As we were leaving Chili’s this afternoon, Jaime commented, “I cannot believe this is the third time that someone can ask me when my due date is,  and I can tell them yesterday.” Both Clara and Shepard arrived two days after their “due” date, Clara on a Sunday evening and Shepard on a Friday afternoon. Yesterday was the due date for our third child and in anticipating the arrival of kiddo number three, a.k.a. The Player to Be Named Later, I have been reflecting on our first three plus years of parenting.

One of our favorite things to do with the kids is read to them and I thought I would share my top 10 children’s books recommendations (thus far) in Letterman fashion, for anyone looking for a good read to share with your own little ones, grandkids or perhaps to pick up from the library in route to your next babysitting gig. The picks below are my suggestions for kids zero to three and for the most part do not include the stuff you probably loved to read as a kid, but instead are meant to shine light on some possible new favorites.

10.     “Rabbit’s Bedtime” by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (1999)

Given to us as a gift by Yale New Haven Hospital when Clara was born, we read this book to her every night as an infant; that is, until she grew to love it so much that it became overly-stimulating and had to be removed from the bedtime routine in lieu of watching “Praise Baby” DVDs. Wallace’s construction paper cut-out art is simple yet inventive and makes me wish I had thought of it first. The story follows a typical day in the life of a child and ponders what was good about today.

9.       “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!” by Mo Willems (2003)

One of many great picks introduced to us by Fairy Godmother Wendy, this book is highly interactive as the bus driver gives your child the responsibility of preventing an overly ambitious pigeon from driving his bus. Kids love telling the pigeon “No!” But be careful, the pigeon can be pretty persuasive as evidenced by Clara’s consistent caving when the pigeon offers a bribe of five bucks. I have to admit that I also love attempting to give the pigeon my best Brooklyn accent.

Willems’ illustrations are nothing to boast of, but you have to admire the Sesame Street writer’s persistence as he was repeatedly rejected as a children’s author before publishing this Caldecott Honor book in 2003. Willems has gone on to produce a growing number of titles, but in the ever-important child potty training genre, his “Time to Pee!” is my favorite.

8.       “I Love You The Purplest” by Barbara M. Joosse, illustrated by Mary Whyte (1996)

Joose tells a story of a mom and her two boys who are vying for her love and attention. While spending a day fishing, the mother makes sure to compliment the very different natures and skills of both her sons. When being tucked in, the boys ask, “Who do you love best?” Mom wisely and descriptively answers that she loves one of her sons the bluest and the other the reddest. I think I may have enjoyed this one more than the kids as it does a nice job of describing a parent’s love. Whyte’s watercolor illustrations nicely compliment the tone of the book.

7.       “Henry Hikes to Fitchburg” by D.B. Johnson (2000)

This New England flavored story was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” and is an ode to simplicity. A brown bear named Henry and his friend decide to meet up in Fitchburg, a town 30 miles away. While Henry’s friend spends a few days completing various chores and journeyman tasks in order to earn the train fare, Henry elects to hike the distance, stopping to examine nature and eat wild honey along the way.

The review in Publisher’s Weekly sums up the plot nicely noting that Johnson’s book weighsfast-paced urban existence against an unmaterialistic life in the woods. Both bears make it to Fitchburg, but Henry’s friend wears a blank stare, in contrast to Henry’s bright-eyed, curious gaze.” The review suggests the book for ages 4-8, but it’s hard to argue that an introduction to the value of nature can come too soon. However, should the message prove too complicated, the illustrations are fantastic (I especially enjoy the depiction of Henry rock hopping across the Sudbury River contrasted against his friend carrying wood, as the bears are shown walking in different directions despite moving toward the same overt goal).

6.       “Ella Kazoo Will Not Brush Her Hair” by Lee Fox, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas (2010)

I’m a sucker for creatively rhymed narratives that are as much fun for parents to read as they are for children to hear and Ella Kazoo fits the bill. Beyond a humorous take on the mom-daughter fight over hair brushing, the book is an undercover study in synonyms including the words mane, tresses, locks, frizz and mop as alternatives for Ella’s hair. Plus, I always like an unexpected turn and when Ella refuses to listen to her mom, her hair then refuses to listen to her and takes on a persona of its own, requiring parent-child collaboration to thwart. Perhaps most importantly, the book maintains its fun upon repeated readings, which won’t be true of all of your children’s favorites.

5.      “Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash” by Sarah Weeks, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott (2002)

Short, simple and constructed with bouncy rhymes, this book details Mrs. Nelly McNosh’s weekly ritual of hanging up her laundry to dry. After the shirts and socks go up, Mrs. McNosh gets a wrong number and hangs up the phone (on the line) followed by hanging all sorts of other things including the mail, a kite, bats (of the flying rodent variety), and her turkey dinner, before finally washing herself and resting at the end of the day laying in a hung up recliner. Little ones love that they are in on the joke, recognizing that these things shouldn’t be hung up outside and that Mrs. McNosh seems to be hanging up everything in reach, including the wildlife. We’ve checked this one out three times from the Wallingford Public Library.

4.      “Hippos Go Berserk” by Sandra Boyton (1977)

When Clara was about to turn one, I stopped by a Barnes & Noble in West Harftord looking for a book or two for birthday presents. I am a slow poke of a shopper, but based on title alone, I knew I had at least one book selected when I spotted a board book version of “Hippos Go Berserk.”

“One hippo all alone, calls two hippos on the phone,” leading to a hippopotamus party of legendary proportions. Even an unknown beast joins the fun and wait staff hippos are hired. When all 45 party animals cram into a small house, “All the hippos go berserk!” The party then dies down and the hippos leave in the order they arrived by means of a Conestoga wagon and a helicopter among other vehicles, until there is once more a solitary hippo living in the memory of the shindig. Constant rhyming makes reading so fun that math-haters will barely notice all of the addition and subtraction knowledge being subconsciously forced upon the children.

3.      “Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story” by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Janie Bynum (2003)

“Porcupining” not only rhymes but the central plot is built on bad puns, so you know it has to be a good book for kids and adults like myself with underdeveloped senses of humor. The story opens with Cushion the porcupine, pining for love inside a petting zoo where there are no other porcupines and everyone else seems to have a mate. A banjo-wielding Cushion decides his best bet is to serenade some of the single ladies of different species. But while his heart is well-intended, Cushion demonstrates why he’s single when he belts out to a sow that although she’s fat he’s still interested and likewise would be willing to get with a beaver gal despite her “bucky” teeth. Predictably rejected, Cushion finally meets up with a hedgehog named Barb with a similar hard-knocks love history and their relationship is on point. Another fun one to read as the narrative includes many of Cushion’s attempts to impress the chicks using his voice, meaning the reader gets to invent the melodies and inflections. I always opt for a good country twang with decent reviews from the kids.

2.     “The Napping House” by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood (1991)

It seems this title is a classic among librarians, but it missed my radar growing up in Southern California. A child and a grandmother are sound asleep and snoring on a dark rainy day as the household pets get in on the snuggle party one by one before a wakeful flea does nap time in and the slumbering characters awake one page at a time. A helpful Amazon review praises the book for being, “cumulative, predictable and engaging.”

Points are awarded for the husband-wife teamwork here, but it must be said that Don Wood’s illustrations are what make this book come alive. In each successive frame, we see the individual animals and people physically moving in the direction the narrative is heading while Mr. Wood brilliantly phases the light into the story with each page turn until “no one now is sleeping”. For extra credit, the setting of the book also appears to be based on the Wood’s actual home as shown in a photo of the couple on the back flap of the book jacket.

1. “Ballyhoo Bay” by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Derek Anderson, (2009)

I can take little credit for finding this book, as I obtained a copy for free inside a Cheerios box a couple years ago. Maybe it’s the overarching theme of social action and environmental protection, or perhaps it’s the combination of my affections for the beach and art, but Ballyhoo Bay takes the cake.

Mira Bella, teaches art classes including “etching and sketching to grannies and kids and undersea sculpture to swordfish and squids.” Beach animals and people alike are working on found trash art, paintings, paper-mâché projects, and penciled self-portraits under Mira Bella’s tutelage until word comes that Ballyhoo Beach is to be developed for penthouse apartments and a casino. Mira Bella builds political resistance as the grannies and sea creatures march on city hall and sway the town council to preserve the beach instead of selling out to the builders. The planned beach art fair is allowed to go on as planned and the sun sets over the ocean and on the book with the exclamation that  “truth is beauty” and “both saved the day.”

Perhaps the most fun book to read in our collection and Anderson’s illustrations cause me to want to call dibs on him in case I get around to my goal of publishing a children’s book. I also love that our Cheerios version of the story is bilingual adding some Spanish flavor to the story and causing me to imagine that despite the protagonist’s strongly Italian name, that the setting is my beloved San Diego.

I was going to include an honorable mention section, but I’d rather hear from you what you have enjoyed reading to your kids and your top picks for best children’s books.

  1. Sharon Naish says:

    All 10 of these books are WONDERFUL! Have you ever read “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn, super sweet for when the go away to school! Kaydence also loves Harold and the Purple Crayon and Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel!

  2. Thanks for you wonderful posts!! I always enjoy them. This one is exceptional. We are praying for Jaime in particular and your whole family. We hope to call tomorrow and talk with you, if the baby does not come! We just concluded a Discovery Lab today and have gone though a very busy, but enjoyable, time in life.

    Grace and peace,


  3. Fairy Wendy says:

    This post is RIGHT up my ally!! I LOVE it. I have to say, I DO love the simplicity of the pigeon books’ illustrations and so do my kids. I use it for teaching how expressive simple things like eyebrows can do for illustrations (during art of course). Also, his Elephant and Piggie books are starting to climb their way up to pigeon status.

    My students really love the part when Mrs. McNosh hangs up her bra and underwear. 😉

    I CAN’T believe not one of Olivia’s books made the list. That pig cracks me up!

    I feel like Skippyjon Jones should also be on the list but perhaps I haven’t sent that one yet.

    Also, I really love The Giving Tree. This was fun 🙂

  4. Fairy Wendy says:

    PS – I always read The Kissing Hand on the first day of school. It’s such a sweet one. 🙂

  5. Okay, so the Kissing Hand is new to me, but is now definitely on the short list for the next Library trip. Thanks for the suggestion Sharon! Tikki Tikki Tembo also receives a lot of action around here as it was one of Jaime’s favorites growing up!

    Thanks for your kind words Gailyn. We look forward to catching up with you and Becky soon and hearing about Africa!

    Fairy Wendy! I love you and your comments! Olivia is definitely worthy of this list, and probably would have been represented by either the original installment or “Olivia Forms a Band”, but I felt a pig of her personality has already received sufficient press, including her own TV show, and I wanted to give some attention to the other kids in the class. The Giving Tree was on my appendix list of classics, but didn’t publish that list in order to simplify the post.

    Thanks for reading and for your suggestions!

  6. April says:

    A good list, so far. A few of those are in our collection as well.

    Will (my 4 year old) adores Snow Bears, by Martin Waddell. It’s probably his top pick.

    Duck in the Truck is also popular. Rhyming, but not as much of a tongue twister as Dr. Seuss and without the constant Will interruptions asking what made-up words mean.

    The Llama llama books also get dragged out a lot.

    I think both my kids have most of the Sandra Boynton books memorized – we have just about all of them. Most of Lyn’s (My 2 year old) favorites are Boynton. Moo Baa Lalala, Barnyard Dance and Doggies are popular picks.

    • Thanks for your input April! Snow Bears looks like a great bedtime book. Duck in the Truck reminds me of Shepard’s new favorite “Sheep in a Jeep” by Nancy E. Shaw. We haven’t read any of the llama llama series yet, so they will now be on our library queue as well. Thanks again. P.S. Your chocolate zucchini bread recipe looks amazing.

  7. Shannon Morgan says:

    Hey Josh…being a former homeschool mom–I am a complete bibliophile! When your kids are a couple years older, check out books by Edith Nesbit. She became on of our very favorites as Hil became 5+ years old–her adventure books are amazing–we especially loved The Magic City.

  8. Tnilc Snikrep says:

    Hey Josh, I really like “The Giving Tree” for the kids. They don’t care that much about it, but I like it.

  9. Hey Shannon! Bibliophiles are welcome here! Thanks for the input, Mrs. Nesbit will definitely find her way into our home in the future.

    I’m with you Clint, a number of the titles here are favorites of mine, not necessarily the kids’. The Giving Tree is a great one. I miss you brother, thanks for reading. Say hi to your family for us.


  10. April says:

    The chocolate zucchini bread is really good 🙂 Even my kids will eat it, and they hate zucchini. It’s part of my sneaky vegetables scheme.

    Do you have a children’s bible? I was asking Will about all his favorites yesterday and he said his favorite book is the Bible, immediate response without even having to think on it. We found a copy intended for small children with very simplified stories and colorful pictures, and he’s begun requesting that for his bedtime story. I have an amazing son ❤ We have an enlarged board book version in Lyn's collection too, even more simplified and with pages she can turn.

    • That’s awesome April. You do have an amazing son! We have a few different children’s illustrated Bibles and try to read through them on a nightly basis before bed. Right now we’re going through the “Read and Learn Bible” with Clara and she loves it. She gets excited to ask where we left off and likes to have at least one story from the Old Testament and New Testament each day. Thanks for shining light on my oversight and for your input. It’s always appreciated.

  11. Nathan says:

    No, David! by David Shannon

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