The best children’s classics and one that should be

Lisa Lucas Author Of Spectacularly Beautiful: A Refugee's Story
By Lisa Lucas

The Books I Picked & Why

The Story of Ferdinand

By Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson

Book cover of The Story of Ferdinand

Why this book?

With today’s societal divisions in science, politics, and economics, this beautiful book about the passive resistance by a bull, Ferdinand, is a must for everyone to read, not just kids. Although it was written in 1936 and begins with an outdated introduction, “Once upon a time…”, it’s basically perfect. The reader instantly grows to love Ferdinand as a young bull as he sits quietly and smells the flowers under a cork tree with absolutely no interest in the aggressive activity of the other little bulls who are butting heads. With the help of lines like, “and you know who that was” and “what would you do?”, Leaf strategically brings the reader a little closer to Ferdinand’s peaceful and happy life. In other words, there are other, more peaceful ways to behave, even for bulls.

The only small weakness I see in the book is at the end when Ferdinand refuses to fight the Banderilleros, the Pecadores, and the Matador and so they take him home. I thought Leaf could have written more about Ferdinand’s passive behaviour in the ring rather than abruptly carting Ferdinand home. A slightly more developed connection between those two scenes might have enhanced the poignancy of that moment. Lawson’s black and white drawings are spectacular - loose, somewhat abstract, and full of humour, making the reader fall in love with Ferdinand with every illustration.

No wonder this gem of a book was used as a call sign by the British Air Transport Auxiliary who were non-combatants after D-Day. And no wonder this book has never been out of print. In fact, with the world being upside down, it can never go out of print.

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The Paper Bag Princess

By Robert Munsch, Michael Martchenko

Book cover of The Paper Bag Princess

Why this book?

This book is an important read for everyone. It smashes the stereotype of the perfect princess to smithereens.

When a fire-breathing dragon destroys Princess Elizabeth’s castle and then burns her clothes and kidnaps her fiancé, Ronald, she immediately gets to work. She puts on the only thing she can find - a paper bag. She then cleverly outwits the dragon and rescues Ronald, who turns out to be a selfish narcissist, and tells her to come back when she looks more like a princess. Elizabeth, strong and resilient, is unfazed and rejects him on the spot as she dances off into the sunset.

The illustrations by Martchenko are every bit as important as the words - there are so many visual gems hidden among Elizabeth, Ronald, and the Dragon. Keep looking especially at the Dragon. You’ll find them. This book came out in 1980 when the woman’s movement was gaining momentum but for many, not fast enough. This book cleverly told young readers that girls were smart and strong and resilient and could look and be any way they wanted. Go Princess Elizabeth! You probably emboldened a generation of young girls.

In my opinion, The Paper Bag Princess should be given to every newborn in every maternity ward or birthing centre around the world.

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Love You Forever

By Robert Munsch, Sheila McGraw

Book cover of Love You Forever

Why this book?

This book oozes the love between a mother and child over time better than anything I’ve ever read. Even though the mother’s son can be exasperating, she always cradles him in her arms at the end of each day and sings a short lullaby about how she will always love him. When her son finally leaves home she sometimes sneaks into his bedroom to sing the lullaby. Eventually, she grows old and sick and the boy, now a man, cradles his mother and sings the same lullaby, somewhat altered, vowing to always love her.

When I first picked it up, I thought the illustrations were a bit blah. But over time, I realized that they were that way for a reason. There was no need for a big artistic statement - the gentle illustrations are perfect with this beautiful story. This book exudes the best kind of love - unconditional and should be considered a classic. Since it has sold more than 7 million copies, I guess it is!

I’ve read it many times and I can’t get through it without tears and lots of Kleenex. Test yourself - I bet you’ll be a slobbering mess by the end.

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Harry the Dirty Dog

By Gene Zion, Margaret Bloy Graham

Book cover of Harry the Dirty Dog

Why this book?

When Harry, the family dog, runs away from home and gets covered with dirt, his family no longer recognizes him. Frantic, Harry tries everything to help them figure it out, even digging up a brush that he had buried earlier. But nothing works until the family gives the strange dog a bath and, voila, their beloved Harry is back!

The illustrations are stylized in a way that connect well with the simplicity and wholesomeness of the story. This story makes no attempts to teach kids a lesson. It’s simply telling kids an adorable and uncomplicated story about a family dog. In our complicated world, there is huge value in that. No wonder it was chosen as one of the “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children” by the US National Education Association.

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On the Night You Were Born

By Nancy Tillman

Book cover of On the Night You Were Born

Why this book?

This book should be a classic. I picked up this book about 10 years ago when my child was going through a rough time. I walked into a bookstore with a few tears already welling up and picked up this book. That’s when my few tears became a waterfall. This story that celebrates every birth, every child and basically every living thing appeared in my life at the perfect time. Thank you Nancy Tillman for writing such a beautiful book.

On a less personal note, Tillman does a wonderful job at celebrating the magic and awe of birth but never, not once, overdoes it. There is a gentle flow to the words and illustrations that move along in an understated way. That’s not easy to do but Tillman handles both with utmost care. This book is sure to bring lots of tears so bring Kleenex along.

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