Recently, while listening to the Read-Aloud Revival podcasts, I found myself wondering how I would answer the question, "If you were stranded on a desert island with your family, what three fictional books would you want to have with you?"
I asked my husband about this. We had trouble deciding. The problem is that the definition of "three books" is a little squishy. For instance, does the Globe Illustrated Complete Works of Shakespeare (a massive volume, to be sure, that would probably sprain your wrists if you tried to read it) count as just one book? The Chronicles of Narnia can also be purchased in a single volume. Does that count as only one? In which case, I'm sure that there are anthologies of British novels that would include multiple books.... Or perhaps I could get some of my favorite books bound into three large volumes. Maybe the problem is with us. Maybe we have the minds of people who cheat when they answer hypothetical literary questions.
A little later, someone asked me to come up with a list of three books that I would recommend for each of his two young daughters.
These mental exercises have resulted in my wanting to provide you all with a list of my favorite childhood picture books. These are the volumes that I would like to have to read to my children if we had no other picture books available, whether or not a desert island was our home. I did not manage to limit the list to a mere three, but it is still fairly short.
Mother Goose by Gyo Fujikawa
Why: I think that nursery rhymes are the baby version of reading Shakespeare, Austen, and Homer. They prepare a child for cultural literacy and for recognizing references in other books. They teach the rhythm of language and prepare the child's ear to identify vibrant English. They are fun. Plus, this volume has lovely, classic illustrations.
Pig Will and Pig Won’t by Richard Scarry
Why: my sisters and I loved it as kids. It is a moralistic tale, but little kids are moralists and like moralism. They love to read about naughty characters who get punished. Indeed, I think that doing so is part of a healthy development and budding sense of justice. Of course, we would also need to have Richard Scarry's Going Places.
Richard Scarry’s Best Nursery Tales Ever by Richard Scarry
Why: "Nursery tales" and folk tales make good reading, in the same way that nursery rhymes do. They touch on the human condition in a helpful way. I remember this volume from childhood (and it contains some oft-neglected, more obscure stories), but another good collection would probably do just as well.
Mouse Soup Arnold Lobel (also Mouse Tales by the same author)
Why: Because this little book is good. That is why.
Sleepytime Tales and Animal Tales (Little Golden Books Collection)
Why: Those classic Little Golden Books are an example of what children's books should be like. Because they are older, they provide a different perspective than many modern tales. These two compilations (and their companion compilations) seem to be the best way to get a decently-bound set, unless you can get an older edition of the Treasury of Little Golden Books (the new one skips a lot of the pictures).
Oh.... Also everything by Beatrix Potter and Bill Pete. Also Frog and Toad and the church mice books.
And My Friend Rabbit is a new favorite.
And.... I am not good at limiting myself to lists of three.