Our favourite children’s books leave an imprint. The text stays stored away in a pocket in the brain — like a special memory. The books that touch our hearts and souls teach, entertain, and inspire children and adults, alike.
I usually gravitate to books with great illustrations, that tell a good story with text that is fun. A good moral or a life lesson is a bonus. Here are five of my favourites.The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson.
We learn about a little bull named Ferdinand. Ferdinand is different from the other bulls. He prefers to sit quietly under the cork tree smelling flowers while the other bulls in the field are running, butting each other, and playing games. He grows up to be the gentlest, biggest bull on the lot. However, when a bee stings him the moment the men from the bullfights in Madrid arrive to pick a bull, Ferdinand seems like the mightiest and fiercest of all the bulls. The men choose him to go to Madrid to participate in the fights. The story tells of his experiences at the bull fight, which lead to his eventual return to his home field.
We received this book from a family friend, when our oldest, now 13, was just a baby. Over the years, I have watched him become Ferdinand: The boy who prefers to sit just quietly under the tree while the other kids run amok.
As a mum with three autistic children, the interaction between Ferdinand and his mother still makes me well up when I read it. “Sometimes his mother, who was a cow, would worry about him. She was afraid he would be lonesome by himself.” And two pages later, what every mum, cow or human, eventually realises, “His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was just a cow, she let him sit there and be happy.”
Not that we’re cows, but understanding the essence of our children will eventually help them be comfortable with who they are. And, personally, I can’t help but think that the entire story played out the way it did because his mother let him be who he was.The Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
“In a cave in the woods, in his deep, dark lair, through the long cold winter sleeps a great brown bear….” The Bear Snores On is a sweet story about a bear sleeping through the winter and the friends who pop by while he is asleep.
The wonderful illustrations and rhyming passages make every character’s entrance special. “An itty bitty mouse, pitter pat, tip-toe, creep crawls in the cave from the fluff cold snow.” When their party gets out of control and wakes up the bear, the friends work together to calm the bear down and work out the problem.
This is the first and the only book that I can recite from beginning to end. The story’s ability to calm an upset child is amazing.Something from Nothing, by Phoebe Gilman
The tale of Joseph and his blanket has been told many times but this version is my favourite. It is a tale of a boy named Joseph and his grandfather. Joseph’s grandfather made him a blanket when he was born and as Joseph grows, his grandfather alters the blanket to a jacket, vest, tie, handkerchief, and a button that he eventually loses. He learns that “even your grandfather can’t make something from nothing.” Joseph realised that even though he no longer had the button, he still had the memories of all the things his blanket had become and chose to write a wonderful story about it.
The illustrations are very interesting and intricate. Throughout the story, we watch the human family grow and change and the little mouse family living on the bottom of the page uses the scraps from all the alterations of the blanket to furnish their home. Kids love to see what the mouse family makes next after grandfather’s “scissors went snip, snip snip and his needle flew in and out and in and out.” The text is repetitive enough and fun enough that the kids can participate in the story.The Magic Fish, by Freya Littledale, illustrated by Winslow Pinney Pels
The Magic Fish is a story about a simple fisherman who lived with his wife in a hut by the sea. One day while fishing, he catches a big fish. The fish tells the fisherman he is a magic fish and a prince, so the fisherman lets him go. Upon returning home, the wife asks him why he didn’t catch any fish and the fisherman explained the story. The wife demands the fisherman return to the sea to make the fish grant her wishes. She first asks the fish to grant her the wish of a pretty house. After one week, she grew unsatisfied with the pretty house and sent the fisherman back to the fish to demand a castle. One week later, she became unhappy with the castle and sent him back again to be made queen of her kingdom. Three weeks later, she wanted more and sent the fisherman back to make her ruler of the universe. The fish not only refuses to grant the wish, but returns them back to their simple life in the hut by the sea.
The illustrations are colourful and detailed. I love the story because the primary lesson is that we should be happy with what we have. Every time the fish grants the wife’s wishes, the fisherman always says, “This is very nice, we will be happy here.” The wife always responds, “We’ll see,” and shortly after demands that the fisherman return to the fish with a greater wish. The secondary lesson is that greed is a toxic trait that can wreck everything. When my kids are acting greedy, I ask them, “Do you want to be like the fisherman or his wife? Because right now, you are acting like the wife in the Magic Fish, and she ended up with nothing.”Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods that Make my Day, by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell
The book takes us through the myriad of feelings and emotions of a little girl with red curly hair. Every page features an emotion in rhyme. “Today I feel silly. Mom says it’s the heat. I put rouge on the cat and gloves on my feet. I ate noodles for breakfast and pancakes at night. I dressed like a star and was quite a sight.” Page after page explains why she is feeling the emotions and the circumstances which most kids can relate to. “Today I am angry, you better stay clear. My face is all pinched and red ear to ear. My friends had a play date and left me out. My feelings are hurt, I just want to shout.”
I love the book because it appeals to my “special needs mum” side. It shows a tangible way to identify feelings. There are few books out there which describe the intensity of these feelings so clearly. My favourite part of the book is a page with a face and two discs that rotate different eyes and mouths into the slots so the reader can create different faces of emotion.
There are so many wonderful tales and life lessons that come through beautiful stories like these. They can help us explore our moods or emotions, our choices and how the world around us works. Reading them with our children opens doors to conversations about why and how. And give us an opportunity to bond with the joy of a story and our child.