a list of…five more classic stories that just shouldn’t be missed!

Curious George, by H.A. Rey

This is George.  He lived in Africa.  He was a good little monkey and always very curious.

With these words, Margret and H.A. Rey introduced the world to this most delightful, mischief-making, sympathetically-curious monkey, along with his pal and protector, the man with the big yellow hat.  This first volume tells how George is taken from his home in the jungle and crosses the ocean on a huge ship.  The very first morning in his new home George plunges into trouble, accidentally summoning the fire department.  He lands in prison, escapes, and finds himself sailing over the city clutching a vast bunch of balloons. How will he get out of this pickle?

Many children are capable of landing themselves in trouble as innocuously as George, making it quite easy to get caught up in his tales and root for him to get out of these scrapes.  Incredibly well-loved since 1941, Curious George has swung his way into several more book series, movies, video games, television…BUT nothing compares with the original seven volumes written by the Reys.  Accept no substitutes!  The innocence of George’s adventures pairs perfectly with the simplicity of print, with the old-fashioned lay out of the pages and the fabulous bright, retro artwork of H A Rey.

After you’ve read a few of his original adventures, you and your mid-elementary children will be fascinated to read the story of how Curious George came to be, which I’ve reviewed here.  Whatever you do, don’t let your kids miss the sweetness of knowing George!

The Story of Babar the Little Elephant, story and pictures by Jean de Brunhoff, translated from the French by Merle S. Haas

Babar also grows up in a forest far away, and also encounters a “hunter” and moves to town.  Babar, however, moves in with a “very rich Old Lady” who happens to be fond of elephants and who makes little Babar’s life quite a paradise.  Shopping sprees, lovely dinners, a smart, red, automobile for drives in the country, a private tutor…his is quite the life.

However, Babar misses his old home and when his cousins come searching for him, Babar bids a tearful adieu to his sweet old friend and returns to the forest.  Where, alas!, he finds that the King of the elephants has just died!  So, when Babar comes tootling up in his dashing green suit and red roadster, he appears to be the perfect choice for the elephants’ new leader.  Babar graciously accepts, but with one condition.  Do you know what that is?!

Curiously enough, both Curious George and Babar have origins in France, though the Reys did not publish their story until they lived in the U.S.  Likewise, Babar has spun off batches and batches of extra stories, films, dolls, you name it, but the original  Jean de Brunhoff stories number…seven!  Just like Curious George!  Nothing beats the originals.  The quaint turns of phrase, the fairy-tale-like adventures, the charming artwork, and in facsimile editions the extraordinary hand-lettered quality of the print, all transport us to a new land where anything can happen.  Don’t let the cartoon versions keep you from discovering the authentic, classic Babar.

One Was Johnny: A Counting Book, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Johnny is a dapper little fellow who likes something that is fairly uncommon these days — solitude.  In his little sparse room, on his plain little stool, Johnny is happy as a clam, just quietly reading his book.  Ahhhhh.  1 was Johnny who lived by himself.  Just right.

However.  Johnny’s solitude is broken by an ever-increasing multitude of pesky animals who show up, beginning with a rat who leaps through his green-shuttered window, and a fairly fierce cat following closely behind.  Johnny is discombobulated!  As if that isn’t enough ruckus, these are followed by a dog, a turtle, a monkey, a blackbird, a tiger, and a robber!  All inflicting mayhem on one another and filling Johnny’s wee house with noise and commotion!  What in the world will Johnny do?!

So, so satisfying it is, as  Johnny takes charge in no uncertain terms!

Maurice Sendak, one of children’s lit’s most beloved contributors, wrote this delightful tale in 1962.  It is absolutely a blast to read aloud with young children, who learn to chime in and beller along with Johnny in very short order!  I can’t even hazard a guess as to how many times we read this book when my children were small. Sendak’s flair for the eccentric and the small, which come through in his brilliant illustrations and vivid, imaginative, child-savvy storylines, make every turn of the page a delight.  Perfect size for small hands.  Not to be missed.

Harold and the Purple Crayon, written and illustrated by Crockett Johnson

Harold may be quite a small tot, but he is an adventurous, imaginative, decisive sort of person.  One evening Harold decides  a moonlit walk would be nice, yet finds he lacks a moon.  Not a problem.  Harold wields his trusty purple crayon, draws himself a moon and a road to walk upon, and off he goes.

Everything Harold needs or wants he conjures up with his purple crayon.  Need some woods?  Apples to eat?  A boat, a balloon, or a beach?  Harold quickly draws them into being.  His purple line snaggles and zigzags its way through all the pages of the book, turning ingenuously into gobs of delicious pie, a darling porcupine, a helpful policeman…until finally Harold finds his way back to his own room and his own bed and some well-earned sleep.

There are lots of stories published in which objects are drawn into life, but perhaps this is one of the earliest, simplest, and best.  Its original, small-hands size, the clean, pure lines of the purple crayon, the uncluttered story — it’s really just one stroll before bed — all add up to an immense pleasure for children as young as 2.  A classic story from 1955.

The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss

Everyone knows the Cat in the Hat.  But do your children know the original story?  If not, this piece of Americana should definitely be on your list.

Sally and her brother are stuck at home on a cold, wet day.  Mom is out.  The house is dreary and dull, when…BUMP!!  The front door swings wide and who should step in on the pink doormat but a tall, black cat with a preposterous, red-and-white striped hat and a cavalier air.  What to do?  He promises lots of fun, but he does seem highly…unconventional.

Before the kids can make up their minds, that cat is up to some outlandish tricks.  Juggling a fish and a dish, a cake and a rake!  Hauling in a mysterious red box, from which dash two red-suited, blue-haired Things!  Thing One and Thing Two, who proceed to fly kites about the house leaving mass chaos and wreckage in their wake!  And then, wouldn’t you know it — there is mother, coming up the walk.  Rats.  They should have listened to the scoldings of their fish.  How, oh how, will Sally and her brother manage to clean up this disaster in time!

The beginnings of all the joyous, rhyming nonsense we love in Dr. Seuss lies here, in The Cat in the Hat, paving the way for zest in beginning readers starting in 1957.  Like the other titles in today’s post, you can meet the Cat via movie, app, video game, or perhaps a thousand other ways, but you’ll miss out greatly if you don’t become acquainted with the original, paper-and-ink magic of the book.  In each case, less is more.

Here are Amazon links for these brilliant, enduring classics:

Curious George

The Story of Babar the Little Elephant

One Was Johnny: A Counting Book

Harold and the Purple Crayon 50th Anniversary Edition (Purple Crayon Books)

The Cat in the Hat