One of the greatest joys of being a mother has been introducing my son Dolan to reading. I'm in no rush for him to read my memoir about having him
(I hope he waits until he's at least 15 before he looks at that one), but here's a list of some of our favorites. Some are out of print, but if you have a chance of finding them, it's probably at Powells.
1. The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst: A little boy's beloved cat dies and he has to cope with Barney's absence. My sister Elizabeth gave us this one last year and I didn't pull it out until after we'd just lost one of our cats. Major tearjerker, but it puts great perspective on the loss of a pet.
2. The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Harald Wiberg: From a poem by Karl-Erik Forsslund. This is one I saved from my childhood, so our copy is covered with my earliest attempts at writing my name. The illustrations of life on a snowy Northern farm are hauntingly beautiful.
3. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr: A little girl goes out "owling" with her father on a bright winter's night. Breathtaking in its brevity and wisdom, it's incredibly moving and inspiring.
4. The Dragon by Archibald Marshall, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone: Another wickedly funny story, featuring a series of princes being fed to a hungry dragon and a king who can scarcely be bothered to care. Far too edgy for today's squishy children's book market, this one cracks me up every time.
5. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: Obviously, a classic. What I love about this story of a naughty little boy is the rhythm of Sendak's prose. My own naughty little boy is entranced by Max and his wild things and even if I'm in a bad mood, by the time I'm done, I feel better. Must be all that teeth gnashing.
6. The Courtship, Merry Marriage, and Feast of Cock Robin illustrated by Barbara Cooney: My sister Elizabeth gave this to me when I was a toddler, and I loved it so much it never left my shelves. The text is all a weird, charming poem, and when I first read it aloud to Dolan, I wondered how he'd handle its dark themes (more death, and a bird's funeral). He seems to love it as much as I do.
7. The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter: Yeah, yeah, Peter Rabbit is great and all, but this little story has a much richer sense of humor. And gives us a close-up view of Mr. McGregor's hungry cat.
8. Caps for Sale, told and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina: When we first got this one I wasn't that into it; the illustrations didn't appeal to me. But again, it's all about rhythm, and this story has phenomenal rhythm. We act this one out together and it's so satisfying. Tsz, tsz, tsz.
9. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey: The truth is, since I'm from Maine, just about anything of McCloskey's could go on this list. But this Caldecott Honor book is my favorite of them all. The baby bear, mischievous Sal and her mother (who reminds me of my mother) combine for a perfect story, gorgeously illustrated in monochrome.
10. Sarah and Simon and No Red Paint by Edward Ardizzone: As an illustrator and writer, Ardizzone cranked out the books, mostly seafaring stories about ship's boy Tim. This one is land bound, and features a pair of siblings struggling to help their artist father finish his masterpiece. Gruff and sweet and very clever, all at the same time.
11. Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban: I started reading this classic to Dolan hoping it would encourage him to vary his own diet. Hasn't worked, but we love this imp of a badger and her sensible parents.
12. Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes: I'm not just about old books. This contemporary classic is a gem, but so are most of Henkes' stories (Lily features in several others). He's got a fantastic sense of humor and a gift for creating picture books that feel as complex as chapter books, without the length. Henkes never talks down, manages to appeal completely to my little boy, and brings a smile to my face every time I pick up one of his books.