What gets on a favorite book list to read to my child – and why…

The good news ─ for books ─ is that the criteria for making my favorite list is way easier than the criteria for making the favorite ice cream list. There have always been only a few favorite ice cream flavors. It all comes down to taste.   The top of the list – chocolate, dark chocolate, fudge chocolate, chocolate brownie, fudge ripple, and chocolate supreme.  You get the picture.  Occasionally I go for mint chip or black cherry but only if coupled with one of the chocolates, and preferably in a 3 scoops chocolate to 1 scoop “other” ratio.

For books, it is a more complicated formula. It isn’t only about the story, the flavor of the story.

First, the story has to be fun or interesting to be reading to my son, preferably both fun and interesting.  And there’s the great phrasing or great rhyming or the impressive creativity of storytelling at its best. And if the story carries a lesson or two and has some teachable moments, that’s a big plus. Then my son has to be willing to sit through the reading so even if I am loving the book it can’t be a favorite if my son isn’t liking the book.  One of the most important ─ the story has to be accompanied by great illustrations (and a lot of them) because art work is essential. Color is better than black and white.  Sorry for those of you who like black and white for artistic reasons.  It’s a big plus if the book is part of a series, because once we like the characters, the settings and art work, it’s reassuring to pick up a book that’s familiar but you get the benefits of a new story.  Books with compilations of stories – mini-stories – are great too because you can pick and choose among them ─ it’s great to have that factor of choice to make it more interesting when you sit down to select with your child what to read.  The length of story is important too ─ you want to get through the story in a single setting. It’s not so great to have to put the story down mid-stream because it’s too long and your child has already fallen asleep, or have it so short that it’s over too soon and your still wide-awake child is now asking for two or three more stories and you’re exhausted. Also, legible fonts are good─ and bigger are nice so I don’t have to find my reading glasses.  Then there’s book binding ─ you don’t want the book pages to be falling out while you’re reading.  And the redundancy factor.  For mysterious reasons some of these stories are going to get on your child’s “read it again and again” list.  So you better pick some favorites of yours that you hope get on the ”do over” list to sustain you when you have to read that story for the 200th  time.

When my son was little, we read through hundreds of books.  Many we bought at the grocery and bookstore – there wasn’t the online option then.  And many we checked out from the library.

The earliest favorites were “baby books” made out of cloth that could be washed. As a toddler my son seemed to experience the story best by chewing the words in his mouth, spitting them out on the page when done.

A next stage brought in the whimsical Dr. Seuss books – favorites were The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. I’ll come back to Dr. Seuss in another blog because his books made such a big impact on our lives.

And we liked pop-up books of all kinds: 3-D gardens, under-the-sea adventures and rabbits hiding behind giant birthday cakes.

The Berenstain bears made the list, with relatable stories about every-day activities (e.g., going to the dentist, eating junkfood, dealing with new neighbors, too much television, manners).  These books were especially great for teachable moments.

Soon dinosaur books joined the favorite list.  The Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistory Reptiles got read more than 200 times.  We liked it especially because it’s written in the present tense so you get the feeling that diplodocus, stegosaurus, and tyrannosaurus are swimming in warm seas, hunting for food, and moving from place to place in the here and now ─ even as the book tries to convey the concept of history, through drawings depicting different archeological periods across an impressive span of 250 million years.

Truly a favorite was the Stories of Gods and Heroes: Famous Myths and Legends of the World.  This book got read so many times the hardback cover was separated from the 100 or so inside pages.  This book had the advantage of impressive artwork to illustrate 30 some myths from Greece and Rome, with many others from around the world including the favorite King Arthur and his Knights, Johnny Appleseed, and Buffalo Bill. The enduring favorites from Greece and Rome were the fire-bringer Prometheus, Pandora’s decision whether to open the box,  and the pros and cons of Midas turning everything to gold.

Another favorite was the Joe Kaufman series.  About the Big Sky, About the High Hills, About the Rich Earth …and the Deep Sea explained a lot (to us both) about the stars, planets, clouds, weather instruments, caves, earthquakes and volcanoes.  How We are Born, How We Grow, How Our Bodies Work … and How We Learn was a great practical book again explaining to us both where tears come from, what makes us yawn, what makes us blush, and why our skin perspires. And Wings, Paws, Hoofs and Flippers created great games and questions to answer while dispensing a lot of knowledge: ‘you’re in the Arctic and a one-ton, two-tusked walrus goes floating by. What are those long tusks for?’  And ‘You’re watching a race between an ostrich, horse, gazelle, and cheetah. Who will win?’

I saved the best for last ─ the Bill Peet books, with whimsical stories and fabulous illustrations.  We especially liked Big Bad Bruce; How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head; Ella; The Pinkish Purplish Bluish Egg; The Caboose Who Got Loose; and Buford the Little Bighorn.  Peet books were such favorites I’m making a mental note to come back to them in another blog.

So these are my thoughts today on what gets on the favorites list ─ and why.

I hope lots of guest bloggers come forward to share your thoughts ─ what gets on your favorite book list and why?   And if you want to share your favorite ice cream flavor, that would be good too!