As a preschool teacher and a mom, I'm well-versed in all of today's best-selling books. I can quote the hot literary cats (Pete, Splat, and the Cat in the Hat) by heart. I can say "No!" to David and the Pigeon. I appreciate the girl-power individuality of Pinkalicious, Ada Twist, and Ladybug Girl. I've followed the adventures of Judy Moody, the Weird School, and Junie B. Jones. But I sometimes wonder whether today's kids are being exposed to
the more obscure children's books that I, and generations before me, loved.
As wonderful as today's hot kids' books are, there's something to be said for the days when authors didn't have to worry about creating characters that could easily be turned into merchandise and Nickelodeon cartoons. A writer like Beverly Cleary could turn away from Ramona and Beezus for a while in order to write an
Otis Spofford or Mitch and Amy. Established adult authors, like Aldous Huxley and Gertrude Stein, could write children's books that still maintained their individual style. And long before Fancy Nancy showed off her vocabulary, publisher Clifton Fadiman wrote about Wally, a bookworm who discovered words like syzygy and chimera. That book ignited my lifelong love for words in a way that a licensed-character book never could. (The book also includes the very first pun I ever heard: "The Moa is no moa.")
Next time you're at the library or browsing online for books, try going beyond your usual choices. Introduce your child to the Borrowers, the Sneetches, Ralph the Mouse, the Ordinary Princess, Chester Cricket, the Saturdays, or another of the many
forgotten children's classics. You'll both be glad you did. 1 'Ellen Tebbits'
Beverly Cleary will forever be beloved for her
Ramona and Henry Huggins series, but she also wrote a number of other books with relatable characters and timeless themes. tells the story of two inseparable besties whose friendship is tested during a heated fight. Will Ellen ever get Austine to forgive her? Ellen Tebbits Click here to buy. 2 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'
Who else but the creator of James Bond could have written a story about a magical flying, swimming, crime-fighting car? Ian Fleming's only children's book,
, was made into a 1960s movie with Dick Van Dyke, but it's worth reading the original first. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Click here to buy. 3 'The 13 Clocks'
Got a fairytale fan in the house? Then you need a copy of this James Thurber classic,
, on your shelf. It has everything a fantasy lover could desire: a princess, her evil uncle, a bold suitor, magic, intrigue, and a happy ending. The 13 Clocks Click here to buy. 4 'Half Magic'
First published in 1954,
is the first in a series of books by Edward Eager about turn-of-the-century cousins who discover that magic is trickier than it seems. In this case, they come across a magical coin that grants wishes... but only by half. And half a wish can sometimes be worse than no wish at all (just ask the cat). Half Magic Click here to buy. 5 'Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose'
Will your brain turn to utter mush if you have to read
Green Eggs and Ham or The Cat in the Hat one. more. time? Remember that Dr. Seuss wrote dozens of other books, and this is one gem that's often overlooked. In , nice-guy Thidwick lets a series of animals take shelter in his large antlers, only to find that the freeloaders might actually be endangering his life. This book is a great lesson in the importance of standing up for yourself. Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose Click here to buy. 6 'There's a Wocket in My Pocket!'
Another lesser-known Seuss book worth adding to your library is
A boy who lives with a variety of odd creatures (a Jertain in the curtain, Yeps on the steps, a Yottle in a bottle) will give your kids a good giggle and teach them that rhyming is about sounds, not necessarily meaning. There's a Wocket in My Pocket! Click here to buy. 7 'All-Of-a-Kind Family'
Sydney Taylor's book
was one of my absolute favorites, and it could become one of your child's, too. It's a look at life on New York's Lower East Side in the early 1900s through the experiences of Jewish sisters Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie. You'll find yourself yearning to try roasted sweet potatoes from a pushcart vendor and cut out paper dolls from magazines. Taylor wrote a couple of sequels which are even harder to come by, but worth the search. All-of-a-Kind Family Click here to buy. 8 'The Hundred Dresses'
This Newbery Honor-winning book,
, was first published in 1944, but its lesson still resonates with young readers today. Young Wanda Petronski, a poor Polish girl, insists she has a hundred dresses at home, much to the amusement of her teasing classmates. Only after Wanda and her father move away do the children discover the startling truth. The Hundred Dresses Click here to buy. 9 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever'
Once you've gotten your fill of the Grinch and
The Polar Express, add to your holiday list. The six rowdy Herdman siblings, the terrors of their neighborhood, start coming to church for the free food and are soon cast in the Nativity pageant. Will they ruin the play, or will the spirit of the season change their ways? The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Click here to buy. 10 Leo the Late Bloomer
Sweet little Leo lags behind his friends in reading, writing, speaking and even eating neatly in
His dad worries that something's wrong, but his mom knows that some little ones just need extra time to blossom. A must-read for any family with their own late bloomer. Leo the Late Bloomer. Click here to buy. 11 'Pippi in the South Seas'
The popular pigtailed heroine returns in this romp of a sequel,
, that doesn't get as much attention as it should. Pippi's sea-captain dad invites Pippi and her two best friends to his home on tropical Kurrekurredutt Island. The kids have the time of their lives — but will Pippi want to go back to Sweden after being treated like royalty in this land without "pluttification"? Pippi in the South Seas Click here to buy. 12 'A Bargain for Frances'
The gentle adventures of this little badger make a nice break from the flashier animal series.
In Frances' friend Thelma sweet-talks her into spending her savings on her old tea set, only to find that Thelma has used the money to buy the tea set Frances A Bargain for Frances, really wanted. Click here to buy. 13 'The Cricket in Times Square'
An unlikely trio of friends — a subway-dwelling mouse, cat, and a country cricket visiting New York for the first time — explore the city's wonders from an animal's point of view in
. Chester Cricket's unusual gift for music also helps a boy and his family whose newsstand is in danger of going out of business. The Cricket in Times Square Click here to buy. 14 'The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo'
Introduce your child to Judy Blume's wonderful writing with this tale of Freddy Dissle, a middle child who feels like a nobody until a school play gives him a chance to shine in
. Other Blume titles for younger readers: The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo Freckle Juice and The Pain and the Great One. Click here to buy. 15 'Emma Kate'
Emma Kate is never lonely when her imaginary friend is around. They go to school together, do homework together, and share ice cream. But just who is Emma Kate's mysterious friend? The answer will surprise both your child
and you! If you love , try some of Polacco's other titles, such as Emma Kate Thunder Cake, Thank You, Mr. Falker, and My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother. Click here to buy. 16 'The Saturdays'
This 1941 book,
, follows the four Melendy children's adventures as they agree to pool their allowances every week and let each sibling in turn use the money to have a Saturday afternoon adventure. Your child will be enchanted, and you'll be nostalgic for a time when it was considered no big deal for kids under 13 to explore New York City on their own. The Saturdays Click here to buy. 17 'The Ordinary Princess'
M.M. Kaye's delightful 1980 book,
, puts a twist on the traditional fairy godmother tales. Princess Amy, gifted by a fairy with ordinariness, rebels against a life of tapestry-sewing and harp-playing. Escaping an arranged marriage, Amy takes a job as a kitchen maid in the next kingdom, and what happens is anything but ordinary. This deserves a place on your shelf next to the Disney princess tales and The Ordinary Princess Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? Click here to buy. 18 'Freaky Friday'
If all your kids know about this story is the new Disney Channel movie, then it's time to introduce them to the original 1972 book
. True, it has no singing, no magic timepieces, and no subplots about second marriages, but the basic message is the same — you can learn a lot about someone (even your mom) by walking in their shoes. Freaky Friday Click here to buy. 19 'Wally the Wordworm'
My childhood treasure, this
super-obscure book, , is tough to find, but a delight to read if you can get your hands on a copy. Wally, a bookworm who's tired of eating his way through old picture books, discovers a dictionary. As he turns the pages, he (and your child) discover such juicy words as Wally the Wordworm palindrome, dwindle, escalator, and somersault. Click here to buy.