Bourke's Bookshelf: Children’s Book Week

May 2-8 is Children's Book Week.

A line of five kids books lying on the floor.
Staff from the Brainerd Dispatch and PineandLakes Echo Journal share some of their top kids book picks. "Not Quite Narwhal" and "The Pout Pout Fish" are a couple favorite books of Echo Journal Staff Writer Dan Determan's son.
Dan Determan / Echo Journal

BRAINERD — I’ve solved mysteries with the best detectives, attended high society balls in 19th century England, glimpsed history through the eyes of bystanders, seen the future clearly and listened to animals share their thoughts. I’ve believed in magic.

Theresa Bourke headshot

No, I’m not losing my mind, but I have more than once lost myself among the pages of books and felt transported to another time, another place, another world.

I shudder to think what my life would be like without an abundance of books. Reading serves so many purposes for me. It helps me escape from reality, relax after a long day, gain knowledge and learn about people and places I never otherwise would have encountered.

I think it’s always important to broaden one’s horizons, and I think it’s especially crucial for kids. Books can transport kids to faraway places, let them travel through time and open up their minds and imaginations to new and exciting things.


The benefits of reading at a young age are numerous. But don’t just take my word for it.

A 2019 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information estimated children who are regularly read to in the five years leading up to kindergarten are exposed to 1.4 million more words than children who aren’t read to during that time.

A 2013 study in the literacy journal “Child Language Teaching and Therapy” showed babies who are read to and talked to score higher in language skills and cognitive development. A follow-up study in 2018 from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that link extends into a child’s teenage years, promoting higher language and IQ scores.

According to Stephanie Carlson, an expert on childhood brain development at the University of Minnesota, children spend as much as two-thirds of their time in a state of imaginative play, which can be encouraged by reading and helps them to develop their creativity and strengthen their problem-solving skills.

May 2-8 is Children’s Book Week, so I wanted to take the opportunity to share some recommendations for young readers. Some of the suggestions in this column come from my own childhood bookshelves, while others were submitted by co-workers and family members who were avid young readers themselves or have kids discovering new favorites.

Picture books

  • “Adventures with Barefoot Critters” by Teagan White.

    • A beautifully illustrated ABC’s book.
  • “Agnes’s Place” by Marit Larsen.
  • “Axolotl Finds a Bottle” by Lesley Sims.

    • The Phonics Readers series from Usborne Publishing includes other titles like “Hullabaloo at the Zoo” and “Weasels with Measles.” 
  • “The Berenstain Bears” series by Stan, Jan and Mike Berenstain.
  • “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type” by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin.
  • “The Cool Bean” by Jory John and Pete Oswald.
  • “The Dark” by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen.
  • “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.
    Dan Determan / Echo Journal
  • “Extra Yarn” by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen.
  • “Finding Francois: A Story About the Healing Power of Friendship” by Gus Gordon.
  • “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond.

    • This hilariously silly series also includes titles like “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” and “If You Give a Moose a Muffin.”
  • “Interstellar Cinderella” by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt.
  • Little Golden Books by various authors.

    • Classic tales dating back to the 1940s and still written today. The eighth book in the series, “The Poky Little Puppy” is the all-time top-selling children’s hardcover book in the U.S.
  • “Meesha Makes Friends” by Tom Percival.
  • “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” a retelling of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
  • “Not Quite Narwhal” by Jessie Sima.
  • “Peter’s Chair” by Ezra Jack Keats.
  • “The Pout-Pout Fish” by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna.
  • “The Rabbit Listened” by Cori Doerrfeld.
  • “Sam and Dave Dig a Hole” by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen.
  • “Stuck” by Oliver Jeffers.

Chapter books

  • The “Baby-Sitters Club” series by Ann M. Martin.
  • “The Black Stallion” by Walter Farley.
    • “As any good mother of a horse-crazy child would do, my mother gave me a membership in a book of the month club based on horse stories. The much-anticipated arrival of each new book provided a fresh adventure. Of course Walter Farley’s “The Black Stallion” and the related books in that series were amazing. “Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry took me to never before imagined places.” - Renee Richardson, Dispatch managing editor.
    A stack of books next to a copy of "The Black Stallion" standing up.
    "The Black Stallion" by Walter Farley and other horse-related books were favorites of Managing Editor Renee Richardsho.
    Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

  • “The Boxcar Children” series by Gertrude Chandler Warner.
  • “Bruno and Boots series (also called Macdonald Hall) by Gordon Korman.

    • “I don’t remember how I discovered or came across the earlier works of Canadian-American author Gordon Korman. But I can’t forget how much I enjoyed reading them then and even reading them now.
      “... The young adult series is set in a Canadian boarding school for boys called Macdonald Hall, which is in the title of his first published work, ‘This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall,’ which came out in 1978. The series was named Bruno and Boots after the pair of the mischievous but good-hearted roommates and best friends who constantly outwit teachers, administrators and others.
      Four books laid out on a table
      The "Bruno and Boots" series was a childhood favorite of Staff Writer Frank Lee.
      Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
      “... The New York Times bestselling author’s work stands up to repeated readings and feels like rediscovering an old friend and reliving together the fun, carefree times of a misspent youth.
      “As further testament to the enduring and cross-generational appeal of the entertaining and engrossing, yet easy-to-read, Macdonald Hall series of books, many of the novels have been adapted for television.” - Frank Lee, Dispatch staff writer.
  • “Bunnicula” series by Deborah and James Howe, illustrated by Alan Daniel.

    • “The story, told from the perspective of the family pets Harold the dog and Chester the cat, is about their suspicions that the newest member of the family, a bunny found at the movie theater during a showing of the movie ‘Dracula,’ is actually a vampire rabbit that drains the juices from vegetables. My love for fantastical stories started young. This book still sits in my book collection at home.
    • The cover of the book Bunnicula.
      "Bunnicula" by Deborah and James Howe was a childhood favorite of Photographer Kelly Humphrey.
      Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
      “The narrative is first person and claims to have been written by Harold the Dog. It’s reminiscent of other first person tales such as Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula,’ Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ (a story that is being read by one of the children in the book, which I doubt is a coincidence).
      “It’s a quick read that is accessible to children but also humorous for adults and is great for reading out loud at bedtime. The book also has some illustrations that really add to the overall story.” - Kelly Humphrey, Dispatch photographer.
  • “Dear America” series by various authors.

    • This series also includes titles for younger readers, including “My America” and “My Name is America.”
  • “Encyclopedia Brown” series by Donald J. Sobol.
  • “Goosebumps” series by R.L. Stine.
  • “Harriet the Spy” by Louise Fitzhugh.

    • “The book ‘Harriet the Spy’ resulted in my first-ever reporter’s notebook, filled with notes on my surroundings, snippets of overheard adult conversations and descriptions of grade-school romances. I related to Harriet, who wished to be a writer when she became older, and felt for her when her secret musings became public and nearly cost her friendships after she misplaced her notebook.

Triumphant in the end, Harriet served as one of many sources of inspiration throughout my childhood that ultimately set me on the path to my career in journalism today.” - Chelsey Perkins, Dispatch community editor.

  • “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • “Junie B. Jones” series by Barbara Park.

    • “I was obsessed with the Junie B. Jones books as a kid. I had every book in the original series about the precocious kindergartner who couldn’t help but get herself caught up in the most absurd scenarios. I can still quote the beginning of every book by heart: “My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don’t like Beatrice. I just like B and that’s all.”

The series eventually followed Junie B. on to first grade, where she continued her hilarious antics.” - Theresa Bourke


  • “Little House on the Prairie” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  • “Magic Tree House” series by Mary Pope Osborne.
  • “Pax” by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen.
  • Ramona Quimby books and others by Beverly Cleary.
  • “Skyward” series by Brandon Sanderson.
  • “Sweet Dreams” series by various authors.
  • “Willodeen” by Katherine Applegate.


I would be remiss if I wrote a column about children’s books and did not include works by the great Shel Silverstein. I wasn’t sure where to include him, though, so I decided to give him a category all to himself.

Known for his humorous poetry, Silverstein wrote collections including “A Light in the Attic,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “Falling Up.” As a kid who didn’t have a very common name for someone growing up in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, I didn’t find a lot of monogrammed keychains and other things, and if I did, it was always spelled “Teresa” without the “h.”

This week's books include "Twiddle Yer Toes" by Jim Mans, "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens and "My Cousin Rachel" by Daphne du Maurier.
This week's reads include "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue monk Kidd, "Madhouse at the End of the Earth" by Julian Sancton," "Why All the Skulls are Grinning" by Joe Pawlowski" and "The Big Island" by Julian May.

So imagine my excitement upon finding a Shel Silverstein poem with a character named Theresa. Sure, the poem refers to her as “Terrible Theresa,” but I’ll take what I can get. The poem — called “Pancake?” — is included in “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

And of course I can’t forget Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” a story of selfless love.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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