This list of 1970s children’s books is meant as the picture book companion to my post about great 1970s chapter book classics that I compiled a few years ago as part of my series, Children’s Classics by the Decade in which I shared favorites from the 20th century.
I think it is safe to say all parents enjoy reading books they discovered during their childhood to their own kids. (And if these books were already classics by the time you were a kid, please just don’t even tell me.) Most of these were books read to me as a kid and I still love them today.
Because it is so hard to narrow down a classic book list to only 10 choices, I prefer to choose titles that I think readers may not yet be familiar with. I don’t need to list Donald Crews’ 1978 book Freight Train, because every parent has already read it a gazillion times to their 2 year old.
I’ve also made a point to choose books that are still readily available rather than those out of print gems you are lucky to find at tag sales. All of these should be at your local public library, or are available in bookstores. (Note: covers and titles are affiliate links.)
10 1970s Children’s Books
Ben’s Trumpet (1979). Ben hangs out by the jazz club at night, listening to the various instruments. During the day, he plays his imaginary trumpet for his family and friends. One day, a few kids tease Ben but a musician comes to the rescue and invites Ben to practice on a real trumpet at the club. This is a lovely book about how a passion for music can enrich lives, inspire the imagination and bring people together. Lovely.
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses. Paul Goble wrote and illustrated numerous picture books and story collections based on Native American folktales and legends. The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses is about a girl who develops a special connection to horses. During a storm she is carried away with the creatures and lives for a time with her new family. After she returns to her human tribe she has trouble readjusting, experiencing intense loneliness until at last she returns to the herd. Goble’s illustrations are gorgeous.
The Maggie B (1975). Like me, my mom primarily checked out books from the library, but this was one of the few precious picture books she bought. I think it was because the girl and her brother probably reminded her of me and my brother. I loved this book, with its gorgeous watercolors and the story of an imaginary, self-sufficient day on a boat out at sea. It’s one of my favorite quiet classics, and a perfect bedtime book.
Amos & Boris(1971) Fans of Willliam Steig love his books The Amazing Bone and Dr. DeSoto, but have you also read this lovely tale of friendship? Amos the mouse sets out to sea in his boat, but soon finds himself in trouble. Boris the whale surfaces next to him and the two bond over their mammal-ness. Boris saves Amos and the two part ways. Much later, against all odds, Amos is able to repay Boris for his kindness.
The Giant Jam Sandwich (1972). If I read this book as a child, I don’t remember, but it is possible. I love it now, though. Written in verse, this is the story of how the village of Itching Down (now if that doesn’t make you laugh, I don’t know what will) attempts to solve its wasp-invasion problem by trapping them in a giant jam sandwich. Now, how can you not love that premise? So funny.
The Shrinking of Treehorn (1971).This rather strange story has its devoted fans, and if you haven’t yet read this book I invite you to join our ranks! Treehorn tries to tell his parents that he is shrinking but they brush him off. The teachers at school also fail to take seriously the situation and Treehorn is left to solve the problem himself. Heide’s writing style is so matter of fact that the story becomes quite hilarious, really, and Gorey’s illustrations are suitably droll.
Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm I had this book as a child and I will always remember being surprised at the ending in which Snow White’s stepmother was forced to dance to her death while wearing red hot iron shoes. I wasn’t alarmed by it; in fact I always found the Disney movie much, much more frightening. I don’t think (most) kids find the original Grimm stories to be as disturbing as modern adults do. In any case, if you are going to share fairy tales with your child, the illustrations in this book are dizzingly marvelous and the text is twelve thousand times better than Disney.
A Story, a Story (1970) Beautiful, vibrant woodcut illustrations accompany the legend of how Ananse, or the Spider-Man, is determined to get stories from the Sky-God. The Sky-God sends Ananse off on several quests, never believing that a weak and old man will fulfill the tasks. Ananse is much more clever than anyone suspects. Trickster folk tales are classics, no matter what culture they come from.
It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale. A poor man lives in an overcrowded house and the noise and activity is driving him crazy! So, he seeks out advice from the local rabbi. The rabbi, however, tells him to bring in the barn animals to his house, which turns the place into utter chaos. The illustrations are so much fun to sift through, with their funny little vignettes inside the house. When the farmer finally removes the excess animals and people from the house he declares everything to finally be peaceful — only… it is exactly as it was when he started out. My 5 year old, especially, found this irony to be particularly hilarious.
Come Away From the Water, Shirley (1977). I debated between this book and Mr. Gumpy’s Outing, but felt this one may be the less-well known of the two. I’ve never read a Burningham book I didn’t absolutely love. Shirley and her parents spend the afternoon at the beach. Shirley’s parents lounge in their chairs, offering their daughter trite admonishments not to get too dirty or to play with strange dogs. Meanwhile, Shirley is deep in her own secret, imaginary world, having splendid adventures with pirates.
Have you read any of these 1970s children’s books? Which ones are your favorites?
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