The Best Children’s Books from Our Childhood

by Katy Svehaug
May 5, 2016

In celebration of Children’s Book Week and the power of storytelling throughout generations, we asked Cooney Center staff members to reflect on their favorite children’s books, along with the new stories they’re excited to share with their own children. We hope you’ll share your favorites, new and old, in the comments.

1031461Executive Director Michael Levine loved books that captured his imagination as a child, from Where the Wild Things Are to Goodnight Moon. “Two other favorites were Stone Soup and Brother Eagle, Sister Sky—I loved the simple beauty of the illustrations, social justice messages, and loving humor that the wise storytellers passed down.” Michael says his kids were thrilled with hearing stories about the kind of village it takes to be happy and successful.

41WvnspNvtL._SY394_BO1204203200_Lili Toutounas, Senior Manager of Administration,  relishes sharing her childhood favorites with her 4-year-old son, Omar. “Babar hooked me as a child with its intricate story lines and the aspect of mystery,” she explains. “Now, we both love the Babar books.” Some of Omar’s recent favorites include Three Billy Goats GruffBut No ElephantsA Color of His Own, and Caps for Sale.

“I don’t think my four-year-old has come across a book that she doesn’t love,” says Director of Web and Strategic Communications Catherine Jhee. “This morning, she told me her current favorite is Ella Bella Ballerina and the Sleeping Beauty by James Mayhew.” One of her daughter’s favorite e-books is Goldilocks and Little Bear by Nosy Crow. “It doesn’t seem to get old for her,” Catherine explains. “She’s able to enjoy it with and without narration, as well as from Goldilocks’ and Little Bear’s perspectives.” While A Wrinkle in Time and the Ramona books are long-time favorites from her own childhood, Room on the Broom is one book she’s come to love as a parent. “It’s a wonderfully told story of friendship, teamwork, and inclusion,” she said. “And the movie is great too!”

Room on the Broom

In Room on the Broom, a cheerful witch and her cat are flying along happily when they are interrupted by a gusty wind that blows away first her hat, then her bow, and finally her wand. They cut short the flight to search for each of the missing items, each time picking up another helpful creature who very politely asks if there is room on the broom for just one more.

Senior Research Scientist Vikki Katz had a stand-out favorite author as a child—Roald Dahl. “What stays with me are the intricate worlds he created, and how he treated children,” she explains. “They really mattered, and they were smart (usually, smarter than the adults!). Matilda was probably my absolute favorite, though it’s hard to pick just one.” Now that she’s reading with her son, who turned 1 in March, Where do diggers sleep at night? has become a new favorite. “The author, who is the mother of two young boys herself, has created a beautiful set of questions about where different kinds of trucks sleep at night, and how,” says Vikki.

Quentin Blake illustration

A Quentin Blake illustration from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Also a fan of Roald Dahl, Director of Partnerships and Planning Sadaf Sajwani’s childhood favorite was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Her logic is hard to deny: “What kid doesn’t dream about living in a magical world full of chocolates and candy?!”

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHFor Cooney Center Fellow Elisabeth McClure, two of her favorite childhood reads—Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and Watership Down— hold even more meaning when she re-reads them now. “I love that when I read them as a child, I read them simply as very intense and engaging stories about animals,” says Elisabeth. “As I got older I came to realize what they symbolized–that NIMH was the National Institutes of Mental Health and that the warrens the rabbits encounter in Watership Down demonstrate different political systems and structures,” she explains. “I’ve grown up and become more aware of the world, and they’ve continued to grow with me and take on new meaning.”

Sarah's 9-month-old daughter, Claire, currently loves The Wheels on the Bus by Paul Zelinsky. "It’s a beautiful book with moving wheels and pull out flaps, and somehow she is so mesmerized by it that she hasn’t ripped any of the flaps yet," says Sarah. "Spoken or sung – she’ll happily take whatever version the nearest reader is willing to provide.

Sarah’s 9-month-old daughter, Claire, currently loves The Wheels on the Bus by Paul Zelinsky. “It’s a beautiful book with moving wheels and pull out flaps, and somehow she is so mesmerized by it that she hasn’t ripped any of the flaps yet,” says Sarah.

Reading has always been a family affair for Senior Fellow Sarah Vaala. “My brother, sister, and I were very into Shel Silverstein as kids,” she says, “We had A Light On in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends in print and on a cassette tape, which we nearly wore out in the family car.” Sarah and her siblings loved Shel’s poems then because they truly felt like they were written for kids. “They were silly and sometimes pushed the envelope a little bit so you felt like you were in on a joke,” she explains, “They still resonate now because mixed in with all the silliness are timeless words of wisdom – no one is perfect (not quite), and we should all ignore ‘the mustn’ts’ sometimes and remember that ‘anything can be.'”

sidewaysKristen Kohm, Research Associate, was an avid reader of the Wayside School series by Lous Sachar growing up, following the zany antics of the students and teachers at the school closely. In addition, Kristen read the Harry Potter series religiously. “My parents would pre-order the books so that we received each one the day they came out,” she explains. “I would read them immediately and not sleep until I was finished!”

Are_You_My_MotherErica Rabner, Program Associate, grew up reading Are you my mother? by P.D. Eastman with her own mom, a memory she treasures. “I still remember her pausing to let me jump in with the punch line or last word on each page,” says Erica. She also enjoyed Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. “From a distance, the story seemed fairly black and white,” Erica explains, “but giving it a closer look shed light on some complex nuances at grey areas even a kid could pick up on—The Giving Tree made me think.”

Zen Shorts

Post-Doctoral Scholar Amber Levinson shares that one of her 5-year-old son’s favorites is Zen Shorts by John J. Muth. The book tells the story of a panda named Stillwater who moves in next door to three kids and becomes their friend. As each of the children gets to know Stillwater, he tells them Zen stories that each illustrate a life lesson linked to something they’re thinking about at the moment. “With its whimsical illustrations the book manages to be both entertaining and thought-provoking, without being too didactic,” says Amber. “It’s been fun to see how as my son gets older, he asks more questions about the stories and sees more of their deeper meaning.”

What stories from your childhood have stuck with you? Share your favorites in the comments and @CooneyCenter on Twitter.