Jan 10, 2008

List of Recommended Children's Books

Here it is - an ever-evolving, ever-growing, Montessori/discovery-based education inspired book list.

What qualifies as a good children's book? It depends on the age and the particular child. For example, a young child who cannot yet distinguish between fact and fantasy would best be served by reality-based books such as biographies, books about the natural world, reality-based fiction, etc. An outlandish fiction might just confuse the young child, who is trying her best to understand how the real world works, and to discover her place in it. That said, I have known young children who had a firm grasp of the difference between reality and fantasy, and have greatly benefited from the language of fanciful, imagination-inducing poetry and prose. In general, I would warn against fantasy-themed books for a child under 5. The real rule of thumb, however, is to observe and "follow the child," to use Maria Montessori's own words. Your child's own interests and reactions will let you know if you've introduced the right book for her.

In general, Montessorians look for books that are beautifully written and illustrated/photographed, scientifically accurate, and multi-cultural in scope. Here's a short list of some of my favorites, organized by age and theme. **The list is small now, but be sure to check in periodically, as I will update it whenever I come across another treasure or am reminded of an old favorite!**

Click on the book titles (not the photos) for detailed descriptions of the books.

2 1/2- 6 year-olds

Favorite Poems Old and New

You probably won't need another collection of classic poems. I love this book because it's organized by theme, making it useful for choosing poetry that touches on something of interest, be it a particular animal, season, food, or feeling.

The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems

Miss Rumphius My all-time, favorite children's book, which has been a favorite since I was a girl. This is the first book I bought for my own book collection for teaching.

Pelle's New Suit

Caps for Sale For a while, I thought this book was perhaps too "fantasy-heavy" to introduce in the classroom. But then I hung out with white-faced monkeys in Honduras. Monkeys are TOTALLY capable of stealing caps! Okay - in the European countryside which seems to be the backdrop for the book? Maybe not. But still, it was one of my favorites as a child and I couldn't pass it by.

All by Myself! Truly, you can't go wrong with any book by Aliki. Feelings, The Five Senses, Corn is Maize, My Hands, and My Feet are just a few of my favorites. Fortunately for my students, several of these titles are translated into Spanish.


The Gift of the Tree The first time I read this book I was in awe. A simple, poetic account of the cycle of life of a majestic oak tree, The Gift of the Tree eloquently points out the interconnectedness of animal and plant life.

Footprints in the Snow -This is a favorite in my classroom - I have the Spanish translation. The simple prose makes it ideal for a child who is practicing reading several words at a time.

This Place in the Snow

In the Small, Small Pond

The Snowy Day

Snowflake Bentley A true story about Wilson Bentley, a Vermont boy who was fascinated with snowflakes. Bentley is credited with taking thousands of photos of these unique, six-sided wonders.

Owl Moon Incredibly beautiful, moving book. I love the special time outdoors shared by father and daughter.

The Seashore Book Also, don't miss Charlotte Zolotow's Caldecott honor book, The Storm Book.

Cloud Dance

Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic

Summer: An Alphabet Acrostic

Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic

Winter: An Alphabet Acrostic

the carrot seed
The Carrot Seed Anyone who has planted a minuscule seed and seen it grow into something beautiful and edible will love this story. I recommend reading it in conjunction with some real-life botany experiments.

Alison's Zinnia I first came into contact with this book during my Montessori training. What a boon! I learned more about flower nomenclature from these knock-out illustrations than I had ever known before. You and your children will be able to walk through gardens and identify many common flowers.

Flower Garden



Children Just Like Me

Houses and Homes (Around the World Series) Any book by Ann Morris in the Around the World Series comes HIGHLY recommended. Young children are so interested in "everyday" necessities such as shoes, clothing, food, and modes of transportation. These books highlight how all people have similar needs, yet each culture comes up with unique ways of meeting such needs. A lovely addition to your cultural curriculum.

Get Dressed (Small World) Like Ann Morris's books, the Small World series allows the child to see that, while we might look different, all humans have the same needs. Other titles in the series that you should look into are: Wash Up, Bedtime, Eating, Tidy Up, Celebrating, Smiling, and Carrying.

Corn Is Maize

Stone Soup Jon Muth takes the traditional European tale and sets it in China. Lovely illustrations. It would be interesting to read both the original and this version, and compare the similarities and differences.

Our Big Home: An Earth Poem

Colors of Mexico Also check out Colors of Australia, Colors of China, and Colors of Japan.

Children of Native America Today

Art and Music

The Quilt Story A very touching story that follows a handmade quilt though many generations in one family. If you are a crafter, treat yourself and your family to this gem of a book. It's a wonderful way to introduce a child to the value of "handmade."

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed

Age 6 and up


One Grain Of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale

How Much Is a Million?

Mathematicians Are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians Volume I
Mathmaticians are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians Volume II

Arts and Literature

Acting and Theatre

Rise Up Singing: The Group Singing Songbook If you love to sing, or have family music-making time, then this anthology is a must-have. Even if you don't know how to play chords on a guitar or piano, the lyrics will be extremely helpful. I couldn't imagine being a teacher without it!

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices A Newberry Medal winner - need I say more?

D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths You now it's a good book when you bring it to college with you to use as a reference. It is one of my most well-used books from childhood.

The Oxford Book of Story Poems

Unwitting Wisdom: An Anthology of Aesop's Fables


From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth's Story

Earth From Above for Young Readers

The Stars: A New Way to See Them Bring this book, a flashlight, and an old quilt and lay outside with your children to observe the stars, in all seasons. You'll be in for some unforgettable evenings!

Muscles: Our Muscular System
Bones: Our Skeletal System
Guts: Our Digestive System - (and any other book by Seymour Simon)

Reference Books

Animal A real feast for the eyes. I have this one, and can't wait to get the rest of the series (see below) when I get back to the states. I consider this a must-have for any family library.

Human We were so excited to find this in Spanish at Sam's Club in Chihuahua. My students love perusing it, and especially love the photography and drawings of the different systems of the body. The sections on human culture are equally fascinating.



Festivals of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Celebrations, Customs, Events and Holidays

The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

Common Birds and Their Songs A fascinating book featuring photos and facts about nearly sixty birds, PLUS an audio CD with their calls and songs.

One Hundred Flowers

National Geographic Atlas of the World

Education/Montessori books for the teacher/parent

How To Raise An Amazing Child the Montessori Way A good introduction to Montessori for the curious, and a great handbook for parents of children ages 0-6.

Discovery of the Child If you want to read anything by Maria Montessori herself, this is my top recommendation. In it, you will find wonderful ideas to try out in the classroom and home.

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling A thought-provoking read that put me on the path towards Montessori after a difficult experience teaching in an inner-city public school.

The Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom

Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage I wrote my Master's thesis on Paulo Freire. His writing makes you reflect upon education's role in the face of grave inequality.

Nurturing the Spirit: In Non-Sectarian Classrooms


Unknown said...

Thank you very much for sharing your expertise! I am stashing this list away as my son is still a bit too young for a lot of these titles. I, however, am going right over to my library's website to reserve some of these for myself :->

Marcy said...

Thank you for this list! I'm already trying to compile a nice library of books for our little one (who should be here within the month!!).

By the way, if you're up for a bit of searching there's an incredible series of books written by Ali Mitgusch called "start to finish" books and they each go through the process of taking a natural resource and how it is made into something we use (for example From Cotton to Pants goes through the picking of the cotton, how it's refined, turned into fabric, and then how that fabric gets turned into a pair of pants) all in very simple language. We had a few of these at the Montessori school where I worked in CA, and I recently was able to find a whole bunch of them being sold on Amazon.com (all of them were old library books). They're out of print so hard to find, but absolute jems if you ever come across one of them!

Kelly said...

Great list, thank you! I've been lurking here for a little bit and love your blog. Have a great day.

mishalee said...

Thank you Meg! Have you seen this one called "The Dot"? ** http://www.montessoriservices.com/store/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=91_148_2318&zenid=fae460a5ef4a02799b6c5e2cf196d843 **My grandparents got it and Stone Soup for my son for Christmas. I love it! Thanks Again

AmyC said...

What a great list. Are you familiar with Mo Williams? I love his books. The Pigeon books are great examples of different perspectives.

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you! I'm just starting down the montessori journey with my young boys and I really needed this. Your blog is so inspirational.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for listing the acrostic books (winter, spring, summer and fall) - they are illustrated by Leslie Evans, an artist who works in the Boston-area and who owns and operates Seadog Press. Owl Moon and In the Small, Small Pond are also two of our family favorites! Thanks for the other suggestions!

Anonymous said...

Under Art/Music we also love "Zin, Zin, Zin, A Violin"

Sarah said...

Thank you so much for this list! Can't wait to get these for my son (I'm a library-reserver too, Amelia. :)

Anonymous said...

Love your list! I was glad to see Miss Rumphius made the list (I recently discovered it myself and now I feel validated). I absolutely love it. In fact, I bought it more for myself than my daughters. I can't wait to read some of the others.

Jenny said...

I LOVE your book choices! Some of them bring back such memories - Caps for Sale, Stone Soup, etc.

I am blessed to have grown up with good books as my mother was a school librarian!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love reading children's books! While it's such a wonder to watch my daughter grow, it has also been sad to say goodbye to picture books.

We used to like all of the Gail Gibbon books, have you had a look at them?

jennwa said...

Thanks for the great list of books.

Bethany said...

Two of my all time favorites are on your list: The Snowy Day, which has superior illustrations and Caps for Sale, which I can remember reading outloud as a child. I am a little familiar with Montessori views on children's literature, but I have to ask what they think about Dr. Suess and Maurice Sendak... all those books we all grew up with. I guess this is the area where Montessori and Waldorf completely differ! I think in the time and place we live in, our society isn't as removed from education and engrossed in fairy tales like the times that Maria Montessori was developping her theory on children's lit. My children have always loved nonfiction though and I couldn't imagine not having it in their collection of books!

Jennifer Howard said...

Thank you for this list Meg!
I hope one day my little story book will make your list. I am sending it off to be considered for publication wish me luck. I've given a little sneak peek on my blog if you have a moment to check it out. Thanks again for this wonderful list!
Happy New Year
aka Montessori Mama

Dayna said...

Let me be one more person to add a thank you for your list. I am always looking for new sources of inspiration for new reading materials in the house. I remember loving the folktale about the grains of rice. Thank you for making the Montessori style doable at home - if even in just a small way.

cloth.paper.string said...

thank you, thank you!!
the alphabet acrostic series are our current favorites. i'm looking forward to checking out the other titles here that are new to me.

Olugbemisola (Mrs.Pilkington) said...

Fantastic list! I'd also add any number of books from Barefoot Books (barefootbooks.com), especially for studies of other countries/cultures, geography, etc. They produce lovely books.

village mama said...


Anonymous said...

THANK YOU. I love reading lists!

RaeRae said...

Wonderful list and very helpful. I'm the 'library lady' for my son's Montessori classroom and one of the guidelines is no talking animals (which pretty much wipes out 80 percent of fiction at this age). However, I appreciate the rationale and just have to work a little harder. This list helps me so much, for home and for his classroom. Thank you!

trishia said...

wow. this is not a short list by far! love it. thank you.

Mom of Two said...

Thanks for your list. My daughter loves to read and this will be a great list to use to request books from the library.

Danielle said...

My 2 1/2-year-old really likes some of these suggestions. She especially identifies with "All by Myself," which is her mantra. Several dovetailed nicely into our lessons about winter as we learn at home. Thanks so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful resource!
An author to add to your nature books: Bird Baylor. Her "voice" as a child talking about everything that lives in the wilderness around her is so spot on. I love her books.

Also, I'm wondering if you or your readers have suggestions for books about feelings/emotional intelligence for little ones. So many of them are the "talking animal" books that confuse the matter that much more! Thanks so much.

KitKnitty said...

Thanks for this great list! I can't wait to find them at my library.

And I second the Gail Gibbons recommendation. Her books are very no-nonsense but still interesting. My 3 year old especially loves her "Clocks and How They Go," and he can tell anyone all about how different clocks work just from reading this very simple, very informative book. What I, as a parent, like about the book is that she doesn't dumb it down at all, so it's just as interesting to me to read it over and over as it is to my son to have it read to him repeatedly.

Anonymous said...

This is a great list! Thanks so much. We've already read many of them. I would add Bats At The Beach for the little ones!

Anonymous said...

The Exciting Adventures of BOO
at http://www.boostories.com
Is one of those great children's book that comes around every 10 years or so. Check it out.

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