Michael Ian Black: TOP TEN BOOKS


It’s hard to believe that the actor, comedian and writer Michael Ian Black, a founding member of the mainstay deadpan far-out sketch group The State as well as nearly every other meaningful funny thing in the last thirty years, has reached the advice- and letter-writing stage of his career. But he has. Black’s latest book, A Better Man: A Mostly Serious Letter to My Son, is a meditation on masculinity (and how to avoid its more pernicious forms.) “Traditional masculinity encourages strength, independence, fortitude. All good qualities,” he writes, “At the same time, though, it provides no outlets for our vulnerability. If we cannot allow ourselves vulnerability, how are we supposed to experience wonder, fear, tenderness?” Though the book is framed as a letter to his college-aged son Elijah, Black is also the father of a daughter, Ruth, and though they are both far past the reading to stages, here he remembers those books that brought them together as a family.

Below are Michael Ian Black’s favorite books for children, available to purchase individually or as a set.




Bread and Jam for Frances

Russell and Lillian Hoban
In this picture book written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by his then wife Lillian Hoban in 1964, Frances the hedgehog misses out on spaghetti and meatballs because she only wants only bread and jam. The horror!  It’s very relatable as a parent, especially to young children, and in fact, the character Francis was based on the couple’s four children.
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Ian Falconer
When we bought this for our kids, Olivia wasn't yet a classic. We just loved the art and the story of this precocious pig’s active imagination. After debuting Olivia in 2000, Falconer has created a steady stream of wonderful books involving the pig though the first remains our favorite.
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The Bridge to Terabithia

Katherine Paterson
The first time I remember crying after reading a book was at the end of this now classic. The novel follows the friendship of two neighbors, Jesse and Leslie, as they build a magical world of their own in a forest in the Maryland suburbs. As a kid, I always wanted to find a secret place. Narnia was fantastic, but Terabithia felt it could be just down the road.
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The Great Brain Series

John D. Fitzgerald
This series of eight books written between 1967-1976 unfolds in Utah Territory at the turn of the last century and follows a boy genius, T.D. Fitzgerald Jr., making money and solving mysteries. The stories are told from the point of view of the decidedly more average, and slightly jealous, younger brother, John (and loosely based on the life of the author). There's an unforgettable scene when the boys' family gets the town's first indoor toilet and the line to see it stretches down the road.
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Caps for Sale

Esphyr Slobodkina
So many caps. So many monkeys. There's definitely going to be trouble. Slobodkina’s 1940 classic is a great read aloud with kids. "Caps for sale, caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!"  And a surprisingly profound lesson about letting go.
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The Snowy Day

Ezra Jack Keats
We love Keats’ dreamy depiction of winter in the city. Though written in 1962, Peter, the main character clad in his red snowsuit, could be wandering and wondering through New York today. It’s a totally beguiling timeless book.
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Runaway Ralph

Beverly Cleary
Though not as well known as some of Cleary’s other characters such as Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins, Ralph S. Mouse is the hero of a trilogy including The Mouse and His Motorcycle (1965), Runaway Mouse (1970) and Ralph S. Mouse (1982). They feature Ralph, his (human) friend Ryan, a bully-turned-ally named Brad and, of course, a motorcycle.
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The Story About Ping

Marjorie Flack
The last duck aboard the boat gets a whack in this 1933 classic. The duck, Ping, fearing punishment dawdles too long ashore and almost ends up as somebody's dinner. Eventually returned he accepts his spanking. Not that we’d ever spank our kids but the message still resonates: Better to take a little pain now than a lot later.
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The Sweet Smell of Christmas

Patricia Scarry
Scratch and sniff is an unfairly derided literary genre. But we read this and re-read this classic, by Patricia Scarry who often wrote many stories illustrated be her husband Richard Scarry, to our kids innumerable times. The gingerbread scratch-n-sniff smells delicious any time of the year but note, the pine tree scent might get you a little sick.
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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

E.L. Konigsburg
Years before Night at the Museum, Konigsburg’s middle grade story follows a couple of runaways who take off for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and help to uncover the secret behind a mysterious "Michaelangelo" and the statue's mysterious benefactor.
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