If you’re looking to raise grounded, well-adjusted children with a strong moral core, then keep moving.  If, on the other hand, you want your kid to grow up with a sense of humor, then get your hands on the following titles – My Top 10 Children’s books (and two for good luck)!

Fables You Shouldn’t Pay Any Attention To, by Florence Parry Heide, Sylvia Worth Van Clief and Victoria Chess

From Story-Lovers.com: “You certainly wouldn’t want your kid to pay attention to the seven fables found in this book! In them, greediness, laziness, discontent, selfishness, carelessness, and lying are rewarded, while gracious, kind, and thoughtful children end up getting spanked. It’s the ultimate in evil turnabout, and one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.”  If you can manage to track down a copy, do yourself a favor and pick it up if only for the brutally honest (yet valuable) life lessons offered.

Sitting Ducks, By Michael Bedard

Inspired by a lithograph the author created some twenty years earlier –

– the book focuses on the denizens of Ducktown who live seemingly idyllic lives.  They are hatched in the alligator-run Duck Factory, then sent off to to relax, enjoy life and, most importantly, fatten up, oblivious to further consequences.  But changes are afoot when a hungry alligator factory worker happens to strike up a friendship with an innocent young duckling…

Rotten Ralph, By Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel

Ralph is the rottenest cat in the world – meanspirited, rude, and disruptive – yet, still, he is loved by his young owner, Sarah.  But when he crosses the line during a visit to the circus, Ralph suddenly finds himself homeless.  His dire circumstances lead him to a journey of self-discovery and the understanding that it’s far better to be nice than it is to be rotten.  Just kidding.  Ralph’s rotten adventures continue in other books in this wonderful series.

The Dumb Bunnies, by Dav Pilkey

No doubt inspired by The Stupids (see below), the adventures of the dumb bunnies are a hoot.

Miss Nelson is Missing!, by Harry Allard and James Marshall

The kids in Miss Nelson’s class are out of control – until the day Miss Viola Swamp, the meanest substitute in the school district, takes over.  The kids are flummoxed.  What happened to their lovable (and infinitely more pliable) Miss Nelson?  The answer may surprise.  Followed up by two equally terrific books: Miss Nelson is Back and Miss Nelson Has a Field Day.  Best supporting character shout out to Principal Blandsworth.

The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

This book contains ten terrifically skewed takes on established fairtytales with titles like: “The Princess and the Bowling Ball”, “Little Red Running Shorts”, and “Jack’s Bean Problem”.  In the titular story, the Stinky Cheese Man can run away as fast as he can because, yes, he’s made of stinky cheese and no one is all that inclined to chase him.  Still, his end is no less tragic than that of his more delicious cousin’s.

Dr. Xargle’s Book of Earthlets, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross.

Dr. Xargle is the resident alien expert on all things Earth-related.  In the first book of this great series, Xargle educates his students on the finer points of child-rearing covering everything from bath time to diaper-changing – and gets it all erroneously and comically wrong.  Not that his class would know any different.

I worked on the television series way back when.  The finished product fell short but the scripts, written by author Jeanne Willis, were brilliant.

The Stupids Step Out, by Harry G. Allard Jr. and James Marshall

The series apparently holds the #26 spot in The American Library Association’s list of 1oo Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.  That should be reason enough to pick them up.  Politically correct, they aint.

Amphigorey, by Edward Gorey

How could I forget the master of moppet macabre, Edward Gorey.  This book offers up a delightful collection of his ghoulishly gothic triumphs, among them “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” which recounts the tragic demises of 26 different children (each of who’s name begins with a different letter of the alphabet) in rhyming couplets.  We used to have  a poster of the Tinies in our office, back when we used to work on Student Bodies.  I remember studying it one day, then pointing at one unfortunate and informing my gin-loving writing partner: “Hey, this is you!”

Annoyed, he marched over, scanned the poster, picked out the one most appropriate to my predilections and countered: “And this is you!”


A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket

Although the ninth book in the series, The Carnivorous Carnival, ranks as my favorite, The Bad Beginning was (appropriately enough) the one that started it all for me and, thus, merits this spot in the countdown.  Tracing the tragic misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans, the series is darkly humorous, exceedingly clever, and just incredibly enthralling.  I remember being drawn to the cover at a bookstore and, while checking it out, had a complete stranger warn me off it as wholly inappropriate book for children. Sold!  P.S. Hated the movie which didn’t even come close to capturing the wit of the series.

Lizzy’s Lion, by Dennis Lee and Mary-Louise Gay

The rhyming tale of Lizzy and her pet lion – and the robber unfortunate enough to cross their path – is not for the squeamish.  My sister and I so loved this book that, to this day, we can recite it by heart in its entirety.

George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends, by James Marshall

Funny, sweet, and utterly charming, this collection of stories detailing the adventures of two lovable, beady-eyed hippos ranks as one of my most treasured books.  They have adventures, they get into trouble, they argue, but, in the end, George and Martha ARE best of friends.

I loved these books so much that when I heard that HBO was going to produce a series, I dispatched my agent to get me onboard.  I ended up writing a few episodes and was very impressed with the production.  Nathan Lane provided the voice for George while Andrea Martin did the honors for Martha.  The scripts and direction did a very nice job of capturing the spirit of the late James Marshall’s work.  Still, nothing beats the books!

36 thoughts on “February 27, 2011: My Top 10 Children’s Books (and two for good luck)!* revised

  1. I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid – I only remember a book or two, and not very well. They were old, probably from the 1950s. But as I got older I discovered two of the best children’s books, ever:

    Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey


    Der Struwwelpeter (1845) by Heinrich Hoffmann


    The latter, especially, teaches very good lessons to very naughty children. 🙂


  2. Oh my god, Sitting Ducks would be an excellent gag gift for Teal’c, wouldn’t they?

  3. #1 Favourite children’s book from a mother’s pov, hands-down is “I Love You Forever”…made me cry the first time I read it. Every mother should be given a free copy leaving the delivery room.

    When my daughter was a toddler her favourite book was a Teletubbies board book…not due to content, so much as it apparently tasted the best.

  4. I remember the Stinky Cheeseman from when I was a kid! My whole class loved that book! I’ve got to try and find it now. Thanks for reminding me!

  5. If you’re interested in an introduction to existentialism, I have a good suggestion. It’s got probably less than a hundred words, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in a lesson of folly and futility.

    In “We Are In A Book!” by Mo Willems, Elephant and Piggie become self-aware on the page, reveling in being and getting the reader to say a funny word. The realization that the book and their very existence will soon end sends one of them into a tailspin of despair.


  6. I don’t remember a lot of books when I was little little. The one that I love is “The Giving Tree.” It remains one of my favorites today.

    In 5th grade I was reading lots of Nancy Drew.

    In 7th grade I was reading “Your Erroneous Zones” By Dr. Wayne D. Dyer at the suggestion of my college-aged sister, among many other books. I actually learned a lot from it. Being grounded to my room a lot had its advantages. I didn’t mind it so much after awhile. “Oh, grounded? Excellent! See ya.”

    Can you believe February is almost over? My March 17 birthday is coming up too fast. Way too fast.

  7. What kind of bad Mom am I? I have three kids and they have (and like) some of these books.


  8. Some familiar titles in there.

    The BFG was the book I checked out every week from my primary school library. Gave it to my 7 year old Niece recently.

    But as far as scarring my child brain, I know what it was and when it was. Helen’s house. I was 9 years old. Her older Brother Graham said “Hey, watch this muppet show. It’s really funny.” “Sure, why not. Muppets are always funny”, said my 9 year old brain. What does Graham put on?

    Meet the Feebles….

    I never looked at a rabbit with myxomatosis the same way again.

  9. Epic!

    It’s about time we move on to some deeper reading around here. I’ve been spicing up sluggish books with silly voices, but that won’t cut it much longer.

    Please, Toddler Book Authors, no more stories about rescuing or doing favors for the mayor. Do you have any idea how off-script a libertarian parent is going to go about why everyone’s happy in the end?

    My boy’s coming along nicely with the critical thinking. He asked me two good questions today. “Is littering bad for the planet?” and “Was George Washington good?”. We wrestled with the first before coming up with “yes” (it’s the process that’s important). He woke me up to ask the second, but I’m pretty sure I managed to mumble something about the Whiskey Rebellion.

  10. Lol I don’t remember all my fav childhood books, however I did read a lot of fairy tales and stuff like that. Fantasy stuff. Probably why I like anime so much lol

  11. Oh dear lord, the Gashlycrumb Tinies.

    We had a poster of that in our classroom back in high school.

    And it wasn’t a literature class or anything. It was just there to taunt us.

  12. I still have that George and Martha book. Fun times!! When I was in fourth grade, I got into series books (Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, etc, etc,) and stayed there a long time.

    Have you ever heard of the Skippy Jon Jones books by Judy Schachner? My younger son loves them. We actually got to meet the author one time, and he still talks about that five years later.

    Have a great day!!!

  13. Hello! ça va bien? la forme? Moi super=)

    Alala que de souvenirs:)…parfois ça m’amuse de relire mes vieux livres d’enfance. Mais je ne connais pas ceux sités sur votre blog.

    Gros bisou,
    Bonne semaine!

  14. What, no Captain Underpants?!

    My current fave gift to kiddos is The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber. It is so beautifully written.

    One of my son’s favorites is The BFG.

  15. Hi Joe. I’d like to hear more about your next gig. I’ve heard it’s going to be a TV series after “Transporter”. If that’s the case I’d love to see it as I’m a huge fan of the three movies.
    Now I’ve heard you’ve been working on the show’s “bible” and I’d like to ask you if, when you first got to SG-1, there was a show bible for SG-1 and if it said anything at all about Sam and Jack.
    Also can you please tell me if the rest of TPTB (Rob, Brad, Paul) are in agreement with you that Sam and Jack got together after the episode “Threads”?
    Thank you

  16. Those books sound so me! I would have loved to have read all of those when I was a kid. Unfortunately, we moved from Chicago to a very small Tennessee town with no city library/book store. I had to check all my books out from the school, so summers were pretty sparse in the reading department. They have a city library now but still no bookstore there.
    I went book buying wild when my son was small, though. He liked any book that rhymed, so that was a lot of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. We did find this one version of Little Red Riding Hood that was hilarious, The Wolf’s Story. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0763627852/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=0BPY8D69K6ACWYJQ008A&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938811&pf_rd_i=507846
    I’m definitely saving your book list for my niece. So thank you for sharing!

    Has anyone seen the news about Arkansas’s earthquakes? I have a friend that lives there and he thinks it was some kind of drilling that started the quakes. Who knows but it is ironic that he moved from Memphis (known fault line) to a little town in Arkansas (recently plagued multiple earthquakes).

  17. @JeffW ^ @BMc from the 26th

    It’s not strange to see the retirement of the NASA Space Shuttle. Historically it’s rare that a particular model of an airplane/space launcher lasting more than a decade. Especially complex warplanes/spacecrafts. The Boeing B52 and Stratotanker /707 families don’t count, since they had essentially being rebuild with new components. What is surprising is how long NASA manage to keeping the Shuttles flying with a diminishing global replacement/spare parts inventory. A lot of parts are simply no longer available.

    Why some people still support the defunct Constellation program is baffling. The Ares I & Ares V rockets are simply over-priced and way overdue. No US president would continued with the Constellation program. The Ares I had spend over 10 billion dollars before they figure out it will never deliver the promise lift performance and the non-survivability of the crew if the 5 segment solid rocket first stage malfunction (according to a USAF study). The over-sized Orion capsule is over-qualified for LEO (low earth orbit) ferry duties while not capable of BEO (beyond Earth orbit) operation without extensive upgrading. Never mind that the Constellation program doesn’t have an Earth departure stage or lander available due to cost over runs with the Ares I rocket and Orion capsule that gobble up all the funding.

    Happily we should have American human spaceflight resuming in the not distant future. Both SpaceX with their Falcon 9 rocket top with the Dragon capsule and Boeing with their Atlas V 402 rocket top with the CST100 capsule should be man-rated by 2014 or sooner.

    Interesting factoid. SpaceX had sprend about 800 million dollars for everything they done so far. That include the Falcon 1 rocket, the Falcon 9 rocket, the Dragon capsule, 3 new rocket motors, 2 launch facilities and 2 manufacturing facilities.

    Compare that to the 800 million dollars gantry tower under construction for the defunct Ares I rocket.

    Afraid the new SLS rocket “mandated” by the Congress last year is really the Ares V in all but name. It might be ready for test flight by 2020 at about a billion dollars per launch with a launch rate of roughly about 3 every 2 years. It is a rocket heading for cancellation after the flight of of the upcoming Atlas V Heavy and/or the Falcon 9 Heavy rockets.

  18. Ah yes, the “challenged” books! I suppose that sounds better than “banning” 🙂

    I’m with you though – the minute someone tells me that something isn’t appropriate for a kid, the book’s just sold itself. Let the kid decide!

  19. @ Ultra Curious
    “I Love You Forever”…made me cry the first time I read it.

    Someone gave me that to read while in a bookstore. I stood there tears rolling down my face. Due to health issues, I was pretty sure I’d never live long enough to be old and still loving my child like that and both the store and overwhelming sadness got me. I am better, prognosis guarded but so much more optimistic… and still makes me cry. So I give it to every pregnant friend and yes, I have also handed it to moms in books stores and seen them standing crying.

    At Joe… ROFLMAO. I must buy those. I perverted many children stories (such as having the bears eat the home invasion brat). My child was a teen and told me she thought I told her the REAL stories and was rather disturbed when she found out my warped versions were my own, lol.

    Aren’t you traveling today?
    Your title says 2 extra, first paragraph says one extra, but there are 12.

  20. Let’s see…I’ve read Stinky Cheese Man and the Gorey, of course. I’ll have to track down the rest.

    Not quite in the same theme, but I recommend two by David Weisner: Tuesday and The Three Pigs.

  21. Some interesting titles here for my nieces and nephew; my niece had me sing “Fly Me To the Moon” yesterday over Skype, because she heard it on a commercial and there’s a merry little jig that she does to that song. I was amazed at the power of Sinatra over kindergartners.

    My fave books as a kid were Secret Garden, Tatsinda, Charlie and the Cholate Factory, Ralph S. Mouse and James and the Giant Peach. They had epidemics and starvation and giants, all great in my book.

    It’s been hard to find some titles; we loved a book of gruesome fables, one of which had a mean girl who threw matches for fun and caught herself on fire, and there was a series about a pair of brothers who told tall tales and would beat each other up viciously, tying each other in knots and tossing each other off roofs. Can’t find the title of either.

  22. Joe – I looked through your entire list, and totally did not see that you had posted a Gorey book. I think there’s something wrong with my head, or something. 😛


  23. Hey Das,

    You’re not crazy. Note the “*revised” in the title. I did so to include Gorey after your post.

    How could I forget?

  24. OOOh, I must find Sitting Ducks.

    I read a lot as a child, I still have my fairy tale and nursery rhyme “tall” books. I moved “up” rather quickly. My third grade teacher accused me of cheating on a reading comprehension test, she’d never had a child with perfect reading scores before.
    I read everything I could get my hands on. Lots of classics bought for my brothers (Robin Hood, Three Musketeers, Huckleberry Finn), mom’s Reader Digest condensed novels, and my brother’s science fiction paperbacks. I was a kid, and I did read kid books, but any book left out was fair game. I read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy at age ten. My sixth grade teacher was excited to introduce us to The Hobbit and refuse to believe I’d read it and said I was a liar. I started to hide my reading choices from certain teachers.
    One librarian almost wouldn’t let me have Gone With The Wind because she thought I would never finish it at my age. ha. Three days. Mom said she read it as a little girl, and that fast too!

  25. @Bilo&Bella

    Some of those questions are so obvious. Makes you wonder if the people who asked have frequented Stargate sites such as Gateworld where they could easily get that information from, or even by asking Joe. Seems strange to ask a TVguide the obvious lol

    Still Americas flawed ratings system getting this show cancelled is depressing. Curse you 25,000 Nielson households. Watching stuff like Jersey Shore over SGU =[

  26. Good book selection Joe! I remember some of those from my youth. I need to find Sitting Ducks for my daughter, she loves ducks.

    One children’s book I recently heard about thanks to the Sklarbro Country podcast is The Greatest Goal (maybe it was called the Goal of the Century?) about Paul Henderson’s goal in 1972 for Canada against the USSR.
    Yes, they made a children’s book about it, and it’s supposed to be huge in Canada. Henderson!!!!

  27. @Montrealer:

    No real difference of opinion here…I’m mostly bemoaning the current lack of vision and goals.

    Apollo had the goal of a moon-landing. The Space Shuttle had the goal of a cheap, reusable launch vehicle (not that it achieved it, but at least it had a goal). And the Constellation Program at least had the goal of returning to the moon. NASA is in shambles and seemingly rudderless without any clear goals.

    I think the private space industry is very beneficial. Heck, I have friends who work for Scaled Composites (a couple are Cozy fliers and builders like myself), so I’m all for it. But at the NASA-level we need some direction (maybe continued funding of private space efforts), but I fear that NASA will continue to stumble and will eventually cut-off funding to companies such as SpaceX because of a “not invented here” bias…I hope to be wrong though.

    BTW, have you seen this:

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h_d6YVA1Kg&w=640&h=390%5D

  28. The theme here seems to be unhappy stories. I tried reading the Lemony Snicket books. I read the first one, didn’t like it. I started reading the second one, got to a part where it said something like, “If you want to just think they lived happily ever after from here on, stop reading”, and thought, “Okay, done,” closed the book, and stopped reading the series entirely. I like happy endings. I don’t like stories that make me feel bad. That’s not what I look for in recreational reading at all.

  29. The Stinky Cheese an has ALWAYS been my favorite. When I was in speech, I used it as my humorous interpretation. Good times.

    I also enjoyed Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The Stupids were always good, too (especially The Stupids Step Out. The sock on Mr. Stupid’s head; who can resist that?). Finally, I enjoyed the Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.

  30. I feel deprived not having read any of these books. I’ll have to check them out.

    My favorite book when I was a kid was “The Mouse and His Child”. I found it and re-read it as an adult, and it’s as odd as I remember, but I still love it. Being older also helps me understand parts of the book a bit better, although you could argue that no longer being young prevents me from understanding parts of the book as I once did.

    – KB

  31. I dont actually agree with your selection of books and that saying they are the top 10 books of all time is a bit much. This is a matter of opinion and is open to interpretation but other than that i thought that this is a very useful blog and do agree with some of the books on here

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