Elizabeth Singer Hunt | The Children’s Book Review | August 9, 2017
“Reading night with Mum” has always been a treasured time in our household. When the children were young, they’d pile into my bed and we’d read together. In fact, they still do. Over the years, I have seen the power of a good story through their eyes, as I’ve watched them experience a range of emotions—sadness, laughter, anger, confusion, etc. In fact, one of the first times my son cried in empathy was when a picture book character spilled his dinner on the floor. As they’ve grown, “reading night with Mum” has provided an opportunity for us to discuss some of the meatier issues in life like how to handle disappointment, how to be resourceful, and how to stay optimistic in times of despair.
The following family favorites are from my children’s earlier years. There’s nothing like a good picture book, and these rank at the top. The stories range from fun and silly to deep and meaningful. In many ways it reflects our family—completely eclectic!
Written by Theo LeSieg
Illustrated by George Booth
The kids and I used to love reading this book together. In fact, I credit it with singlehandedly turning my children into “spot the difference” experts! The premise of the book is simple: a child wakes up and finds two wacky things in his room—a shoe on the ceiling and another one on the wall. On the next page, there are three more wacky things. Turn the page, and the child (and the reader) is faced with spotting four more. By the end, there are 20 wacky things to find before the story can end. Night after night, my children and I loved seeing who could spot the differences first. This book has all of the ingredients for a classic in our family. It’s fun and interactive.
Ages 3-7 | Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers | 1974 (Reissue) | ISBN-13: 978-0394829128
Written by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Most people know Julia Donaldson as the author of the Gruffalo. But one of our favorite Julia Donaldson books is actually the Monkey Puzzle (known in the USA as Where’s My Mom?). In it, a baby monkey gets lost in the jungle and must try and find his mother. Along the way, he meets a string of helpful creatures who point him in the right direction. The book is chock-full of colorful illustrations by Axel Scheffler, clever rhyming, and page-turning anticipation. Besides the Monkey Puzzle, our family also used to read Julia’s The Smartest Giant in Town, A Squash and a Squeeze, Room on the Broom, and Charlie Cook’s Favorite Book. I don’t think she’s ever written a bad book.
Ages 1-6 | Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books | 2017 (Reissue) | ISBN-13: 978-1509830411
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Harry Bliss
You already know it’s going to be a good book with a title like that! My daughter loved it so much that she asked me to read it to her 2nd grade class. In it, a chicken named Louise runs away from her coop and begins a series of fantastical adventures. During the first, she encounters a group of pirates who want to fricassee her. In the second, a circus ringmaster makes her perform a death-defying high-wire act. In the third, a chicken-napper takes her from a bazaar (Louise makes a daring escape). Ultimately, Louise returns home to the henhouse with the satisfaction that she’s lived a full life. This is another Kate DiCamillo book filled with charm.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: HarperCollins | 2008 | ISBN-13: 978-0060755546
Written by Helen Cooper
Our children were born in England, so many of their early reading experiences were influenced by British culture. This British book, in particular, was popular at the time. Its main character, William, is a boy with an irrational fear. He’s convinced that there’s a bear living in the closet under the stairs. To pacify the creature, William feeds it scraps from his dinners. Eventually, the smell of the “bear” grows so great that William must conquer his fears and join his mother in opening the closet. It’s a wonderful story about overcoming fears by facing them head on. This was one of my son’s favorite stories when he was young.
Ages 5+ | Publisher: Dial | 1993 | ISBN-13: 978-0803712799
Written by Munro Leaf
Illustrated by Robert Lawson
The Story of Ferdinand is one of my personal favorites because it comes with a powerful message—it’s okay to be different. Ferdinand is unlike the other little bulls. He doesn’t want to play rough and tough. He just wants to sit and smell the flowers. This “dare to be different” message resonates with us because this is our family motto. I have tried to encourage both of our children to be true to themselves and to not be influenced by what others think. It’s amazing to me that a book that was written more than 80 years ago still has the ability to simply convey a meaningful message.
Ages 3-5 | Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap | ISBN-13: 978-0448456942
Written by Elizabeth Singer Hunt
Publisher’s Synopsis: For fans of the award-winning SECRET AGENT JACK STALWART comes a must-read new chapter book series! Now Jack teams up with his older brother, Max, to solve new international mysteries, using their special training as secret agents.
Temporarily retired from the GPF-Global Protection Force-and on family vacation, Jack Stalwart and his older brother, Max, are motivated to act when a band of thieves takes the Emerald Buddha from the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Without the help of the GPF, they’re on their own. They’re also up against one of the smartest and wealthiest villains they’ve ever faced. Can Jack and Max find Thailand’s most precious statue before it’s too late?
Ages 7-9 | Publisher: Weinstein Books | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1602863590
About the Author
Elizabeth Singer Hunt is the award-winning author of the Secret Agent Jack Stalwart and Secret Agent Jack and Max Stalwart chapter book series for younger readers. Inspired by her love of travel, she created the Jack Stalwart adventures as a way to educate children about the countries and cultures of the world.
Elizabeth Singer Hunt, author of Secret Agents Jack and Max Stalwart, selected these five family favorites. Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with Family Favorites.