Reading with (and by) children

photo taken on Saturday late afternoon

Last week my dear friend Annie and I were discussing books our daughters were reading.  She asked me if I ever review kids’ books here.  No, I said, though I do write the occasional review for Boston Mamas.  Our conversation made me want to share some thoughts on reading, children, and specific titles.  Hopefully this timing is good, given the upcoming holidays.  Books are my favorite gift to give, whether for a birthday or Christmas.  I’ve actually been pleased by how Grace and Whit have reacted to this: I expected them to roll their eyes and complain that I wasn’t wrapping up something plastic and battery-operated for their friends’ birthdays.  Instead, they’ve gotten involved in helping to assemble a short bunch of their favorite current books, running their hands lovingly over the familiar covers as I stack them for wrapping.

For both my children, beginning to read has been surprisingly binary.  I expected that it would be a gradual process.  No.  In both cases, they were painstakingly sounding out three letter words and literally reading the next.

(An aside: sitting with a child, reading an early reader, biting your tongue while they sound out ddddd….oooooo……ggggggg is among the best metaphors for parenting I know.  Likewise: watching a child follow Lego instructions, observing them doing it wrong, watching them get frustrated, and having to sit on your hands to avoid just jumping in and doing it for them)

I still read to both kids, every night, and don’t have any plans to stop.  There are a few picture books we all still love, and sometimes even Grace will come to me bearing one of these favorites in her hand.  I read to them alone and together, I read to them during meals and in the tub, and, always, I read to them before bed, reminded over and over again how big they are when they jostle around, trying to get comfortable on my lap.

Some treasured picture books:

Space Boy – Leo Landry (a riff on Where the Wild Things Are, with beautiful, dreamy illustrations.  both kids love it)

Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child – Bob Graham (the power of the imagination, the existence of magic)

Firefighters in the Dark – Dashka Slater (dreaming, a gender-neutral firefighter, and magical realism)

The Winter King and the Summer Queen – Mary Lister and Ellen Verenieks (the natural world explained through the use of memorable characters, the force of good and sunshine)

Miss Rumphius – Barbara Cooney (leaving the world a more beautiful place, the impact an individual can have on the community he/she lives in, a strong female protagonist)

And some beloved chapter books:

100 Dresses – Eleanor Estes (between a picture book and a chapter book; strong message about bullying, and the content of our character being more important than what we wear)

The Magic Treehouse – Mary Pope Osborne (both of my children began their independent reading with this series and I still love the determined siblings, the empowered girl, and the broad range of historical themes)

Penny Dreadful – Laurel Snyder (Grace’s favorite book of the last year, great message about families being okay no matter what, what is inside of us matters more than our outsides)

Ramona & others – Beverly Cleary (Grace devoured all of Cleary’s books, as did I.  i am still charmed by their rambunctious heroine and their depiction of sisterhood and family life as loving, warm, and messy)

Harry Potter – JK Rowling (Where to begin?  This is among my favorite books, ever, of all, period.  Grace and I are reading them together and she has tumbled as wholly as I did into Harry’s – or, let’s face it, Hermione’s – world)

My own memories of childhood reading, in particular those from when I was Grace’s age, are incredibly rich.  So much so, in fact, that I sometimes fall in the trap of pushing books I adored onto her.  This has mixed results: she loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and Harriet the Spy, but didn’t “get” Island of the Blue Dolphins and has thus far resisted The Phantom Tollbooth and Anne of Green Gables.  Next up in her queue (yes, she has her own stack) is A Wrinkle in Time and if she doesn’t worship it I’m not sure she’s actually my daughter.

Now, I am off to the local bookstore to buy some gifts for nieces, nephews, and godchildren!

What are some of your favorite books from your childhood, or books you have enjoyed reading with your children?

25 thoughts on “Reading with (and by) children”

  1. Great post, Lindsey, reading with children is a great pleasure. My choices, all the Winnie the Pooh books, the Mary Poppins books, the Peterkin Papers to name a few. The Sign on Rosie’s Door by Maurice Sendak, Homer Price by Robert McCloskey (admittedly boy-centric, but singular,) Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, the Chocolate Wars by Robert Cormier, Miss Nelson isi Missing (forget author’s name,) loved reading the Harry Potters to both my children too.

  2. A Wrinkle in Time is one of my ALL TIME favourite books, so I would love to hear what she thinks of it. I also loved The Secret Garden growing up. Reading, as I’m sure you would assume, is a big part of our lives too. And like you, I mostly give books as gifts (books or games!). I’m trying desperately to instill my own love of books in my boys and I can only hope it will catch. We’ve just started in the last few months to read Chapter books at our house (with our 5 year old), and he loves The Magic Treehouse series. Oh, I could go on and on on this subject!

  3. If Grace likes Harry Potter, she might also enjoy Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. Oh, and anything by Lloyd Alexander is especially dear to me – Whit would probably get a kick out of some of his books geared for younger children, like The Town Cats, and the Prydain Chronicles were life-shaping for me, in how I viewed heroes and glory.

    For fans of Eleanor Estes, Elizabeth Enright is a good choice – I love her Melendy quartet, and I return to Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away to this day for comfort reading.

    And if Grace didn’t like Anne (horrors!), she might not be a big fan of these, but the Betsy-Tacy books, by Maud Hart Lovelace, are a wonderful series that grows up right along with the reader – she takes Betsy from age five right up through marriage.

    And I’d better stop here, or I’ll be writing an entire post of wonderful childhood books!

    (OH – one more – have they discovered the Redwall books yet? SO FUN.)

  4. Your children of sailors who love the Mt. Auburn Cemetery need to seek out “Carry On, Mr. Bowditch” by Jean Lee Latham (Newbury medalist, 1956.) He’s the guy in the statue straight up from the Mt. Auburn main entry, sitting with his globe and sextant. It’s a true story about a poor boy with a remarkable intellect, who transformed navigation into a precise and mathematical science. He also took some heat for championing “book sailing,” vs old-timer dead reckoning–the same Science vs. What We Think We Know argument that makes some folks question global climate change etc, even today. Some things never change…

  5. Oh! The Dark is Rising! Totally. Must get. She loves Betsy-Tacy – hadn’t rejected Anne, just hasn’t opened her yet. I’ll check out these other suggestions, too! Thank you!

  6. I’m honored to be on this list, and also– I feel like I’ve stumbled into a magic corner of the world. I’m also a mom who wraps up books for every birthday.

    For little ones I often give Mister Dog, my favorite all-time picture book. ALso Eloise in Paris France. Newer titles I like to give– The Donut Chef, When Dinosaurs Came with Everything…

    And I love that you guys give older books. I have a massive reading list of mostly-older titles I draw on here:

    But my favorite older book to give is The Thirteen Clocks, which (insanely) nobody ever has.

  7. Love Miss Rumphius & Wrinkle in Time also! You must check out the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace! We’re reading Peter Pan right now. Caddie Woodlawn is on the docket. 🙂
    Great post!

  8. I love when you blog about your love of reading. I always write down your recommendations and save them as my favorite gift to give to friends, family and children of friends/family is a book!

  9. Oh!! My favorite topic!! Our Caroline is a voracious reader but unfortunately, I just can’t get her to read anything that I enjoyed as a little girl. When I read posts like these though I get hopeful… One day maybe. For now, she is just loving any and all realistic fiction about young girls her age but she can sniff out a book written before 2000 with expert skill. That being said, all things Judy Blume and Beverly Clearly have made it past her radar. Thank goodness- not sure what I would do if Fudge and Ramona weren’t in our lives!

  10. Oh, Pippi! Yes, Pippi! How could I forget her. I loved her so much I WAS her, two Halloweens in a row … xox
    (Grace loves her too)

  11. Oh, I love this post – that photo, the reading list, the fact that you give books for birthdays. I love so many of these books – Miss Rumphius, A Wrinkle in Time, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Betsy-Tacy, Harry Potter, Ramona. I recently rediscovered the Melendys and the Moffats (by Eleanor Estes), and I also like the Mother-Daughter Book Club books by Heather Vogel Frederick. And oh, so many more…

  12. My son has just finished the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series. He loved it. He also just read and loved a book called Shredderman, by Wendilyn Van Draanen, about bullies and unleashing your own inner hero.

    My daughter just finished The Name of this book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. Several of the kids in her grade are into this series. She is currently reading Found, by Margaret Peterson Haddix – a book in which an airplane full of only 26 babies lands , unloads the babies, and then disappears. I think the story starts when the babies are around 12 years old and has some time travel elements.

    She loved the Series of Unfortunate Events books.
    They both liked Frindle, a tale about words and where they come from and how they create a life of their own.

    My daughter’s 5th grade teacher is in her 28th year of teaching 5th grade. She is known as the Lord of the Rings teacher. Her room is decorated like it, and many of the academics revolve , somehow, around these books. I tried to follow, but hasn’t been my thing. I think I will try again. Most of the boys love it, as do some of the girls. My daughter thinks the story is confusing at times. Anyway, the teacher reads all of the books to the kids, has each day timed, and they finish the series and then watch the series by the time the year is done. I love the idea, even though this type of reading isn’t our first choice.

    One other thing they are doing, which I think is so cook, is they are creating book trailers. I remember from advertising classes in college that movie ads were some of the hardest – what to tell, what not to tell, but to generate enough excitement. That is what these kids are doing now. They should be online in a couple of weeks – lots of new ideas for books. I’m not sure if they will be open to public, or only the secured part of the web site at school. I can keep you posted on what the fifth graders reccommend!!!

  13. Oh, my kids LOVE Frindle! What a funny book I’d never heard of before. They call pens frindles now and can’t be convinced to stop. I have never gotten into the Lord of the Rings books either, though perhaps I should try again. xox

  14. That picture of you and Grace is stunning. Two of my favorite people, snuggled up, reading. Right now I’m debating to what extent parents should guide their kids’ choice of books. The highlight of every week for HMG is going to the English section of the library and choosing three new books, and I’ve pretty much been letting her choose whatever. So she’s experimenting in genres I never would have chosen (mysteries, fantasy). I can’t say it’s all great literature, but there’s power in the independent choice…

  15. Thanks for the recommendations. I will definitely bookmark this post and comments for future reference. Thank you.

    P.S. There is so much goodness in that picture. What a great way to share time with your daughter. I hope to do the same with my own.

  16. Love this photo, and the discussion – lots of Christmas gift ideas!

    It’s raining here, all I want to do is climb in bed and follow your example… Hmmm…


  17. Oh heavens…so excited by this! I am definitely running out to get 100 Dresses considering my daughter would only wear dresses for two years straight! I would add for the young set 5-7 two very different but wonderful chapter book series “All of a Kind Family” and “Ivy and Bean” she loved both. My personal favorites are to come in a couple of years “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and working our way through Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary.

  18. I love this post! And have always loved children’s books. My oldest son is on the verge of reading, and I am chomping at the bit for him to take off and get lost in all these wonders. Others I loved…Miss Piggle Wiggle, all the books by Cynthia Voigt, Bridge to Terabithia and Mandy. Thanks for all these reminders and for all your grown-up books suggestions as well. On that note, I just read the Thirteenth Tale and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – very different than my usual reads and many of your suggestions, but they are both well worth reading for a change!

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