Reading with my children is probably my absolute favorite thing to do but when I can read books from my own childhood with them it’s even better. Most of these vintage books are favorites from my childhood but are also loved by my children. There is something extra special about reading books you loved as a child with your own children. Do you have a favorite that I didn’t list? Add it in the comments so we can keep this list growing.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett has long been a favorite. This book takes you to another dimension in the way usually reserved for longer books or movies. In just a few pages you will dive into the land of Chewandswallow and its magical weather. See Chewandswallow is a place where the food falls from the sky. Instead of rain or snow they get hot dogs and a drizzle of soda, or peas and carrots! Things started going wrong in Chewandswallow though and the weather went nuts! I love asking children what food they wished fell from the sky and why after reading this book.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans was a childhood favorite and I remember being a little girl and thinking I want to be just like Madeline because she was so brave. She wasn’t afraid of anything and what always struck me was how proud she was of her scar. Something that little girls are told by society to hide because it makes us less than perfect physically. But Madeline hikes up her nightgown and shows it off. Of my childhood heroines Madeline was right up there with Anne Shirley, Annie, and Brigitta from Sound of Music. As a teacher and parent, I adore Bemelmans’ rhymes which at times are a stretch. But in a way that gets kids thinking about what does and doesn’t rhyme.
The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain has been on my bookshelf as long as I have been able to read. I love this book and maybe its nostalgia or maybe it’s because I remember connecting with Brother Bear as he stepped into the unknown. This is a great book, and is especially powerful for children who are familiar with the characters. If a character they know has to move too, the unknown isn’t so scary. Don’t overlook this book just because it’s part of a character franchise.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I remembering being amazed that the caterpillar turned into that huge colorful butterfly! In university, while studying elementary education I chose this book as the literary inspiration for a cross-curricular unit study for grade 1. I made math lessons with fruit, science lessons about observing insects and the butterfly life cycle and health lessons about smart food choices. Then teaching preschool I used this awesome book to teach the days of the week, basic counting and more.
When I was pregnant I chose this book along with a few other favorites to be my son’s nursery theme. Now, that my daughter is 3 we often pull down the Very Hungry Caterpillar felt board and play with it as we read the story just like I did with her brother. To me, this book is a given, and for every stage of my life, student, student teacher, teacher, mother it has come along for the ride!
Babar and Father Christmas by Jean De Brunhoff was one of my very favorite Christmas stories as a child. As an adult, I have had some great belly laughs at some of its writing . Babar books in general beg to be pre read , just trust me. In this book Babar goes looking for Father Christmas because he wants to ask him to visit Elephant country. He searches all over Paris and finally ends up in the North Pole and finds after much effort Father Christmas. I love the details in this book, as a child I would lay looking at the pictures of Santa’s workshop and imagine what visiting it would be like. As an adult I appreciate the smallest details like how Father Christmas’s flying machine (not a sled) has P.N #1 on it , meaning of course Pere Noel #1.
Babar and Zephir by Jean De Brunhoff was my favorite of all the Babar books, most of which I have tracked down and bought on ebay. What I loved about this book was we got to see where Zephir came from, and go see the fantastic world of hanging houses in Monkeyville. Babar books are always interesting to read again as an adult and this one is no exception. Zephir comes to the rescue when a mermaid princess becomes a hostage. Odd yes, but it enthralled me as a child and when I read it to my own kids, it fascinated them it as well.
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola delighted me as a child and still does. I love the author’s interpretation of the familiar magic pot folktale . Strega Nona’s magic pasta pot is very powerful and when a villager thinks he can control it hilarity ensues.
Corduroy by Don Freeman was a childhood favorite of mine and it hasn’t lost any of its shine over the years. The story is about a lonely bear at a department store who despite being a little disheveled finds a forever home with a kind little girl who needs him as much as he needs her. There are so many levels to this book, as a child, I remember being awed by the thought of toys coming alive in stores when the doors are locked and the shoppers leave. As an adult, I see this as a touching adoption story . My son loves the escalators Corduroy travels on in the store ! This is another book that has lasting power and can be read for years in your home.
Babies (So Tall Board Books) by Gyo Fujikawa was an especially desired book to me when I was little because it belonged to my older sister. The books is really very simple and it’s really just about what babies do all day. Trust me though it will be a hit with toddlers.
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson is the classic story of Harold who draws his own world and goes on great adventures only to realize what he wants to draw most is a home to come back to. This is a story about imagination, problem solving and one really cool and apparently unbreakable crayon. My kids love it and reading it to them takes me back to my own childhood and the inspiration to create my own imaginary worlds.
The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl. I had to search this book out. I had forgotten the title and author. All I remembered was that there was a child named Gunhilde! Thank goodness for Google! The story is very sweet with the Duchess giving her staff the day off because she wants to bake a cake for her family. Unfortunately, things go awry. The cake ends up huge with the Duchess stuck on top of it high in the air! Luckily the Duchess finds a solution and fixes things in the end.
I loved two things about this book as a child. First, the idea of everyone eating a giant cake to save the Duchess. Then, the Duchess was taller than the Duke. I remember finding that funny and I didn’t know a wife could be taller than her husband. That’s the beauty of vintage books, even picture books open children up to new experiences.
Joe Kaufman’s Book About Busy People and How They Do Their Work by Joe Kaufman was such a big part of my childhood that I was nervous sharing it with my son, worried he’d reject it. He gobbled it up even though it is terribly out of date. ( I think it was when I read it too!) The book is all about different jobs and all the responsibilities of them. I loved Trudy Teacher and like my son who loved Fred Fireman, I skipped Carlos the Clown. Even as outdated as it is, it’s useful for learning about community helpers. I didn’t notice the diversity of the jobs and people in the book as a child but appreciate it as a parent.
Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus . This book it’s a simple story about Leo who isn’t doing what all the other animals his age are doing. His dad is more than a little anxious but Leo blooms in his own good time. I loved this book as a child. As the youngest child, I always felt behind the curve always having to play catch up. I could relate to Leo. As an adult, vintage books like this are more for parents and is a great reminder to chill out. Let our kids bloom in their own time and in their own way.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf is a classic tale about doing your own thing and not letting any amount of pressure change you. I don’t ever remember reading this book as a child but I know many parents who do. Ferdinand is a bull but just because he is a bull doesn’t mean he wants to fight in the bull ring. I love the message this book has about being who you are no matter what environment you are in. Kids love this book because it’s funny, the text is just the right length and the illustrations are so expressive.
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey is a true classic, written in 1948 it’s a simple tale about a little girl and her mom collecting blueberries to can. While mama picks them, Sal eats them and wanders off. But they aren’t the only mama and baby out gathering blueberries. This book is chill and sweet. The black and white illustrations make readers feel like they are on top of the mountain gathering blueberries too.
The Seasons in Fern Hollow by John Patience. This book takes a cute look at the world of Fern Hollow where a large cast of animal characters live in a small idyllic English village. The book itself is sweet, going through village life one season at a time. My favorite thing about this book and the others by the same author was the map of the village at the start and end of each book in the series. I would lay in bed staring at the map, finding different ways to get from one character’s house to another. This book inspired my imagination.
Curious George Goes to the Hospital by Margaret and H.A. Rey. I adored this book as a child. Even though hospitals have changed a lot since this book was written, the story still rings true. I remember reading this book before having to go to the hospital as a child and finding comfort in it. George gets into some trouble with a puzzle and ends up in the hospital with a bad tummy ache. It turns out that he swallowed a piece! The meat of the story is really the inside look at what happens in a hospital and how it’s really nothing to be afraid of. It’s a great book to read when you need to calm fears before a hospital stay.
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever (Golden Bestsellers Series)is on a shelf in our playroom ( see if you can find it in this post ) , well the French edition that I flipped through as a young girl in Canada growing up. I loved the same things about it back then that my kids do today. The incredibly detailed pictures offer an unparalleled launching pad for a young imagination.
In the Night Kitchen (Caldecott Collection) by Maurice Sendak is one of the many vintage books I remember exactly where I was when I first read it ; Coquitlam Public Library sitting in the shag carpeted row boat amazed that the main character Mickey had no clothes . Mickey falls out of bed and into the night kitchen where the bakers try to bake him. Ultimately he saves the day and falls back into bed and back to sleep. For me, this story is about power and freedom. How kids don’t get to feel that day to day but free from reality at night in their sleep they can.
Even as a little girl giggling at the pictures in the book I read the words and felt the freedom from being little that Mikey felt. When I read it to my son he giggled and giggled at Mickey’s body. I was sorta hoping he’d be more mature than I was at 5. We always expect the best from our kids right? Like me, he understood the heart of the story and expressed that Mickey was naked because he was dreaming and got to do whatever he wanted.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak probably doesn’t need an introduction but if by chance you are not familiar with this book, it’s a story of a little boy Max who is sent to his room for being wild and his imagination turns it into another world, filled with Wild Things he gets to control and freedom from rules. Ultimately though Max’s heart pulls him back home where he is loved best of all, even when he’s wild. I read this to my son all the time. Even though he can read the words effortlessly now he always asks me to read it. Because it’s just not right any other way.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This book makes me incredibly sad. I don’t like how horrid the boy is to the tree, how spineless the tree is. I never saw it as a lesson in giving like so many do but a lesson in taking. Recently, I read it to my son and we talked. We had a great talk about taking advantage of those who love us, and how it hurts everyone. Yes I don’t like this book but it is useful. It can be a great tool for teaching children about what makes a bad friend. I have never hidden that I don’t like this book because it’s so sad. But that as a lesson, it’s worth the sad story.
Amos & Boris by William Steig is a touching story about the power of an unlikely friendship and helping others. Boris the whale rescues Amos the mouse when he goes overboard in the middle of the ocean. After the rescue, they develop a tender friendship despite their obvious differences. Then, they go on their separate ways with full hearts. Many years later though it is Amos’ turn to rescue Boris. We are all reminded that size does not equal ability to help a friend. This book made my son get “the gulpy feeling” which is our expression for tearing up. It’s a powerful story.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig is one of the vintage books many of you may recognize from your own childhood. I remember the sweet story from my own. Sylvester is a little donkey who finds a magic pebble and after discovering that it grants wishes he makes a terrible mistake and turns himself into a rock. As a rock he is unable to wish himself back into a donkey and is left to sit silently while his parents are frantic, search and finally grieve. Sylvester almost gives up himself until by chance his parents come across his rock and the magic pebble and he turns back into his “true self”.
My son loved the story and I loved how when we talked about it he expressed so much empathy for Sylvester and his parents. The obvious message that you have to be careful what you wish for is a powerful one for kids learning about consequences. The other messages which for us were the more important ones were that family bonds can break through anything and that no matter what even if he is a rock I would never give up on him.
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone will be instantly recognizable to many of you. We didn’t grow up with Elmo (well maybe some of you young whippersnappers did). We had Grover. Loveable blue monster and narrator of this story. This book is completely interactive in that Grover is speaking directly to the reader and asking them not to turn the pages. It put me in fits of giggles as a child. But as a mom, I love the reminder to never judge a book by its cover.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst was another childhood favorite that I have enjoyed sharing with my own son. This book is beautiful, even though it may take a few reads. It’s not a story about a whining little boy so much a lesson that sometimes things do not go our way. Days can suck. It’s just the way it is. As a child, I related to Alexander’s feelings of frustration and things being unfair. How often to you hear a child say “No Fair!” probably a lot. This book taps into that feeling, being little is hard. But just because you are mad, or your day was bad, doesn’t mean you get your way.
Great book to talk about anger and frustration with your child, and it’s funny too! The magic of this Vintage book is that the end isn’t happy. Alexander goes to bed still mad and that’s okay, sometimes days are bad.
Which vintage books did I miss? Add your favorites that I didn’t mention in the comments.