20 Books and Movies You'll Enjoy as Much as the Kids Do
Two local culture experts share their picks for getting children interested in the arts.
Good Night, God Bless by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe
This is a soothing, lyrical book about the rituals of bedtime and the world at night. Hideko Takahashi’s hauntingly sweet pictures fill the pages, and the rhyming copy is perfect for reading just above a whisper, even to babies.
Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola
The clever and magical grandmother witch cooks up plenty of pasta for the people of her little village—but things quickly get out of hand. It’s especially fun to act out the characters’ voices.
Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
School-age kids will empathize with the plucky heroine looking for “something beautiful” in her sometimes-rough neighborhood. Wyeth’s evocative oil-paintings inspire you to linger on every page.
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham
Moms and dads may remember this 1976 classic from their own childhood libraries, and Harry’s quest for adventure in the big world outside his yard is just as charming today as yesterday.
Counting on Frank by Rod Clement
This is a book that does the impossible: works math into every page with illustrations that draw in young learners and sly humor that keeps mom and dad entertained.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Strange things start to happen just as 12-year-old Miranda should be enjoying her growing freedom to roam her New York City neighborhood. The book’s edge-of-your-seat suspense delights readers drawn to sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery.
Once Upon a Blue Moose by Daniel Pinkwater
Pinkwater is at his best in this unabashedly silly, easy-to-read collection of three stories about a blue moose with an insatiable appetite for clam chowder and dreams of penning the great American novel.
Abel’s Island by William Steig
When foppish mouse Abelard Hassam di Chirico Flint (aka “Abel”) is swept up in a hurricane, he is separated from his wife and forced to find ways to survive without the luxuries of his old life.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Scary, funny, and wise by turns, this story about “Bod” Owens, who makes his home in the graveyard, is great to read the old-fashioned way, although Gaiman’s excellent narration of the audiobook can make the hours of a cross-country car trip fly by.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Set in a fantasy world of puns and paradoxes, this book appeals to kids with an appreciation for the magic of language and is perhaps even more relevant to today’s plugged-in culture than it was when published in 1961.
The Fox and the Hound
Touched with the spirit of Southern storytelling, the movie’s melodic and sometimes melancholic story of friendship, love, and self-sacrifice leaves an indelible mark on how we see the world.
The Secret of Roan Inish
When a little girl goes to live with her grandparents on a rural island community off the west coast of Ireland, the line between real life and local folklore is blurred. Sayles’ film is strikingly beautiful, moving, and real.
The Secret Garden (1993)
Sometimes movie versions of classic novels get it right, as is the case with this adaptation, which manages to conjure all the color and emotion of the novel thanks, in part, to a handful of remarkable child actors.
Into the West
Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan wrote, but didn’t direct, this Gabriel Byrne-starring movie about two poor kids from the Dublin projects whose love of a wild horse leads them on an adventure that heals a broken family.
The Cave of the Yellow Dog
This documentary about the trials facing a Mongolian family living in a tent in the wild isn’t technically a kids’ film, but it plays like a Montessori class—lots of pouring and herding—mixed with a moving pictorial fable.
I’ll admit I haven’t seen Pete’s Dragon since I watched it projected in the backroom of my local library in Queens, New York, back before the days of VCRs. But the warmth of this orphan-boy-meets-magic-dragon comedy has never left me.
The Pirates: Band of Misfits
Which Peter Lord film to include on the list? It’s a tough choice, but the latest movie from the British claymation master has it all: zany pranks, his characteristic dry wit, hilarious hijinks, and high-class adventure.
The master Japanese animator’s strange and bewildering world of dreams and nightmares may frighten young watchers, but it is hard to beat this stunning coming-of-age adventure about fortitude, courage, and identity.
In this tear-jerking and affirming story of familial love, two aboriginal children are taken from their mother and forced into a camp, part of an Australian “assimilation” scheme, which sets up an incredible foot-journey across the continent to reunite with mom.
The Red Balloon
This is one of those eternal stories. It renders all the troubles and joys of growing up so simply and brilliantly. Told with hardly any dialogue, it’s also a fabulous introduction to the visual language of cinema.