Get ready for a nostalgia overload.
When you were a kid, there was nothing better than curling up with your favorite book. Now that you’re older, and you’re a parent (or an aunt, uncle, or teacher), why not introduce the next generation of readers to a few of the classics?
Some children’s books have aged remarkably well. We’re talking about titles like…
1. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
Published in 1992, this compendium of off-kilter fairy tales benefits from the brilliant wit of writer Jon Scieszka and the postmodern illustrations of Lane Smith. It retells famous fairy tales but adds in strange twists.
For example, the Frog Prince isn’t really a prince, just a frog who wants a kiss. The title story features the Stinky Cheese Man, who has the opposite problem of the Gingerbread Man: Nobody wants to get anywhere near him.
This classic captures a kid’s sense of humor without getting too gross, and it’s worth it for the illustrations alone.
Get a hardcover copy of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales here for $9.
You might know it as “Corduroy Bear,” but the official title of this Don Freeman book is simply Corduroy.
Published in 1968, it’s the story of a teddy bear in a department store with a button missing from his overalls. A girl named Lisa asks her mother to buy the bear, but the mother refuses, because the bear is imperfect. Naturally, the bear comes to life at night and sets out on a mission to find his missing button, hoping that he’ll be able to get Lisa to buy him.
He is unable to find his button, but Lisa comes back the next day with money from her piggy bank. After taking the bear home, Lisa replaces the lost button, and they share a hug. There’s a decent message about friendship, and the artwork is absolutely adorable. Freeman followed Corduroy with a sequel, A Pocket for Corduroy, which is just as enchanting if you’re familiar with the original.
Get a paperback copy of Corduroy here for $6.
3. Frog and Toad Are Friends
Published in 1970, Frog and Toad Are Friends tells the story of a frog and toad who are friends. Who says that you can’t judge a book by its cover?
Author and illustrator Arnold Lobel tells five stories about the titular characters eating cookies, looking for buttons, reading stories, and writing letters.
It’s light on the drama but heavy on the charm. Although this is a picture book, it’s got enough text to challenge younger readers.
Get a hardcover copy of the Frog and Toad Storybook Treasury here for $8.
4. James and the Giant Peach
Really, we could have chosen any of Roald Dahl’s books, as they’re all childhood classics. Once your child reads one, they’ll want to read the rest.
James and the Giant Peach is the fantastic tale of an English orphan who flies around on a massive peach with seven magical garden bugs. They must deal with mischief from the Cloud-Men and James’ cruel aunts, but they eventually triumph, navigating the peach to New York City (where it’s eaten by hungry children).
A breathtaking work of imagination, James and the Giant Peach references other Roald Dahl books, engaging young minds and bringing them into a rich world of fantasy.
Depending on which version you had as a kid, the illustrations of your copy were probably done by one of two illustrators. Get a copy of the Quentin Blake–illustrated version (top picture) here for $8 or the Lane Smith–illustrated version (bottom picture) for $8.
5. Charlotte’s Web
Although Charlotte’s Web might not be appropriate for the youngest readers—it contains a death, so it’s not entirely free from drama—this 1952 novel is one of the greatest children’s books of all time.
The story starts when a little girl rescues a piglet named Wilbur. Years later, Wilbur is brought to a new farm, where he quickly makes friends with a spider named Charlotte. The farmers intend to slaughter Wilbur (again, not the best story for younger kids), but Charlotte saves him by weaving messages into her web. While Wilbur is saved, eventually Charlotte dies of old age, but not before she leaves behind a sac of eggs.
It’s hard to imagine a more charming story involving a spider and a pig. E.B. White’s beloved tale has delighted generations, and it still packs a surprisingly emotional punch. It’s been produced as a musical, a film, and even a video game, but the book is still the best way to experience the journey.
Get a hardcover copy of Charlotte’s Web here for $8.
6. The Giving Tree
What, exactly, is the point of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree? This is one of the few children’s books that leaves its message up to the interpretation of the reader, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so timeless.
In The Giving Tree, a boy grows up with an apple tree, playing on her branches and eating her fruit. As he grows older, he visits the tree less often, but still stops by for things that he needs. The tree allows him to sell her apples, build a house from her branches, and make a boat from her trunk. When the boy grows into an old man, he returns to the tree, which is now a stump. He rests on the trunk, and the book ends by noting that the tree is happy.
Whether you interpret this as an environmental message, a statement on parent–child relationships, a religious allegory, or all of the above, it’s one of those books that you can’t get out of your head.
Get a copy of The Giving Tree here for $8.
7. The Velveteen Rabbit
The Velveteen Rabbit is speeding toward its 100th anniversary, and although it was written in 1922, it has aged remarkably well.
The story is about (shocker) a velveteen stuffed rabbit that is given to a boy at Christmas. The boy prefers other toys, but the rabbit slowly becomes his favorite. Meanwhile, the rabbit learns that the love of children can turn toys into real animals.
Tragedy strikes when the boy becomes sick with scarlet fever. Doctors order that all of his toys should be quarantined and burned; the rabbit is left in a sack while he awaits his fate. Thinking of his friend, he cries a single tear and becomes a real rabbit with the help of a magical fairy.
He later returns to look at his human friend one more time, and of course the boy notices that the rabbit looks something like his old stuffed toy. Even the synopsis is enough to make us tear up.
Get a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit for $6.
8. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
There are two versions of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. One features the terrifying artwork of Stephen Gammell, whereas the other has decidedly less scary illustrations from Brett Helquist. Although Helquist does a perfectly adequate job, you’ll want the version with Gammel’s nightmarish ink drawings; they’re the ones you remember from your childhood.
The Scary Stories series features American folklore, original tales, and urban legends, often told with a grim sense of humor. The first book was published in 1981 then followed up by two more anthologies, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones.
Buy all three, and you’ll have 82 terrifying tales accompanied with some of the most fear-inducing artwork ever created. Granted, any kid who reads through these will have at least a few nightmares, but that’s part of the fun.
Get a set of all three books illustrated by Gammell here for $15.
9. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Kids love Laura Joffe Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie because of its circular story. When you’re only a few years old, it blows your mind.
In the book, a boy gives a mouse a cookie (so you get what you paid for right away on the first page). The mouse asks for milk, then a straw, then a mirror, then nail clippers, then a broom.
Pretty soon, the boy is telling the mouse stories, tucking him into bed, and helping him draw pictures. The mouse asks to display his picture on the refrigerator, and when the boy obliges, the mouse realizes that he’s thirsty. He asks for a glass of milk, then a cookie, and…well, the story starts over again.
Yes, it’s sort of an allegory for the parent–child relationship, but really, it’s just a cute little story about a mouse and cookie. What’s not to love?
Get a copy of the classic If You Give a Mouse a Cookie here for $11.