Recommended Picture Books for Children
By Edward and Beth Sri
Filling our children’s souls with good stories plays a key role in their formation. The kinds of stories our children encounter shape their minds, imagination, and vision of the world. Being discerning about what we read to our children, therefore, is crucial for their upbringing.
All good stories are, ultimately, a reflection of the one True Story—the story of our salvation. Rather than just reading any book to our children, we should ask, “Is this story beautiful?…Is this the kind of literature that brings our children into something of that larger story?”
Many children’s books, unfortunately, can be packed with “twaddle”—which has been described as “second-rate, stale, predictable writing” that talks down to children instead of inviting them into the larger world. Such books can be “sing songy” with bland, uninspiring rhymes. Or they can engage in moralistic preaching (“Johnny should not have done that” … “It’s good to be different” … “We must always show respect”). Well-written stories themselves can teach about virtue, but not in such a flat, sermonizing way.
The ancient rabbis understood this. They saw that the moral vision of the Bible was found not only in explicit moral directives such as the Ten Commandments, but also in the many rich, complex family stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…or David, Solomon and Rehoboam. In the beautiful narratives of the patriarchs and later leaders of Israel, the Scriptures offered many examples of virtue and vice, of people who faced various challenges, opportunities and adversities and either fulfilled their responsibility to God, family and community or fell short of the mark and reaped what they sowed.
Those beautiful stories were far from preachy. They drew the reader into the characters, their trials, their decisions, and the impact their choices had on others. They were truly great stories as stories, not merely because they were explicitly about “religion”.
So, just because a children’s book is marketed as “Catholic” and addresses Catholic topics such as the Eucharist, Mary, morality and the saints doesn’t mean it is great literature for our children’s souls. Books that talk down to children, that don’t appreciate their intelligence, and that offer a stale story—no matter how orthodox they might be in terms of content—do not edify, and therefore, do not earn a place on our bookshelf. We delight when our children are exposed to complex sentences, new vocabulary, fascinating characters, and riveting plots. Our children enjoy compelling tales that are well-told and beautifully illustrated with clever, artistic depictions—not art that is too simplistic and dumbed down to them. Children’s books that elevate the heart, mind, and soul are worth their attention. Twaddle is not.
One sign of a good children’s book is when the parent is captivated by the story and truly enjoys reading it. If the adult reading the book is drawn into the narrative, enters into the characters’ lives and the plot, and is eager to turn the page to find out what will happen next, it likely is a good book for the children.
If, however, the adult is bored, unenthralled by the storyline and finds himself eager to turn the page (or even skip a few!) just to get closer to the end, it is not likely a book we want to introduce to our children’s imagination.
Recommended Children’s Books
Good books are like friends. We’d like to introduce you to some of our friends. In the list below, you will find recommended books as well as a few of our favorite children’s literature authors. These books have become like friends to whom we introduce each new Sri child. It’s also fun to see how our adult children, when they come back home to visit, remember these stories and enjoy reading them to their younger siblings. Tim and Ginger…Johnny the Clockmaker…Mako…Mr. Whiskers…Mike Mulligan…Thompson and Thompson…and many other characters from these wonderful books might spontaneously be alluded to in conversation at the dinner table and remembered with a smile.
We are thankful to other families who have shared their “friends” with us over the years and are excited to pass them on to you. We hope that as you get to know them, they may bring you as much joy as they have our family.
The Story of Ping by Marjorie flack
Petunia by Roger Duvoisin
Millions of Cats by Wanda G’ag
A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno
Edward Ardizzone – Outstanding children’s literature author of mid-20th century. The Tim and Ginger series is especially good.
- Tim to the Rescue
- Tim and Ginger
- Ship’s Cook Ginger
- Tim All Alone
- Nicholas and the Fast Moving Diesel
- Johnny the Clockmaker
- Paul: Hero of the Fire
- Titus in Trouble
Virginia Lee Burton – Another outstanding children’s literature author of 20th century!
- Little House
- Katy and the Big Snow
- Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel
- Maybelle the Cable Car
- Choo Choo
Tommy de Paola
- The Clown of God
- Practically everything by Tomie de Paola is good! The Clown of God is exceptional.
- With Catholic themes: St. Patrick, Las Posadas, Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, The Legend of the Poinsettia
- The Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr series
- The Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka series
- Many Excellent books about animals and nature
- Examples: All About Owls, All About Allegators, All About Deer
- Make Way for Ducklings
- Blueberries for Sal
Ingri & Edgar D’Aulaire (history)
- Greek myths
- Leif the Lucky
- Ben Franklin
- Many others!