Reading is such an important skill, and not just because it’s the foundation of a strong education. Books are also where so many of life’s lessons can be gleaned. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson once compiled a list of his top eight must-read books for any intelligent adult to understand the western world, ranging from the Bible to Gulliver’s Travels. So, what about kids? We decided to put together an equivalent reading list for youngsters — stories, fables and poems that will prepare them for the challenges and wonders of the world. Here are 12 books that tackle some of life’s most important subjects, such as individuality, diversity, growing older and the environment.
1. The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh ($23): He may be a silly old bear, but Pooh packs a lot of wisdom in the Hundred-Acre Wood. These are the stories that led to the more parent-friendly Tao of Pooh. One of our favorite pieces of advice: “If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
2. Matilda ($6): The lovely protagonist of this Roald Dahl classic isn’t just gifted magically — although that’s the entertaining part — she’s also gifted intellectually, which makes this a fantastic story for growing minds.
3. The Lorax ($8): Undoubtedly more than one Dr. Seuss novel will end up in your house, but make sure this is one of them. It deals with respecting the environment, something that’s going to be an important issue when your little genius is older.
4. A Chair for My Mother ($7): Dr. Tyson suggests The Wealth of Nations for grownups to learn about economics, so for a young companion we suggest this picture book about a girl and her family working hard and saving up money for a big purchase.
5. Little Blue and Little Yellow ($7): These two little dots combine to make the color green, but the story goes far beyond basic color mixing, with morals about the influence of others and cultural and racial diversity.
6. Harriet the Spy ($6): This is more than a brilliant coming-of-age novel; it’s a lesson in what happens when you tell it like it is — both the good and the bad.
7. The Giving Tree ($12): How can you pick just one Shel Silverstein? Kids are sure to love his silly poems, but The Giving Tree is the one whose message will become more and more poignant throughout life. Really. *sob*
8. Wonder ($10): Bullying is a terrible problem that every child encounters in one way or another. In protagonist Auggie’s case, it’s his physical appearance that his classmates can’t get over. His desire to be seen for more than his facial differences is something all kids need to read about.
9. A Wrinkle in Time ($6): For older kids that are starting to get into sci-fi, this ‘60s novel explores not just space and time, but also themes of good and evil, conformity and individuality, knowledge, family and love.
10. The Little Prince ($9): While Dr. Tyson says Machiavelli’s The Prince is a must-read for adults, we’d much rather kids didn’t learn about “the ends justifying the means” for a long, long time. By comparison, this French novella is a beautifully translated story with themes of open-mindedness, imagination and what it’s like to be a grownup.
11. Aesop’s Fables ($3): There are some lessons we all need to learn (and be reminded of) throughout life: slow and steady wins the race, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, sour grapes, etc. The moral of the story is, make sure your kids know their fables.
12. Harry Potter ($52): There are many, MANY reasons why these books became as popular as they did, and it’s not just the magic. Good vs. evil, life and death, the value of friendship, love conquering all… if only we had a Time Turner and could experience these stories as kids all over again.
What kids’ book has had the most profound effect on you or your children? We want to hear your favorites in the comments!