It’s no surprise or news that the books we read become a part of us, or that we are shaped by the books we read. We’ve heard it time and time again. Everyone has that one book they remember being read to as a young child that somehow ingrained a part of their moral fibre inside them from the moment they read it.
For me it was a book called Dogger by Shirley Hughes. A story about a boy called Dave and his much loved toy dog Dogger, who is lost then eventually found by his sister Bella at the school fete. Bella gives up a sparkling prize she wins at the fete to retrieve Dogger from a girl who had bought him at another stall.
Having read the book as an older sibling myself, it instilled in me the very important role of protecting my younger brother from the hurts of the world. I have no doubt that Dogger helped shape me into the relatively sensitive and protective person I am today.
Books do that for our kids.
They create and reflect on our world and offer them standpoints, of which they can choose to take.
They impart knowledge, test emotions and present resolutions.
Now, having my own three year old, I’ve warmingly delved back into the world of children’s literature and found several special books that have changed Acacia’s world for the better.
These top 6 books aren’t just based on their quality of story or moral presentation but on their success in teaching children about their place in the world.
That place being one of responsibility towards nature, as explorers, awareness of the how the other side live, respectfulness and transforming the world into something more beautiful.
So here they are in all their glory!
1. THE GIVING TREE – SHEL SILVERSTEIN
When I first read this book to Acacia she actually cried. It wasn’t the reaction I was going for but when I asked her why she felt sad her answer was,
“I want to love that tree because the boy isn’t loving her but she loves him”.
I think she summed it up in a nutshell. What Silverstein is trying to show children is the very unbalanced but honest view of humanity’s relationship with nature (specifically trees).
The gentle and all-giving nature of the tree is continuous and unconditional, despite the selfish and changing attitude of the boy, who becomes a man haunted by his worldly sufferings and needs, at the giving tree’s expense.
If you want your child to have love and compassion for nature, this is the book for your kid!
The almost flipbook style of simple illustration helps kids to focus into the two characters over a lifespan without too much else distraction.
2. VICTORIA AND THE VALIANT ADVENTURE – KATIE HEWAT
This is one of a series of books called We Are Girls, each of which focus on a different girl and their talent or passion.
This particular book is about a hiker/camper/explorer called Victoria who leaves her house for the day to climb the local mountain by herself. Her independence to venture into nature, whilst carefully picking the appropriate clothing, packing her first aid kit, compass, map, phone, food and water is a rare and realistic look at an outdoorsy girl in modern day.
In my opinion there aren’t enough books about girls who go camping and hiking, especially ones that focus on the responsibilities as well as the exhilaration and meditative aspects that come with that kind of adventure….especially on ones own!
The illustrations are brilliant and sharp with an almost comic book/60’s advertisement style, adding a nice bit of nostalgia for parents or grandparents.
3. MISS RUMPHIUS – BARBARA COONEY
“You must do something to make the world more beautiful”.
These illustrations are so magical they capture your child’s eye and take them to “faraway places” and to a “house beside the sea” which looks to be somewhere on the north coast of California.
In this old world Miss Rumphius (or Alice when young) lives a worldly life of exploration and academia in the Victorian era before finding herself settling in a house beside the sea.
However, she is niggled by the one wish her grandfather asks her to do in life, which is, to make the world more beautiful. She eventually sows Lupine seeds (her favorite flower) all over her village, turning the world around her spectacularly more beautiful. Thus bringing the township community together each year as children flock to the hills to pick purple/rose colored lupines.
Fantastical yet not beyond our dreams, this nostalgic picturebook is the kind of life we might hope for our children to one day have. As well as the repeated message that life is not fully complete until we have done something for the world to make it more beautiful.
4. WORLD FOOD ALPHABET – CHRIS CALDICOT
This isn’t just your regular A for Apple kind of book. Caldicott is not only a photographer for the Royal Geographical Society but owns a cafe in London, so his stories of food from countries all over the world are both wondrous and celebrated.
But in this book Acacia didn’t just learn what countries dates grow or what food they eat as a snack in Morocco (all fine things to know) but also what kitchens looks like in different parts of the world and how far children have to walk to collect water in India.
This is probably one of the most important books you can read to your child.
While engaging in it’s photographs, cleverly intertwined with smiling faces and exciting cuisines, it actually makes a bold and important statement about conservation, fair trade, food waste, third world needs and difference.
This is a book that will surely plant a seed; if not for change then at least for awareness.
5. OWL MOON – JANE YOLEN
Poetry really, but written in the first person as a five year old girl being taken by her Pa out into the woods to go owling. It tells of the precious and magical experience of a girl who says nothing but feels everything.
Sounds are visceral and shadows loom as we follow the two of them into the woods in the nighttime. The climactic moment of staring into the owls eyes is quite real for the children reading, as the bold illustration of the owl’s eyes peer back at them.
The silence of saying nothing and feeling everything at the end is, I think, a feeling of respect that children can’t quite place.
It’s the same knowing Acacia has when we’re at the top of a mountain and the view comes into sight, or we spot a rare eagle flying above us, or (dare we say) we’ve come into contact with a bear on the trail. It’s a feeling children somehow know to have when in nature; that of pure respect for the wondrous, blessed and oftentimes dangerous moments they encounter.
That silence and awe is, as parents know, a rare and wonderful thing for children.
6. OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO! – DR. SEUSS
There isn’t enough I can say about this book. Not just a children’s book of brilliant rhymes but a sort of adult’s self-help book.
As you begin to read this out loud to your toddler you’ll find yourself slowing down into a more meaningful tone, as the stages of life start to mirror your own. This book will lead children into a topsy turvy, up and down, back and around map of life that is led onwards by two basic principles;
1) It’s going to get better so keep going
2) Think of the places you’ve yet to see
It works when you’re three and it works when you’re sixty-three. This book belong to us all and the fight to keep going and to persevere, despite being stuck in a ditch.
What it teaches our children is that life is expected to have “slumps” and “bumps” but “you can steer yourself any direction you choose”.
When my husband and I took Acacia backpacking around the world at age one, we took a copy of this book and read it to her. The quote we chose when documenting our journey is still one of my favorites, one I imagine I’ll recite to Acacia even after she’s flown the nest;
“Onwards up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. Oh! The places you’ll go!”
And to make it even easier for you to delve into these generation shaping literatures, here’s a FREE downloadable PDF of the above list (with links of where to buy) and an Additional 4 more!
Click on the below to get yours!
And if you know of any marvelous books that I should have added to this list, let me know by leaving a comment!
Nothing is more impactful or meaningful than a good book to grow with.
Join the conversation by commenting below!