In around nine short weeks I will have a tiny human that is all mine to love and raise. That is a beautifully terrifying endeavor. As I started to put books on the shelf for his or her room I realized how much literature shaped my own life and that if I want my child to have certain values or perspectives that maybe books are a good place to start. Here is my list of books that I will read to my child until s/he is old enough to read them on his or her own to help shape that character.
1. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I consider this one of the most underrated children’s books. It is at least the most underrated book in the Little House series by the famed author and pioneer girl Laura Ingalls Wilder. As the first book in the series, this is where my love affair with main character, Laura’s tenacity and wanderlust began. It is pure and sweet and despite over 80 years in print and the events taking place almost 150 years ago, it still resonates with children everywhere.
2. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
I recently found a copy of an early edition at a church book sale and was simply overjoyed to hold it in my hands. I immediately remember my first grade teacher gathering us around the carpet to listen to a book that had also been one of her favorites as a child. This classic children’s tale teaches lessons of understanding and kindness in a way that continues to capture our imaginations and bring us back to simpler, softer places.
3. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
The paperback cover on my copy is now creased and torn from all the summers I would re-read this book. It captivated me much in the same way as the Little House series as I imagined every little detail of how a tool or task I had never witnessed was completed. It made me grateful for the safety of my home, while consistently making me question if I had what it took to survive on my own.
4. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Despite what some have called a socialist agenda, I find Rainbow Fish to be a beautifully illustrated reminder of the joys of sharing and giving to others. I look at the cover and remember the first time I heard the story at our public library, my crossed legs falling asleep, and then trying to make a rainbow fish of my own with construction paper and way too much paste.
5. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
I distinctly remember rushing through standardized testing one week in grade school knowing that if I finished a section I would be able to read. Fern and Wilbur were waiting beneath my desk and I just had to know what else was going to happen. You can never have too many childhood stories about friendship and sacrifice and Charlotte’s Web is a great one. Not to mention Charlotte had quite the vocabulary and helped boost mine.
6. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Poetry has never really been my thing, but I remember lying on my bed with one of my parents before bedtime and getting to pick a few poems to read. Some were silly and some left me questioning and all of them taught me a new word or two. When I think fondly of poetry, it is always Shel Silverstein.
7. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
This is one of the first books I remember reading on my own. It had actually been a gift “from me” to my older brother upon my birth, but it found its way to my own bookshelf at some point. I remember feeling so sad for the tree and really taking the lesson to heart that we should be mindful of what we ask from others and also that giving of yourself can truly make you happy. As an adult, I also get reminded of the importance of self-care.
8. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
I held my stuffed cow tight around the neck listening to this story and to be honest it makes me a little teary still. If you think ‘Toy Story 3’ is sad, here is the original. Although my child, like myself, will probably have no idea what scarlet fever is or why the bunny would need to be burned, we can all connect with having to give up something precious. The Velveteen Rabbit makes it a little easier to think about our loss being made into something beautiful.
9. Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss
“A person’s a person no matter how small” has proved time and time again to be a quote that eloquently explains so many emotions and principles of worth. I’m certain this story contributed to my love of elephants and passion for service. It’s so funny how a children’s story can be the perfect example of caring for your neighbors, those different from you, and those more vulnerable than you.
10. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
I remember reading this book on my parents’ front porch swing in the springtime and connecting with every page. Time changes how generations grow up, but not so much that they can’t connect with some of our basic childhood issues of jealousy, frustration, and being or having a pestering sibling.
Photo credit: Giulia Bertelli