Here are just a few reasons why I’m so passionate about good kiddie lit:
• There’s a lot of bad stuff out there. Charlotte Mason called it twaddle, and you usually know it when you see it. It’s books that talk down to your kids, or offer no room for imagination, or push a particular agenda, or are even simply a disguise for product placement.
• Early reading sets the foundation for a love relationship with books, and can foster a healthy spirit as a lifelong learner.
• There’s something about quality children’s literature that sets it apart as a work of art — the creatively crafted illustrations, the brilliant word choice, the magical plots invented by brilliant minds. Good children’s literature should pass the test of adults and kids alike.
The thing is, there’s so much out there — good and bad. It’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, even with helpful reading lists. As I grow in my knowledge of the world of children’s literature, I’ve found a trend in quality authors. There are certain authors that repeatedly publish great work after great work.
It’s impossible to list every great children’s author out there — but here’s a start. These are some of our family’s favorite early childhood authors. You can’t go wrong with these writers for the young crowd.
1. Eric Carle
Why he’s great: Probably known best for his colorful illustrations, he’s a great writer with simple story lines, usually involving animals (which most kids love). Carle’s books appeal to babies and preschoolers alike — both my kids enjoy his stuff. His books usually have a unique set up, such as holes in the pages or smaller pages leading to bigger ones.
2. Kevin Henkes
Why he’s great: He’s one of the better modern-day authors, with lovable characters who go through many of the same day-to-day situations as our children.
3. Steven Kellogg
Why he’s great: His over-the-top plots and delightful illustrations are a joy to read out loud, and they interest a wide age range of kids (and adults).
4. Ruth Krauss
Why she’s great: Her stories are simple but charming. They’re to the point, and the vocabulary is outstanding. Great word choice. Many of her books are illustrated by greats like Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) and Crocket Johnson (Harold and the Purple Crayon).
5. Arnold Lobel
Why he’s great: He creates hilarious characters who interact in clever dialogue. His illustrations are beautiful, too.
6. Robert McCloskey
Why he’s great: His illustrations are quality of the vintage sort, with sweet faces and detailed scenery. He doesn’t talk down to children, and his story lines are simple but engaging.
7. Beatrix Potter
Why she’s great: She remains the best-selling children’s author of all time. Beatrix Potter’s books are chock full of great vocabulary, and her narrative style is heart-warming and funny. Great characters, too. And beautiful illustrations.
8. Margret and H.A. Rey
Why they’re great: As a married couple with a fascinating story of adventure in their own life, the Reys created one of the most well-loved characters in children’s literature. They’ve created other wonderful characters as well, and a simple voice and universally-appealing plots make most of their works a classic.
Some of they’re best: All seven of the original Curious George books (many were written later with the same character, but they weren’t penned by the original authors — and they’re not as good), Katy No-Pocket, Billy’s Picture, Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World
9. E.B. White
Why he’s great: He writes wonderful characters, and he has great word choice. His verbosity is descriptive, and his style softens your heart towards the meanest of his characters.
10. Margaret Wise Brown
Why she’s great: You’re not allowed to have a list of great children’s book authors and not include her. More for the very young crowd, Margaret Wise Brown’s words rhythmically lead the reader on a comforting journey without dumbing down from poor word choice. A classic.
There are also many good writers who’ve crafted a whole stream of books based on one character they created: Ian Falconer with Olivia, Russell and Lillian Hoban with Frances, Eric Hill with Spot, and Bernard Waber with Lyle the Crocodile, just to name a few.
I’ve also intentionally left off good writers that typically write for the older child, such as Beverly Cleary, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. This isn’t to say that preschoolers couldn’t enjoy their works, however. There are many people who’ve cherished The Chronicles of Narnia since before they could read on their own, thanks to audio books and family read-aloud time.
Good Literature Resources
Audible Kids has an enormous selection of good children’s books. This is a lifesaver for those times when you don’t want your kids plopped in front of the TV, yet you don’t have time to read to them one-on-one. It shouldn’t substitute daily reading with them, but it’s a good additional supplement. Lately, my four-year-old has been listening to The Complete Works of Beatrix Potter during her quiet times. Next up is Wind in the Willows.
Guest poster Sara wrote a wonderful resource of 30 good ideas to instill early literacy — be sure to look through her list of ideas.
Ambleside Online provides a comprehensive list of twaddle-free books by age and grade. This is meant for the Charlotte Mason homeschool method, but you can use it for free reading as well.
There are many I didn’t have room to list. What are your family’s favorite children’s authors?