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The Most Important Books, Listed by Age (Part One of My Required Reading List)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on January 5, 2011

Introduction to the list

Why another list?

     I realize that there are tons of book lists out there—and in general, I love them. I love them so much that I included a chapter-long recommended book list in my book—one that lists books just for children ages preschool through age 8.  So why do we need another list?  Because this is different kind of list.  As much as I love the lists, and as much as I love the idea of owning a million books, I’ve recently had to accept that a million books just won’t fit into my house—no matter how hard I try (and believe me, I’ve tried!)

What’s wrong with the other lists?

     Over the years, I’ve discovered many wonderful book lists.  But many of the lists I’ve found are too long and too overwhelming.  Besides, who can afford all those books, anyway?  And who can possibly make the time to read them all?  Most families—ours included–are forced to pare down our bookshelves and our book lists to those that are most important—those that we really don’t want our children to miss (O.K., O.K., I have to admit, I still have tons of books…we’ll still read lots of books that aren’t on my list…but I do want to be sure that my children read/hear the most important ones.  I have a senior again this year, and I’m realizing that there are too many she’s missed—and I don’t want that to happen with my younger two!)

     I have also found some common problems with many of the book lists I have found:

1) Many of the lists are developmentally inappropriate—either in regards to reading level or content.

2) Many of the lists nowadays include books that I don’t want my children to read, for various personal reasons (especially the lists from the public schools and public libraries.)  I just don’t trust their suggestions.  I try to choose books that show the difference between good and evil clearly; books that show parents in a good light; books that include a good over-all moral or redemptive theme (the sinner learns a lesson/good prevails/the characters grow), and so on.  I admit that at the high school level I struggle to weigh the pro’s and con’s of many of the “classics,” and the value versus the potential harm of many books (such as Lord of the Rings.)  How do you draw the line between “fun” and “fantasy” and “occult”?  <SIGH>

3) Many of the modern lists leave out the traditional classics, replacing them with the types of books I listed above.

4) Most of the book lists I have found are limited to certain age-levels.

        So I decided that I needed to make my own list—a special kind of list.  A list of the most important books.  Not a million books—just 25 books or less per age-range.  This is my basic list—my ideal list of “required” reading for my kids.  (If I could only have 25 books per age range, these are the ones that I would pick.)  I know I’m leaving out lots of good ones–I hope you’ll share your favorites with me by adding a comment.

Why do you include a listening level AND a reading level on your lists?  And why do the reading lists overlap in age?

     Children’s abilities, maturity, and interests vary greatly within the normal range, and so it is natural that the reading levels would overlap. 

      Once your children are willing to listen to longer books, they will enjoy listening to you read aloud books that are one or two age levels above their actual age or reading level. That’s why I include a separate “listening” level.        

     Once your children are reading independently, remember that their confidence and fluency will grow leaps and bounds if you allow them to read lots of “easy books” at first—yes, even books below their actual age/reading level.

     Remember that children enjoy repetition; they will want you to read aloud many of their favorite books over and over, even when you think they have “outgrown” them. 

     Finally, remember that these “reading levels” are not an exact science.  These are just my opinions of approximate age level.  I judge the reading levels by the difficulty of the words included AND according to my judgement of the content (story-line/theme) the book.  For another opinion on the reading level of specific books, check out Scholastic’s Book Wizard Site. 

      So, here we go.  Here is my list of the “can’t be missed”, most important books for children, from infancy through high school, PART ONE (and remember, there is a much longer and more complete list of books in my book, including holiday/seasonal books, just for preschool through age 8-10 or so.)

Babies and Toddlers

     What kind of books do babies need?  Babies and toddlers need simple text and pictures, bright colors OR black and white.  They like pictures of real things—especially other babies or animals, and they need books that include repetition. 

     Even if it seems as if your baby isn’t listening at first, keep reading to him anyway.  Reading to your baby is vital to baby’s cognitive, speech, and language development.  Idea for wiggly babies: Try skipping the text for a time and just talking to your baby about the pictures—or self-“edit” the text to keep it extremely short.   Babies aged 18 month-olds and up (or so) can begin to learn to identify and point out items in the pictures.) 

Note: I put a star after the books I’ve seen as “board books”.

 1.  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See?*

2.  Goodnight, Goodnight, by Eve Rice

3.  Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown* (I think I have this one memorized!)

5.  It Looked Like Spilt Milk, by Charles G. Shaw

6.  Pat the Bunny, by Dorothy Kunhardt*

7.  Prayer for a Child, by Rachel Field*

8.  Read-Aloud Bible Stories, by Ella Lindvall

9.  Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown*

10.  The Foot Book, by Dr. Seuss (a first book of opposites, in rhyme, as only Dr. Seuss can do)*

11.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle*

12.  The Big Red Barn, by Margaret Wise Brown*

13.  The Discovery Toys Book of Nursery Rhymes, by Julie Lacome (out of print but worth the search; classic first rhymes and songs to sing, such as “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”; not too long for little ones)

14.  Very Busy Spider, by Eric Carle*

Little Golden Books: 

15.  The Animals of Farmer Jones, by Richard Scarry

16.  Bow Wow, Meow!  A First Book of Sounds by Melanie Bellah and Trina Schart

17.  The Jolly Barnyard, by Annie North Bedford

18.  The Three Little Kittens by Paul Galdone

Chunky Books:  These are tiny board books that stand up in a circle.  Babies love the real pictures or animals and babies, and they are just the right size for tiny hands!  All my babies loved these.

19.  Baby’s Animal Friends (a Chunky Board Book), by Phoebe Dunn*

20.  Baby’s Busy Year, (a Chunky Board Book), by Phoebe Dunn*

 21.  Farm Animals (a Chunky Board Book), by Phoebe Dunn*

 Books to Sing:

22.  Old MacDonald Had a Farm (a Little Golden Book), by Kathi Ember

23.  10 in the Bed, by Penny Dale (a must have!)

2-3 Year Olds (the books listed above, plus):

(Note: Many children will be ready to move up to some of the books in the next section at age 2.5)

1.  Angus Lost, by Marjorie Flack

2.  Angus and the Cat, by Marjorie Flack

3.  Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack

4.  A Pocket for Corduroy, by Dan Freeman

5.  Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina

6.  Corduroy, by Dan Freeman

7.  Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, (best of a series of “Monkey” books), by Eileen Christelow

8.  Gingerbread Man, The, retold by Jim Aytesworth,  illustrated by Barbara McClintock

9.  How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight, by Jane Yolen

10.  Is Your Mama a Llama? By Deborah Guarino

11.  Jesus Loves Me (a Cuddle and Sing Book), by Debby Anderson

12.  Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag

13.   Mother Goose, by Gyo Fujikawa (or your favorite version)

14.  Mother, Mother, I want Another! By Maria Polushkin

15.  The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories, by Karen Henley

16.  The Big Hungary Bear, by Audrey Wood

17.  The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper

18.  The Napping House, by Audrey Wood

18.  The Very Grouchy Ladybug, by Eric Carle 

Little Golden Books:

20.  Home For a Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown

21.  Little Red Caboose, by Marian Potter & Tibor Gergely

22.  The Golden Egg Book, by Margaret Wise Brown

23.  The Pokey Little Puppy, by Sebring Lowry

24.  Scuffy the Tugboat, by Gertrude Crampton

25.  The Three Bears, by F. Rojankovsky

Listening Level: Preschoolers (ages 3-5)

The Books Above, plus:

 (So, so very hard to choose!  I tried to choose classics and books that inspire the love of reading/fun. I cheated a little on this list and included multiple titles by one author in one entry. For a more complete list, see my book, Homepreschool and Beyond.) 

1.  A Child’s Garden of Verses, written by Robert Lewis Stevenson, illustrated by Tasha Tudor (or your own favorite version)

2.  A House is a House for Me, by Mary Ann Hoberman

3.  Bedtime for Frances, Bread and Jam for Frances, (part of a series of Francis books), by Russell Hoban    

4.  Biggest Bear, by Lynd Ward

5.  Christian Mother Goose, volumes I and II, by Marjorie Ainsborough Decker

6.  Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter, by Beatrix Potter

7.  Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, The, by A.A. Milnes

8.  Complete Tales of Curious George, by Hans A Rey

9.  Donkey-donkey  and Petunia by Roger Duvoisin (out of print)

10.  Harry and the Lady Next Door, Harry by the Sea, Harry the Dirty Dog, No Roses For Harry, and others by Gene Zion

11.  James Herriot’s Treasury For Children, by James Herriot

12.  Katy and the Big Snow, Little House, The; Mike  Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and others by Virginia Lee Burton

13.  Katy No-Pocket, story by Emmy Payne, illustrated by H. A. Rey

14.  Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge,  by Hildegarde

15.  Make Way for Ducklings, Lentil, Blueberries for Sal, and others by Robert McCloskey

16.  Over and Over, by Charlotte Zontolow (a couple pages of Halloween content; a book about the progression of the seasons and the holidays)

17.  Selfish Giant, The, written by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

18.  Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson

19.  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Stieg (contains “magic” in a fairytale way)

20.  The Story about Ping, by Kurt Wiese

21.  Tikki Tikki Tembo, by Arlene Mosel

22.  Wee Gillis, by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson

23.  Wonderful Shrinking Shirt, The, Leone Castell Anderson (out of print, but oh, so worth the search!)

24.  Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney

Another Book to Sing:

25.  Do Your Ears Hang Low? And Other Silly Songs, by Pamela Cote

26.  (O.K., so I cheated! Rather than take one out, I have to add:  Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch.

 Beginning Readers

Listening Level:  Preschool through Second Grade

Independent Reading Level: First through Fourth

 1.  A Fly Went By, by Mike McClintock

2.  Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman

3.  Fox In Socks, by Dr. Seuss

4.  Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss

5.  Go, Dog, Go, by P.D. Eastman

6.  Hop on Pop, by Dr. Seuss

7.  I Can Read Series: Amelia Bedlia, Owl at Home, Frog and Toad (series), Clipper Ship, Little Bear (series), Mouse Tales and many others.  These are nice because they are graded for you. 

8.  “I Can’t” Said the Ant, by Polly Cameron

9.  In a People House, by Theo LeSieg

10.  I Want to Be Somebody New, by Robert Lopshire

11.  Nate the Great (series), by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

12.  One Fish, two fish, red fish blue fish, by Dr. Seuss

13.  Put Me in the Zoo, by Robert Lopshire

14.  Sam and the Firefly, by P.D. Eastman

15.  Step Into Reading Books:  I Like Bugs, Eat My Dust: Henry Ford’s First Race, George Washington and the General’s Dog, and many others, also graded for you…and like the “I Can Read” series, you can find books suited to your children’s interests. 

     Part two–coming soon!



© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.


One Response to “The Most Important Books, Listed by Age (Part One of My Required Reading List)”

  1. Lacey said

    Wow, this is SOOOO awesome!

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