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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The Mousehole Cat

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Barber, Antonia (1990). The Mousehole Cat. London: Walker Books.

(Reprinted in 1996 by Aladdin Paperbacks, a division of Simon & Schuster)

The Mousehole Cat, written by Antonia Barber and illustrated by Nicola Bayley, was inspired by an old Cornish legend. Mowzer the cat lives happily with her “pet”, Tom, who is “very well-behaved” (p.7). Not only does Tom keep her saucer full of cream, and the wood stove well stoked, but he passes his days “in the most useful way possible”: catching fish for Mowzer’s dinner (p.7). When the villagers of Mousehole are unable to send out their fishing boats, it appears the children will go hungry and just before Christmas. Tom, whose children are grown, and parents long gone, decides that he’s the most logical choice to risk his life to bring back fish for the village. Mowzer chooses to join him:

“For he was only a man, she thought, and men were like mice in the paws of the Great Storm-Cat” (p.14).

Listening to the Great Storm-Cat’s wailing, she imagines him to be lonely, “endlessly hunting the men-mice in the deeps of darkness, and never returning to the rosy glow of a red-hot fire” (p.18). To comfort him, she serenades him with her singing… and it works. While they are still in for a tumultuous ride, Mowzer and Tom will return home a boat laden with fish.

Back in the village the townspeople realize what Tom is doing for them and they wait:

“All day they had watched and waited, staring out into the cloud-wracked sea, but they could see no sign of him. And when night fell, the women went home and set candles in all their windows and every man lit his lantern and went down to the harbor walls.” (p.26)

I love the illustrations in this book. The paintings tell the story so beautifully that once they’ve heard it, younger children can relive the adventure simply by looking at them. Rarely does a picture book combine such lyrical prose with so natural a rising climax. Its simple story of valor and loyalty is sure to enthrall the five to eight year olds it is marketed for. It is no surprise that it holds the honors of being both an ALA Notable Children’s Book and Booklist Editor’s Choice in 1990. The Mousehole Cat is sure to live in reader’s and listener’s memories for years to come.

 

Top Ten Picks for Toddlers

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As a homeschooling mom of six and an early intervention provider for more than twenty years, I have held more board books in my hand than almost anyone- save perhaps those stocking the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Before I list some wonderful titles, I’d like to provide you with a crash course in toddlers and books.

  • A six month old will eat a book.
  • A nine month old will explore the mechanics of turning board book pages.
  • A twelve month old will look at pictures in a book.
  • A fifteen month old will point to pictures in a book.
  • An eighteen month old will name pictures of familiar objects and animals in books.
  • A twenty-one month old will turn paper pages and name even more.
  • A twenty-four month old realizes there is more to books than just pictures.
  • A twenty-seven month old is beginning to enjoy hearing familiar picture books read.
  • A thirty month old will listen to a picture book story for five minutes.
  • A thirty-six month old will fill in familiar words and phrases in picture book stories.

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This, of course, is just a reference point for typical learners. Some children will be more interested in books than others, and consequently will explore them earlier or later. Up until about eighteen or twenty-one months of age, books that allow children to recognize and learn the names of new objects and animals are the way to go, starting with those that only have one on each side of the page. Once they are consistently pointing to pictures of single objects, books with five or six photos on a page allow them to learn scanning. At around a year and a half to two years, short picture book stories can be shared. Super short books can be read to a child whose attention span is only about two minutes, and can be a great way to start. Stories that can be read rhythmically should be, because all language has rhythm and cadence. Books that actually have a plot will be better understood by a two and a half year old, and humor in books may not be recognized by kids until they are closer to three.

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So without further ado, my recommendations for a two year old’s library are as follows:

Alborough, Jez (2000). Hug. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Brown, Margaret Wise (2007). Goodnight, Moon. New York, NY: HarperFestival.

Henderson, Kathy (1998). Counting Farm. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Horacek, Petr (2008). Choo Choo. London: Walker Books Ltd.

Martin, Bill Jr. (1996). Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Rathmann, Peggy (1994). Goodnight Gorilla. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Rosen, Michael (1989). We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. New York, New York: Scholastic Inc., by arrangement with Little Simon.

Spinelli, Eileen (2001). When Mama Comes Home Tonight. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Stickland, Paul and Henrietta (1997).Dinosaur Roar. New York, NY: Dutton Children’s Books.

Stickland, Paul (2006). One Bear, One Dog. Wincanton Somersat, UK: Backpack Books by arrangement with Ragged Bears Publishing Ltd.

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