Well, what about the classics? Depends on what you mean by classic. A "classic" simply a book that's withstood the test of time. But times change, children's tastes change, some books have survived because adults-- who may even not have read them put them on the shelves. Other books, it would truly be a shame to miss.
The truest classics are the folktales. They're the oldest. They've lasted because for ages, people have wanted to hear them told again. And now, in the print- literate world, people like to read them. And, of course, illustrators find them tempting outlets for their imaginations as well -- and so they make attractive gifts, tempting books.
Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly (Knopf, $12.95. Ages 6 and up) tells the sad, funny, gripping tales of African heritage, of the fleeing slaves-- some stories as familiar as the "Tar Baby" tale from Brer Rabbit , and others exotic and new to most of us. Each story gains from a brief, clear explanation by Hamilton, placing it in its historical context and traditon.
Hamilton's other gorgeous collection, In The Beginning (Harcourt, $18.95. Ages 7and up), consists of creation myths from around the world, stunningly illustrated by Barry Moser, one of the finest illustrators going. Thje stories range from the powerfully evocative to the whimisical. But given the cosmic nature of the undertaking , the sense of awe--in tales, in tellers, in illustrator-- is pervasive.
From Europe, perhaps no collection of folk tales is more famous than those assembled in Germany in the early 19th century by the brothers Grimm. There are about 230 of these, replete with trolls, witches, ogres, magic and enchantments, and underdogs who live to bark in triumph.
Not all the stories are of German origins, for the Grimms' imformants came from other lands as well. And stories similar to these tales--some benign, some actually quite grizzly--have been collected from around the world.
Among the best collections of the Grimms' tales is The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, edited by Jack Zipes (Bantam $ 21.95, hardcover, available in two paperback volumes at $ 4.95 each). This is a volume that, in my view, belongs on every family shelf, to be broused in--by all ages.