Favorites for Preschoolers

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This is by no means an exhaustive list, but today I would like to share with you some of our family’s favorite books for young audiences. More to follow another time.

 

Barrett, Judi (1970). Animals should definitely not wear clothing. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Who would have thought wearing clothing could be so challenging? It is when you’re a porcupine- or any other animal for that matter. Simple and the illustrations tell it all.

 

Becker, Bonny (2008). A Visitor for Bear. London: Walker Books.

Bear always thought he preferred being alone to having company. He even has a sign: “No Visitors Allowed”. But one persistent little mouse is able to show him just how enjoyable having a friend over can be. My preschoolers have never tired of waiting for the “small and grey and bright-eyed” mouse to reappear somewhere in Bear’s kitchen. I myself have always enjoyed reading it to them, showing Bear’s increasing frustration with every flip of the page.

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De La Pena (201     Last Stop on Market Street. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

It’s not every year that a picture book takes the Newbery. While personally I would have chosen The War That Saved My Life (which took a Newbery honor the same year), Last Stop on Market Street is still a book not to be missed. CJ and Nana ride the bus across town every Sunday after church. CJ sees all the things they don’t have… but not Nana. Nana sees the beautiful: in the people they meet on the bus, in the contrast of the “graffiti-tagged windows and boarded-up stores”, against the rainbow in the sky. For young children who don’t live in the inner city, this book is a perfect introduction to a different lifestyle. And to all of us it is a wonderful lesson in contentment and perspective. Christian Robinson won a Caldecott Honor for his wonderful illustrations.

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Ernst, Lisa Campbell (1992). Zinnia and Dot. New York, NY: Viking.

This is one of my all time favorite picture books. Two vain hens spend their hours boasting about their eggs: until a weasel crashes into the henhouse and leaves only a single egg behind. Can they stop bickering long enough to save it? And who will it look like when it hatches? It’s a blast giving voices to these memorable animal characters and not a single word of the text is wasteful. Love it!

 

Feiffer, Jules (2003). Bark, George. Weston, Conn.: Weston Woods.

Especially appreciated by five-year olds, Bark, George is the simple, humorous tale of one very hungry dog. George swallows multiple animals whole, making it impossible for him to produce the beautiful bark his mother is so proud of. Ending is a hoot!

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Hoberman, Mary Ann (1997). One of Each. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co.

Oliver Tolliver learns the joys of friendship and sharing. I enjoy Hoberman’s rollicking rhymes even more than those of Dr. Seuss. Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Marjorie Priceman’s pen and ink drawings add the finishing touch. One of our favorites for years!

 

Jorgensen, Gail (1989). Crocodile Beat. New York: Simon & Schuster.

“Down by the river in the heat of the day                                                                                            the crocodile sleeps and awaits his prey.”

So begins the rhythmic tale of the jungle animals, and how led by King Lion, they solve the problem of a mean crocodile looking for his supper. Filled with rhymes and animal sounds, Crocodile Beat is just plain fun to chant, and perfect for early readers to practice with on their own.

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Masurel, Claire (2002). Big Bad Wolf. New York, NY: Scholastic Cartwheel Books.

A great introduction for preschoolers about making assumptions. The villagers immediately thinks of the wolf whenever something scary happens: after all, he does have sharp teeth and a piercing howl. But is Papa Wolf really something to be afraid of? Not when he’s kissing all his little wolves. I love Melissa Iwai’s illustrations. Kids love the cut-out eyes in the cover and pages. A gem!

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Little Blue Truck

Schertle, Alice (2008). Little Blue Truck. Boston: Harcourt, Inc.

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At first I was remiss that I’d left Alice Schertle’s Little Blue Truck off of my “Top Ten Picks for Toddlers” post, but then I realized that with three sequels, it has probably earned a post all to itself. Filled with two of little boys’ favorite interests, trucks and animals, this story of a friendly truck helping others, and being helped himself, is a favorite among my early intervention students. The premise is simple: after helping out a self-centered dump  truck who gets himself in a fix, Little Blue Truck, likewise, needs a hand. Because he is well-loved by his many animal friends, they work together to come to his rescue. In the end the big, yellow dump truck learns a valuable lesson.

Sequel Little Blue Truck Leads the Way teaches about taking turns and putting others ahead of oneself, and Little Blue Truck’s Christmas is just pure, counting backwards fun- complete with twinkling lights adorning the final page. Illustrator Jill McElmurry also deserves praise for her colorful, engaging drawings.

Marketed as a preschool book, this series is especially appropriate for ages 2 1/2 to 4 years.

Sugarbush Spring

Chall, Marsha Wilson (2000). Sugarbush Spring. New York, NY: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.

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It is February in the Finger Lakes, and the maple syrup makers are expectantly tapping trees, running lines, and watching the forecast to see when the first sap collections will be made. My husband is no exception. Any day now I will lose him to the sugarhouse (which luckily I can see from several windows of our home). My kitchen will be overtaken by giant pots, bottles, gauges, and scents of sweetness. And in the evenings, when the kids are snuggled on the couch, sleepily watching DVDs, I will sneak out and join him for the familiar annual sounds of boiling sap and crackling timber.



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Marsha Wilson Chall depicts the experience exquisitely in her book, Sugarbush Spring. Through the eyes of a child, from tapping to bottling, a day of sap harvesting and syrup making is revealed in beautiful word pictures:

“I hang a pail beneath each of them and wait. The sun side spills first. Ping…ping…dripple, dripple-dripple.” (p.7)

“All around the sugarbush I measure who is ready, filling up my arms with trees.” (p.8)

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But the writing is only the half of it; Jim Daly’s illustrations are nothing short of frameable. Year after year the kids and I pour over the beautiful paintings, enjoying them every bit as much as the story itself.

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Maple syruping abounds in children’s literature, as I shared in the unit study I wrote several years ago (see The Old Schoolhouse magazine, Fall 2008 issue, or TOS Digital Products WeE Book “From the Tree to the Table: A Maple Syrup Story”). Miracles on Maple Hill, A Gathering of Days, The Birchbark House, Calico Bush, and Little House in the Big Woods, all include descriptions of the process in various times and places. Sugarbush Spring works especially well as a read aloud for younger children. It goes beyond the technical knowledge of syrup making (although this isn’t neglected) to the beauty of one of God’s gifts- hidden in trees for thousands of years before its discovery.

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Enjoy a sign that spring is on its way. If you can, make it to the sugarbush yourself, (and if you come to ours, be sure to wear boots!). If you can’t, find yourself a copy of Sugarbush Spring.

The Cinderellas

With more than five hundred international variations, and dating as far back as the ninth century (with the Chinese story of Yeh-Shen), the story of a patient, kind, and unfairly treated young woman being rewarded for her goodness, has been told in many ways. Here in the states we know her as “Cinderella”, but many a name has been given to this beloved fairytale heroine. The following are just three of the many versions that have been shared around the globe.

Kongi and Potgi

Han, Oki S.(1996). Kongi and Potgi: A Cinderella Story from Korea. New York , NY: Dial Books for Young Readers.

In Kongi and Potgi young Kongi is forced by her mean stepmother to do all the work that would normally be shared  by her daughter Potgi and herself, in addition to her own chores. Nobly, Kongi never complains. When the announcement is made that the prince is seeking a bride, and a grand ball is to occur, Doki gives Kongi near impossible tasks to prevent her from attending and being competition for Potgi. As often seen in Asian fairy-tales, animals come to the aid of our heroine: an ox helps her to hoe the land on the hillside, a toad plugs a water jug with a hole in it, and sparrows remove the kernels of rice from their shells. A rainbow in the sky brings angels, who dress her in the finest silk, and four men come down with a sedan chair in which to carry her. In this Korean version, the glass slipper is a jewel-like one.

What I love about this version is that not only do we see Kongi’s patient, humble character, as we do in all of the Cinderellas, but we also see her forgiveness:

“At the wedding reception Doki and Potgi could barely look at the bride, for they were ashamed of the way they had treated her. But Kongi welcomed them warmly and forgave their unkindness. Her father could not have been more proud.” (Han, p.32)

As indeed our Heavenly Father is when we ourselves forgive others.

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Cendrillon

San Souci, Robert D. (1998). Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Cendrillon is an adaptation of a traditional Creole version of Cinderella told in first person narrative by our character’s godmother. When the widowed father remarries it is to a “cold woman, and puffed up proud” (San Souci, p.7). A new daughter, Vitaline, is born and spoiled, while Cendrillon is given work that leaves her hands red and blistered, is barely fed, and sleeps on a hard pallet. The stepmother’s refusal to allow her to go to a birthday party for Paul Thibault, who Cendrillon likes, brings her to tears, and the godmother promises to find a way for her to attend.

Reminiscent of the Disney version, the stepmother and sister make demands of our heroine the minute they leave for the event. The godmother uses a wand of mahogany to turn a breadfoot into a coach, agoutis (animals like guinea pigs) into carriage horses, field lizards into footmen, and an opossum into a coachman. Cendrillon’s sky blue velvet dress is accompanied by a matching turban, jewelry, and pink slippers. Her godmother chaperones her and enjoys chocolate sherbert until the midnight chimes toll.

One cannot help but love Cendrillon’s godmother, her devoted advocate with a most unique personality. “If you cut off those big toes,” she calls out as Vitaline is trying to fit into the slipper, “it would be a fine fit.” (San Souci, p.35). And one cannot help but love Cendrillon, who refuses the offer to be dressed elegantly once again for the prince, in favor of him seeing her as she truly is. This version is beautifully rich and I can’t imagine reading it with anything but a Creole dialect to add flavor to the wonderful illustrations.

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Adelita

De Paola, Tomie (2004). Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story. New York, NY: Puffin Books.

Tomie de Paola’s fairy godmother in Adelita is the young lady’s nurse, Esperanza, who has been with the Mercado family since before she was born. Esperanza perceives the coldness of her future stepmother, Dona Micaela, and her daughters, Valentina and Dulce, even before the wedding takes place. As in all of the Cinderellas our heroine never complains, in spite of the clear favoritism that is being shown. She has, after all, Esperanza, and “Because she knew Esperanza loved her, Adelita’s heart stayed as warm as the fire in the hearth.” (De Paola, p.10).

When Adelita’s father dies, the stepmother no longer needs to conceal her jealousy, and moves her up into the attic. One day, as Adelita is helping Esperanza in the kitchen, the cruel stepmother fires Esperanza. At this Adelita does begin to despair. An invitation arrives for a party at the ranch of the Gordilla’s in honor of their son Javier’s homecoming. After the stepmother and sisters leave for the party Esperanza, having dreamt of Adelita’s not being allowed to go, arrives. Finding a beautiful dress in Adelita’s mother’s old trunk, she dresses her, braiding flowers and ribbons into her hair.

Javier takes one look at Adelita and falls in love with her. “Adelita’s heart was full as well and all the meanness she had suffered over the years began to melt.” (DePaola, p.20). There are no glass slippers in this version, but rather her mother’s rebozo (shawl), hanging out of her window, leads Javier to Adelita’s door. Ad you can probably guess, this couple lives happily ever after as well.

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The Cinderellas can be wonderful family read-alouds for a couple of weeks, enjoyed by older and younger members alike. They lend themselves readily to discussions of character, and of good overcoming evil. They can also be used to teach literary comparisons and analysis, (as kids talk about similarities and differences between the stories), cultural awareness as they are exposed to storytelling, artwork, and descriptions of celebrations and places around the world, and geography as they locate the settings of the tales on maps and globes. Nothing complicated: just the joy of reading shared between parents and siblings using stories they will recollect for years to come.