REAY JESPERSEN:
WRITER OF, AND DABBLER IN,
MANY THINGS

Children's books that are great

I realized pretty early on that not all children’s books are equal. There’s everything from excellent to terrible books written for kids.

Which should perhaps have come as no surprise—why should they be any different than any other books?—but when Laila was born, children’s books quickly became a pretty big part of my life rather than just an abstract notion. So the exposure of books from terrible to excellent began.

At risk of making myself something of a pariah, I wanted to clarify early that I don’t like Goonight, Moon. Sorry to anyone who’s a fan of it. I know it’s somehow considered a classic and we of course heard that it was a must-have and may well have gotten it when caught up in that time, but to this reader, it’s… well… pretty bad. “Goodnight comb/And goodnight brush/Goodnight nobody/Goodnight mush”? Are you kidding me? Hard pass.

On the upside, the exposure to some of the the… shall we say… less-than-stellar books led me to search for ones that were better. And I’m happy to report that with a bit of searching (and perhaps gifting from an aunt who has a discerning eye), good—really good—children’s books do exist. A handful of examples, in no particular order:

If I Were A Lion, by Sarah Weeks , illustrated by Heather M. Solomon. We’ve had this book for years and I don’t know how many times I’ve read it and can’t see ever getting tired of it. The concept is simple but the rhyme, clicking with the excellent artwork (the likes of which I haven’t seen before or since in any book, let alone a kid’s book), makes this one really stand out.

Jack and the Flumflum Tree, by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by David Roberts. This was sent to us by an aunt visiting family in the U.K., and immediately became one of my all-time favourite kid’s books. The rhymed tale of a crazy adventure revels in its silliness but works so well in part because of its attention to rhythm and flow of the phrasing, which is maddeningly overlooked in a surprising amount of writing for children. The fun illustrations work beautifully with the light-hearted story. Big bonus: I don’t know if it’s available in all editions, but the copy of the book we got has an audio CD which features David Tennant reading the book. Wins all around.

Bear series, by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman. Perhaps a bit of a cheat as this is a series and not a specific book, but I’d rate all of the books in the series from really good to excellent, so hey, take your pick and it applies to this list. They are chronological to a point—we first meet Bear and the characters that become his friends (spoiler alert!) in Bear Snores On, and he makes another new friend in a later book—so if you’re like me and actually care about consistency and logic in the cast of characters, then be sure to pick up the releases in order. I also really like the attention paid to the oft-overooked aspect of word layout and sizing. These books, more than any other I’ve read, direct the pacing and volume with how the wording is presented from page to page. All elements combine to make this an excellent book (ok, shut up, series) that deserves to be on every child’s shelf.

What I'm reading

What I'm reading