As I prepared Part 2 of the list of books to read together with your toddler (Part 1 available here), the first book on today’s list got me thinking about beloved children’s author/illustrator, Anna Dewdney. Dewdney tragically died at the age of 50 from cancer. Of course, I never met the successful and famous creator of Llama, Llama Red Pajama. Still I recognize her as someone who saw books, stories and reading in the same light I do. In September of 2013, she wrote an explanation in the Wall Street Journal as to why reading with children does more than just prepare them for academic success:
“by reading with a child, we are teaching that child to be human. When we open a book, and share our voice and imagination with a child, that child learns to see the world through someone else’s eyes. I will go further and say that that child then learns to feel the world more deeply, becoming more aware of himself and others in a way that he simply cannot experience except in our laps, or in our classrooms, or in our reading circles.”
I just love that. It’s far more eloquent than my own manifesto comparing books to vegetables. Had we known each other, I like to imagine that Anna Dewdney and I would have been friends. Like many of my favorite writers, her work has earned her a place in my life’s story. When she died, she asked that instead of a funeral, the people who wanted to honor her should read a book to a child. When I read that, I cried. What a beautiful way to memorialize her life and work. I can only hope that someday my life inspires someone to share some beautiful stories with children.
And now, without further ado, here are some more stories that will help you and your children become a bit more human:
Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney. We love Llama in our house. Kids easily relate to Llama’s bedtime drama, missing his mama and grocery store tantrums. Meanwhile, I wish I was as patient and gentle as Mama Llama. Still I think this one-off title about a young excavator who at first seems too young to help out on a construction site is my kids’ favorite picture book. After The Spiffiest Giant in Town, this is probably our most read book in their first four years of life. If you have a truck or vehicle lover in your home or life, this is a sure fire winner. Can’t all kids relate to Little E’s desire to help despite the big truck’s repeated message that he is too small to do the work? I love that the job they are tackling is converting an empty lot full of trash into a lovely oasis in the middle of a neighborhood that you can just tell houses many children. The beautiful illustrations invite you and your kids to imagine people enjoying this new green space after all the trucks drive off. Of course, Little E has his big moment and proves to himself, the other construction trucks and little readers that “there is work to do just for you, here and now.” I can’t tell you how many warm fuzzy memories this book will always have associated with it. And that’s just what I am hoping to create when I share stories with my babies.
Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin. Our house is not full of world travelers. We are more of the stay at home types. Still I want my children to love the world and appreciate and care about the beautiful diversity of its inhabitants. This is why I am so passionate and determined to allow my children to travel the world and meet of residents of other lands through books. Mama Panya’s Pancakes is a great first trip to a location geographically far from where we live. This story’s Kenyan village setting has little in common with our town on the Seacoast of New Hampshire, but the book’s gentle and not at all preachy message is universal. Adika is so thrilled that he and Mama Panya are heading to the market to buy the ingredients for Mama’s wonderful pancakes that he invites “all our friends” to dinner. Grownups will relate to Mama’s concern about there being enough for everyone, but Adika’s innocent confidence that they can share with all turns out to be prophetic. This wonderful tale of community, with lots of educational back matter on village life in Kenya and its animal inhabitants, is also available in French and Spanish. You can start sharing this one with your kiddos when they are young and keep on reading it for years to come.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. As I’ve written before, I love stories that show diverse characters just living their lives. Keats was one of the first to do this in picture books. Which is why his stories have endured. The Snowy Day about young Peter’s adventures in a winter wonderland is a classic of childhood. Peter spends a magical, but simple day making snow angels, knocking snow off trees, avoiding snowball fights with the big kids and trying to save snow in his pocket for later. Perfect for sharing on any snowy day. Or a hot day in the summer when you are dreaming of the cold days of winter.
Animal Boogie illustrated by Debbie Hartner and sung by Fred Penner. “Down in the Jungle, Come if You Dare…” Barefoot Books has a line of sing-along books with CDs that are perfect for the toddler set. The Animal Boogie will have you and your tiny people swaying, boogieing and having a grand old time. I love the diverse cast of kids who spy the various jungle animals and move to the beat. Children’s literature needs to do a better job including children with disabilities in text and illustrations, so it is good to note that Animal Boogie depicts a child in a wheelchair dancing along in the pictures. If you’d rather groove in Spanish, Cha Cha Cha is the version for your house. Even if you don’t buy the books, bopping along to one of Barefoot Books animated sing-along videos is a great way to get some wiggles out.
The Journey Home From Grandpa’s by Jemima Lumley. This is another Barefoot sing-along, but we never actually listened to the CD or watched the video of this one. My father-in-law’s house is about a twenty minute drive from our house, which can seem long when you have two little ones crying in unison in the backseat. Many a time, I wedged myself in between their two carseats and read them this story when we actually on our way home from Granpa’s. The bright illustrations and rhythm are a natural fit for older babies or toddlers and I will always be grateful to this book for bringing a bit of peace to our car rides.
Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin. I give big bonus points to any book that not only engages my children but also entertains me. The C.S. Lewis quote, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story,” always makes me wonder if the famous author was reading a lot picture books to toddlers over and over again. This tale of intrepid cows that demand labor concessions from a farmer and go on strike when their demands aren’t met meets the Lewis test for a good story. Of course, where I see a clever and funny story of collective action by oppressed farm animals, my toddlers saw awesome illustrations of cows, chickens, a duck and harried farmer. They also heard fun animal noises and lots of exclamatory statements from this same farmer. The cows may kick-off the action, but its the seemingly “neutral” duck that steals the show in the end. In fact, duck has become such a popular figure that he stars in the many spin-offs Click, Clack stories that Cronin has written, but I’d rather skip those and just read the original again. Writing about this one makes me want to go pull it out of storage because I think the tale has enough cross-over appeal that my four year olds might enjoy hearing it again.
Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by Nancy White Carlstorm. This book appears on lots of lists of great books to read with kids. The description always left me wondering why. Once I read the story, though, the appeal was obvious. Kids love to see themselves reflected in stories, especially as toddlers. Jesse Bear’s day and routine will be comforting and familiar to your little ones. Jesse eats, digs in the dirt, takes a bath and goes to bed. In addition to just the right amount of repetition, I love the old-fashioned illustrations and coziness of this tale. This is a worthy tale to share at bedtime or any time you want to slow down the pace of the day just a bit.
If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Joffe Numeroff. Numeroff is quite well known for this If You Give a… series. She explores what happens when you give pancakes to a pig, donuts to a dog, and of course, cookies to a mouse. It may be sacrilege of me to say so but of all of these, the Moose and his muffins is my favorite. It always entertains me to see how Numeroff cleverly paints animals like toddlers who wear out their caregivers. Here we have a moose, who after devouring all the muffins, sews buttons on a sweater, makes sock puppets, paints scenery, creates a Halloween costume, spills paint, cleans-up, does laundry and gets hungry all over again. The circular story delights little ones and the subtly of the illustrations will make parents smile. This series deserves its place as a modern classic of children’s lit.
Mousie, I will Read to You by Rachael Cole. Oh my gosh. This adorable poetic story melts my book loving mama heart. It follows a mama mouse and her journey to share the magic of stories with her little mouse. Here is a mouse who sings lullabies, reads books and poems in abundance to her little one and is rewarded with the joy of watching her kiddo become an independent reader. I hope this mouse mama still basks in the connection of reading aloud to Mousie even after she could read to herself. This sweet and slow-paced celebration of raising lifelong book lovers makes a delightful bedtime story for all your mousies.
So that’s it for now. Let us know what books your toddler loves in the comments!
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