Reading to your children can do wonders for their future success.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, reading aloud to your children and talking about pictures and words in age-appropriate books can strengthen language skills, literacy development, and parent-child relationships.
What’s more, a study conducted by a number of pediatricians shows for the first time the positive biological effect reading to your kids has on their brains.
MRIs revealed that children with greater home-reading exposure had greater activity in the parts of the brain that help with mental imagery and narrative comprehension.
So what are the best books to read to your kids? Certain successful people offer their favorites:
Robert Fagles’ translation of ‘The Odyssey’
- Penguin Classics
“Reading aloud was my favorite part of being a parent to young children, hands down,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, mother of two and president and CEO of think tank New America, tells NPR as part of the Storybook Project. “I often hunted up and read them books that my grandmother read to me and that I can still recite together with my father. They are enchanted stories, shared memories, distilled love.”
When her sons were younger, Slaughter says they would read simplified versions of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Greek myths.
“One day when they must have been about 5 and 7 I brought home the actual Odyssey, in Fagles’ wonderful translation, and just read them the first page or two so that they could hear what the real thing sounded like.
“They loved it; we read it slowly, but all the way through,” she says.
Rosemary Wells’ ‘Edward Unready for School’
Slaughter tells NPR that her family members are big Rosemary Wells fans and love all her books.
“But perhaps because my oldest son is named Edward, this one became a particular favorite,” she says. “Edward is a young bear who just isn’t quite ready to join all the happy, busy kids at school. One look at his face on the cover says it all.”
Hollie Hobbie’s ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Toot and Puddle)’
- Litte, Brown Books for Young Readers
Slaughter tells NPR that this is her family’s enduring favorite Christmas book.
“Something about the illustrations so completely capture the anticipation of Christmas – the one that gets us every time is a picture of the jet flying over the Atlantic, with only the lit porthole windows visible, but with ‘Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells’ sailing out into the night air presumably from Toot’s seat.”
Sam McBratney’s ‘Guess How Much I Love You’
“One great thing about reading with your kids is that you don’t ever have to stop,” philanthropist Melinda Gates, a mother of three, tells NPR. “I’ve been reading to them since the day they were born, and I still share books with them today, even though our oldest is in college.”
Gates says that she loved reading this book when her kids were young, and once they were old enough to talk, her kids would do the baby-rabbit voices, while she would do the mommy-rabbit voices.
“As we went on we’d embellish on what happens in the book and talk about the different ways we loved each other, which meant that reading the book was always a wonderful voyage of discovery for all of us.”
Robert Munsch’s ‘Love You Forever’
- Firefly Books
Gates tells NPR that she and husband Bill loved reading their kids’ favorite bedtime story to them.
“It’s about life from birth to death, about the continuity of generations, and as we read we could see the road ahead for our family,” she says. “The kids never understood why we were always crying by the time we finished.”
Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’
Most recently, Gates tells NPR that she read this book after her sister saw the play adaptation in London and suggested reading the book.
“The book gives you a different perspective on a kid with Asperger’s,” she says. “His family really loves him but they’re also under a lot of stress, and it takes a real emotional toll on them. So we all enjoyed peeking into the mind and heart of somebody who looked at the world a little differently.”
Du Bose Heyward’s ‘The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes’
- HMH Books for Young Readers
Wendy Kopp, the founder and chairwoman of the board of Teach for America and a mother of four, tells NPR that she reads this book, which is particularly memorable for her kids, with them every Easter.
“This book is about a determined mother rabbit with 21 cottontail children who each do their part to create a happy family and home,” she says. “Such a fun book with great messages for kids about their responsibilities and about the importance of their moms pursuing their passions.”
Mary Ann Hoberman’s ‘The Seven Silly Eaters’
- HMH Books for Young Readers
“As the mother of four, I can relate to this story of a frazzled mom with her seven crazy kids who in the end came together to make her a beautiful birthday cake,” Kopp tells NPR.
Patrice Karst’s ‘The Invisible String’
- Devorss & Co.
“[This] is a beautiful story about the love that always connects kids and moms – even when kids go off to school and moms go away to work,” Kopp tells NPR. “My daughter and I talk about the invisible string all the time.”
Shel Silverstein’s ‘The Giving Tree’
- Harper & Row
“The secret to living is giving,” author, motivational speaker, and father of four Tony Robbins tells NPR. “No one so purely evokes emotions of the heart and soul as giving, receiving, rejection, expectation, love, and sorrow like Shel Silverstein.”
Marcus Pfister’s ‘The Rainbow Fish’
- North-South Books
“Another similar tale about conscience, respect, and true beauty is ‘The Rainbow Fish,’ which is a little more like the kid’s version of ‘Shallow Hal,'” Robbins tells NPR.
Marcia Brown’s ‘Stone Soup’
Robbins tells NPR that this classic folktale proves that our problem is never about lack of resources, but rather our lack of resourcefulness.
“In this one, the clever French soldiers get creative and drive keenly toward the outcome. I’ve always told people that the key ingredient to success is hunger!”
Esphyr Slobodkina’s ‘Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business’
“The peddler gets totally outwitted by the monkeys, but everything still comes out great in the end because of a funny fluke,” Amy Chua, a Yale Law professor, author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” and mother of two daughters, tells NPR.
Carol Ryrie Brink’s ‘Caddie Woodlawn’
“I must have read this book 100 times when I was a girl,” Chua tells NPR. “Both my daughters loved the brave, big-hearted tomboy Caddie, who is always getting in trouble but ends up saving the day.”
Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Pale Fire’
- Everyman’s Library
Chua tells NPR that she read this book with her daughter Lulu when she was 16.
“With its made-up words and delusional, unreliable narrator, this book is like a big prank on the reader – and brilliantly weird,” she says. “Lulu was mesmerized!”
Norma Simon’s ‘Why Am I Different?’
- Albert Whitman & Company
“With so many of this generation’s kids ‘different’ somehow – diet, religious distinctions, ‘different’ social development, developmental and social delays – this book is a wonderful conversation starter about what makes us all different and how we are the same,” “The Big Bang Theory” star and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik tells NPR. “It highlights the importance of seeing differences as normal, and makes any ‘different’ child feel not less different, but less of an outsider.”
The star says she encourages her kids to read rather than watch TV.
Arnold Lobel’s ‘Frog and Toad’ series
- Harper Collins
“These stories are perfect for new readers, but usually my boys like to listen,” Bialik tells NPR. “The morals are simple and elegant, and very gently introduced.”
She says the stories of two friends with two distinct personalities are great for kids of all ages, and explore things like fear and learning new skills.
William Steig’s ‘Sylvester and The Magic Pebble’
- Little Simon
“Such a glorious tale of a child who gets lost, and the love of his parents brings him back,” Bialik tells NPR.
While she says the themes are a little heavy and mature for kids, the illustrations will help them fall in love with the character and his unusual predicament.
Christopher Paul Curtis’s ‘The Watsons Go to Birmingham’
- Laurel Leaf / Amazon
New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, tells NPR that reading with her children Chiara and Dante was her favorite time spent with them.
“We went to the library, but I also bought books for them all the time so they always had new stuff to read and favorites they could keep. Barnes & Noble opened up in our neighborhood just in time! And we made many a field trip just to explore at ‘Barnes and NoBalls’ as they used to say.”
Though her children are grown now, McCray tells NPR she still recalls reading aloud “The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” a historical fictional novel about a black family that travels to Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Movement.
Nancy Farmer’s ‘The Ear, the Eye and the Arm’
- Scholastic / Amazon
She also tells NPR she has fond memories of reading aloud this “amazing, Zimbabwe-set sci-fi tale” about three runaway kids from the future struggling to escape kidnappers.
Bill Martin, Jr.’s ‘Chicka Chicka Boom Boom’
- Little Simon / Amazon
McCray tells NPR she loved to read the colorful classic rhyming baby book, “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” to her kids when they were young.
Chris Ferrie’s ‘Quantum Physics for Babies’
“I am loving reading to Max,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook shortly after his daughter’s birth last year. “Next year looks like it’s going to be A Year of Children’s Books!”
He joked that his next book for A Year of Books would be “Quantum Physics for Babies,” which he’s seen reading to newborn daughter Max in his Facebook post. The book covers the basics of quantum physics like what energy is and how atoms never stand still with large text and illustrations.
J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ series
Adam Grant, aprofessor of managementat Wharton and author of “Originals,” tells Business Insider that J.K. Rowling is perhaps the most influential person alive because of what her books teach kids: originality and morality.
When Business Insider spoke to Grant, who has a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, earlier this year, he said:
“There’s a good deal of evidence that we can predict the innovation rates in a culture – even something as specific as patent rates – by looking at children’s literature. Countries that end up innovating 20 to 30 years later are the ones where kids are reading about unique accomplishments – where childhood role models in stories do things that have never been done before.
“And there’s a lot of originality in the ‘Harry Potter’ stories: The way to get to Hogwarts, all of the different ideas about how to cast spells, children being the individuals who are responsible for saving adults – all of that is setting a standard for saying, ‘I want to do something new.'”
“As you learn about muggles and how they’re looked down upon by wizards, you actually generalize that to other groups and say, ‘You know, maybe we should not stereotype people or discriminate against them based on something they have no control over whatsoever,'” Grant explains.