Children’s Books: Old Can Be Better

Now that the best new children’s books this year are receiving awards and recognition, I’m excited and scanning the titles for my new favorites.  Besides recognizing the best new books of the year, it’s gift giving time. Nothing beats reading-aloud and turning the pages of a book.

Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that older books, titles that have been forgotten by many, are often the best of the best. I guarantee that most authors who write winning books today would smile, knowingly, and heartily agree.

I am fired up to share some of these books with you and their importance, because I recently read this ad which was marketing Goodnight Moon:

“Goodnight Moon is now available in e-book. The perfect solution for parents on the go.”

Pardon me while I pull my heart back up from my stomach.  For the very young child, touching a book and turning the pages is essential.


I read-aloud the words to this book every single day in my classroom. Every day, just before chapter reading. Three and four-year-olds need to hear the words, not just see the illustrations.  I simply read the words- and oh, how I read those words!  A favorite is adding the names of the children, something like this:

“In the great green room there was a telephone, and Sarah’s red balloon, and a picture of  Paulo jumping over the moon.”

Children wait to hear their name and then shriek with laughter!  There is much to be said about this; the listening and focus is intense.  Children are getting a big dose of language and rhyming words.  Best of all, they have to make the pictures in their heads, a necessary skill for chapter reading.  It is wonderful!

My own library of books at school is a treasure trove of new and old, from Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag written in the 1920’s to Mother Bruce by Ryan Higgins, written last year.  A teacher’s budget allows for only the best.  I have discovered that many teachers and parents are unaware of children’s books written in the past.  For example, I used to assume that everybody knew The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg was a book– not just a movie!  I also assumed the whole world had read The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton (one of the best books to teach history).  Not true!  So, now I make it a point to include them and a host of older picture books in my read-aloud.  These books are so good; rich in story-line and words and illustrations.

My mission is to keep great books alive!  Last week I pulled out  an old book, Ox Cart Man, by Donald Hall.


This classic story follows the life of a New England farmer and his family throughout the course of a year.  The illustrations, perfect for this book, are beautifully done by Barbara Cooney.  Even I was surprised when I opened the book and was reminded of this:


Here are a few books (beyond what I have mentioned) that have “been around the block”, lived up to the test of time, and are loved over the years by children. They are in no particular order.  I read these books again and again:

The Story of Little Babaji, by Helen Bannerman

Doctor De Soto, by William Steig

Jumanji, by Chris Van Allsburg

The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman

Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen

Blueberries For Sal, by Robert McCloskey

Captain Cat, by Inga Moore

Apple Tree Christmas, by Trinka Hakes Noble

Circus, by Peter Spier

Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell

Clay Boy, by Mirra Ginsburg

Of course this barely scratches the surface.  There are fairy tales, wordless books… more to follow!


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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73 Responses to Children’s Books: Old Can Be Better

  1. Susan @ says:

    What a wonderful post! I couldn’t agree more!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Susan. There are sooo many books I could have listed (like Corduroy), but I though listing lesser known books might have more of an impact. Maybe. Have a great Sunday!

  2. Aww e books would have been so weird to grow up on! That was our favorite when we were little :)) goodnight moon!

  3. Yu/stan/kema says:

    Great post Jennie. Thank you!

  4. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you for a wonderful post and an excellent selection of books!

  5. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This post on older books for children is excellent and very important!

  6. You are a brilliant teacher. I don’t know that I or my children were read to in any manner in school. I read to them but not with so much personality. Love the list. I still love reading children’s books.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Maureen. Your words are very kind and greatly appreciated. I think I need to post list #2 soon, as there are so many terrific books that are overlooked or forgotten. Like you, I love reading children’s books.

  7. I remember some of these.

  8. Wonderful post! Thank you. My first time reading Goodnight Moon gave me writer’s envy. I like The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein too (possibly for slightly older children). 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Elaina. I adore The Giving Tree, too. Yes, it is for older children. Oh, how I would love to read this book aloud to fifth graders. I think our discussion would be intense.

  9. “For the very young child, touching a book and turning the pages is essential.”

    Picking up on a different aspect of your post:

    It used to be that encouraging parents to place their kid on their lap and read out loud from a picture book was aimed more towards less educated families (Disclaimer: **very** huge generalization I know). Where we are currently living, it’s sad to see billboards, adverts and such with pictures of ‘upwardly mobile’ families putting aside the ‘screen’ of all types (especially phones) and sitting all dressed up in their professional work garb with their kids on their lap holding an old-fashioned picture book….the sadness lies in the fact of this basic part of parenting which is so fun and yields so much to the child and parent is being lost to families of all levels.
    Thought that might interest you, even if it’s a kind of bittersweet comment!

    • Jennie says:

      Very interesting thought, Laura. I hope the billboards and images mean that we are finally realizing good old fashioned reading aloud is still the best way to learn and connect with children. Yes, they often go about it in the wrong way (dressed in office garb). Yet, any message that promotes literacy is a good thing. Glass half full, here!

  10. J L Hunt says:

    I just love ‘Goodnight Moon’ 🙂

  11. J L Hunt says:

    Hi Jennie,
    I didn’t see your contact info, so will just leave a comment. I’m also a children’s book author, & wanted to invite you to read/review my books? I’m only mentioning it, per this is the topic at hand, so I hope you don’t mind 🙂
    I can send you a copy, & you can also contact me directly for more info, per my email info is on my logo/ gravatar.
    Thank you 🙂

  12. Pingback: Children’s Books: Old Can Be Better | By the Mighty Mumford

  13. reocochran says:

    I absolutely agree, older books may have the best language. Along with fine illustrations to show the children beauty in the artwork of the period the book was written. The great ones you listed also have second choices among them which means a valuable piece is the author’s name!
    For example: The books, “Steam Shovel for Mike” and “Make Way for Ducklings,” I believe are Robert McCloskey’s. I will check and add another reply, Jennie. . .

  14. reocochran says:

    Oops, Virginia Lee Burton wrote “The Little House” (I own this) book and “The Steam Shovel and Mike Mulligan.”

    Robert McCloskey’s books include “Blueberries for Sal” (I own this) and “Make Way for Ducklings.”

    Then, your list on this post still does connect the authors to more than one great book, Jennie. ❤

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Robin. I knew that you knew the authors. 😀. I might include Katy and the Big Snow when I do #2. So glad you enjoyed the read, and the books.

  15. Jennie, thank you for listing some of the greatest older books, like The Giving Tree and Jumanji. Both very different, but full of wisdom through learning experiences. Thank you again and I now know what I am buying every for Christmas!! 🙂

  16. Doris says:

    This is truly a wonderful post. Those of us who grew up with books & being read too know how important and rewarding it is. Thank you !!

  17. Nancy J says:

    I give books as gifts to all my grandchildren. There’s nothing greater than inspiring children to read. Unfortunately, it is becoming a lost art with teenagers and techno kids. It’s a shame. Thank you the list of books. These are new to me. These will make great gifts for the kids in my life.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Nancy. The list is some of the great ones, yet books that are not as well known. Stay tuned for #2! It is becoming a lost art with teenagers. All they need is to get hooked in a good book. And, reading-aloud makes a difference.

      • Nancy J says:

        How do you get a teen who hates reading good books interested? My fourteen-year-old granddaughter watches awful anime cartoons constantly.

      • Jennie says:

        Great question, Nancy. I was there as a teen and I hated reading. Can you read a book aloud to her, even if she is doing the dishes? If you are passionate about a book, that will come across when you read. Kate DiCamillo is a great choice- her writing is not bogged down, and the stories are very engaging. Because of Winn-Dixie and Raymie Nightingale are terrific. YOU have to be excited! My mother would put a book in my hand with little interest, and it never worked. Does this help?

      • Nancy J says:

        Unfortunately, my granddaughter lives miles away from me and her mother does not invest in her. 😦

      • Jennie says:

        That must be very hard for you, Nancy. All you can do is read-aloud whenever you can. Does your daughter have favorite books from her childhood that you read to her? That might be a great start.

      • Nancy J says:

        Not that I know of as I rarely have contact with her these days. We used to be so close. She’s caught up in high school and her awful anime. All I can do is pray for her.

  18. srbottch says:

    And I would add the wonderful ‘Strega Nona’ books by Tomie dePaola. Goodnight Moon was one of our favorites. There was another series which I’ve forgotten but it was about a family’s golden retriever. It had wonderful illustrations.

  19. You are so spot on!! I loved every single book you chose!! So hard to narrow it down too 🙂 I discover so many older, timeless tales in my library or bookshelf and then share with my students and children. Anything Steven Kellogg, Tikki Tikki Tembo, anything by Arnold Lobel (Zoo for Mister Muster is my fave) Caps for Sale, The Great Jam Sandwich, Cynthia Rylant, Angelina Ballerina, ANYTHING by Virginia Lee Burton…the list goes on 🙂 Thanks for such a great post!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Larissa! I love the books you added to the list, too. Oh, I have done so many plays with children after reading Caps For Sale! I’m working on another batch since I barely scratched the surface. Stay tuned!

  20. Goodnight Moon is a favorite, Jennie. My daughter used to carry it around the house, give it to any visitor, and say “reeead boook” (her first words). Mother Bruce and Hotel Bruce are already wrapped for the grandson. ❤

  21. Wonderful selections. There are plenty of well-done new books, but I agree, there’s something extra special about the old ones. After buying a video camera many years ago and then practicing with it around the house, I never realized at the time how much I would cherish one little clip of myself reading Goodnight Moon to my son at age 1 1/2. I shared it with him and his wife at Thanksgiving, brought back so many memories!

    • Jennie says:

      Oh, Marcia, that is wonderful. Tears, I am sure. What a moment and cherished memory for everyone. I think this could be the basis for a great blog post for you. Actually, the book list on my post barely scratches the surface. I will do #2. Owl Moon will be at the top of the list. I think I’m going to write about things that happened with each of these books. After all, if things happened, then the books were (are) good.

  22. Well done Jennie!
    I first learned about Good Night Moon when I was a Nanny in my early 20’s. Of course I had it on my Son’s bookshelf before he was born. I read that book and Where The Wild Things Are to him each night after what ever books he picked out for bedtime reading. To this day (he’s 20 now) I still carry those memories with me. ❤

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for your wonderful story! It’s a classic, and I hope parents stick with the hard copy- not ebook. I’m writing my ‘part 2’ to this post today. Happy Sunday!

  23. Everyday Mommy says:

    My all time favorite is Make Way for Ducklings. A new favorite of my son and I is Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site By Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld. We love our story time and there are definitely no E-books in my house!

  24. Nothing like you and your child curling up with an ebook before bed, said no one. I love reading to the children in my classroom and to my nephews. Turning the pages of a classic book is a joy for both 😉

  25. A true joy of life is seeing a child’s eyes light up when they are being read a story

  26. I think time allows the real gems that emerge in children’s literature to become more apparent. You get to see which books last as time goes by. And, it’s exciting to know that among what’s being published now, there are classics emerging that, in time, will start standing out from this time and place as well!

  27. patachilles says:

    Jennie, a very nice post. I’m an illustrator (for many topics, but I have done a few children’s books too) and wondered if, as a teacher, you see a need for an illustrated book on some topic that has not been well explored yet? I would like to write a book myself and illustrate it, but there are so many topics that appeal to me – I would be interested to know your thoughts. Does your experience with children show that there is a particular aspect of good picture books that reach out to a great many children?

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you. It seems that books on diversity and also fact books are currently popular. BUT, don’t limit yourself to that. A good book is a good book, and the same goes for illustrations. With preschoolers, often books that have an animal as the main character is popular. Follow your heart and do what you feel drawn to. If I were you I would spend LOTS of time in the children’s room at the library, reading and exploring. I think that will help you to find your way. Oh, and do NOT include lots of words. You’ll see what I mean when you start reading.

      • patachilles says:

        Excellent advice, thank you, Jennie – I often frequent the easy reader section of the library, and what’s funny is, what I myself enjoy sometimes contradicts what I hear from seminars from children’s publishing editors. (I have belonged to SCBWI and have attended seminars with them) The editors say they want books centered around real children and profess disinterest with animal characters – yet those are what my 3 children loved, and I still see my grandsons picking them up today! I’m not averse at all to illustrating factual books or history, and I draw children quite well, but animals are much more fun – and with the bonus that you don’t have to worry about including every possible human population segment in each illustration.
        I might add that the majority of these editors I see at seminars are in their twenties and (so far) without children. Might have something to do with it! 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        You are right! They haven’t had the experience of reading to children. To this day, animal books are still popular. But, that is preschool through grade 2. My library reading group (grade 2) is loving The Story of Dr. Doolittle. I am thinking that the advice you are hearing from publishers are for grades 3 and up, and may be for children who are reading on their own?? I can see that point.

  28. K. Rose says:

    It shocks me as well when I mention a book to me fellow teachers and they give me a blank look. And yes! I can never with a clear conscious support digital books for kids. It can be a great addition but children need tangibles! I need tangibles!

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