I remember reading “The Black Stallion” while sitting cross-legged in the backyard grass, the aroma of my mother’s tea roses surrounding me. The roses were a happy smell, and reading about that beautiful horse made me happy, enough that I remember the scene to this day so many years later. A book is a most special gift for a child.
(Click on any book image to see it on Amazon.com)
“Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell
This timeless classic is told by the magnificent horse himself, from his idyllic days on an estate to his hard days as a London cab horse. (ages 10 & 11)
“The Black Stallion” by Walter Farley
First published in 1941, this best-selling novel for young readers is the tale of Alec Ramsay and the black stallion’s first meeting on ship, then their adventures on a desert island, and their eventual rescue. Though for ages 8-12, you’ll enjoy it too.
“Bambi” by Felix Salten
“Bambi,” the story of a fawn growing up in both the beauty and danger of the forest, has been a favorite of children since it was published in 1923. Designated for ages 8 to 12, it’s a story that will stay with a child as he or she grows up. (It’s far better than the animated film.)
“The Incredible Journey” by Sheila Burnford
A Labrador retriever, a bull terrier, and a Siamese cat set out through the Canadian wilderness to find their owner. They face hunger, the natural elements, and forest animals in this at turns tense, funny, and downright classic tale. It’s the story that inspired the movie, “Homeward Bound.” (Ages 8-12)
“Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White
A Newbery Honor Book winner, White’s tale of a spider named Charlotte who spells out messages in her web for a little pig named Wilbur has been charming parents and children since 1952 when it was first published. (8 and up)
“Old Yeller” by Fred Gipson
Published in 1956, this story, placed in a 19th century Texas town, tells of a boy who takes in a stray dog. Old Yeller ends up saving various family members and becomes a true friend, but there’s sadness at the end, a sadness that’s resolved, but it’s a sure tear-jerker and is advised for ages 10 and up.
“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak
This wonderful story and illustrations won a Caldecott Medal for most Distinguished Picture Book of the Year. Several generations of children have loved this book about a recalcitrant little boy who imagines living amongst wild things. (age 4 and up)
“Runaway Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown
At 75 years old, this book is still going deservedly strong with its message about a mother’s unconditional love. “If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.” Highly recommended! (age 2 and up)
“The Cricket in Times Square” by George Selden
City mouse, Tucker, and his friend, Harry Cat, live in the Times Square subway station. They meet Chester Cricket, an accidental tourist, they go on a series of adventures, and eventually meet a boy who rescues Chester from the subway station. Published in 1960 and awarded the Newbery Honor Book, it deserves to live at least another 60 years. (ages 6 to 9)
“Gerry the One-Eared Cat” by Dawn Brookes
A little kitten called Gerry is born with just one ear and soon finds that looking different can lead to loneliness. All he wants is to be accepted. Eventually, he learns how to overcome his one-eared appearance, help showing up where he didn’t expect it. (5 – 7 years)
“Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O’Brien
Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse, must move her family to their summer quarters immediately or face certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, has pneumonia and can’t be moved. She encounters the rats of NIMH, highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma. (ages 8-12)
“Whittington” by Alan Armstrong
“They never loved me,” the cat said, looking away. “When the weather got cool, the man started jogging in leggings. I’d be waiting by the door when he got back. If I brushed his leg, he’d get a shock. He’d kick, I’d bite.” This is Whittington who finds a home in a barn, then tells a tale that began in the 16th century. (ages 8-12)
“The Story of Doctor Dolittle” by Hugh Lofting
Either you read it or it was read to you. Remember it? It’s about a doctor who, discovering he can speak with animals, becomes a veterinarian. In this first book in the series, the doctor travels to Africa to treat an epidemic amongst monkeys, he’s shipwrecked on the way, and the adventures begin. Written in 1920, it’s just as good today. (ages 6-10)
“Leafensong: First Telling” by J. R. Hooge
The blind and orphaned Boggs, a squirrel in Leafensong, is called to go on a lone journey into the forest while packrats threaten the colony, causing them to gear up to fight off the enemy. Highly evolved squirrels among mysterious trees, animals with thoughts and philosophies, and excellent writing in a young adult book that’s also for mature readers.
“The Last Unicorn” by Peter S. Beagle
From the back cover: “The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. So she ventured out from the safety of the enchanted forest on a quest for others of her kind. Joined along the way by the bumbling magician Schmendrick and the indomitable Molly Grue, the unicorn learns all about the joys and sorrows of life and love before meeting her destiny in the castle of a despondent monarch—and confronting the creature that would drive her kind to extinction.” (for all ages)
“The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter
Here’s a perennial favorite to add to your child’s or grandchild’s shelf. It’s the story of the mischievous PeterRabbit—in another perennial favorite: a Little Golden Book.
“Just So Stories” by Rudyard Kipling
“Drawn from the wondrous tales told to Kipling as a child by his Indian nurses, Just So Stories creates the magical enchantment of the dawn of the world, when animals could talk and think like people.” The stories are over a hundred years old but still enjoyed to this day. (age 6 and up)
“Magical Adventures & Pony Tales” by Angharad Thompson Rees
Six well-written stories focused on horses will charm children, whether read to younger children or, for the older children, read on their own. There’s a carousel pony, a wild pony, a hero pony, a runaway pony, a flying pony, and a wooden pony.
“The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling” by Timothy Basil Ering
What happens to a duckling hatched in Captain Alfred’s fiddle case aboard a ship during a storm? It’s swept out to sea, but is this the end of the duckling? Of course it isn’t. The duckling discovers the violin and music, and music helps bring the duckling back home. (age 5 to 7)
“The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf
“Once upon a time in Spain, there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand.” It’s been a children’s favorite since 1936, and how could it not be? Ferdinand is a sweet little fellow, a lover of flowers who doesn’t want to ever go up against a matador. Give your child the gift of a gentle bull. (ages 3 to 5)
“The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster
A tollbooth appears in some unknown manner in his room, and Milo (who’s bored) drives through, finding a very different world. For instance, there’s the Island of Conclusions that you can reach only by jumping, and you can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and still come out completely dry. A fun and funny book for kids 8 and up, and possibly for younger children if it’s read to them.
“The Heart of a Whale” by Anna Pignataro
Published in 2020, this picture book is an instant classic with its poetic text and artwork along with its beautiful message. The touching description says the whale “lets out a mournful sigh, the ocean carries it like a wish through its fathoms, bringing it to just the right place.”
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll
This classic has been repeatedly published since 1865, and though it’s supposedly for kids, it’s really for every age. You probably already know how Alice falls down a rabbit hole and enters a world populated by things like the hookah-smoking caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat, but it’s time for a new generation to enjoy the tale. (Don’t forget the sequel, “Through the Looking Glass”)
“Born to Run” by Michael Morpurgo
Young Patrick saves a litter of greyhound pups, taking one for himself. He loves the dog, loves watching him run faster than the wind, but one day, the dog is stolen by a greyhound trainer who turns him into a champion racer. What will become of this dog when he can run no more? Though written for children, it’s a book for all ages.
“The Loudest Meow” by Wendy Ledger
Categorized for “tweens” (pre-adolescents), this is one of those books easily enjoyed as so many of them are, by adults too. Go with Jem, a calico cat, as she enters the afterlife without being the least ready to go there. Meet some of the other ghostly cats as she travels amongst them in her new world.
“The Rescuers” by Margery Sharp
The highly revered Prisoners’ Aid Society of Mice is tasked with befriending human prisoners and performing rescue missions. The initial mission as the story opens is that of rescuing a Norwegian poet being held in awful conditions at the Black Castle. There’s a Walt Disney animated film, but reading a book should always come first. (ages 8-12)
“Lassie Come Home” by Eric Knight
Lassie quickly became the most famous dog in the world, the book about her just as quickly becoming a classic. First published in 1940, it’s the story of how Joe’s father, because of finances, has to sell Lassie. She’s taken far away in Scotland, and her only goal is to make it back home. It’s rated for ages 8 to 12, but there’s many an adult who has enjoyed reading it.
“Kittens in the Kitchen” by Ben M. Baglio
This is the 1st in the Animal Ark books, but you may have to find the Ark books used or at the library. This book introduces Mandy, daughter of veterinarians who own the Animal Ark Veterinary Hospital, and follows her efforts to find homes for four newborn kittens. For ages 8 and up. List of all the Animal Ark books
“Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot
“Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw…” Meet him and others in an amusing book of poems. Need a name for your new kitten? Try “The Naming of Cats,” or perhaps you want excitement. Try “Growltiger’s Last Stand.” There are 15 poems in all, and depending on the edition you choose, there will be a variety of illustrations. For all ages.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” by Roald Dahl
Fantastic Mr. Fox has kept his family well-supplied at three different farms until the farmers, unlikable chaps that they are, decide it’s time to get rid of the thief. Children will be pleased with the amusing methods employed by the farmers and the successful parries by the fox. The illustrations and Dahl’s writing make all of it work. (The animated film is very much different.) Ages 8 to 12, but can be read aloud to younger children.
“Babe, the Gallant Pig” by Dick King-Smith
Yes, there’s the award-winning film adaptation, but first there was the book. Babe, the pig, is quite special in his ability to do the job of sheepdog, good enough that Farmer Hogget enters him in the Grand Challenge Sheepdog Trials. Children will adore this lovable pig. Warning: If you’re bothered by the use of “bitch” for a female dog, you can skip it if reading aloud. (6 to 9 years)
“Scaredy Squirrel” by Mélanie Watt
Scaredy Squirrel stays in his nut tree because dangers lurk elsewhere, from tarantulas to green Martians, but he keeps an emergency kit just in case. Then he suddenly finds he’s out of his tree where all the scary things exist, but where he eventually finds there are truly good things too. (Ages 5 through 8)
“Those Darn Squirrels!” by Adam Rubin
“Old Man Fookwire was so old that when he sneezed, dust came out. He was also a grump.” In an attempt to keep his beloved birds from flying south in winter, he builds beautiful birdfeeders, filling them with luscious food. The squirrels love it and hatch marvelous plans, driving Fookwire to extremes. (Ages 4 to 7)
“Merry Christmas, Squirrels!” by Nancy Rose
Illustrated with photos of squirrels cleverly blended into settings where they build snowmen, wear sweaters, and open gifts, this story isn’t just for the holidays. After all, do children really care about appropriate times? They’ll enjoy the Christmas-loving Mr. Peanuts and Cousin Squirrel as they celebrate in their own adorable way, and they’ll enjoy it any time of year. (Pre-school to grade 1)
“The Rat Prince: A New Twist on Cinderella” by Bridget Hodder
Char, Prince of the Rats, is in love with Cinderella, and when he’s changed into her coachman on the night of the big ball, the legend takes off, but in a slightly different direction from the original fairy tale. Your children (and you, too) may end up preferring this version to the original. [Ages 9-12]
“Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat” by Lynne Jonell
Emmy starts hearing her school’s pet rat talking to her, and from there quite a story begins, one that’s repleat with villains, one of whom is her nanny and another being the evil Professor Vole who does experiments on magical rodents. [Ages 9-12]
“Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls” by Lynne Jonell
This is the second of three books about Emmy. Besides Emmy, the story includes the loved characters from the first book–Raston, Cecelia Rat, and Joe, and the evil Miss Barmy also reappears. [Ages 9-12]
“Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry” by Lynne Jonell
Another wonderful book about Emmy who can talk to rodents and even shrink to the size of a rodent. She’s shipped off to live with elderly aunts where her friend Ratty searches for his long-lost Ratmom. [Ages 9-12]
“Ratburger” by David Walliams
Zoe’s stepmother is so lazy she gets Zoe to pick her nose for her, the school bully makes her life miserable, and the Burt from Burt’s Burgers is after her pet rat for the purpose of… Well, the title explains this. Walliams is being compared to Roald Dahl, and probably with good reason. [Ages 9 and up]
“The Dancing Bear” by Michael Morpurgo
A little girl finds a starving, abandoned bear cub and brings it back to her small mountain village where it becomes a part of the community, which is later contacted by a music company that wants a dancing bear for a planned video. Though rated for ages 7 to 9 years, it might be better for 9 to 11 years because of the sadness involved in the tale, one that doesn’t end in happily-ever-after.
“Bear Has a Story to Tell” by Philip C. Stead
“It was almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy. But first, Bear had a story to tell…” He wants to tell Mouse, but Mouse is gathering food for storage and hasn’t time. Duck who can’t listen because it’s time to fly south, and Toad is looking for a warm place to sleep. Bear helps his friends, but is anyone still awake and willing to hear Bear’s story? (Ages 2 – 6 years)
“Bear Snores On” by Karma Wilson
“In a cave in the woods, in his deep, dark lair, through the long, cold winter sleeps a great brown bear.”
A variety of animals and birds wander in from the cold to get warm in Bear’s cave, ending up with quite the social gathering, but through it all, Bear just snores on. Eventually, he does wake up to find there’s a party in full swing in his home. (Ages 3 – 8)
“Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh” by Sally M. Walker
Winnie-the-Pooh was a real bear rescued as a small cub by soldier/veterinarian, Harry Colebourn who named her Winnipeg (thus Winnie) after his home town. She went with him to train for WWI, but a bear can’t go to war, and so a place was quickly found for her. You and your children will love the story of the real Winnie. (Ages 4 to 8)
“Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle” by Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson, & Mary Nethery
The true story of a feral dog befriended in Iraq by soldiers, a malnourished dog showing signs of abuse, and yet who sought companionship from the marines. Photos throughout bring to life this tale of one of the dogs soldiers have saved from war zones. Though for readers aged 7 through 10, adults will enjoy it too.
“Mutt Dog” by Stephen Michael King
Mutt Dog deserves a home. He’s smart and courageous, but he’s without love and food. This is his story and how he finds a place where he belongs. (Preschool to age 7)
“Mason the Mutt” by KayeC Jones, illustrated by Russ Hughes
Mason the puppy enjoys a ride in a car, but is instead abandoned to a life of trying to survive, which he does in spite of bullies and injuries. His luck turns when he ends up in an animal shelter and meets a dog who urges him to be courageous. Eventually, he’s adopted by a little boy and mother, finding his forever home. (Ages 3 to 8)
“Ananse and the Lizard: A West African Tale” by Pat Cummings
Stories of Ananse, the trickster spider, have long been told to children in Ghana and the Caribbean to amuse and teach good behavior. In this story, Cummings retells the tale of Ananse and Lizard competing after the chief claims that anyone guessing the name of his daughter will win her in marriage. For ages 5-8. Searching Amazon for “Ananse” will bring up more such tales.
“Diary of a Spider” by Doreen Cronin
Looking for something different? Then this spider’s diary might well be it with its humorous text and illustrations involving the spider’s observations, his days at school and with his best friend, who’s a fly. Children are likely to enjoy it, ask questions, and absorb the intertwined facts, and they’re also likely to want you to read it with them again and again, so beware! For preschool through grade 3.
“The Spider Who Saved Christmas” by Raymond Arroyo
This is the retelling of a nearly forgotten tale by bestselling author, Raymond Arroyo. Amazon’s blurb describes it as the “tale of Nephila, a cave-dwelling spider who plays a pivotal role central to the Christmas story…reminding us that hope can always be found even in dark places where we least expect it. (ages 5-8)
“The Very Busy Spider” by Eric Carle
As a spider spins her web on a fence, farm animals invite her to do things with them, but she’s much too busy. Eventually, the animals can see what a beautiful and entirely useful thing she’s created. Perhaps a lesson in diligence that little children might pick up on, but more likely they’ll enjoy the simple, colorful illustrations and may learn to not always fear spiders. (Read-aloud, ages 3-5 years)
“Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw” by Todd Calgi Gallicano
Sam London is brought in by the Department of Mythical Wildlife to embark on a mission to discover how the secret that legendary animals are real might have been exposed. (ages 10-12)
“The Selkie of San Francisco” by Todd Calgi Gallicano
Sam London from “Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw” is on another case, this one involving a strange girl with an unknown connection to the world of myth. He must discover how this girl–or something–is a threat to humankind. (ages 10-12)
“How to Train Your Dragon, Book 1” by Cressida Cowell
“Long ago, on the wild and windy isle of Berk, a smallish Viking with a longish name stood up to his ankles in snow.” The funny tale and scribble-style drawings continue from there. It continues even further in eleven more books. Children who’ve loved the films made from these books will happily read the original stories. Reading level is 8 to 12 years, but can be read to younger children.
The Lost Heir (The Gryphon Chronicles, Book 1) by E. G. Foley
In the first of 7 books, Jake, an orphaned pickpocket, realizes he has special powers, and also that he’s being hunted by some seriously bad people who know he’s the Lost Heir of Griffon. The tale has mythical animals, and one in particular: a very angry gryphon. This book and the ones that follow are a bit Harry Potter-ish, and are perfect for grades 5 to 8. See the complete series
“The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss
Seuss wrote this first in a huge series when it was remarked to him that children were forced into illiteracy by boring books filled with perfect children. A cat, in a hat, shows up in the home of two children one rainy day, wreaking havoc while the children worry about how to explain the mess to their mother. Your kids will love it and you’ll love reading it to them. More Seuss
“The Christmas Cat” by Efner Tudor Holmes
On a stormy Christmas Eve while a boy is worried that Santa might not be able to make it, a gray cat tries to find shelter, safety, and warmth in the cold and snow of the forest. However, the sound of sleigh bells portend the arrival of a Christmas miracle for both the boy and the cat. (ages 4 – 8)
“The Wild Christmas Reindeer” by Jan Brett
Teeka believes she must be firm with the reindeer when getting the ready to pull Santa’s sleigh, but her loud bossiness results in something close to disaster, leading her to realize she’d better try another method. Brett’s well-written, humorous tale plus her gorgeous illustrations will make this a child’s favorite, be it at Christmas or any other time. (ages 4 – 8)