An exciting and often overlooked way to expose your children to first-rate reading is by introducing them to children’s books written by famous authors of adult works. What follows is a list of books that you and your child will want to add to your shelf of favorites. All age ranges are approximate.
The Animal Family, by Randall Jarrell, HarperCollins, 1997; ages 8 and up. This is a moving fantasy of how a solitary man finds a family – consisting of a mermaid, a bear, a lynx and a little boy. The language is poetic and the characters are kind and understanding toward each other, despite their differences.
Black Misery, by Langston Hughes, Oxford University Press, 2000; all ages. In simple, but stark, hard-hitting language, Hughes writes about prejudice from a child’s viewpoint.
The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring, by Lucille Clifton, Dutton, 1992; ages 3 to 9. Two skeptical city boys set out to find spring, which they’ve heard is “just around the corner.”
The Boy Who Ran to the Woods, by Jim Harrison, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000; ages 8 and up. This is an autobiographical tale about a boy who loses his sight in one eye. The trauma leaves him angry and unruly until his father introduces him to the woods.
Catwings and Catwings Return, by Ursula K. Le Guin, Orchard, 1990 and 1999, respectively; ages 5 to 10. Four winged kittens fly away from the dangers of the city only to find adventures they hadn’t expected. The feline characters are provided with realistic histories and humanlike emotions.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas, David R. Godine, 1984; all ages. First published in 1954, this is probably Thomas’ most famous childhood reminiscence. The language is musical and should be read aloud for optimum pleasure.
The Chinese Siamese Cat, by Amy Tan, Macmillan, 1994; ages 4 and up. This is a colorful picture book that tells an amusing fable about the ancestry of some kittens. Also noteworthy by Amy Tan is The Moon Lady, Aladdin, 1995; ages 5 to 9. This picture book is about a long-ago autumn moon festival in China, as seen through the eyes of a 7-year-old.
The Daydreamer, by Ian McEwan, Bantam, 2000; ages 8 and up. A 10-year-old boy daydreams about fantastic events in this wryly amusing tale about the imagination and growing up.
Fairy Tales, by e. e. cummings, Harcourt, 1987; ages 4 to 8. These four amusing and imaginative tales, written by the poet for his own small daughter, have titles like “The House That Ate Mosquito Pie” and “The Little Girl Named I.”
The Magic Fish-Bone, by Charles Dickens, Harcourt, 2000; ages 6 and up. The oldest girl of 19 children is given magical powers and has to figure out how and when to use them.
The Man Who Lived Alone, by Donald Hall, David R. Godine, 1998; ages 5 to 9. Hall tells in simple words the life story of a self-sufficient man who chooses to live alone. Also check out Hall’s Lucy’s Christmas and Lucy’s Summer, Browndeer Press, 1994 and 1995, respectively; ages 5 to 8. These picture books evoke the life of fictional Lucy Wells and her family in 1910 rural New Hampshire.
Morning Girl, by Michael Dorris, Disney Press, 2000; ages 8 to 12. Morning Girl, who loves the day, and her younger brother, Star Boy, who loves the night, take turns describing their life on an island in pre-Columbian America. In Morning Girl’s last narrative, she witnesses the arrival of the first Europeans to her world.
Opposites, More Opposites, and a Few Differences, by Richard Wilbur, Harcourt, 2000; all ages. This is a collection of Wilbur’s amusing poems, one of which asks, for example, if there’s an opposite of “sheep” or of “SOS.” Enjoy more of the author’s funny poems for all ages in The Pig in the Spigot, Harcourt, 2000.
Switch On the Night, by Ray Bradbury, Knopf, 2000; ages 4 to 8. This fable presents a boy who conquers his fear of the dark by imagining the flipping of a light switch as a way to light up the night.