Education TEDx

10 great children’s books destined to become classics

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[ted id=1644 width=560 height=315]Jarrett J. Krosoczka — the man behind the Lunch Lady crime-fighting graphic novel series — credits his imagination with saving his life.

In today’s talk, given at TEDxHampshireCollege, Krosoczka shares the story of how he became a children’s book author and illustrator. It isn’t a story full of rainbows and kittens — instead it stars a mom battling heroine addiction and the grandparents who raised him. But there is a guest star — children’s book author Jack Gantos, of Rotten Ralph fame, who visited Krosoczka’s classroom in the third grade. While there, Gantos strolled by Krosoczka’s desk and noticed the child drawing his classic character. “Nice cat,” he said.

“They were two words that made a colossal difference in my life,” says Krosoczka.

Krosoczka wrote his first children’s book, The Owl Who Thought He Was The Best Flyer, that same year — and it was followed by many more. The characters Krosoczka created became his friends.

Today, Krosoczka has published 10 assorted picture books, eight Lunch Lady graphic novels and the upcoming chapter book, Platypus Police Squad. And in today’s charming talk, Krosoczka shares the moments that encouraged him along the way, as well the many teachers who inspired him. To hear more, watch this talk. And below, we asked Krosoczka to tell us 10 new children’s books that he thinks are bound to become classics. It’s a task Krosoczka took on with gusto while, of course, snapping a series of images of his two daughters to go with it.

Writes Krosoczka…

When my wife Gina and I were setting up the nursery for our first child, we realized that it would be as important to stock the room with books as it would be to stock it with diapers. We have two daughters now, and we began reading to both of them when they were just days old. Gina and I keep books in every room of our house, and at the kids’ level so they can grab them at their leisure. We also have a tradition wherein our kids select different books to sleep with every night.

At the very beginning, although our then babies had no idea what was transpiring in each book, they were, more importantly, being introduced to the concept of reading. As their minds grew, so did their ability to grasp more complex story lines, and we were introduced to some wonderful characters. Some were, of course, characters Gina and I knew from our own childhoods—Strega Nona, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Cat in the Hat, Nicholas the bunny. But many were new fictional friends from books that have recently been published.

As an author/illustrator of children’s books myself, I feel so fortunate to be working in such a rich era of creativity. My peers are publishing books that will no doubt entertain children for generations to come. Through the lens of the Krosoczka family, here is our list of books that star the top 10 contemporary characters (in no particular order) that we believe will become classic characters.


Hip And Hop, Don’t Stop!
By Jef Czekaj

Hip is a turtle who raps slooooowly. Hop is a rabbit who raps quickly.  It’s an incredibly playful read, especially since Hip’s raps are printed in red and Hop’s are printed in green, so you can try your hand at rapping at the correct tempo. Czekaj’s book is like 8-Mile meets The Tortoise and the Hare. Fans of both old skool and current hip-hop will love this book.


Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same!
By Grace Lin

In this early reader, Lin’s stories are broken down into tiny chapters. This book has been especially helpful, as it’s hooked our oldest daughter on dumplings, which the twin girls make in the book. We’ve literally read it at the dinner table. Our dog-eared copy is currently being held together by tape, it’s been read so often.


By Loren Long

In 2009, Otis the tractor putt-puff-puttedy chuffed his way into our hearts. Long’s Otis books feel like they’ve been around for decades, yet the stories are not at all antiquated, much like the lovable tractor himself! These books will charm the heck out of you without leaving any trace of a saccharine taste in your mouth.


You Will Be My Friend!
By Peter Brown

Lucy the bear will make your kids laugh out loud in her failed attempts to make new friends. The exclamation point in the title says it all—she’s very aggressive. You Will Be My Friend! is a follow-up to Brown’s Children Make Terrible Pets, which rates equally high on the laugh-out-loud Richter scale.


The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone
By Timothy Basil Ering

If there is hope for Cementland, Frog Belly Rat Bone is it. When a boy discovers a treasure, he’s dismayed that it’s nothing but a grey speck.  He is instructed to put it into the ground and wait. He does so, and then creates Frog Belly, complete with oversized tighty-whities, to protect his treasure. SPOILER ALERT: A magnificent garden grows. Ering’s paintings are as suitable for museum walls as they are for the pages of a picture book.


Babymouse graphic novel series
By Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

The Holm siblings created a spirited, cupcake-loving, put-upon everymouse, and in doing so spearheaded a contemporary movement for kids’ comics. A typical evening will find me telling my oldest daughter that we are only going to read the first few pages of a Babymouse book — but then we get into it and I can’t resist reading all 96 pages.


Bake Sale
By Sara Varon

We have read this graphic novel no less than 40 times. That is no exaggeration. And it’s no small feat—this book clocks in at 160 pages. It’s become like a security blanket for our oldest daughter. Cupcake has a successful bakery and he’s in a band with his friends, but he’s in a baking rut. And his best friend is Eggplant. This book is simply awesome.


Skippyjon Jones
By Judy Schachner

A Siamese cat thinks he’s a Chihuahua. It is a muy fantastico adventure with dashes of Español. The language is energetic and it is absurdity perfected. Skippito makes our hearts skip a beat-o.


Hooray for Fish!
By Lucy Cousins

Little Fish’s adventure swimming through the sea is a short and simple tale leading to the one he loves the best—Mommy Fish. The language is playful and the colors are bold. It’s a perfect board book for babies and we’ve read it countless times.


Cat the Cat, Who Is That?
By Mo Willems

Mo Willems’s Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny books have been around for just under a decade, but they’ve already reached “classic” status. However, in our home, it’s his Cat the Cat series that stands as iconic. The books are short and have predictable text that is perfect for emerging readers. But this is a Mo Willems book, so predictability is eventually turned on its head with hilarious results. The Cat the Cat books are also perfect for the “one-more-book syndrome” of stalling bedtime. You can satisfy that need with a super-quick read that won’t leave your kid feeling swindled.

I could go on and on, but I was asked to list just ten. And yes, we do read my books from time to time as well. My oldest daughter, though—a teenager trapped in a preschooler’s body—often rebels against them. “What is this book called?” I asked my then three-year-old as I held up one of my books. “Nothing Never Happens,” she replied, without missing a beat. Her defiant streak aside, she has gone so far as to hand sell “daddy’s books” to strangers at bookstores. I’m told that people have most enjoyed Baghead, Punk Farm, and the Lunch Lady books. As I now truly know as a parent, it is a remarkable honor to be welcomed into the imaginations of young people.


Oh, and our pug — Ralph Macchio — is very supportive of my work.

Want more TED Talks linked to children’s books? has created this awesome playlist for you.