Every year since 1967, on or around April 2, lovers of children’s books—authors, readers, librarians, teachers—all over the world observe International Children’s Book Day. This day, according to the International Board on Books for Young People, “is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books.”
This year, Ireland is the international sponsor of International Book Day. Irish children’s author Siobhán Parkinson wrote the annual message to the children of the world, which you can read here. Her take-home message inspired us. “Every reader of a story has something in common with every other reader of that story,” she writes. “Separately, and yet in a way also together, they have re-created the writer’s story in their own imagination: an act that is both private and public, individual and communal, intimate and international. It may well be what humans do best.”
In recognition of International Children’s Book Day, we asked Free Spirit authors to tell us what their favorite children’s book is. If you think grown-ups grow out of loving children’s books, this post will prove otherwise!
Dr. Thomas Armstrong, author of You’re Smarter Than You Think: A Kids’ Guide to Multiple Intelligences
I think one of my favorite children’s books as a child was Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. My mother read to me from some of these poems, and I especially remember the one about the swing (‘‘up in the air so blue’’) and about ‘‘My Shadow’’ following me around wherever I went. Stevenson took everyday events that children could readily understand and injected lyrical vitality into them, which stirred up my own poetic feelings.
Janet Fox, author of Get Organized Without Losing It
I’d like to recommend a brand-new picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, by Arun Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson), with Bethany Hegedus as coauthor and Evan Turk as illustrator. Gorgeous and personal, the story is an intimate portrait of Mahatma Gandhi through the eyes of an adoring child.
Lisa Cohn, coauthor of The Step-Tween Survival Guide
We love the Nate the Great series by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. Kids love the boy-and-dog detectives, the well-drawn characters, and the humor in this series.
Miriam Adderholdt, coauthor of Perfectionism: What’s Bad About Being Too Good
My favorite is Nobody’s Perfect by Marlee Matlin, a hearing impaired author who starred in the 1986 movie Children of a Lesser God, and Doug Cooney. This particular book is based on experiences from Matlin’s own childhood. “Megan, a popular and outgoing fourth grader, is sure that the ‘perfect’ new girl dislikes her because she is hearing impaired, but persistence and a joint science fair project help Megan see that the two girls have something in common after all.”
Goldie Millar, coauthor of the upcoming F Is for Feelings (available August 2014)
One of my favorite children’s books is Phoebe Gilman’s beautifully illustrated and inviting book entitled Something from Nothing. This book was recommended to me by a close friend. My children and I fell in love with this heartwarming story of family, tradition, and how to keep love with you always. As an adult I love the eloquent text, and my children adore the fun and interactive illustrations.
Another book that has earned a permanent spot in my children’s library is Tomie dePaola’s playful book Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons. This book was given to me as a gift by a family member. My whole family has come to adore the series of adventures Strega Nona and her friends find themselves in. This book is full of laughter and learning, and the illustrations transport you to the little town where the universal message of love and life prevails.
My final suggestion is Peggy Rathmann’s sweet board book Good Night, Gorilla This book was given to my daughter as a gift, and the tattered pages signal its well-loved status. The simple yet reassuring message of being closest to the ones you love as you drift off to sleep is full of warmth and comfort. The illustrations are inviting and offer lots to smile about.
Phil Schlemmer, coauthor of Teaching Kids to Be Confident, Effective Communicators
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco is the story of two boys during the Civil War—one black, the other white. It is compelling in the simple way it addresses difficult issues like race relations, human interactions, the realities of war, growing up, conquering fear, and much more. It’s a true story passed down from Polacco’s great-great-grandfather.
Ron Shumsky, coauthor of the upcoming The Survival Guide for School Success (available September 2014)
Samurai Shortstop by Alan Gratz is a story about a high school baseball player in Japan in the 1890s, when Japan was starting to modernize and take on Western ways. The story has appeal on multiple levels: culture, history, sports, and the universality of baseball alongside its uniquely Japanese interpretation.
Hachiko Waits by Lesléa Newman is a classic Japanese story (actually true) about a dog who sees his owner off at the train station each morning, meets him there each afternoon when his owner returns from work, and continues waiting every day even after his owner dies. Really speaks to the bonds of loyalty, also in a particularly Japanese way.
Hope Sara Blecher-Sass, coauthor of See It, Be It, Write It
I love Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson for its simplicity and possibilities. As a child, with one swish of a purple crayon I could go anywhere. Like the story The Dot by Peter Reynolds, one mark on a paper is the beginning of endless adventures and dreams for readers of all ages.
Jenny Friedman, coauthor of Doing Good Together
As executive director of Doing Good Together, I work hard to connect parents with beautiful stories that inspire acts of kindness. Here are two of my favorite books with a multicultural perspective and a clear next step.
In Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier, an impoverished family flourishes after receiving a special four-legged gift in this uplifting picture book set in western Uganda. Beatrice and her family help us see that families all over the world share some of the same hopes for their future. Brought to you by Heifer International, this book offers a clear call to action that will inspire readers to get involved.
In Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley, a child is sent to find a younger brother at dinnertime and is introduced to a variety of cultures while encountering the many different ways rice is prepared. This is a great way to illuminate cultural differences while showcasing a common thread. In a culture overly abundant with macaroni and cheese and pizza, this book offers wonderful fresh perspective—and the recipes inside will inspire little ones to try a new dish!
Jolene Roehlkepartain, coauthor of Doing Good Together
One of my favorites is Raf by Anke de Vries. When Ben’s favorite stuffed animal, Raf, disappears, Ben doesn’t know what to do. Then he receives a postcard from Raf. Raf writes about getting lost and finding people who took him on a trip to Africa. Raf continues sending Ben postcards about his adventures in Africa. The biggest question, however, is: Will Raf make it home in time for Ben’s birthday?
Another favorite of mine is More, More, More, Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams. This Caldecott Honor Book tells the stories of three babies of three different ethnicities and how they want “more, more, more” attention from their mom, their dad, and their grandma. This delightful book makes you giggle and want more, more, more!
Alison Feigh, author of On Those Runaway Days
My mother was born and raised in Australia, where she worked as an early elementary teacher. That’s one reason why Koala Lou by Mem Fox, a story of parental unconditional love, is my favorite story to hear my mother read. I can ALMOST replicate her accent in the phrases of koala mother to child. It’s a story that reminds us all that we are enough and we are worthy of love just as we are today.
Dr. Kelli Esteves, coauthor of RTI Success
Here are three of my favorites. Mem Fox, world-renowned Australian author, once compared writing a picture book to writing War and Peace in haiku. Fox accomplishes a similar feat in Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, a lyrical work that celebrates the similarities and differences of children from around the globe, right down to their itty-bitty fingers and chubby little toes.
“Shall we make a new rule of life . . . always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?” This frequently paraphrased J.M. Barrie quote from R.J. Palacio’s masterpiece Wonder helped launch the national Choose Kind movement in 2013. Over 30,000 readers have since signed the pledge. The book tells the fictional story of August Pullman, who was born with facial abnormalities that keep most people from appreciating the person he is on the inside. This soul-stirring book tackles serious themes in a way that speaks to children and adults.
The extraordinarily talented illustrator Kadir Nelson focuses his work on African-American culture and history. All of his books are breathtaking, but my personal favorite is Coretta Scott, written by Ntozake Shange. Nelson captures Coretta King’s grace, elegance, and determination in this biographical history of the civil rights movement.
What children’s books do you still love as an adult? What are your children’s favorites?
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.