The 50 Best Children's Books

AGES 4-8

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst (Aladdin, 1972). Kids relate to Alexander, who's having one of those days: His best friend hates him; his parents and teacher yell at him-but we know tomorrow will be better.

Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman (Dial, 1991). Grace-who convinces everyone that a black girl should play Peter Pan in the school play-will inspire all kids to believe in themselves.

Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish (HarperCollins, 1963). This first book of a series makes homonyms hilarious: When Amelia Bedelia is hired as a maid, she "dresses" the chicken in real baby clothes and snips away with scissors to "change" the towels.

Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban (Harper Collins, 1964). All Frances wants to eat is bread and jam. But when her parents let her eat it for every meal, she quickly learns that variety is the spice of life.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett (Aladdin, 1978). In the whimsical land of Chewandswallow, it rains soup and juice. When storms of pancakes and tomato tornadoes threaten the town, delicious disaster looms.

The Doorbell Rang, by Pat Hutchins (Greenwillow, 1986). Even though Mother's freshly baked cookies are irresistible, the kids are willing to share the batch with everyone who comes to the door.

The Empty Pot, by Demi (Henry Holt, 1990). In this exquisitely drawn story, a boy named Ping tries to grow a flower for the Emperor, but the seed doesn't sprout. When he shamefully presents the Emperor with an empty pot, he is richly rewarded for his honesty.

Frederick, by Leo Lionni (Knopf, 1967). Although Frederick seems to be lazy while the other mice gather food for winter, he's really collecting images of spring and summer in his mind. In the dead of winter, the mice are grateful to their poet friend, who proves you can be warmed and fed by colorful memories.

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, by D.B. Johnson (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). Based loosely on Henry David Thoreau's Walden, this tale follows Henry and his friend, who both want to go to Fitchburg, and shows that people can have different approaches to life. While his friend works to earn money to take the train there, Henry walks through the countryside to enjoy nature and think.

Jessica, by Kevin Henkes (Mulberry, 1989). Ruthie doesn't want to leave her imaginary friend Jessica home on her first day of school, but miraculously, a real Jessica in her class turns out to be her best friend. Kids learn that their fears and fantasies are perfectly normal.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Tabak (Viking, 1977). When Joseph's favorite coat gets old and worn, he makes a jacket out of it, then a vest, a tie, a button-and when there's hardly a thread left, he makes a story out of it. He learns you can always make something out of nothing.

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story From China, by Ed Young (Philomel, 1989). Shang and her sisters open the door to the wolf, who pretends to be their grandmother. After they discover who he really is, resourceful Shang comes to the rescue.

Madlenka, by Peter Sis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000). In this exquisitely illustrated book about multicultural New York City, when Madlenka's tooth gets loose, she runs to tell all her friends: the French baker, the Indian newsstand man, the Latin greengrocer, and the Asian storekeeper. By the time she gets home, she's gone all around the world in a single block.

Officer Buckle and Gloria, Peggy Rathmann (Putnam, 1995). Officer Buckle's safety lectures at school are boring until he teams up with his new dog, Gloria. At first, he feels jealous of the attention that she gets, but he soon learns the most important safety tip of all: "Always stick with your buddy!"

Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen (Philomel, 1987). In this magical story about learning to appreciate nature, a girl and her father walk through a snowy forest, looking for owls.

The Piggy in the Puddle, by Charlotte Pomerantz (Aladdin, 1974). These tongue-twisting rhymes about a happily dirty piglet will leave your child giggling.

The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin, 1985). This Christmas tale of a boy who rides the Polar Express train to meet Santa became an instant classic. Luminescent pastel effects evoke the wintry magic of the season.

Parts, by Tedd Arnold (Dial, 1997). When a little boy's tooth comes loose, he notices other suspicios signs-;hair in his comb, sticky "brains" coming out of his nose, even stuffing coming out of this belly button. Echoing the questions many children have as they learn about their bodies, he wonders, Could he be falling apart?

Rabbit Makes a Monkey of Lion, by Verna Aardema (Penguin, 1989). Rabbit loves honey so much that he tries to steal it from Lion's own tree. He escapes several times before he learns his lesson.

Rapunzel, by Paul O. Zelinsky (Dutton, 1997). Magnificent pictures in the Italian Renaissance style highlight this retelling of the classic fairy tale.

Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Houghton Mifflin, 1998). A true story about scientist Wilson Bentley, who loved snow as a child and went on to discover that no two flakes are alike even though his father once thought his fascination was foolish.

Too Many Tamales, by Gary Soto (Paper Star, 1993). Maria and her mother are making tamales for Christ- mas. But when Maria secretly tries on her mother's diamond ring and loses it in the dough, she realizes she has to confess.

Under the Lemon Moon, by Edith Hope Fine (Lee & Low, 1999). One night, Rosalinda spies a man stealing all of the lemons from her precious tree. She decides to seek help from a wise woman, who helps Rosalinda do a good deed as well.

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins, 1963). When Max misbehaves, he's sent to bed without his supper-beginning a night of colorful imagination in which he sails off and becomes king of all the wild things. But then he decides that he'd rather come back to his cozy home, "where someone loved him best of all."

Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the June 2002 issue of Parents magazine.

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