So...here are some that our family has enjoyed throughout the years that aren't the uber-obvious. I believe all of these selections we have read more than once, because we are like that, and that is the proof.
The Little Lame Prince by Maria Dinah Craik
This Victorian era fairy tale of a paraplegic prince who is hidden in a tower can come across to the modern reader as being a little too sweet and ultimately predictable. Probably for these reasons it has been overlooked by the public who mistakenly believe that children can no longer appreciate simple sweetness. But the imagery and magic contained within have absolutely captivated my children's imaginations time and again. It is short enough (can be read in several readings) that it will hold for younger listeners (pre-k) and contains plenty of thought provoking and magical escapades to retain the older kids (and grown-ups.)
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
A singular atypical episode in our family reading history was my kids ability to recognize the worth of Mole, Rat and Mr. Toad many many pages before I did. I first read this to Peter and Jude when they were in first and kindergarten, thinking that surely after a few chapters of Mole droning on and on about his housekeeping, they had had enough. Wrong. They absolutely recognized this dry, English humor and wouldn't allow me to give it up. I'm glad they didn't, as the characters and their ridiculous circumstances (cross-dressing gentleman toad posing as washer woman, anyone?)live on in our family's shared experience.
The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde
Utterly profound, richly told, unquestionably original, these are probably my favorite stories to read to kids of any age. Each story is short enough to be read at a sitting, and if you can get a hold of a copy with brilliant illustrations, will beguile your littles and your bigs. The, greatest surprise, by far, of these tales is not their Wilde-given ability to entertain, but the unabashed joy accompanying themes of self-sacrifice and unconditional love.
Cautionary Tales for Children by Hillaire Belloc
So...not what you would think. Categorically abrupt and severe, every one of these dramas will leave all listeners asking, "Did that just happen?" And then hopefully laughing.
Away Goes Sally by Elizabeth Coatsworth and the rest of the Sally Series
If you homeschool you have undoubtedly heard of the little book company, Bethlehem Books, that has dedicated itself to reprinting excellent and forgotten stories for children. We discovered the Sally Series there, and read with great interest as the brave (albeit innocuous) Sally traveled to the wilderness of Maine, saved a nobleman refugee from the French Revolution, was captured and sold as a slave by pirates, and finally married her deserving childhood sweetheart.
Any Old Book of Story Poems
This one by Gyo Fujikawa is excellent, but I am not sold on any particular collection. As long as it contains "The Owl and the Pussycat," "Jabberwocky," "Growltiger's Last Stand," you know there is going to be lots of good stuff. We have discovered all kinds of lesser known and lovely poems ("The Elf and the Dormouse" by Oliver Herford,) that really do inspire the child's mind, by looking through the library's collection and rummaging at yard sales. I do emphasize the "story" part because I think that children can so much easier process rhythmic, lyrical language if they are holding onto a plot line.
Ok, I have to stop. I could keep going for pages and pages on this topic, but I have things to do, like read to my kids!