Do you know that the same book has been the top best-seller every week since long before the New York Times' had a best-seller list--and is never mentioned on it?
The Bible. That, hands down, is the most important book in the world.
But after the Bible, children's books are the most important, because they reach us at our most receptive, out most formative. They are also, in my opinion, the hardest books to write well. To engage a very young reader, they have to be fun. To engage a school-age reader, they have to be exciting.
To have any value worth keeping them out of the fires heating our baths, they have to make a profound and positive moral without it being obvious. We're building a worldview here, shaping values, presenting role models! Even Dr. Seuss used zaniness to teach us "a person's a person, no matter how small" and to show redemption through a Grinch's heart which was capable of expanding "three sizes" in one day--not to mention teaching us the joys of applying our own imagination to creative word-play.
I am leery of books which are engaging but have disturbing messages. Judy Blume wrote a book in which the young "hero" watches his teenage neighbor undress every night through binoculars. It leaves the reader thinking voyeurism is not wrong, that it's a valid choice. I am not comfortable with those who are thrilled that their children read Harry Potter since "at least they're reading" when my understanding is the books make a positive, if subtle, case for dabbling in witchcraft.
There are books which will guide you to reading matter worthy of your children's minds. One of them is Beverly Darnall's compilation of Laura Bush's List of 57 Great Books for Families and Children: Laura's List. Another is Gladys Hunt's Honey for a Child's Heart. Share with your children your own favorites, of course, but don't overlook the classics and classic series like Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Misty of Chincoteague. VisionForum.com has excellent, Christian character-building historical novels in their Beautiful Girlhood Collection and All-American Boys Adventure Collection.
I see that my grandfather's compilations of Real Life Stories (consisting of four volumes such as Real Adventures and Heroic Deeds) were apparently re-issued last year. I'm just reading them for the first time and think today's children would love them. I hope someone will also re-issue his four-volume collection of Junior Literature: a feast of selections from dozens of great authors: Shakespeare, Malory, Stevenson, Hans Christian Anderson, Mark Twain, Frost-- Good stuff.
Every boy should be introduced to Kipling's "If":
"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you. . .
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son."
How did your early reading help you become who you are?