My Top Ten Children’s Books

My Top Ten Children’s Books

Now that I’m back in the States, I don’t have as much contingency planning to do, but if you’re overseas we all know that comes with the deal. I thought I could help you out today with a fun contingency planning exercise.

Here’s the situation: you have 24 hours to pack up and head out on a two-year overseas assignment. What do you toss in your bag?

Given the weight of this very plausible scenario, I’m sharing my list of Top Ten Children’s books for all ages and genders. Now that you have this list, you can spend your valuable packing time gathering other stuff like your unlocked cell phone, no-international-fee ATM card, hand-held luggage scale, duct tape, contact solution, laptop, favorite study Bible, frequent-flyer cards, miscellaneous chargers, portable hard drives, plane snacks and such.

Oh…and I’m not even assuming you have kids. Attention Everyone! You need these books in your life.

Dragons Love Tacos  (Adam Rubin author & Daniel Salmieri illustrator) This instructive book on “how to plan a taco party” for dragons takes you along as a boy serves “Pantsloads of Tacos! Boatloads of Tacos!” to his dragon friends. You’ll giggle at the mishaps of his cross-cultural goodwill. I also love this book because I love tacos and reading this book to my kids during their formative years while they lived in “not Texas” insured the important value of loving tacos was deeply instilled in them.

Corduroy (Don Freeman author) This book about a bear exploring a huge department store and finding a true friend reminds me of the one and only escalator in the “big town” nearest the farm where I grew up. As a child, I stood in amazement as the great automated staircase in Wal-Greens transported me to a magical place stocked with crisp new wrangler blue jeans and household goods. Now, it also reminds me of my life in China when escalators were everywhere and they transported me to a magical place in the market stocked with plastic bags of every shape and size, fabric, plastic buckets, blow dryers, kites, red wedding decorations, ribbons, toddler trikes, light bulbs, fake Legos, stickers, paper, glue, yo-yos, envelopes and sporting goods!

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late (Mo Willems author, illustrator) An innocent little pigeon who just wants to stay up past his bedtime brings plenty of opportunities for dramatization in this laugh-out-loud funny book. I especially love the pigeon’s argument that he shouldn’t have to go to bed because it’s the middle of the day in China because we’d always have to switch that to America while reading the book to our kids in China. And when the pigeon loses his mind and shouts “I’m nooooooot tirreeed!!!!” Yeah. This book just gets me.

The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf author & Robert Lawson illustrator) Ferdinand is a Spanish bull with a different personality than the rest who gets taken on a little adventure to the city. I want to hug him! He’s the sweetest! I also love to try and pronounce the word “Picadores” with the proper Spanish accent. This book is for anyone who has ever felt completely misunderstood by the society around them and chooses to be themselves anyway.

Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type (Doreen Cronin author & Betsy Lewin illustrator) Farmer Brown is in heap of trouble when his cows get ahold of a type-writer and start communicating. It just plain cracks me up every time I read this book and think about cows typing and the …CLICK CLACK MOO! CLICKETY CLACK MOO!… sound coming from the barn. Writing and agriculture all rolled up into a delightful children’s book: the stuff of true hilarity!  

Madeline (Ludwig Bemelmans author, illustrator) The fact that it’s set in Paris has me hooked, and it gets bonus points because you get to say “Pooh Pooh!” while reading this book (I’m kinda immature like that). I admire Madeline for her audacity when it comes to tigers because I am deathly afraid of them. You will not catch me in SE Asia posing with sedated giant cats, no ma’am. Also, the illustrations are mostly all yellow which will bring much needed sunshine to the dullest of gray winter days.

Llama Llama Mad at Mama (Anna Dewdney author, illustrator) Little Llama is happily playing on the floor when Mama grabs him, tosses him in the car and takes him on a shopping trip. Things quickly go downhill from there. The illustration of the little Llama throwing a fit in the grocery store will bring a smile to your face even on your worst day with a toddler. “Little Llama, what a tizzy!” I love the other “Llama Llama” books, but this one is my favorite. I should read it any time I considering taking my kids with me into Wal-Mart.

The Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats author) “And he thought about the day’s adventures…and he thought and he thought and he thought about them.” This is a surprising pick for a self-professed hater of winter. But it’s one of my favorites, nonetheless as it keeps you company in a good way, capturing the extraordinary innocence and simplicity of childhood when a fresh snow and a good stick were all you needed for an adventure.

Time Traveler (Usborne Books) There’s just something about time travel that fascinates me. This book has captivated the imaginations of myself and my older boys. We love to stare at the detailed illustrations of times gone by and read about how people used to do life way back when. It’s also a good reminder that we’ve got a pretty good deal in life living during the present age.

The Lego Ideas Book (Daniel Lipkowitz author) I’ve loved Lego as long as I can remember, and my husband and kids share my passion as well. We’ve collected quite a few Lego bricks over the years, and thankfully all of them, along with The Lego Ideas Book made the big trip across the ocean when we moved from China to Texas. Open the book and instantly get those creative juices flowing. This is a perfect go-to for those “I’m boooooooooored” moments.

The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones author & Jago illustrator) This is number eleven if you’re counting, but it’s such a given in my mind it’s on a completely different list titled “items to never leave behind when moving across the ocean.” Get this for your family if you have little ones, and even if you don’t it’s a great read as it tells the story of the Bible from cover to cover in a simple yet engaging way (which is awesome to share with new believers). We’ve read it more times than we can count. I’m head over heels for the illustrations as well as the beautiful words on every single page of this book!

Ask me tomorrow and the list will change because who could possibly choose only ten children’s books? Do tell which book(s) you’d grab if you had to leave right now!


  1. Jennifer July 18, 2017

    We have 8 of these 10 so plenty of agreement here. What I’d have to add is “The Snail and the Whale” by Julia Donaldson. Perfect for 3rd culture kids and their moms…who love to see the world but sometimes feel very small.

    1. M'Lynn July 19, 2017

      I’m so interested in “The Snail and the Whale.” Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Jil Christiansen July 18, 2017

    RIght now? With no additional thought? Like you, this would probably change tomorrow, but here is what I’ve got:

    1. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder – with each passing year I discover how much Laura was my role model growing up. A top 10 list would be incomplete without at least one of her contributions. The struggles detailed in this particular book remind me what hard work and desperation really are. In addition, on afternoons when I’m soaked with sweat, a good description of bitter cold can momentarily remove me from my heat filled present.

    2. Happy as a Tapir by Terry Carbone – while faith is not woven into this story, the moral behind it continually reminds me to be exactly who He created me to be and to embrace that wholeheartedly.

    3. Sidney and Norman, a Tale of Two Pigs by Phil Vischer – a parable which continually reminds me of the different types in the body and how important it is to give grace to others as well as ourselves.

    4. Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – a tale of two orphans who go to live with their aunt, who runs a dancing school. Rachel’s struggle to find her place in a house where she doesn’t really fit is a theme I appreciate anew having lived cross-culturally.

    5. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis – among the Narnia books this is my favorite. It puzzled me for years because I couldn’t find direct correlations between it and the Word. But eventually I came to understand that our walk with Him is a journey. We get off track, we become unfocused, and we start to crave comfort more than fulfillment of His task. But he is so gracious, and in the end, even if we have miffed the first signs, we can still fulfill our directive.

    6. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey – I don’t know what it is about this book, but the description of a mountain in Maine is one I’ve always found to be peaceful and comforting. I don’t even need the plot…I just want to hang out in the first couple of pages.

    7. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – I would pick this book too. The words which echo out in sing-songy rhymes have always comforted me. I’ve perpetually seen community that was formed among these orphans, while admiring the spunk of one little girl, the nurturing nature of an unmarried woman, and the enchantment of a city as portrayed by the illustrations. If I ever go to Paris, it will likely be because of this book.

    8. Johnny Appleseed by Steven Kellogg – I first read this while scrounging through a library looking for books to keep the boy I babysat entertained. We both ended up loving this book. It incorporates both the true story as well as the tales. And from this man I’ve learned how disappointment can transform us into our destiny.

    9. The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain – they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the mesmerizing illustrations are what draw me back to a book over and over. As a child I loved looking at the details in this series, especially in Moving Day, New Baby, Mama’s New Job, and Go to School. Given 24 hours, I’d probably just grab whichever one I could find first.

    10. The Case of the Absent Author by E. W. Hildick – the small library in the town where I grew up happened to have a handful of the books from the McGurk mystery series. These books had realistic mysteries and the kids in them weren’t extraordinary. They were just kids, using their talents to solve mysteries, and, as such, each book has comforting whispers of childhood about it. This book is the best of the lot, but if you’ve never heard of this book, don’t you dare read it without consuming a bunch of the others first. That would be like starting the LOTR series with “The Return of the King.”

    1. M'Lynn July 19, 2017

      Thanks so much for sharing this amazingly thoughtful list, Jil! I can tell you’re a person like me who just loves daydreaming about books 🙂 and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your list!!

  3. Spring July 18, 2017

    One of my all time favorite children’s books is Caps for Sale. I also really liked Blueberries for Sal, Sweet Dream Pie The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Oak inside the Acorn , and The Boy who changed the world if we were adding chapter books I would add A tree grows in Brooklyn, The Magician’s Nephew, The Hobbit, I guess that is only 9 books 😉

    1. M'Lynn July 19, 2017

      Hi, Spring! So out of curiosity, I just looked up “Caps for Sale” and the description “Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys, and Their Monkey Business” has me hooked already! LOL!! This is also the second mention of Blueberries for Sale, so I’m about to go see what that’s all about 😉

    1. M'Lynn July 19, 2017

      Now you’re thinking! Love it! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Annalisa July 19, 2017

    Ooo love your suggestions and a couple I hadn’t heard of, thanks! I would second the suggestion of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books- they were a great piece of Americana for my boys to read. They also love to read American comic books since the ones where we live are different- Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes are favourites. I would also add the Frances books by Russell Hoban and Richard Scarry books as favourites. We also collect books about the history of our homeland- for us, books about American history, biographies of presidents etc., so they have access to and familiarity with it. For slightly older children, Charlotte’s Web and the E.B. White books were a hit for us as well as Paddington and Winnie the Pooh volumes and Pippi Longstocking. If anyone hasn’t seen Honey for a Child’s Heart, it’s a great resource I’d recommend that lists classic children’s books organised by age and with brief descriptions of each.

    1. Jil Christiansen July 19, 2017

      Annalisa, I really like your suggestions! I definitely thought through Charlotte’s Web and the Winnie the Pooh volumes. They don’t make my top ten, but they are certainly part of a larger goal of introducing children to basic culture from their homeland. I love the idea of making sure books about American history and biographies of presidents are incorporated. And, yes, the Little House on the Prairie books double as crash courses on “life of the pioneer.” You have such good ideas here!

    2. M'Lynn July 19, 2017

      Thanks for this! I just thought Laura Ingalls Wilder books are for girls, so my boys are totally missing out thanks to my ignorance! Ha!! I’m gonna get those in my bookshelf, pronto! And Paddington is the cutest!!! Um…Okay wait… There’s a classic I’m missing, too. I’ve seen the movie. Does that count? “帕丁顿熊” Extra points for knowing “Paddington” in Chinese?!?

  5. Jodie July 21, 2017

    I totally agree about the Jesus Storybook Bible. We got it for our youngest as a Christmas present and I think we’ve read it through about 5 times since then because he constantly asks me to read it to him. It has prompted him to ask a lot of spiritual questions and I just love the way the gospel is woven into every story. I find that it’s like a devotional for me too, so extra bonus 🙂 I am a huge fan!

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