Reading books together is rewarding for both parents and kids — even after kids can read on their own. It’s a chance for closeness, sharing ideas, and building vocabulary. It also provides an opportunity to revisit favorites from your own childhood.
Classic books are a gold mine for discussions about all kinds of important topics, from how to be a good friend to how a book compares with the movie version to the nature of good and evil. They also give parents a chance to reinforce their family values as kids encounter villains and violence and to tackle tough themes such as bullying and racism.
Here’s a selection of books for toddlers through tweens that are perfect for experiencing together, along with a few questions to get a discussion going.
—“Corduroy” (age 2+) This story about a teddy bear who yearns to be taken home from the store — and the girl who wants to buy him — is timeless. The fact that Corduroy isn’t “perfect” can lead you into talking about accepting friends and family members just the way they are.
—“The Story of Ferdinand” (age 3+) A peace-loving bull who prefers smelling flowers to fighting has been charming readers for generations. His gentle message that it’s OK to chart your own path, no matter what others say, is one kids can easily understand. Ask your kids whether you can be a strong person even if you don’t fight or act tough.
—“The Cat in the Hat” (age 4+) A rascally cat enters a house, juggles possessions, and invites his odd pals to help trash the place in the book that put Dr. Seuss on the map. Zany illustrations match the rapid-fire rhyming text. What clues in the art show the Cat feels sorry for his crazy antics in the end?
—“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (age 6+) Five kids win a chance to tour Willy Wonka’s mysterious candy-making operation in this wild ride of a morality tale. Funny cartoon-like sketches keep kids engaged and laughing. Kids who’ve seen one of the film adaptations can compare the book and movie. Which one’s better, and why?
—“Stuart Little” (age 6+) Irresistible Stuart shows that determination and courage, not size, make a true hero. Through inventive thinking and quick action, Stuart can defeat a hungry cat, escape a garbage truck, and make his way in a human-sized world. What kinds of challenges do small individuals — like kids! — face?
—“Charlotte’s Web” (age 7+) Universal, timeless themes have made this story of an innocent pig’s friendship with a wise spider a favorite for generations. Though most readers (including adults) will cry near the end, it’s never sappy. Thanks to Wilbur and Charlotte, kids can discuss how we make and keep friends and how we should treat each other.
—“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (age 7+) Young siblings discover that a wardrobe in an old country house is a portal to the magical land of Narnia in this first book in a beloved fantasy adventure series. What does this exciting story say about the nature of good and evil?
—“Esperanza Rising” (age 10+) After Esperanza’s wealthy father is killed in Mexico and an uncle pressures her widowed mother to marry him, Esperanza flees to California, where she must adjust to the cramped, exhausting life of a farmworker. This beautiful historical novel portrays an immigrant experience in the 1930s. How does it compare with your family’s experience?
—“The Hobbit” (age 10+) This nonstop fantasy adventure of a small, hairy-footed creature sent on a mission by a wizard is a great introduction to richly imagined Middle Earth. Dwarves, goblins, trolls, a dragon, treasure — it’s got everything a fantasy reader could want. Why is Bilbo reluctant at first to embark on an adventure? How does he change as he goes?
—“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” (11+) A loving family faces racism in Depression-era Mississippi in this enduring story of courage and hope, as seen through the eyes of 9-year-old daughter Cassie. Parents can help kids understand violent elements such as nightriders and lynch mobs. What has changed since then? What challenges still remain?
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.