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- Why you should read to little children
- Where to find books
- Books for babies
- Books for toddlers
- Books for preschoolers
Lots of parenting advice that I have come across online, and even in published books, seems to be based on personal experience or anecdotal evidence. Never sing your child to sleep because my cousin’s friend’s mum sang him to sleep when he was a baby and now he’s 45 and she still needs to go around to his house every night to sing his bedtime lullaby. You don’t need to breastfeed your baby because my boss was only ever bottlefed and now she speaks six languages, is an Olympic athlete, runs a company with a multi-billion dollar turnover, and is just the nicest darn person you’ll ever meet.
That sort of thing.
Not that there’s anything wrong with this sort of sharing and learning. No doubt it has been pivotal for countless generations. The problem with this in our information age is that the wisdom is not just passed to us from those who know us best. Anyone who has ever had a child, or known a child, or been a child, seems to be able to call themselves a “parenting expert”. There are so many parenting experts and they are all shouting for attention, with confusingly different opinions on what is best.
Well, I’m definitely not a parenting expert. On a scale of expert to whatever the opposite of expert is, I’m definitely closer to the latter end. But I’m big on evidence-based policy. If a government is going to devote a lot of time and money to a particular issue, I want them to be basing those decisions on the results of rigorous research. Similarly, if I’m going to use a significant portion of the time that I get to spend with my babies while they’re small in a particular way, I want to make sure that the evidence supports that decision. I’m not going to spend everyday reading and re-reading picture books if there are better things I could be doing with my time.
So, I’ve read through some of the peer-reviewed research. I don’t claim this to be anywhere near an exhaustive review of the literature on this topic, but I did discover some good pointers so I’ll give you a bit of a summary. (Reading the whole articles was really interesting – I’ve listed the sources at the end in case you want to have a look at them!)
There was broad agreement in the literature that reading to babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers is really important for a massive range of skills and attributes beyond language and literacy, to areas like problem solving, relationships, and social confidence. There is this from Murray and Egan:
Reading to young children has long been recognized as an important precursor to language and literacy development. It encourages vocabulary development, positive attitudes to reading as well as strengthening emotional ties between the child and parent. Reading to pre-school-age children can make starting school easier for them as well as providing a head start in literacy… Reading to young children also helps them to develop social skills such as listening and interacting with an adult. Pp.303-304
As well as this from Nyhout and O’Neill:
Exposure to rich narratives at an early age may be important for a range of different abilities, such as children’s later ability to build rich accounts of past events and their information recall, social functioning, and broader linguistic and cognitive abilities. p.128
However, an important part of what I discovered was that the key was not that children were read to, or rather read at, but that they were allowed and encouraged to be active participants, even when they were not yet able to speak. For example, Makin wrote:
There is a danger that parents and early childhood educators may accept the importance of reading to children but do so in ways that may have less than optimal results… If children are physically restrained or forced to remain on an adult’s lap for the time the adult deems appropriate, the experience is unlikely to be positive despite the physical closeness. p.275
Here’s a quick snapshot:
- Books with no words are great
- When a book has words, steering away from the text is great
- Ask questions, point things out, relate stuff back to your child’s own life
- If your little person is really not interested in reading right this second, don’t force the issue
- Try to find books and reading styles that make the experience enjoyable for both of you
- Start as early as possible in your child’s life and read often
On this page I’m going to give short reviews of books that we’ve found and enjoyed. So far most of the books I’ve shared with Pickles and Pords have had text, so I’ll try and find some good wordless ones to share too. Reading to my babies is one of the best parts of my day everyday. I hope that by sharing the books we love, I can share that joy around. Happy reading!
Going go the library is an adventure for little people. Aside from the books, libraries often have other puzzles and toys to entertain children. Some libraries have wonderful children’s librarians who organise reading time, or nursery rhyme time, or other activities that you can enjoy with your child. It’s worth asking at your local library if they have anything like this and getting a schedule so you can check it out.
Then, of course, there are the books. There are many great things about taking your children to the library. One of the best is that they can choose their own reading material. You can see what they are drawn to and tailor your reading time to their interests so they are more likely to engage. The sheer range of books means that you can be reading different things every week, rather than reading the same few books over and over. Not only will this likely be more enjoyable for the reader, but it will also expose your child to new ideas and vocabulary.
There are so many reasons to spend time at the library with your child, and take full advantage of the opportunity to borrow new books. I can’t recommend it
highly enough. If you would like to purchase a book, going in to a book store affords you the opportunity of seeing the book’s size and shape before you buy it. Supporting local book stores is also a great thing. If you tend to do a lot of purchasing online, there are lots of places to buy. Even so, I’ll say it again and again – if you’ve got kids, get to know your local library!
Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek
When Pickles was a baby this book seemed to be everywhere. We went to the library for story time and they had enough copies of the board book to pass around so that every parent and baby could read along with their own copy. We went to the park with a group of friends and three people happened to have brought a copy along to help entertain their baby. My mum had a copy, my niece had a copy, I was given a copy. It didn’t take long to realise why it was such a hit with the little people (and with the people who were reading to the little people). The book is really just a whole lot of fun. It was definitely Pickles’ favourite in his first 18 months of life and the current condition of our copy of the board book is testament to that. Even a hardy board book couldn’t withstand that much love.
Mem Fox is a master of children’s books. The book is very clear and simple, and uses a lot of repetition. Yet it still manages to be great for language development. This is in large part due to Judy Horacek’s amusing pictures. Each line introduces a new type of sheep, whether it be a bath sheep, or a band sheep, or a train sheep, and the picture gives a clear visual representation of that word. It is perfect for babies who have learnt to focus on a book, as you can point to the pictures as you read along. They’ll soon start to get the idea that this is a wave, and that is a clown, or that this is near and that is far. Especially since you’ll be reading the book over and over and over. And over. There’s also the tantalising mystery of where that green sheep could possibly be. Spoiler alert, he’s fast asleep on the back page. As soon as I read the title now Pickles just flips straight to the back page and says: “There he is! Fast asleep!” He doesn’t quite get the idea of maintaining the suspense for his little sister who as yet has not read it five thousand times. Nonetheless, it remains a family favourite and comes highly recommended.
I Love You So by Marianne Richmond
I borrowed this book from the library when Pickles was a few months old. I read it to him over and over and then decided that I needed to buy it for him so I could keep on reading it to him. The book describes how much a parent loves their child; as gigantic as a great lion’s roar, as silly as a puppy dog’s kiss, and as brilliant as each sparkling star. In parts some of the rhyming is a little bit forced, but I only really realised that this was the case once the new mother hormones had settled down a bit. In fact, I’ll admit that when I was a new mother reading it to my tiny baby, I often got a little bit teary. It was as if Marianne Richmond had reached into my brain and pulled out exactly what I was feeling about my little boy and turned it into a sweet little rhyme. I too would love him forevermore, undeniably. I think most new parents would feel the same way. With its big, bold pictures, it would make a great gift for a baby shower.
I can also imagine giving this book to a grownup child who was about to go off travelling. I imagine myself pulling it out in twenty years time when one of my kids announces they are off on a grand adventure and reading them this bit:
Do you love me just as much
When I’m far from home?
Is your loving still the same
In distant lands I roam?
I love you near or far.
I love you high or low.
My love is there with you
Wherever you may go.
Now I’m getting sad imagining my babies far away from me. Although I’m proud that in my imagined future they are independent and adventurous. Good for you imagined grown children of the future.
When I initially borrowed the book from the library it was a board book version. The copy I bought was a hardcover and the words and pictures are slightly different. For newborns it really doesn’t matter because you’re just reading to them rather than them being active participants, but I usually prefer board books for babies because they can hold them and chew them with much less damage. The hardcover makes a nice gift though, and if it survives the everything-in-the-mouth phase you too can pull it out when your own imagined grown children of the future go off on adventures.
This Little Dinosaur by Ladybird
This is a great book for babies. Board books are perfect for teaching little hands to turn pages. This book is also short, has big, bright, bold pictures, as well as parts to touch and feel, making it attractive for the very youngest of readers. At eight months, Pords will sit on her own and look through this book quite happily.
It has fun rhymes to match the pictures and it asks the reader to think of a name for a dinosaur at the end. This makes it fun for toddlers and so for us, it is a great one to read when both Pickles and Pords want to read a book at the same time because it can be enjoyed by babies and toddlers.
Kissed By The Moon by Alison Lester
This book is simply magical to read to babies. There are big, bright, beautiful pictures and not too many words. The words that are there read as a list of wishes for a new baby. It is a particularly good one for people who are in touch with nature and would want their baby to share in their love of all things outdoors. It makes an excellent bedtime book, as it’s ending hopes that the baby will: “grow sleepy at sunset, sing to the stars, and drift into dreams. And may you, my baby, be kissed by the moon.” It gets me in the mood for a sleep every time I read it. Or that might just be that I’m always in the mood for a sleep these days and don’t need too much reminding. Either way, it’s a lovely one to read to your little person just before bed.
As your child grows older, this is also a great book for language development. Books like this where the pictures are the dominant feature are perfect for exploring with your older baby or toddler as they begin to learn new words. You could talk about different seasons and weather, different plants and fruits, or different places to visit. On many of the pages there are different creatures and animals to discover, so you could turn the reading into a game. The more active a participant your child is able to be in the reading process, the more beneficial the reading will be for them, so this is a perfect book to share.
You Are My I Love You by Maryann Cusimano Love and Satomi Ichikawa
This is a very cute book for a parent to share with their new baby, or any small child. The pictures show a day in the life of a parent and baby bear. They play inside and out, they eat, they have bath time, and finally the parent tucks the child into bed. The story arc in the pictures makes it a great book to share with a child at the end of the day because you can talk about all of the things that your own child has done throughout the day that the little bear is doing too. Using a book in this way to relate to your child’s own life is an important and useful way to make story time more interactive and enriching. It can also be a helpful part of a bedtime routine as the little bear ends up safe and snug in bed at the end.
In terms of the text itself, the authors use rhyme to juxtapose the role of the parent with the role of the child. The parent is the steady source of constancy and love in the life of their child, and the child adds a new brightness and wonder in the life of their parents.
I am your favourite book;
you are my new lines.
I am your night-light;
you are my starshine.
The use of rhyme and repetition make it an easy one to read over and over to a baby, and parents will no doubt find the words resonating with their own experience. You don’t just read the words, you actually tell your child, “I am your good-night kiss; you are my I love you.” It is a beautiful sentiment to share with your little person.
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram
The Nutbrown Hares and I did not get off to a good start. I had heard only ever such fabulous things about this book and so I opened the copy of the board book that I had ordered online with much anticipation. The first thing that happened was the board book gave me a paper cut. It takes a special kind of skill to get a paper cut from a book that is especially designed for little people to play with and chew on safely to their heart’s content. I thought the Nutbrown Hares must have it in for me.
Then, as I began to read, I thought that I actually wouldn’t put it passed that Big Nutbrown Hare to do something malevolent. He seemed trapped in an unhealthy cycle of one-upmanship with his very young son. It was pretty clear there were underlying psychological issues. My husband agreed. He thought, and still thinks, that Big Nutbrown Hare was a real jerk.
I got to the last line though, and realised that that’s what has made this book so wildly popular. “I love you right up to the moon – and back.” Everyone says it now. It’s on cards, t-shirts, and mugs. There is now a tv show based on the book. The more I read it to Pickles, and later to Pords, the more I came round to this enormously sweet core. Big Nutbrown Hare can’t help it if he’s hyper-competitive. He’s probably trying to make up for that one time he lost to the tortoise. In the end he really does love his son more than his son can even begin to imagine – a feeling most parents will relate to. I’ve become such a fan that I even included Big Nutbrown Hare in my list of the Top 7 Fathers from Children’s Books.
This is a great book for new parents to read to their babies, as they struggle to find ways to describe just how much they really love this incredible new person who has entered their lives. As your child grows, it is a great book to read together. Pickles loves acting it out: stretching out his arms as wide as they can go, reaching them up as high as they can reach, and most especially tumbling upside down with his feet in the air. And now that he can say “I love you thiiiiisssss much” I reckon that I actually do love this book right up to the moon and back.
That’s Not My Dinosaur… by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells
I’m not generally a huge fan of overly structured sensory play. Mainly because I’m a bit rubbish at it. But I make an exception when it comes to books.
Touchy feely books are perfect for engaging babies and toddlers. Making sure reading time is fun is a great way to nurture an early love for books. This book also has big, bright, bold pictures and is full of whimsy. It is so much fun to read.
Touch and feel books are also brilliant for language development. Learning what the word “rough” means, is much easier if while you are hearing the word, you are also feeling something that is rough.
Children hear and they forget. They see and they remember. They do and they understand. The more you can get them involved in the reading process, the more they will get out of it.
There are a whole range of books in this series and we have a lot of them. They’re all great, but what little kid doesn’t especially love dinosaurs!?
Oh! The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss
When my bump was just starting to show when I was pregnant with Pickles, my hairdresser asked me if I had started reading to my belly. I had been very sick and it hadn’t even occurred to me yet. It wasn’t my first twinge of parental guilt; taking medication for my morning sickness had taken care of that. But it was close.
I went straight from the hairdresser to the bookshop and bought Oh! The Places You’ll Go! And I started reading it to the bump. Every single night.
Whenever I got to the part where it says “Kid, you’ll move mountains” I’d get teary and have to recompose before going on. Pregnancy hormones will do that. Imagining your unborn child out in the big wide world moving mountains will do that.
This is what makes this book a good one for new or expecting parents. When you are reading to a newborn, the content is as much for yourself as it is for them. A big part of it is them just hearing your voice. They become familiar with it, and it soothes them.
But babies can also be sensitive to emotion. When you are reading this, your voice will be infused with your love and hopes for them. It is a beautiful bonding experience.
It is also a book that will grow with them. It is often given as a graduation gift because the message is as applicable for a grown child as it is for a newborn.
But it will always be treasured in our home as the book that I first read to my bump.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury
Mem Fox is a master of writing for babies and young children. Her use of simple, but clever, rhyme and repetition in this book make it easy for the reader, and soothing for the listener.
As your baby gets a bit older, this book is also excellent for introducing the concept of differences and similarities. You can use it as a starting point to talk about looking beyond what makes your child different from other people and thinking about what they have in common.
I loved reading this book to both of my kids when they were tiny babies because you can touch their fingers and toes over and again as the story goes on, and then give them three little kisses on the tip of their nose at the end. Not only does this help with building language development, but also with body awareness, which is a key area of development for a newborn. Of course, it is also perfect for nurturing your bond.
Helen Oxenbury’s pictures are just beautiful. They are bright and simple for little eyes, but also contain enough detail to create talking points. When you are reading beyond the text, and using your reading behaviour to engage your little person, the pictures open up a whole world of new stories. This gives you even more reason to return to the book over and over as your child grows.
The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear and Jan Brett
The Owl and the Pussycat was my favourite poem as a child and is my favourite to read (or sing) to my children. Pickles already knows it pretty much by heart.
The lyrical quality of Edward Lear’s writing is hypnotic. You can get lost in his words. And what wonderful words they are. Some of them are completely made up but they all fit together perfectly.
The story itself is great too. A sweet tale of love between an owl and a pussycat.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
The board book version that we have is illustrated by Jan Brett. The illustrations are really magical. You see the owl and the pussycat adrift on their boat on top of the water. You also see all of the sea life under the water.
Pickles can’t get enough of the pictures. He particularly likes the fact that the owl and the pussycat have a fish in a bowl on their boat who escapes right at the end to join her love in the ocean. He loves to find her on each page.
The pictures tell their own separate but related story, which is always a wonderful thing in picture books as it opens up ongoing exploration and discussion of the book.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. More than a century later, Peter remains a much loved figure of childhood. My children have been gifted many books, clothes, and toys featuring Peter and his friends. A particularly treasured gift for Pickles from his grandparents when he was a newborn, was the complete set of original tales.
When Pickles was a newborn and we had hours together, just the two of us, I would read him these stories. We read all of them in those precious first newborn months, often while he was happily lying on the change table so I could stand and hold the books at his height.
The stories are charming, the characters endearing, and the language exquisite. They are wonderful because they are short enough to read through in one or two sittings even with a small baby. Plus they are interesting enough for the person doing the reading.
Peter Rabbit and friends are an enduring part of Pickles’ day to day adventures and imaginings. He often now brings me one of the books to read with him.
Mother Knows Best by Jill Murphy
It had been one of those days. The toddler had been driving me a little bit crazy with incessant chatter and “Muuum! Muuuuuuum! Muuuuuuuuuuum!” So I loaded him and his little sister into the pram and walked them to the local library. He played around while I did the one handed grab of books that looked reasonable for us to borrow. I didn’t have the opportunity to look through them properly. When we got home again I pulled the first book out of the library bag. It was Mother Knows Best by Jill Murphy. Well, somehow Jill Murphy had followed me around all morning, written a book about my life, and gotten it published and distributed to my local library all in the one day. I AM Mother Bear. Pickles IS Bradley Bear. He knew it too as I was reading it. He thought the whole thing was hilarious.
The library actually recommends this book for 4 and 5 year olds. I have included it in my toddler section because of my little bit of kismet with the book and my own toddler. It does have quite a few words, so it might be a bit much for some toddlers and instead suit older children. On the other hand, I think it is likely to resonate with parents of young children of a range of ages. I particularly like the part where Bradley, who has slowly been getting under his mother’s skin with his constant barrage of questions, asks her if they can make pancakes. She says no, and he asks her why. She says “Because I just can’t face it, that’s why.” Ha! I feel you Mother Bear. To which the irrepressible Bradley answers “But you said I should be doing things. You said it’s better to do things than watch TV.” Poor Mother Bear. Hoisted by her own petard.
I really think I’m a bit in love with this book. It’s fun for kids but it’s also fun for the grown up reading to the kids, who will more than likely see themselves reflected in it. Or maybe it’s just me.
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
Our board book copy of Dear Zoo has a sticker on the front that says: “Happy Birthday 30 Years Dear Zoo.” With such a high number of books for children on the market, it might be surprising that this is still a favourite. The surprise quickly dissipates on a re-reading. This book is perhaps the perfect book for toddlers. Firstly, it has lift-the-flaps. When you are a toddler, lifting the flaps in books is one of the greatest things ever. As if that’s not enough in itself, once you have lifted the flaps you find animals underneath. Lift-the-flaps AND animals. Was ever there a greater combination? Toddlers love to guess what animal is underneath the flap and as they read it more and more it becomes a test for their memory.
The text is very simple and repetitive, which is also perfect for a toddler audience. The simplicity does not limit your ability to talk in more depth with your toddler. You can note the colour of each box or crate, you can talk about what sound each animal makes, or what each animal likes to eat. You can even try moving around the room like each of the animals to take the interaction to another level. This book lends itself to being enjoyed over and over. I have no doubt that in another 30 years children will still be enjoying it.
How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague
This book is a very sweet one to read with your own little dinosaur. It talks about some of the ways a small child can be defiant or infuriating during the day, and then about all of the moments of love that more than make up for the rest.
Of course, Pickles denies ever doing any of the naughty stuff. And to be honest, he’s right for the most part. Maybe we’re in for more of it as he gets older… hopefully he’s not learning anything too bad from the book! But, he is fascinated by the behaviour of the “dinosaurs” in the book, and he always has a big smile when it becomes clear that the mums and dads will always love the little dinosaurs, no matter how cross they get about certain things.
The book has the secret ingredients of rhyme, repetition, and great pictures. I particularly get a kick out of how well dressed and put together the mums and dads are the whole way through. That to me seems the greater fiction than the children looking like dinosaurs. But, the children as dinosaur element is entertaining for little dinosaur fans, and the proper names of the dinosaurs are hidden in the pictures to sneak in a bit of extra learning and fun.
Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd
Lynley Dodd’s books really are a pleasure to read. Her cast of adorable animals are brought to life by her galloping rhymes and her delightful illustrations. The pace and repetition make it easy to read and fun for toddlers and older children to follow along. The only problem is in deciding which of the characters is your favourite. I’ve always been a Hairy Maclary girl myself. My husband likes Schnitzel von Krumm, but I’m pretty sure that’s only because he thinks the name is delicious. Rather alarmingly, Pickles picked Scarface Claw, the toughest tom in town as his favourite very early on and has stuck with him. We have a number of copies of this book and one of them is a touch and feel edition. Pickles skips straight ahead to Scarface Claw and his prickly tongue.
There are many books in the Hairy Maclary series. Other favourites in our household include any that involve Slinky Malinki. They all have a joyous, rollicking rhythm that makes them excellent for reading out loud. It isn’t hard to see why they have been bestsellers around the world.
Cave Baby by Julia Donaldson and Emily Gravett
The hardcover version of this book was given to Pickles about a year ago. It makes a beautiful gift because the pictures make an immediate impact, but I’ve got to admit that when I first read it I wasn’t a fan. Mum and Dad are the bad guys and poor old Cave Baby has to endure a terrifying experience before discovering ultimate liberation through art and imagination. But Pickles was a fan. Again! Again! He’d shout. And so I read it again. And again. And again. And now that I have mastered the cadence this book really is a joy to read. As with all of Donaldson’s work that we’ve discovered so far, there are exciting variations to the pace and tempo, plenty of interesting vocab and sounds, and although there are scary bits there is also plenty of humour.
As all good books should, this one takes you on a journey. We are always right there with Cave Baby as he sits bored and lonely in his cave. Right there as his parents really just don’t get it. Right there as the mammoth lifts him and takes him on the scary ride through the night. And right there when he realises that the mammoth wants him to do exactly what his parents forbade. “And they rollick and they frolic…” Perfect. Pickles delights in that page every time as if it was the first.
The illustrations, too, are glorious and fit the mood perfectly. There is enough detail in the pictures that you can spend time on each page, pointing things out and asking discovery questions. It is a great one for language development. I would highly recommend reading this book with the special little people in your life. It’s such a lot of fun.
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
I have had the rhyme from this book stuck in my head since primary school. I kid you not. That is a lot of years. That’s one nasty case of ear worm. I’ll be just be cooking a meal when suddenly I’ll have the urge to say: “Cinderella on the stairs I spy the three bears.” Or Pords will be crying and I’ll be thinking: “Baby Bunting fast asleep I spy Bo-Peep.” Or I’ll be asked the key question at a really important job interview and all I’ll be able to think is: “Wicked witch over the wood I spy Robin Hood.” I really don’t know why this has stuck in my head the way it has for so many years, except for the fact that it’s so simple yet effective, and I read it over and over as a child. Now, as I read it over and over to my own children and I don’t even have to look at the words. I know the whole thing by heart.
The words aren’t even the best part of this book though. There is a built in game of I Spy in the pictures. So kids need to try and find the character to be spied in each picture. For older children this is a snap, but for toddlers, especially those who haven’t read it fifty times already, it can be challenging and fun. The use of well known nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters makes it even more amusing for children. Pickles is going through a bit of a three bears craze a the moment so he especially likes the pages that feature them. These inclusions prompt further discussions about other books and stories that we’ve shared and make the book even more interactive and engaging.
This book has stood the test of time and it’s easy to see why. A definite must for sharing with toddlers.
Dinosaurs! A Prehistoric Touch-And-Feel Adventure! byJeffrey Burton and John Bendall-Brunello
Before he could talk, if we asked Pickles which book he wanted to read he would invariably roar. Not that we needed to ask. This touch-and-feel book about dinosaurs was his absolute favourite. For a little person the book is just so interesting. Aside from the fact that there are dinosaurs, which on its own is a huge draw card, this is book is an amazingly interactive, tactile experience. There are things to feel, and flaps to lift, there are things to turn, and there is a big pop out dinosaur. The pictures are bright and colourful, and the text is written in simple rhyme.
Looking at it from a parent’s perspective, it is also great for language development. There is simple, descriptive vocabulary that is enhanced by the touch-and-feel aspects of the book. So, for example, children can see the dinosaur’s long neck stretch, as the page folds open, or they can run their fingers along the bumpy scales. There is also more complex vocab in the names of lots of different dinosaurs. I learnt a thing or two myself, although I could still brush up on pronunciation!
It is sure to be a hit with any older babies or toddlers.
The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland
Without fail, the ending of this book makes me smile every single time. Four animal friends want to take shelter from a rainy day inside a snug cave. Unfortunately, a very cranky bear has already had the same idea. Three of the friends believe they have the solution by giving the bear the attributes of themselves of which they are most proud. They all think of the fourth friend, the sheep, as rather plain. However, in the end it is the sheep that has the answer when she makes a pillow for the bear from her wool. “‘Well, thank you very much,’ said Bear and soon he fell asleep. Maybe he was dreaming of a plain, but thoughtful sheep.” See, I’m smiling again. Well, let’s face it, if you can see me that’s a wee bit creepy. Hopefully you can’t in fact see me. Trust me, there’s a smile.
The book is a sheer pleasure. The pictures are vibrant and appealing. The clever use of rhyme makes it easy and enjoyable to read. It’s fun to do voices for all the different animals. There is everything to like about this book. Even better is that the cranky bear also features in other books. He’s itchy, hungry, noisy, and brave. He’s always a favourite in our house.
Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort
Pickles loves this book, but I think he will love it even more when he has truly discovered pre-school humour. Underpants. Hilarious.
This book answers the question of how the dinosaurs were wiped out. They got too obsessed with underpants and went to war over them. I’m pretty sure it’s historically accurate. Even if it’s not, the book is clever, funny, and colourful.
The amusing pictures are a particular highlight of this book. Without reading the text you can tell some wonderful stories with this one. Pickles also likes to find all of the things that the little boy at the end has in his room that are the same as things we have. It’s always fun when you can make connections like that.
I think this book will be one that can be enjoyed from different perspectives over a number of years.
I Wish That I Had Duck Feet by Theo LeSieg
My mum, who spent a long career working with young children, reported this as a favourite with pre-schoolers. She said that in one particular child care centre that she worked at, as soon as the children saw her they would run over and demand it be read. Part of that, no doubt, was that she has an exceptionally marvellous voice for reading children’s books aloud. The other part is the magic of Seuss (writing here as Theo LeSieg). It seems that even as he becomes dated he is timeless.
One of the magical things about Seuss books is their ability to get stuck in your head, much as a song might. When my toddler is being fussy about eating I often find myself thinking (and sometimes saying!) “Hay, just hay two times a day is all [you’ll] get to eat!” Such is the fabulous cadence of Seuss.
Particularly loveable about this book is that it follows the imaginings of a young child. The ideas might be silly, but the child is nothing but earnest. Earnest nonsense is nothing if not delightful. You can talk to your own children about what it might be like to have duck feet, or a long nose, or tail, or deer horns, or a whale spout on their head. Your children might imagine other additions that would be fun to have. It is a perfect book for reading aloud and for sharing over and over again.
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Children are immediately drawn to the book because it is visually very appealing. The central protagonist, The Rainbow Fish, sparkles on the cover and on every page, with his special sparkling silver scales. Children love to watch the scales shimmer in the light. As the book progresses, they love to see which new fish have been lucky enough to get one of the coveted scales. Pickles goes crazy for the final page, where all the fish have little pieces of glittery goodness. We generally have to skip forward to that bit first before going back to the rest of the story.
Aside from the glorious pictures though, it is the story itself that makes this book one to truly treasure. The Rainbow Fish begins the book as proud and selfish, aloof and lonely. Along the way he learns that it is through kindness and sharing that he is able to find happiness: “the more he gave away, the more delighted he became.” This important lesson makes it a great book for children who are starting at kindergarten or school, and having to learn how to interact with their peers and make friends. The story itself has a valuable lesson, and it also lends itself to being a gateway to parents opening up a further dialogue with their child about sharing; it is a beautiful book and a useful tool for learning.
Tyrannosaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts
Julia Donaldson is an absolute favourite in our house. Her rhymes are always a rollicking ride. There are generally scary bits and funny bits. In this one, I love the line:
And they muttered, “What a shame that bridges aren’t invented yet.”
Pickles doesn’t think that bit is as funny as I do. I think that’s a good sign in a children’s book. I enjoy reading it over and over, which is handy since he requests it over and over.
In Donaldson’s books, the baddies usually get their comeuppance. Here, the bad guys are mean tyrannosauruses, who like to pick on the gentle duckbills:
And they shouted, “Up with hunting!” and they shouted, “Up with war!” And they shouted, “Up with bellyfuls of duckbill dinosaur!”
Incidentally, this is kind of fun to yell out when you’re feeling grumpy. Teaching little people to vent their anger by stomping around like a tyannosaurus isn’t such a bad idea. There are definitely much worse things they could be doing.
The book tells the story of a little duckbill dinosaur egg that ends up in a tyrannosaurus nest. The little duckbill is sad that he is such an outsider in what he thinks is his real family. Until he finds out who he really is.
Books for kids are about so much more than teaching reading. This one has a great message, dinosaurs, and lots of talking and learning points. We love it.
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