James Kruess / Lisl Stich
First published in 1958 this book has delighted generations of toddlers and adults alike. It combines impeccable rhyme (so much fun to read aloud!), adorable illustrations and a story about a train - always a hit with little ones. Henriette is a rather anarchic train, she doesn't run by a schedule, she starts once all kids are aboard, stops so kids can pick flowers - and delivers them all to their grateful grandparents.
James Kruess wrote many more children's books that are still cherished until today.
2 years and up
Rotraut Susanne Berner
Wimmelbücher are a German genre and truly loved. On double spread pages they offer lots of scenes, people and details to discover. The first ones were drawn by Migutsch in the 1970s (and are still available), but by fare the most popular today are the seasons' series by Rotraut Susanne Berner. In 5 volumes we discover a little city in the various seasons and at night, observing as a kindergarten gets built and inaugurated, a couple meeting for the first time and falling in love - a parrot escaping and obviously also all the German holidays habits, such as easter egg hunts (which German kids don't hunt but just look for in hidden spots), St. Martins singing or christmas habits.
They work great for toddlers, but older kids to and even for adults don't get boring to explore.
For an overview of more Wimmelbücher, check here. .
1-2 years and up.
DIE SCHILDKRÖTE HAT GEBURTSTAG
Chances are, if you grew up in Western Germany, you haven't heard of Elizabeth Shaw and might be confused by her English name. A German classic? But anybody in Eastern Germany has heard and grew up with the books by the Irish born writer and illustrator and will still cherish her books. DIE SCHILDKRÖTE HAT GEBURTSTAG tells the story of a little turtle who for her birthday would love some nice juicy salad. All her friends come by one by one, but they all bring what they love - mud or meat or other things the turtle doesn't care for... A great story to teach empathy and taking the perspective of others. And if that sounds very educational: kids love this book.
3 years and up
This book was the first of many kids' books by Helme Heine, published in the early 1980es- and most of his books have became true classics since. This one is probably one of the most loved and most successful worldwide. It's the illustrations that make them truly exceptional. And the simple, yet important message about friendship that comes across as a fun story. Johnny, Franz and Waldemar are true friends. Some things they can achieve only together. And best of all: they have fun together.
4 years and up
OH, WIE SCHÖN IST PANAMA
One of the few picture books I actually remember well from my childhood. It is whimsical and endearing, as so many of Janosch's other children's books, most with Tiger and Bear (and little tigered duck) as the protagonists.
This one is probably the most famous. Little Bear and LIttle Tiger find a crate that smells of bananas and has the word Panama written on it. So they set out on a quest to find Panama, supposedly the most beautiful place in the world. On their way they meet many other animals - whom they ask for help. In the end, they don't find Panama, but are still so much happier for their quest.
4 years and up
DIE KLEINE HEXE
The little witch is unfortunately only 127 years old. She practices her witchcraft six hours a day, in her little ramshackle house. To her chagrin she is not taken seriously by the older witches. Worse still, she isn't allowed to fly with the older witches on the Blocksberg and not invited to the Walpurgis night. When she defies the order and shows up, she is ordered to become a particularly good witch within the next year. So she works hard during the year to do good deeds. Though you might have guessed: a good witch usually is an evil one... so there is trouble ahead.
Preußler has a very unique tone, that make it a super fun read, it is full of imagination. And has an important message.
There was a bit of a discussion a few years ago, when the publisher together (in agreement with the author) this classic chapter book, updating a few words that have changed connotation since 1957 or are no more in use. But children now and then just love the book, no matter what.
6 years and up.
EINE WOCHE VOLLER SAMSTAGE
Herr Taschenbier is a rather anxious guy. He lives in a rented room, always follows orders to the dot. Those of his bossy and unpleasant landlord Frau Rotkohl in particular. All of this changes slowly, when one Saturday he comes across the Sams, a weird creature that loves to speak in rhyme, can make wishes come true, but the Sams is also quite rebellious and brings a lot of unrest to Taschbier's life.
This classic - the first volume of a whole series - is one of my older son's favorites. And he definitely is not alone, more than 5 million copies were sold in the German speaking countries in the last 40 years. One reason is certainly that Sams is hilariously funny, sometimes suspenseful (when all goes wrong and Sams and Taschenbier have to somehow quickly have to escape), but it also strikes a tune with many kids. The anxious and the more rebellious ones.
5 years and up
EMIL UND DIE DETEKTIVE
Probably the most dated of the list - also the oldest, originally published in 1929 - is Erich Kästner's EMIL UND DIE DETEKTIVE. Though thanks to a new movies based the suspense novel still made it on the bestseller list a couple of years back. At the time it was quite revolutionary: it is set in (then) contemporary Berlin, instead of some sweet fantasy world and it doesn't try to pass on some educational message either. Kästner' success takes children seriously (he thought better of them than of adults) - and also, that this is a great mystery story!
Twelve year old Emil Tischbein is very excited: for the first time ever he is to travel on his own to Berlin, to visit his grandmother and his cousin. His biggest worries: that the money his mother gave him to pass on to his grandmother might get lost (or stolen). And that he might fall asleep and miss his stop. Despite of extra precautions, he does fall asleep, does miss his stop. And his money his gone. Also gone is the weird gentleman, Mr. Grundei. Emil is convinced that he stole the money and jumps of the train, following him on his tracks.
Determined to solve this on his own (rather than with adults) he meets a Gustave and his friends, the detectives who will help him...
8 years and up