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Best 25 Books of 25 Years: Infant - Age 9

In researching this exceedingly difficult assignment, we went first to our in-house library – a twenty-five year archive – and compiled a list of titles selected, throughout those years, by parents, grandparents, librarians, educators and many, many children.

The Parents’ Choice “Best 25 of 25” Book Committee, comprised of parents, teachers, librarians and critics, then reviewed and reevaluated the selections, honed the list again, and again, and came up with what we believe are very fine choices. When making the final selections, we looked for a balance of humor, history, character and ethics. We must admit, that we had to divide the list into two age groups – infant through age nine, and ages 10 and up. We simply could not do it any other way.

Among the many to thank for the arduous task of making the final selections are Diana Huss Green, Kemie Nix, and Timothy Capehart.            

My Very First Mother GooseMy Very First Mother Goose

Ages: Infant - 4 yrs.
By Iona Opie, Illustrated by Rosemary Wells
Candlewick Press

Iona Opie, who with her late husband gathered the world's most scholarly collections of British verse for children, combines classic nursery rhymes with an equal number of others unfamiliar to the American ear ("From Wibbleton to Wobbleton," "Elsie Marley's grown so fine," etc.). The rhythmical mixture makes a generous volume distinctive; it's simultaneously pungent, sweet and salty. Rosemary Wells' watercolors have uproarious good humor and unfailing tenderness. John Cech ©1996 Parents' Choice

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Ages: 3 - 6 yrs.
By Bill Martin Jr. & John Archambault, Illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Simon & Schuster

The Three Little Pigs

Ages: 3 - 7 yrs.
Illustrated by James Marshall, Told By James Marshall
Penguin Putnam/Dutton Children's Books


Ages: 3 - 7 yrs.
By Ian Falconer
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/Richard Jackson Books/Atheneum

Talk about charisma! Olivia, an irresistible young pig of boundless energy, has it in spades. In this her premiere appearance, we discover that red is her favorite color, that her younger brother Ian is a pest, and that she can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art most rainy days. It may not be much. But she leaves us clamoring for more. This is also a first picture book appearance by her creator. Falconer is a welcome breath of fresh air. Selma G. Lanes ©2000 Parents' Choice

Captain Snap and the Children of Vinegar Lane
Ages: 4 - 7 yrs.
By Roni Schotter, Illustrated by Marcia Sewall
Scholastic Inc./Orchard Books

Anno’s Italy

Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Mitsumasa Anno, Illustrated by Mitsumasa Anno
Penguin Putnam Inc./ Philomel

Doctor DeSoto

Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By William Steig
Farrar, Straus & Giroux

A very cheerful story about a mouse-dentist who treats mammals bigger than himself, wearing rubbers to keep his feet dry when he's in their mouths. Steig's cartoony color illustrations make up the bulk of the book, and they are nothing short of urbane and funny, including a lovely double-spread of the tiny dentist being hoisted on a pulley by his wife-assistant so he can explore the teeth of a large donkey. The dentist's office and its furnishings, the city streets, the animal patients themselves are humorously observed by the artist, who also makes the most of the scale differential between Dr. DeSoto and those he treats. The climax comes when a dapperly-dressed but hungry fox comes for a new gold tooth, and the quick-witted dentist saves himself from ingestion by means of his professional skills. It's another story of wit and pluck winning out over knavery, beguilingly done - with (just maybe) a subliminal theme of children vs. adults.

John Henry
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Julius Lester, Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Penguin Putnam Inc./Dial Books for Young Readers

Julius, the Baby of the World

Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Kevin Henkes
Harper Collins/William Morrow

When Lily found out she was going to be a big sister she was the best big sister in the world. She sang lullabies to the unborn baby, she gave him things, she told him secrets. But-"After Julius was born, it was a different story. "Trust me. Babies are dreadful," a new Lily says candidly, and while child and adult reader laugh aloud Kevin Henkes works his text and pictures to a more than reasonably happy conclusion.

Martha Speaks
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Susan Meddaugh, Illustrated by Susan Meddaugh
Houghton Mifflin Co.

Not So Fast, Songololo

Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Niki Daly
Simon & Schuster Children's/Margaret K. McElderry


Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Jacob Grimm, Illustrated by Paul O Zelinsky
Penguin Putnam/Dutton Children's Books

According to folklore, a poor miller's lovely daughter must spin straw into gold or die. An odd little gnome-type man called Rumpelstilskin agrees to perform the impossible task for her, but only when the young woman promises him her firstborn. The maid does that, then marries the king. They soon have a child and Rumpelstiltskin comes to collect.

Richly depicted in Paul Zelinsky's oil paintings of a medieval Flemish landscape and turreted castles filled with splendid period details, the old story never loses its hold.

Tar Beach
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Faith Ringgold
Random House Children's Books/Crown

Tar Beach is the roof of a Harlem apartment building where Cassie Louise Lightfoot spends hot summer evenings with her family. She lies there under the heavens, feeling rich. To own anything, she knows, all she need do is fly up over it and it becomes hers. In bold and energetic brushstrokes, bright lights and star sparkle against dark sky. In an affecting, autobiographical book a little girl uses her imagination to free herself as the slaves did--by "flying" away.

The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Illustrated by Leo Dillon & Diane Dillon, Told By Virginia Hamilton
Random House Children's Books/Knopf

In the retelling of twenty-four tales, traditional and personal, Virginia Hamilton divides her selections into animal tales, tall tales, supernatural tales, and "slave tales of freedom." The material grows in power and impact, and the title story finishes the book with a sweep of imagery and movement. Her notes, following the stories, discuss their oral origins and discuss their impact on a slave population. The Dillon's illustrations are gray, black, and white vignettes that echo the mood of the text.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Jon Scieszka
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Penguin Putnam Inc./Viking Children's Books

The Stories Julian Tells

Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Ann Cameron
Illustrated by Ann Strugnell
Random House Children's Books

Jerusalem, Shining Still

Ages: 4 & Up
By Karla Kuskin
Illustrated by David Frampton
Harpercollins Juvenille Books

Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-Pum

Ages: 5 - 8 yrs.
By Ashley Bryan
Illustrated by Ashley Bryan
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Little Red Riding HoodLittle Red Riding Hood

Ages: 5 - 8 yrs.
By Brothers Grimm
Illustrated by Trina S. Hyman
Holiday House, Inc.

Yet another version of this grim Grimm tale, but with robust color illustrations that have a romantic nineteenth-century flavor. The book is composed of nicely-designed double spreads; one page holding text set in patterned borders, the other bearing a full-scale illustration. Full of the kind of detail that children linger over, the drawings delineate each object or creature with loving exactitude, from grandmother's teakettle to flowers that are botanically correct to the properly sly-looking wolf and his slavering tongue. The huntsman, the mother, the grandmother, and Riding Hood herself are very human, and the text has been simplified and pruned of archaisms so that contemporary children can relate to it. A fine, unpretentious "restoration" that brings new life to a clichéd classic.

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters
Ages: 5 - 8 yrs.
By John Steptoe
Harper Collins Children's Books / Amistad

Mufaro's daughters are indeed beautiful, but there the similarity between them ends. Nyasha is generous and good; Manyara is proud, vain, and selfish. When the Great King announces his desire for a wife, Mufaro plans to present both daughters as candidates. But Manyara is determined to be the Queen, and schemes to be first to appear before the King. As one might expect in folklore, her attitude brings about her downfall.
Inspired by an African folktale much like the European Cinderella, Steptoe tells this one with an original and graceful eloquence. Set near what is now Zimbabwe, the magnificent paintings breathe new life into traditional character types.

The Polar Express
Ages: 5 & Up
By Chris Van Allsburg
Houghton Mifflin Co.

Christmas eve. A child peers out his bedroom window to see an old fashioned train waiting in the street below. Welcomed aboard by the conductor he joins other pajamaed children on a night ride to visit Santa Claus. Mr. Van Allsburg captures the mysterious mood of this magical journey in glowing oil pastels. They spread across generous, horizontal pages handsomely designed, frozen moments. Some double pages are especially haunting: the big engine steaming on a snowy suburban street; the train seen from afar, its tiny lights circling one mountain in a vast range; and that final silver bell. But Santa and his reindeer are as still and expressionless as painted sculpture. And the crowd scene of elves at the North Pole looks ominous, like a night meeting in Red Square. This is an interesting, original conception executed thoughtfully and with great skill. But the somber art never really illuminates the gentle rejoicing of the words.

A Chair for My Mother
Ages: 7 - 10 yrs.
By Vera B. Williams
Harper Collins Children's Books / Greenwillow

Hey Willy, See the Pyramids

Ages: 7 - 10 yrs.
By Maira Kalman
Penguin Putnam Inc./Viking Children's Books

A big sister named Lulu tells ten very short stories, some about cross-eyed dogs dining at fancy-schmancy restaurants, one about Maishel Shmelkin, who forgot his pants, and one about Cousin Ervin, who has a green face and orange hair. All are illustrated in lots of primary colors and 1950's kitchen-counter-linoleum patterning. Yes, the art quotes from other artwork; yes, it's another try at postmodernism for children and with the requisite amount of ironic detachment to make it qualify. But this book has genuine warmth. A party for endearing oddballs takes place in the sunshine. Attending are many relatives, many twins, many animals, and so many sweet mutants you may feel off balance but you won't feel bored.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
Ages: 7 - 10 yrs.
By Bette Lord, Illustrated by Marc Simont
Harper & Row

Ramona Quimby, Age 8

Ages: 7 - 11 yrs.
By Beverly Cleary, Illustrated by Alan Tiegreen
Harper Collins/William Morrow
So Far From the Bamboo Grove The Boy and the Samurai The Boy and the Samurai Because of Winn-Dixie Because of Winn-Dixie Fallen Angels The New Way Things Work Weetzie Bat The Ghost in The Tokiado Inn The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm Joey Pigza Loses Control Catherine, Called Birdy Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush The Three Little Pigs Olivia The Polar Express A Chair for My Mother Hey Willy, See the Pyramids Julius, the Baby of the World Martha Speaks Not So Fast, Songololo Tar Beach The People Could Fly The Stinky Cheese


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Best 25 Books of 25 Years: Ages 10 & Up
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