Max and Ruby
By Rosemary Wells
Our favorites: Max and Ruby’s Bedtime Book, Bunny Cakes, Max’s Dragon Shirt
Perfect for: Siblings who drive each other crazy.
The hook: Ruby, the older sister, has a leg up on just about everything. Although Max, the baby brother, can’t yet speak, read, or write — and is constantly messing-up — in the 25-plus books, he always gets what he wants (much to Ruby’s annoyance), be it the coveted chocolate chicken or the dragon shirt.
By Rosemary Wells
Our favorites: McDuff Comes Home, McDuff’s Wild Romp, and McDuff and the Baby
Perfect for: Energetic creatures who mean well, but get themselves into harmless trouble.
The hook: Set in the 1930s, this vibrantly illustrated series of 10 books follows McDuff, a white Scottish Terrier who escapes from a dogcatcher’s truck in search of a loving home. Though he finds one in a young couple who feed him rice pudding and sausage slices, the little dog struggles with the same sort of problems a young kid might – from dealing with a new baby in the house to causing a ruckus at a relative’s house.
By Else Homelund Minarik
Our favorites: Little Bear, Little Bear’s Friend, A Kiss for Little Bear
Perfect for: Young kids who love simple adventures.
The hook: Old-fashioned sweetness. Little Bear loves his Mom, Dad, Grandparents, and friends (Duck, Cat, Owl, Hen, and a little girl named Emily). While the stories are simple, they manage to steer clear of syrupy sentimentality and Maurice Sendak’s expressive pen-and ink-illustrations evoke the humor and innocence of a child’s world-view.
Henry and Mudge
By Cynthia Rylant
Our favorites: Henry and Mudge: The First Book, Henry and Mudge Get the Cold Shivers, Henry and Mudge and the Forever Sea
Perfect for: Boys who love enormous dogs (and the dogs who love them back).
The hook: Perfectly captures the love between a 180-pound, drooling dog and a lonely young boy who — finding himself without brothers, sisters, or friends — can face any struggle (moving to a new neighborhood, being achingly bored at home on a rainy day) with his best friend, Mudge.
George and Martha
By James Marshall
Our favorites: George and Martha Encore, George and Martha Tons of Fun, George and Martha Back in Town
Perfect for: Hippo-lovin’ early readers with a sense of humor.
The hook: George and Martha are hippos and best friends. Every bite-sized story (there are several within each book) is wry, sly, and ingeniously simple, teaching lessons that are never didactic and always funny about having good manners, and most of all, being a good friend.
By Betty MacDonald
Our favorites: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic
Perfect for: For advanced readers who wish they had a magic aunt.
The hook: A classic from the 1950s, this five-book series has aged well. Once married to a pirate, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle now lives in an upside-down house and dispenses “cures” to typical childhood ills, including the Never-Want-to-Go-to-Bedders cure, the Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker-Cure, and the Answer-Backer cure. Without scolding or nagging, these books offer children a fantasy of an adult who truly understands the complicated troubles that afflict them.
By Cynthia Rylant
Our favorites: Poppleton, Poppleton and Friends, Poppleton Everyday
Perfect for: Young readers who appreciate idiosyncrasies (their own and others).
The hook: When Poppleton, a dandified city pig, decides to move to the country, he must adjust to small-town life and his new group of eccentric friends, including Cherry Sue, the giraffe, and Fillmore, the goat. None, however, are more particular than the porcine hero. The deftly written stories offer kids a wise glimpse into to everyday struggles between very different personalities and the peculiar moments of negotiation that all friendships entail.
The Elephant and Piggie books
By Mo Willems
Our favorites: We Are in a Book!, Pigs Make Me Sneeze, Watch Me Throw the Ball
Perfect for: Early readers (and their parents) with a sense of the absurd.
The hook: This hilariously conceived series stars two friends who couldn’t be more different: stodgy, harumphing Elephant and optimistic, zany Piggy. Each tale deftly explores the nuances of friendship and human (well, animal) foibles to brilliant effect. It’s also a wonderful tool for teaching fluency: Because the text involves lots of repetition as the characters pass back ideas or argue — “We’re in a book.” “We’re in a book?!” — no child can read this text in a dull monotone.
Junie B. Jones
By Barbara Park
Our favorites: Junie B. Jones and Her Big Fat Mouth, Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook, Junie B. Jones is Captain Field Day
Perfect for: Beginning chapter-book readers with an irreverent streak.
The hook: Sassy, opinionated, and sometimes downright smart-alecky, Junie B. Jones’ grammatically incorrect antics offer girls a glimpse of a take-no-prisoners attitudinous little whippersnapper of their own gender. Role model? Not according to all adults. But for the family that embraces the absurd and young readers who understand the difference between fictional funny and real-life rude, her stories can grab many kids by the lapel and make them chapter-book aficionados overnight.
The Magic Treehouse
By Mary Hope Osborne
Our favorites: Dinosaurs Before Dark, Eve of the Emperor Penguin, Blizzard of the Blue Moon
Perfect for: Any child who thrills at the notion of time-traveling to the greatest moments in history.
The hook: This wildly popular, award-winning series of some 46 books and counting features Jack and Annie, who discover a Magic Tree House where they can pick up any book — on pirates, King Arthur’s court, ninjas, dolphins, Shakespeare, tornadoes — and enter that world. Every book is a page-turner and will teach your child an encyclopedia’s worth of world history, culture, and literature.
Pinky and Rex
By James Howe
Our favorites: Pinky and Rex and the Bully, Pinky and Rex and the Just-Right Pet, Pinky and Rex Go to Camp
Perfect for: For boys who love Pink, girls who loves dinosaurs, and kids who follow their own star.
The hook: Without a heavy hand, Howe’s stories teach kids that boys and girls can be whoever they want to be. What’s more, they can solve many of the challenges that young kids face – confronting a bully, performing in a school play, or competing in a spelling bee.
The Poppy Stories
Our favorites: Poppy and Ereth, Poppy and Rye, Ragweed
Perfect for: Kids ready to confront a little nail-biting drama.
The hook: Poppy is a mouse who lives with her family at the edge of a forest. If this sounds like the premise a lot of saccharine kiddy books with winsome characters whose minor adventures follow well-worn paths, well, think again. Like E.B. White and other literary giants, Avi imbues his little animals with complex characters and heartrending struggles. No spoiler alert here, but the story offers a rare fictional portrayal of death inside a family.