Dec 12, 2014

Your Family's Favorite Books (Q and LA)

Welcome to our ninth session of Q and LA (questions and Lutheran answers). As you may recall,

"This is just a discussion that we wish we were having over tea and coffee in someone’s living room. There would probably be kids yelling in the background. There would probably be cookies, and spilled tea."

Feel free to join our virtual tea party by chiming in with your own advice, input, or anecdotes (we love anecdotes) in the comments.

If you want to send us questions for a later addition of Q and LA, you can add them below in the comments or e-mail them to sister-daughter-mother-wife (at)

Today's Question:

As we approach Christmas, I’ve been thinking about getting books for my kids. I’d love to know the title of your favorite family picture book, and what your favorite chapter book is, and why these books are so special. Thanks!

Heather Judd (a classroom teacher)

Oh, dear. You know it is dangerous to ask book-lovers for ONE favorite book, right? Limiting myself (almost) to three is about as much as I can bear.

One of my favorite picture books is The Jolly Postman by Janet & Allan Ahlberg. It is delightfully British, has sweet and detailed illustrations, is filled with references to favorite fairy tales, and includes actual "letters" to be opened and read. It can be a quick read or occupy hours for children who want to pore over every detail of each of the letters. If you want gorgeous, detailed illustrations with a more mature story, Margaret Hodges' retelling of Saint George and the Dragon is magnificent. For a favorite family story that children can almost learn by heart but that adults enjoy, too, I highly recommend Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern.

(Let us assume that C. S. Lewis and Tolkien are taken for granted as favorite chapter books.) E. Nesbit is one of my favorite children's authors. Many of her books are enjoyable, but you might start with The Treasure Seekers, or her more fantasy-tinged Five Children and It. I relish Nesbit's wise and witty portrayals of Victorian children. They appeal to young readers or listeners for their adventure, while amusing older readers who can see the authorial joking through the plain, honest narration of the children in the stories. A Bear Called Paddington and its sequels by Michael Bond are endlessly amusing no matter one's age. I also remember my fascination with Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH the first time I encountered its unusual combination of mystery and science fiction and animal story, and it has endured rereading fairly well, too.

Rachel Kovaciny (a parent of young children)

My children all absolutely adore The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey and Don Wood.  My kids are very pro-mouse, being convinced that they themselves are mice (and we do nothing to discourage this because we think it's cute), and in this story, although the narrator warns the mouse repeatedly that a big hungry bear is going to steal the mouse's strawberry, no bear ever materializes.  Also, the illustrations are detailed and adorable.

My own favorite picture book, though, is The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss.  I love how Bartholomew remains cheerful and kind even though something very weird is happening with his hat and he's in terrible peril as a result.

My favorite chapter book ever is The Black Stallion by Walter Farley.  I had a penchant for stories about people marooned on deserted islands and learning to survive there, and I also love horses.  Alec Ramsey is another unquenchable character who doesn't flop around bemoaning his fate, but goes about figuring out how to care for himself.  I've read this book probably two dozen times, starting when I was seven.  It has been a faithful companion, and taught me a lot about self-reliance, helping others, letting others help you, and standing firm in adversity.

Right now, my seven-year-old is madly in love with Elizabeth Enright's "Melendy Quartet" books. He has renewed The Four-Story Mistake twice because he can't bear to take it back to the library and not have it at hand to re-read every day or two.  He says he likes it because it's funny and nothing very bad happens during it.

Leigh Spittel (a parent of adult children)

Reading books to my four children was always a delightful experience that we repeated at least twice daily. Although we read hundreds of books together, a few always remained our favorites, likely because of the optimism and determination of their characters. Our favorite picture books were The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton, and The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. When my children approached Kindergarten age, we moved up to chapter books and enjoyed reading a daily chapter or two. Among our favorites were "The Chronicles of Narnia" series by C.S. Lewis and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien,  20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Pleasant Company's "American Girls" Series. These books instilled adventure, imagination, solid character development and a passion for history. I hope that my adult children will read these books to their children someday. Reading expands the mind , builds vocabulary and fosters a bond forever.

Allison Kieselowsky (a parent and homeschool teacher of young children)

Picture Books

A Visitor for Bear (Bonny Becker)

We think the persistent mouse is a hoot. We must like mildly neurotic characters because in addition to the bear in this book, we like Gerald the elephant in Mo Willems' Gerald and Piggie books.

Early Reader Chapter Book

Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake (Cynthia Rylant)
Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book (Cynthia Rylant)

These books come in a series of books with the same four characters: aged Mr. Putter and his equally ancient cat Tabby, and their neighbors, the elderly but spry Mrs. Teaberry and her dog Zeke. They find themselves in all sorts of crazy situations, usually because of Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke.

These two particular books do not include silly antics, but we love them for the poignant pauses and sly humor, two things often lacking in Rylant's Henry and Mudge books and Poppleton books. I think her illustrator (Arthur Howard) makes a huge difference because he fleshes out much of the subtle silliness of the characters. (As an example, study the picture of the toaster at the end of Bake the Cake.)

The books are all about true friendship and how to love one's neighbor, even when that neighbor is just a little kooky.

Read-Aloud Chapter Books 

(From The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Silver Chair

We happen to have an illustrated version of this book, which offers one picture per chapter. The chapters are the perfect length to keep the stories moving without getting too bogged down. My daughters shriek and hide with anxiety when the witches in both stories attempt to enchant the characters and then outright cheer when the noble ones thwart evil.

Even if the children are too young to pick up the Christian imagery and allusions, they can be entranced by the plot and fall in love with the characters. There's nothing better than a story that convinces the reader that another world exists and that it's worth suspending disbelief to become part of the characters' lives. C.S. Lewis certainly does this beautifully.


  1. I love the Velveteen Rabbit, but I've not read it for more than 5 years to our children. When I did read it, my sensitive son had a melt-down. He was crying and insisted I burn it. I have it still, but I'm scared to read it again.

    These aren't necessarily our very favoritess (who could pick just one?), but they are ones the kids love and come to mind easily:

    Board books: most by Sandra Boynton, especially _What's Wrong Little Pookie?_.

    Picture books: _The Gruffalo_ by Julia Donaldson--This was a library book my kids memorized this year they read it so much. Also, _Puff the Magic Dragon_ with accompanying cd and _John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads_ with cd and awesome illustrations. My favorite CPH book is _God Made It for You!_ by Charles Lehmann.

    The chapter books my children love the most are the Little House books. In addition to the aloud reading, my 9-year-old has read the entire series 2 or 3 times. Those are my absolute all-time favorites.

    1. I refuse to read "The Velveteen Rabbit" to my children because I will cry and have a meltdown at the end of it. Wretched book.

    2. Sad books are tricky. I upset my poor little sister once by giving her an audio book of Where the Red Fern Grows to listen to when she was sick as a child, and for years after she refused to read any book unless someone assured her that it had a happy ending.

  2. Jody, I believe the popularity of The Little House books (and probably the TV show) has downplayed the literary quality of those stories, especially Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie. The writing is sublime; they are true American treasures.

    Picture Books: Robert McCloskey and Else Minarik books. My children also like the Golden Books having to do with "Helping Mommy" "Helping Daddy," etc (one of our kids is getting "Doctor Dan, the Bandage Man" for Christmas). My boys LOVE Richard Scarry.

    A new favorite is Building Our House (for the homesteader in us all ;) And the mom has a baby at the end

    Chapter books: Little House, many of the Augusta Stephens (and others) historic biographies, Henry Reed books, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Dr. Harriet stories, and the Lang's Fairy Stories (Red Fairy Book, Violet, Blue, etc.)

    Thanks all for sharing!

    1. I agree about the Little House books. I read them over and over as a child, teenager, and adult. Then I became a mother and read them again with new eyes and found even more to appreciate.

  3. Oh, so many favorite books! My baby son's new favorite is "Little Blue Truck" as well as the "Llama, Llama" series. "Silly Sally" is a favorite as is "Drummer Hoff". We already read quite a bit every day. For longer picture books, I highly recommend "I'd Choose You" by John Trent. Absolutely beautiful for children of all ages!


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