Anne Schwartz, v-p and publisher, Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House
Sharing Vera B. Williams’s gem of a picture book, Cherries and Cherry Pits, with my daughter, Molly, was an experience that I look back on with incredible pleasure. We both loved the story about that spunky, plainspoken, creative girl, Bidemmi, who drew pictures while telling us about her small but phenomenally varied urban neighborhood filled with unique, unforgettable characters. Bidemmi couldn’t have been realer to Molly if she had lived next door; in fact, I’m pretty positive Molly wished that Bidemmi had lived next door, and was her best friend. Cherries and Cherry Pits helped my daughter negotiate the world outside her window, see the joys and value of community and creativity, and, in a small but meaningful way, become the wonderful 23-year-old she is today.
Emily Gerbner, e-book digital marketing associate, Bloomsbury
Sandra Boynton’s Doggies taught my 13-month-old niece, Lolo, how to bark. She’d never had much patience for books, but when I opened Doggies and read the first page— “WOOF!”—it caught her attention and she stopped squirming. “Woof! Yap Yap! Ruff Ruff!” She was entranced, flipping the pages back and forth, waiting for more canine greetings. By the fifth reading, Lolo joined in: “oof, oof!” And then at dinnertime, “oof, oof!” And on the changing table, “oof, oof!” She hasn’t quite mastered the “w,” but her intention is clear. Ever since she was introduced to Doggies, Lolo’s literary tastes have developed a certain theme: Hairy Maclary, That’s Not My Puppy, Archie’s Vacation. She has also said her first word: “doggie.” Whenever she sees something furry with four legs, in a book or real life, she points, says “doggie,” and gives an “oof oof” or two. Lolo comes from a family of book lovers and dog lovers, so needless to say, we’re all delighted with the influence that Doggies has had on her.
David Caplan, v-p and creative director, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
One of the most enjoyable moments I’ve recently had with my three-year-old is sitting down together to read The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak. This book is as highly entertaining and engaging as it is deeply subversive. Where else would you find both the words “preposterous” and “Boo Boo Butt” in the same book? Witnessing a three-year-old have a full-on, belly-busting giggle fit is one of the best experiences in the world, and this book delivers exactly that time and time again.
Ellie Byler, marketing data coordinator, Lerner Publishing Group
My family adopted my sister, Aina, from a snow-laden, coal-scented village in rural Kazakhstan. She was three and I was 10. On our first visit to the orphanage, I brought her a book: Bunny, My Honey by Anita Jeram. Aina didn’t speak a word of English, but I had carefully memorized the Russian for “Where is the duck?” My new little sister sat in my lap and shyly pointed at the pictures. Back home in the States, Aina quickly learned English, but Bunny, My Honey continued to be her favorite book. At the end of the story, Mommy Rabbit tells Bunny, Little Duckling, and Miss Mouse that they are all her “little Honeys.” Aina and I grew close as sisters through the unifying power of this book and its message of unconditional love.
Jody Mosley, associate publisher, children’s books, Abrams
My eight-year-old daughter, Violet, and I, spent all of last fall reading R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. We’ve read together every night since she was a baby. However, this was a special book for us. It prompted so many important discussions—like is it ever okay to lie, what to do if someone is being bullied, or how do we treat others who are different from us. It was also the first time that a book made her cry, which was momentous. She sobbed when Auggie’s dog died. I sobbed at the end of almost every chapter, and Violet would pat my arm in sympathy. It was so wonderful for us to read something that was so moving and rich. Each night we read just one chapter, but she always begged to read more.
Josh Weiss, v-p of digital publishing services and managing editorial, HarperCollins Children’s Books
Remember that great kid feeling of not being able to put a book down, even when walking? Rachel Vail’s Justin Case did that for my then-seven-year-old, Griffin, when it first came out, in 2014. More than a year later, we’ve shared it as a bedtime read, and he’s reread it numerous times. Some books just speak to kids. Their openness to experiencing this is inspiring.
Beth Brezenoff, trade editorial director, Capstone
My son, Sam, who is six, and I read The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet together recently. I first read the book with my dad when I was a girl, and he’d read it as a boy in the 1960s. I hadn’t read it since I was a child, probably 25 years ago, so it was amazing to step back into that world alongside my son, and to imagine my Dad having the same experience. I’d forgotten so much about the book, but it was incredible how it all came back, like opening a little shared time capsule.
Caitlyn Dlouhy, v-p and editorial director, Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, Atheneum
My younger daughter, Tess, loves a story where less than savory characters get their comeuppance, and she loves a story where she sees a bit of her own family life reflected in the story. So Guji-Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen has been her “book of books” as she calls it, for years now. Guji-Guji is a crocodile who has been raised by a very tolerant duck ever since his very large egg rolled down a hill into her nest of far smaller eggs. When he hatches, he clearly looks nothing like a duck, but he’s a whiz at everything, the fastest swimmer, the bravest, the strongest; his duck-siblings (named Crayon, Zebra, and Moonlight) adore him, and he adores them. But one night, a marauding band of actual crocodiles inform him that he is not, in fact, a duck, and that he should help them capture the “fat, delicious” ducks. Guji-Guji is rather shocked to find out that he is, in fact, not a duck, but as he ponders, he realizes that he belongs to these ducks, and they belong to him, and they are going to be no one’s meal, thank you very much. Tess is from China and is always yearning for books that reflect her place in the world, her place in family, and she loves to point out that her sister, Grace, is Crayon, I am Zebra, and Daddy is Moonlight, and she is Guji-Guji, and every time she does, I must admit that I choke up. The art is deceptively spare and gorgeously nuanced, while the text has a cadence and lilt that makes now years of reading always, always something I look forward to as much as both of my girls. And, yes, it is just plain fun to say Guji-Guji over and over and over again.
Angus Killick, v-p and associate publisher, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
I read to my boys every night and have done so since day one. Well, actually, I now read to Ben (nine) while Theo (14) pretends not to listen, but they share a room and he often comments on the book we are sharing. One of my favorite novels I have shared with them was a childhood favorite of my own, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I read it to Theo maybe five years ago, with Ben listening in the background, and now I am reading it to Ben with Theo listening in the background. I also enjoy the actual act of speaking this book aloud. When I was reading the book to Theo (and Ben) the first time, I happened to mention to Norton Juster that we were enjoying the book together, and he asked me if I was aware that there was a relatively new audio recording of the book. A few days later he sent it to me, and we finished the last few chapters listening to David Hyde Pierce reading the book to us—thus I joined the ranks of those being read to. And he was almost as good as me!
Susan Bolotin, publisher/editorial director, Workman
When my husband, who’s an actor, read Huck Finn aloud to our kids, I listened, too. He went all out, and really captured the rhythms and complexities of the story and that wonderful language. One night we were all laughing so hard that our daughter fell out of bed. I thought I knew the book – I had read it several times by then – but I was wrong: I didn’t know it until I got to experience my children experiencing it. That was the best.
Brett Cohen, president, Quirk Books
My family enjoys reading The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers. It’s a fun and clever book. While the author has given each crayon feelings and a personality, Ilivia (nine), Sawyer (six) and I have added our own spin on it by giving each crayon its own voice when reading aloud. (FYI: Pink is an elderly British woman.) Hilarity ensues.
Susan Van Metre, senior v-p and publisher of children’s books, Abrams
When my daughter, Perrin, was born, illustrator Nikki McClure sent me a favorite picture book of hers, a Delmore Schwartz poem illustrated by the immortal Barbara Cooney called “I Am Cherry Alive,” The Little Girl Sang. The illustrations are extraordinary – of a small girl embracing life in scenes that alternate between playfulness and solemnity. Schwartz’s words are thrilling, too. Perrin’s favorite bit is:
I am red, I am gold,
I am green, I am blue,
I will always be me,
I will always be new!
I must admit they make me a bit teary. The book is hard to find but highly recommended! As a fun aside, Delmore Schwartz was a mentor of Lou Reed.
Jaime Capifali, director of hardcover, education and library publishing, Scholastic
Aside from the classics such as Goodnight Moon and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, which my two children absolutely adore, one of my most cherished memories is reading Bedtime for Bear by Brett Helquist. I came across this book by chance after personally working on a few other titles illustrated by Brett. I admired his artwork and as a young mother I wanted to introduce my children to his work. The routine of reading Bedtime for Bear every night set the tone for getting my kids to relax before bed. Tired Bear had a deep mellow voice, his raccoon friends had high-pitched excited voices. We each would take turns acting out each page. It also opened conversation to ask questions and educate my kids. “How many snowballs do you see?” “Why do bears go to sleep during winter?” “How many seasons do we have?” Olivia and Benjamin would even surprise me with their own questions: “Where will his friends go?” “Who will they play with now?” My children are now six and four respectively and have moved on to chapter books, but every now and then, I pull our favorite classic off the shelf and get my tired Bear and raccoon friend voices ready to go... “Hey, bear!” “Come out and play...”
Lara Starr, senior publicist, Chronicle Books
If I close my eyes I can still hear my now-teenage son Max shouting, “Douzou!” As in Olivier Douzou, creator of one of the favorite read alouds at the Starr house at the turn of the last century, The Wolf’s Lunch! Coincidentally published by Chronicle Books (we read this one long before I joined the company) the now sadly out-of-print board book has so much going for it! Great graphics, a visual mystery as the features of the wolf’s face are revealed, encouragement to growl “GRRR!” and bare those baby teeth, and a twist ending: the seemingly ferocious wolf’s meal of choice is carrots! Carrots then became a major joke at the grocery store, “Hey look, it’s the wolf’s lunch!” and the table, “Grrr! Like the wolf and eat just one more carrot!”
Thought it didn’t occur to me at the time, naming my son Max meant that his name appeared frequently in the books we read aloud. Where the Wild Things Are! Max and Ruby! But my favorite, was Max in Hollywood, Baby by Maira Kalman. The weirdly wonderful illustrations, lyrical text and goofy story withstood multiple readings, and there were so many tangents to wander, I loved explaining things like Film Noir and Mel Blanc to my preschooler. Because there were so many layers to the story and illustrations, we read it for many years and enjoyed it on new levels as he got older.
Wig by the B52s and Laura Levine sat on the shelf of his room for months waiting for my son to be born. I found it at Green Apple Books and it stopped me in my tracks! At the time I was pregnant, I wasn’t yet working in children’s books and had no idea about books this fun and hip. I could work my love of ’80s new wave music into my parenting? WIN! I now know that songs-into-books are not without their detractors, but these wacky words make for an excellent read aloud. The illustrations are appropriately kooky, and do a great job bringing the song to life. The tune became a favorite at the Starr house as well, and if I close my eyes I can still hear the toddler tones of my now-teenager singing, “What’s that on your head? A WIG!”
Mallory Loehr, v-p and publisher, Random House Editorial
Ten Minutes to Bedtime by Peggy Rathman is a favorite in my family. When I read it to my current four year old, the 8-year-old and 10-year-old will come in to listen and look as well. Every page is filled with glorious details and the countdown to bedtime is perfectly predictable while being unique. The plot, in which a rise in raucousness gives way to exhaustion, allows kids to declare ownership of bedtime (who wouldn’t be tired out by hundreds of busy hamsters?). Plus we all love seeing the stuffed gorilla from Good Night, Gorilla – another perfect bedtime book.
Domenica DiPiazza, editorial director, Twenty-First Century Books
I loved reading Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie with my niece’s nine-year-old daughter. When I first gave it to her this summer, she ran off to the hammock and immediately read two chapters by herself. Later, when we were talking about what she had learned so far from the book, she told me: “I learned what a preacher is and that there’s a place in the United States called Naomi, Florida.” This from the girl who has said that if she could go anywhere in the world, it would be to Spencer, Iowa, because of Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. (Dewey lives at the Spencer Public Library in Spencer, Iowa.) I love watching the ways in which books inspire imagination and an awareness of the bigger world like this!
Anne Landa, group publisher, Walter Foster and Walter Foster Jr.
The Singing Mermaid by Julia Donaldson is a firm favorite with my two-year-old niece Elin. We read it together in person and also FaceTime across the Atlantic at her bedtime. We love the gentle rhyme and lovely glitter throughout this beautiful picture book and I love that I can subtly teach Elin several solid life lessons through an engaging story. Examples: be careful who to trust, the grass isn’t always greener, appreciate what you have, learn to overcome adversity.
Alix Reid, editorial director, Carolrhoda Books and Carolrhoda Lab
One of my favorite reading experiences with my daughter Abby was when she was about three years old. We were on our first beach vacation and found a beautiful wordless picture book called Wave by Suzy Lee. The illustrations show a little girl who herself was encountering the ocean for the first time. She runs away when a wave comes in, but goes back to the shore when the wave goes out. With each new wave she gets braver and braver and eventually pretends to control the movements of the ocean. At the very end, the ocean gives her a present of seashell treasures. Abby delighted in telling me what was happening on each page, and as we read and reread the book, she acted out what the girl in the book had done on our own beach. Abby chased the waves and the waves chased her, and it was as if the ocean became her friend. It was one of those rare and perfect times when a picture book became part of what we were actually doing, and it inspired us to explore and play and find our own stories by the beach.
Bonnie Verburg, v-p and editorial director, Scholastic/Blue Sky Press
Mama, Do You Love Me? made it clear to my son that my love is unconditional. At the same time, my son understood he could make mistakes or misbehave and never have to fear I would withdraw my love. He is in college now, but we still regularly say a line of our own we pulled from the story: “I will love you even if you put salmon in my mukluks.” (Or even if you fail your French class.)
Zareen Jaffery, executive editor, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
My nephew Adam has always been a big reader, but nothing set his imagination on fire like the movie trailer for The Hobbit. Like many families, the rule was: you have to read the book before you watch the movie. But he was just shy of seven years old at the time. So we came up with a compromise, I bought him a copy of The Hobbit, and read him a few pages every night while I was visiting California for his seventh birthday. I thought he would get bored of it – The Hobbit is not easy reading for a kid that young. But he loved it. He listened so intently, sat up in bed during dramatic parts, eyes-widened during scary parts, and laughed loudly at the stone troll banter. We read two chapters during my stay, and I promised I’d read him more when I came back. But he couldn’t wait another six months to find out what happened. He took to reading a page or two on his own every night. And something even more amazing happened: his mind started spinning with stories. He wrote his own first book that fall, called Mimic and the Darkness King, followed quickly by a second, The Quest of the Gems – a 700-page fantasy epic. It’s been almost two years since then, and he's been writing ever since. In my job as a children’s book editor, Adam reminds me that children are the best judges of what books they should be reading. Don’t ever underestimate a kid with a curious mind.