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Books can have a profound impact on our lives and the way we view the world, especially as children.
I asked my Business Insider colleagues to share the one children’s book that has significantly influenced them.
If you’re looking for life-changing books to read this spring, you may want to check these out:
‘The Giving Tree’ by Shel Silverstein
This book is both my kids’ favorite — it actually changed my life not as a child but as an adult and a parent. Seeing them both react so empathetically to the selflessness of the tree kind of strengthened my faith in humanity and my confidence that we were doing an OK job at this parenting thing.
Reading this book was one of the first times in my life that I really considered the sacrifices other people would make for me, and the potentially huge effect my existence has on them. The tree gives everything from its apples to its limbs to satisfy the whims of a pretty selfish little boy until one day it is nothing but a stump. I think it was significant for me to realize what lengths people are willing to go to for one another, and the responsibility of taking that and their personhood seriously.
‘Dinosaur Train’ by John Steven Gurney
The kid in the book is named Jesse, so my son Jesse had me read it to him over and over again. The illustrations are awesome. And kids love dinosaurs!
The ‘Harry Potter’ Series by J.K. Rowling
I was lucky enough to grow up alongside the main characters, being a member of the “Harry Potter generation.”
The series had an enormous impact on the way I view the world and on what role I aspire to play within it. It taught me to value compassion, chose bravery, and seek friendship in those who exhibit those qualities, among countless other lessons.
‘Paddle-to-the-Sea’ by Holling C. Holling
“Paddle-to-the-Sea” was my favorite book growing up. It gave me sense of adventure and some perspective of how big the world actually is.
‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ by Dr. Seuss
My favorite book hands down is “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss. It has such a great message about the ebbs and flows of life, in a style only Seuss can deliver.
This should be mandatory reading for all adults.
‘Big Sister and Little Sister’ by Charlotte Zolotow
As a little sister myself with one big sister, I knew firsthand what it was like to sometimes feel less important. But this book helped me to see things from a big sister perspective, and my sister and I remain best friends to this day.
‘Junie B. Jones is (almost) a Flower Girl’ by Barbara Park
The Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park changed my childhood life.
I was always quiet (still am), but she inspired me to put my fears aside and take life’s challenges as they come. She was adventurous, smart, and witty. I credit her persona for influencing mine to be brave, social, and less self-conscious. I still proudly own the collection, and plan to read them to my kids some day.
‘Ella Enchanted’ by Gail Carson Levine
A life-changing book that I read when I was younger was “Ella Enchanted” by Gail Carson Levine.
I read it in 2nd grade and it was pretty much the book that got me into reading. Ella wasn’t a damsel-in-distress and was one of the first female role models I looked up to. I still have the same copy of the book from 2nd grade and read it at least once a year.
‘Love You Forever’ by Robert Munsch
From wiki: “It tells the story of the evolving relationship between a boy and his mother.”
But more specifically it is about the everlasting love between child & parent and the evolving relationship between them.
My mother read this to me as a child. Now as a father I find myself calling her after every time I read it to Rosie..in tears…telling her “I love you forever.”
‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ by J.K. Rowling
This is the half of the Harry Potter series that starts to deal with more real-world and adult themes. I loved reading about teenagers fighting against the system for what is right.
‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ by Alvin Schwartz
These terrifying books gave me nightmares as a kid, but they are amazing.
Brett Helquist’s ghostly illustrations in part inspired me to practice drawing, painting, and other creative arts (later helping me land a scholarship for college).
Meanwhile, Alvin Schwartz’s macabre yet often humorous writing inspired me to want to tell stories — a habit that’s stuck with me to this day.
‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Erie Carle
It’s pretty simple: It’s just a gorgeous book that made me, as a very young kid, appreciate the glories and wonders of all the nature around me, even a little caterpillar.
‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak
Very cliche, but “Where the Wild Things Are” was a big part of my childhood. The book allowed me to dream about monsters without being scared!
‘Frederick’ by Leo Lionni
This is the first book my daughter became so obsessed with, she memorized it verbatim.
The moral of the story is so sweet — A family of field mice prepare for winter and disparage the member (Frederick) who seems to be doing nothing as they work very hard with the manual preparations.
In the end, Frederick pulls them through winter with the internal/thinking work he was actually doing — they meditate on the warmer seasons and better times with the visualizations he leads them in, and he performs a poem he composed to help them get to the other side of the lonely, barren months.
‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ by Shel Silverstein
This is one of my all-time favorite books. I feel in love with it as a kid, but it’s still just as fun to page through now that I’m an adult. Silverstein really had a way of engaging kids and getting them excited about reading (and reading poetry, no less!) — that’s no small feat.
‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster
The book is so much more witty, clever, and imaginative than any other at this level.
I particularly remember the scene that describes a market where vendors sells individual words and letters — it presented the value and wonder of language in a way that stuck with me. And now I write and edit as a career!
‘Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great’ by Judy Blume
A great story about the slightly stuck up Sheila who has to go up to a small town for the summer.
She really thinks she’s better than everyone because she’s from the city but really she’s just afraid of everyone not liking her. She’s also quite ambitious — she started a newspaper at the day camp she’s at, and no one’s in support of it so she goes through a lot to crunch out the paper on her own.
It taught me humility (you’re not better than everyone else), got me mildly interested in journalism, and taught kids the importance of thinking of other people and overcoming fears. She was afraid no one would like her but when she made an effort she did make friends!
—Madeleine Sheehan Perkins
‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl
Sure, Matilda has the actual superpower of telekinesis, but the book more celebrates her intelligence and compassion, and that’s something I’m so glad to have been exposed to as a child. It’s also still a great read as an adult.
‘Hatchet’ bu Gary Paulsen
I read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen in 5th or 6th grade. I think that story is what made me become an avid reader instead of just reading once in a while.
‘Dealing with Dragons’ by Patricia C. Wrede
This story is about a sassy and confident anti-princess who chooses to reject the advances of her suitors and live with dragons instead. It’s also the first book I ever read that was filled with sarcasm, which was delightful.
‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass’ by Lewis Carroll
For myself – I think the most life-changing books were longer chapter books my mom read aloud to me before I could read (she did a chapter a night before bed starting when I was 3).
It fostered in me a love for reading that has never left me. It created the ambition to learn to read things myself, so that I could read as much as I wanted and not stop at the end of a chapter. I started reading this way to my own 3 year old daughter, hoping to foster that same love.
We have read: “Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass”, some of the “Moomintroll” series by Tove Jansson, some Laura Ingall’s Little House books, and most recently Mary Poppins.
You may think your kids don’t have the attention span, but timing it before nap or bed when they otherwise are laying there in the dark, I have found mine sits through quite happily for as long as I want!
‘The Great Blueness’ by Arnold Lobel
While everyone else was reading “The Cat in the Hat” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” I was reading Arnold Lobel’s “The Great Blueness and Other Predicaments.”
It’s a great way for kids to learn about primary colors, emotions, and sharing, but back when I was in kindergarten, I just thought it was good story! I heard it’s out of print now, which is heartbreaking, but you can still pick up a copy on Amazon.”
‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ by Paul Galdone
My dad used to read me this story when I was a little kid, and I always made him read it at least twice before bedtime. It’s a silly story, really, about three billy goats trying to cross an angry troll’s bridge to eat all the grass on the other side of the river.
It’s the kind of book you have to read aloud and act out for your kids. I loved hearing my dad growl out the troll’s line, “Who’s that tripping over my bridge?” It’s a fun old folk tale that’s lasted for centuries, not because the message is anything special, but because of how it brings families together for story time.
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