Tired of Dora and Thomas? Try These 15 Fantastic Children’s Book Characters Instead!

Children love series based on familiar characters like Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Train and the Disney princesses. When children enter our public library, they veer like bees to honey to the book bins that contain books featuring their favorite TV and movie characters.

Are these series featuring Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Train and other TV and movie characters circulating constantly because they are good? I hasten to say no. Are these series circulating constantly because — while perhaps not good in that “I’m ready for my Caldecott sticker.” type of way — they are highly entertaining? Once again, I hasten to say no. These series are circulating constantly because the characters are familiar.

One of the keys to getting children excited about books is helping children become just as familiar with children’s book characters as they are with children’s TV and movie characters.

Here are 15 fantastic children’s book characters to introduce you children to. Once your children become familiar with the children’s book characters on this list, I predict they will become just as enthusiastic about books featuring Toot and Puddle and Scaredy Squirrel as they are about books featuring Thomas the Train and the Disney princesses.

1. Toot & Puddle 

Toot and Puddle are two best friends with different personalities; Toot enjoys traveling and having adventures, while Puddle enjoys staying at home in Woodcock Pocket. In all Toot and Puddle books, the two friends are affectionate, picking out thoughtful gifts, writing postcards to eachother, and looking out for each other. Ages 3+

Start here: Toot & Puddle, Toot & Puddle: You Are My Sunshine and Toot & Puddle: Let it Snow by Holly Hobbie

2. George & Martha

George and Martha are another set of best friends, created by James Marshall in 1972. James Marshall tells wonderfully funny stories about this pair’s adventures in only a handful of sentences. Ages 3+

Start here: George and MarthaGeorge and Martha: Encore and George and Martha: One Fine Day by James Marshall

3. Tanya

Tanya is a wonderful character to introduce young ballerinas to. She is spunky and authentic as well as interested in tutus, toe shoes and perfecting her pirouettes. Ages 3+

Start here: Tanya and the Red Shoes, Tanya and Emily in a Dance for Two and Bravo Tanya by Patricia Lee Gauch and Satomi Ichikawa 

4. Franklin 

While most series with messages fail to tell good stories, the Franklin series is an exception. Paulette Bourgeois has written some good stories about going to the hospital, telling fibs, leaving kids out etc. Kids can relate to the situations Franklin faces. Ages 3+

Start here: Franklin Goes to the Hospital, Franklin Fibs and Franklin’s Secret Club by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark

5. Frog & Toad 

Frog and Toad are another wonderful pair of best friends to introduce kids to. Author and illustrator Arnold Lobel juxtaposed calm, muted illustrations with quirky, unexpected storylines. Ages 3+

Start here: Frog and Toad are Friends, Frog and Toad Together and Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel 

6. Vera 

Vera is one of the few children’s book characters whose bad moods and scrapes and bruises are portrayed as a natural part of life, rather than a problem to be solved. Rosenberry’s stories about Vera are always authentic and satisfying. Ages 3+

Start here: Vera’s Baby Sister, Vera Rides a Bike and Vera’s New School by Vera Rosenberry

7. Laura & Almanzo

Laura and Almanzo are real kids who grew up in the 1860s in “the big woods of Wisconsin” and “the New York countryside” respectively. Laura and Almanzo star in the My First Little House Books series, a series of picture books that contain stories excerpted Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Ages 3+

Start here: County Fair, A Farmer Boy Birthday and Christmas in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jody Wheeler and Renee Graef

8. Lilly

Lilly is a spunky mouse who enjoys popping wheelies, dressing up in nifty disguises and playing with her friends Chester and Wilson. Kevin Henkes’ stories about Lilly are both very funny and great at capturing childhood emotions. Ages 4+

Start here: Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Lilly’s Big Day and Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes

9. Charlie & Lola 

Lauren Child’s stories about older brother Charlie and younger sister Lola feature offbeat humor and great illustrations. While Child’s stories touch on common children’s book themes (going to school, loosing a tooth, etc.), her stories are not predictable. Ages 4+

Start here: I Will Never Not Ever Eat a TomatoI am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed and I Am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child

10. Frances

Frances is a lovable badger who grapples with feelings of jealousy and loneliness. Russell Hoban is a fantastic storyteller, and his entertaining and often humorous stories about Frances are among my favorites. I appreciate the fact that the Frances series portrays siblings Frances and Gloria as friends. Ages 4+

Start here: A Birthday for Frances, Best Friends for Frances and Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban

11. Olivia 

Olivia is a creative and ambitious pig who often gets in trouble. The Olivia books feature fantastic illustrations by Ian Falconer and humor that parents of children who occasionally get in trouble will appreciate. Ages 4+

Start here: Olivia, Olivia Forms a Band and Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer

12. Grace

A wonderful, spunky character who grapples with tough issues like whether girls can play the role of Peter Pan, whether princesses all wear pink and whether her family with parents who have divorced is a real family. Ages 4+

Start here: Boundless Grace, Amazing Grace and Princess Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch

13. Stella & Sam

In Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella & Sam series, younger brother Sam is full of questions about the natural world, and older sister Stella is full of delightfully absurd answers. Ages 4+

Start here: Stella Star of the Sea, Stella Queen of the Snow and Stella Fairy of the Forest by Marie-Louise Gay

14. Scaredy Squirrel

Scaredy Squirrel is a nervous squirrel who who spends his time concocting hilarious plans for confronting any danger he may encounter. Melanie Watts created the Scaredy Squirrel stories in the style of graphic novels. These stories are great for reluctant readers but will appeal to a wide range of kids. Ages 5+

Start here: Scaredy Squirrel, Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend and Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach by Melanie Watt

15. Elephant & Piggie 

Elephant and Piggie are an animated pair of friends whose antics induce fits of laughter. Every kid who is learning to read should be introduced to Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie books. Ages 5+

Start here: There is a Bird on Your Head!, Elephants Cannot Dance! and We Are In A Book! by Mo Willems

What are your favorite children’s book characters? What are your children’s favorite children’s book characters? Please, share in the comments below!

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15 Responses to Tired of Dora and Thomas? Try These 15 Fantastic Children’s Book Characters Instead!

  1. MissRachelSF says:

    mouse and mole books are delightful.

  2. emilylitman says:

    One more! Alfie and Annie Rose are some serious charmers! Check it out!

    http://bingbangcrashboom.blogspot.com/2012/11/meet-alfie.html

    Warmly,
    Emily

  3. emilylitman says:

    I would have to say that Fanny is a must meet! by Holly Hobbie and also Traction Man by Mini Grey!!

  4. Teresa Hill says:

    One of my favorite series are the Tom and Pippo books by Helen Oxenbury. They are for kids on the younger side but I love the illustrations and the short stories about Tom and his stuffed monkey Pippo. I also love the Shirley Hughes’ books about Alfie and his sister Annie Rose. Again great illustrations and for a little bit older crowd–Pre K to K.

  5. I love this list!!!! Thank you so much- I am looking for Christmas gifts right now, and found some great ideas here:).

  6. PragmaticMom says:

    Love, love LOVE these books!

  7. shellibrary says:

    Yes – Those are some great ideas!!!

  8. Catherine says:

    Thank you for this wonderful list. We love Charlie and Lola and have just discovered Olivia. I used to read Frog and Toad and the Frances books as a child, thank you for reminding me about them.

  9. We like Duck & Goose by Tad Hills, and the Bear books by Karma Wilson (Bear Snores On, etc.). Also the Lola books by Anna McQuinn are just lovely for little ones.

  10. Lise says:

    My daughter is super-excited about getting to know more and more about the characters in the books by Patricia Polacco (real-life people in the author’s family and community): “Mary Ellen! We know Mary Ellen! That’s Patricia’s mother!”

    • Amy says:

      I was mulling over whether Patricia (the author) in Patricia Polacco books was a contender for this list. I love Polacco’s books. My kids do not seem to connect the dots and realize that Polacco is writing about the same people in many of her books.

  11. ReaditDaddy says:

    Love Scaredy Squirrel so much!! Every book is brilliant and Mel is super-lovely too!

    • Amy says:

      Yes! Scaredy Squirrel seems to have many fans amongst the book blogging community. I wonder how widely recognized Scaredy is in the outside world.

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