Tired of reading your children poorly written books about monster trucks, princesses, and superheroes? You’ve already gone through the handful of recently published books that fall into the category of children’s literature? It’s time to go back a generation or so and check out these old titles from the library or buy them used for a few dollars online. These are not your usual tried-and-true classics (that’s for another list), but they are books that I remember from my childhood and that my children love now. It took me a long time to recall some of their titles, but when I finally found them, it brought back great memories, and I love seeing my kids enjoy them, too. Here they are — not in any particular order because they are all so good.
The Wild Baby by Barbro Lindgren (1981)
The gentle rhythm and rhyme of this story immediately captivates young listeners, and the amusing story of a toddler who doesn’t mind his mother keeps their interest. As a parent, I also appreciate the patience and unending love this mother shows for her willful child.
Arabella and Mr. Crack: An Old English Tale by Dick Gackenbach (1982)
An unsuspecting housekeeper begins working for a quirky old man who is quite particular about the use of his idiosyncratic language. Despite her misgivings, she saves him in the end, as she puts her memory to the test.
The Worst Person in the World by James Stevenson (1978)
The amusingly cranky Mr. Worst meets an ugly creature who teaches him about kindness. If you like this one, the other four Worst books are excellent, too! Check out The Worst Person in the World at Crab Beach, The Worst Person’s Christmas, Worse Than the Worst, and The Worst Goes South.
Frederick’s Alligator by Esther Allen Peterson (1979)
No one believes that Frederick really has wild animals in his house — until he brings a real alligator to school!
This is Betsy by Gunilla Wolde (1975)
If your kids like the first book about independent, fun-loving, big-sister Betsy, there are others in the series that are equally good. Check out Betsy and the Chicken Pox, Betsy’s First Day at Nursery School, and Betsy and the Doctor.
Pig Pig Grows Up by David McPhail (1980)
Pig Pig makes his mother work hard to take care of him even though he is old enough to take care of himself. In the end, he saves a real baby and realizes that it’s better to help others than to be babied himself.
The Sweet Touch by Lorna Balian (1976)
This book has been republished with updated illustrations. The updated ones are similar to the originals but with more of a digital, color-added quality. I prefer the wispy, pencil-drawn originals, but of course, the story about a girl’s magic ring and a regrettable nighttime candy feast is good either way.
The Patchwork Cat by William Mayne (1981)
A house cat trying to save his old quilt accidentally gets dumped into a garbage truck and has to find his way back home. This is another book with wonderful illustrations full of detail.
When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant (1982)
Beautifully illustrated, this book describes a girl’s love of life’s simple pleasures while growing up with her grandparents in the Appalachian Mountains.
- King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood (1985)
How will the king’s court ever get him out of the bathtub once he discovers that all of his business can be conducted from its warm, relaxing waters?
If you’ve made it through this list and are curious about why so many children’s books published now are just summaries of movies and full of licensed characters, it’s worth reading Slate‘s “My Kids Read Only Subliterary Branded Commodities. Yours Probably Do, Too!” and Publishing Trends’ “License to Succeed?“, which offer insights into this new, unfortunate trend.