be interested in hearing which books contain the errors which you state. When my girls were little we went to the library regularly and read A LOT of different books. We barely read a book twice with the endless supply the library could provide. Maybe you should try that approach. That way you end up with the good, the bad, and the ugly but you're not stuck with the bad and the ugly.

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answers from Rochester on

I honestly have not noticed this...and I am a stickler about what I read my children...so perhaps you'd like what we have.

Berenstain Bears...we have just about every one. They are well written and cover so many different things.

Little Golden Books...anything from classic to new, although I avoid the Disney ones for the most part (except the older ones.) If you can find one called "Mother Goose in the City"...which is out of print, so you will have to find it online...it's been a favorite of me and both my children.

Disney Shape books...again, all of out print, but simple paperback picture books that were cut into a character shape. A few of my favorites are "The Donald Duck Book" and "Tigger and Winne the Pooh."

Single titles...for new books, I do love The Little Blue Truck and it's companion.

Dr. Seuss...everything from large to small. Also like other authors in this line, like P.D. Eastman, etc. Some of the oldest Berenstains fall into this category of hardcover books as well, like "The Spooky Old Tree" and "The Bears' Picnic." I love them both.

The BusyTown books crack me up. I have three..."Cars and Trains and Things that Go," "The Busy Busy Day" and some type of storybook, can't remember what it's called. They are all oversized, hardcover, and well written, with SO many little things to point out and look at, and honestly, the little pictures can be HILARIOUS. They have little sentences all over describing things in "Busy Day" and one of my favorites is "This hobo doesn't like to work, but he does like to ride the train!" HAH!

I love mommyc's list...she covered pretty much all the other books we love!

I also am always on the look out for well written nursery rhyme and fairy tale books, as I think they have great value.

Lastly...most of our books were mine, when I was a child. My children prefer them over newer books, so you may want to look for used books online to get some really great ones.

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answers from St. Louis on

while Dr Seuss books are nonsensical, they are wonderful for teaching pre-reading! Both of my sons' 1st book came from Dr Seuss....Hop on Pop & Go, Dog, Go. The simplistic, repetitive dialogue encouraged their reading skills.

Kevin Henkes is an excellent author. His insights into childhood insecurities & jealousies are wonderful. Love his books.

My sons enjoyed Mike Thaler's books, especially when they hit KG.
They also loved the Berenstains books....+ I had a Disney series of rhyming books which they both loved.

As I'm looking back through the shelves of books accumulating in my Book Closet (my sons' stash for their children later in life), they did enjoy the same authors thru early school years. By 2nd grade, their tastes divurged due to the 9 year gap in their ages. My older son preferred Goosebumps...& my younger son preferred The Magic Treehouse series. At the time, Goosebumps is what carried my older son's interest in reading & was pretty much the only contemporary series out there. In my younger son's case, he had more choices & thrived easier with reading.

Oh, just thought of something: adult author, Clive Cussler, has a book series which my younger son loved! I think The Adventures of Vin Fizz is the 1st book.

I think, with your preferences, you need to avoid anything tied in with a commercial venture....no Disney, Nick Jr, etc. Work with your local library & I think you'll be happier.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

The two most recent favorites in our house are: The Cow Who Laid an Egg and The Three Ninja Pigs. LOVE THEM!!!!

My son is almost 5yo and we've been reading books from I Can Read 2 serious, not that he's reading, but we preferred the stories, language, etc. We get at least 20books/week from the library and usually enjoy half of them.

Books that have recently been introduced and really enjoyed is a box set of The Frog and Toad series (3 books with a few chapters each for $6 on amazon).

Keep trying and good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You're not alone. I'm a grammar/spelling nut and while I support different literary styles, more recent kids' books are in a class of their own. Half of the library books my 3-year old picks out (b/c of cute pictures, etc.) I return to the shelf because so many of them tell stories that I find inappropriate. There's usually a moral to the story, but they seem so negative. My older child is an "advanced" reader and I'm disturbed by what is available to him. Many of the fictional (chapter and comic) books include kids who find school "boring," and include disrespectful references to school teachers, classmates, siblings and parents. What is acceptable now seems so rude compared to the values we are trying to emphasize. I could go on, but there are good suggestions below. We found "The Boxcar Children" series (Gertrude Chandler Warner) to be well written. At the moment, my son *loves* comic books which seem rather violent to me. He's allowed to read age appropriate "graphic novels" but where did that term come from? When I was young, graphic novels were "colorful" stories I wasn't allowed to read. Today they're comics? I try to preview most of what we get from the library, but love the classic Dr. Suess, Frog & Toad type books that seem silly but wholesome. Regardless, reading is good for them so I try not to censure too much. Good luck to us all! :) (Off my critical soap box for now.)

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answers from Detroit on

Ahhh, there are SO many classics out there. Are you referring to ebooks? Because I gave up on them, they are rife with errors.
Shel silverstein
Mo willams (the kids love how they are asked to participate)
Dictionary of imaginary places
Honestly, when I was a kid I LOVED looking through my parents art books, antique sears catalogs, and dictionaries.
Unfortunately many books are geared towards kids, with the poor assumption that we park our kids in front of them and don't pay attention. Kudos to you!

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answers from New York on

Bug has some good suggestions... Off the top of my head, have you tried the Hairy Maclary and Slinky Makinki books by Lynley Dodd? Great vocab and very cute. All the Arnold Lobel and Mercer Mayer books. Also, try specific publishing companies. I like Candlewick Press and Barefoot Books. I have particularly noticed that the Scholastic books, especially the new releases, are getting stupider and stupider. Cynthia Rylant and Jane Yolen are great authors. I also think the author illustrator team that did The Gruffalo has some other amazing works. The stories rhyme, which appeals to young kids, but they are also very sophisticated and clever. Try The Snail and the Whale. Also, there's Leo Leoni.

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answers from Chicago on

Depending upon your son he might be ready for some of these:

Amelia Bedelia
The Magic Tree House
The Boxcar Children

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answers from Washington DC on

I'm not a fan of Curious George myself, though DD does have a book with a bunch of stories in it.

Books we have liked:

Just about anything by Dr. Seuss or Sandra Boynton
A Child's Garden of Verses
Shel Silverstein (The Giving Tree and all of the poems)
Click, Clack, Moo
Guess How Much I Love You
Big Smelly Bear
If you give a ---- a ---- (mouse a cookie, moose a muffin, etc.)
Fall Mixed Up
What Shall I Dream?
The Knight Who Was Afraid Of The Dark

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

My 3 year old loves books by Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler (Room on the Broom, Gruffalo's Child, etc). They are high quality.

She also loves Berenstein Bear books and Franklin books. I think they are ok, but she just loves them.

She loves Syd Hoff books like Danny the Dinosaur and Sammy the Seal. (classics!)

She loves all the Richard Scarry busytown books (more classics)

She loves all the PD Eastman stories too.

Have fun getting new books!

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answers from Spokane on

we love the berenstien bears books :)

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answers from York on

My son loved Curious George too! There was something really comforting about them, especially as read-alouds. For more books that have that sort of lyrical quality, I would suggest:

Harold and the Purple Crayon- Crocket Johnson
Corduroy- Don Freeman
A Letter for Amy- Ezra Jack Keats
Blueberries for Sal- Robert McCloskey
Little Polar Bear- Hans de Beers (and others in the series)
Panda Cake- Rosalie Seidler
Katy the Snowplow (and anything else by Virginia Lee Burton)
Red Light, Green Light (and anything else by Margaret Wise Brown)
White Snow, Bright Snow-Alvin Tresselt
Little Bear- Else Holmelund Minarik
We're Going on a Bear Hunt- Michael Rosen
Little Toot
Little Golden Books- the older the better, Scuffy the Tugboat is a favorite here

And don't forget non-fiction! Books are a way to introduce kids to the world- Jerry Palotta and Steve Jenkins are fantastic at making that introduction. Palotta writes alphabet books that are way beyond A is for apple. He really goes deep into subjects in a way that preschool kids love. You'll even learn a thing or two yourself. We have The Construction Alphabet Book, The Boat Alphabet Book, and The Underwater Alphabet Book. All three were fast favorites. Jenkins writes animal books that are so unique and engaging. We have and love: Actual Size, What Do You Do With a Tail Like That?, and What Would You Do If Something Was Trying to Eat You? Check these out on Amazon and take a look at the reviews, I bet you'll fall in love!

If he's into vehicles, these are some quality titles:
Little Blue Truck
Road Work
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Sight
Truckery Rhymes
Cars and Trucks and Things That Go

For a fun potty book:
Even Firefighters Go To the Potty

At Christmas:
This Is the Stable- Cynthia Cotten



answers from Erie on

Some of our favorites are
Giraffes Can't Dance
Mike Mulligan (and others by Virginia Lee Burton)
The Napping House
I Love It When You Smile (and others by Sam McBratney)
The Kissing Hand
If you're (not your :) looking for series, consider Clifford or any of the Little Golden Books.

EDIT - I just remembered Jan Brett and Dr. Seuss. In our family, we read books for learning and for fun. Although some would say that Dr. Seuss books are dumbed down or teach kids to sound out words that don't exist, they do help kids to enjoy reading - the silliness, the sing-song rhythm, the colorful characters. The things that I won't accept are inapprropriate language (stupid is a bad word to my kids), subtle bias (as opposed to books that are written to spark discussion about bullying, racism, gender bias, etc.) and content that just isn't age appropriate. Hope this helps~

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