For the Littles

When your family starts growing up, it’s very easy to adjust all the family read-alouds to the levels of the oldest. This is fine and good in some respects but I’ve noticed recently that the meaty, in-depth stories are getting far more readings around here than the simple ones suited for the 4 and under bracket. One way that I’ve remedied this in my own home is that when our family breaks for quiet time (we all split up into separate rooms and some of us nap, others read or play very quietly) I take 10 minutes or so with each of my youngest two children, my nearly 5 year old son and my 2 year old daughter. They each get individual attention to spend reading one or two of those “forgotten books” that were everyday fare here once upon a time. While my little ones are pretty good sports about listening to great myths or picture book biographies, they really do delight in those simple, simple stories that have their place in a child’s mind forever. I’ll share with you some of those titles in a bit but I first want to say a word about repetition.

I used to get annoyed when a child would say “Read it again!” or when they’d keep choosing the same volume every single day at reading time. I’d think “How boring! Let’s read something new for once!” Then I wised up a bit and read a bit and researched a bit and learned that repetition is so important for wee little brains. Children thrive on knowing a story. They love memorizing it and being able to tell you what happens next. I think it somehow reinforces their view of the world that life is secure and predictable… and the familiarity found in an old book is a great source of comfort to them… especially when coupled with a warm lap and loving voice.

Maybe I’m overanalyzing it, but that’s what a bibliozealot does with books.

As it is, every home with toddlers should have a rich collection of basic books that are known and loved and read often. I won’t bother to state that these are the BEST OF THE BEST (since there are many “bests” in this particular category). But I will give you an idea of some titles on our bookshelf (and we’ve a few hundred children’s books I think) that get repeated many, many times. I think I’ll eventually make a Top 10 Board Books post in which a couple of these will be repeated but for now I just wanted to offer 10 books that have been read cumulatively 100 times or more in our home:

 Curious George. I never really wanted to love this monkey but every one of my kids has and they never, ever tire of his adventures. I can recite to you how every story begins: “This is George. He is a good little monkey but always very curious…” I’m now convinced that no childhood would be complete without getting to know Curious George.
 Bear Snores On. This original by Karma Wilson is by far the best of the Bear books. Something about the cadence in the book is great fun for the children. This makes especially good Autumn reading.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Again it’s all about the cadence here and children eat up the suspense of the hunt and the frantic voice of the reader once the bears are found. (It’s all in HOW a story is read, see…)
Dogs Don’t Wear Sneakers. This and Chimps Don’t Wear Glasses by Laura Numeroff are big hits here. Laura Numeroff is probably best known for her If You Give a Mouse a Cookiebooks (which we like but the sequels just kinda went downhill) but these books are even better in my opinion. Kids crack up over the silly, detailed illustrations and want to point out all the fun things in the story…
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Jane Yolen is one of those “gray area” authors I referenced before but this book is great (Sequels again, not so great in my opinion. This is mildly controversial to say but in the How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon? book I bristled at the line “Doctor knows best.” And in the How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? I don’t like that good little dinos are supposed to eat everything on their plates and then ask for more. But I digress.) I always read this in a “Can you believe he would do that?!” voice and the children smile and giggle along.
Pat the Bunny. Now, to be fair, I was gifted with this book when I was in the hospital with my firstborn son and didn’t think much of it. And it was a gift-collector’s edition which according to the package included all the original activities and textures. (There have since been many interactive books published but most aren’t particularly notable. I’m especially annoyed with the Touch and Feel animal books that include 5 different animals with the same synthetic shag rug carpet material for each one.) I’m not sure that present editions contain the original activities… and some parents complain about the plastic comb binding. But this book was well loved in our home through three children before it finally bit the dust for good. It’s a pity my daughter has never seen it; she’d love it… must make a mental note to repurchase. It was the best “first book” I could offer the boys since it was interactive and just right for little wigglers who wouldn’t have otherwise wanted to sit still through a story.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I think every parent knows this one… and for good reason. It achieves fame and greatness in its sheer simplicity. This is the first book my kids memorize and the first one my pre-readers “read” to their younger siblings. Plus, unlike so many books with sequels, the sequels to this are also good… just more of the same great illustrations and familiar rhyming.
Where the Wild Things Are. The book is a classic for a reason… and it has a longer lifespan than something like Brown Bear does too. My 2 year old loves this book and my almost 9 year old still loves it too… now that is money well spent.
 Caps for Sale. It just doesn’t get old. Those silly monkeys win the heart of every child to whom I’ve ever been privileged to read this.
Freight Train. This is one of those books that I’d never have known would be so popular with my children. Upon first glance there’s nothing particularly special about this book but something about the simple sharp colors and easy, almost haunting text makes it a winner.

You know, it’s funny the books that enchant children. You can plant all the books you love best in their lives and many will take, but there are some books that aren’t necessarily YOUR favorites that you must endure with a smile and willing heart because it is so loved to littles. And when you make a child smile with a great book, how can you possibly not love the story too?

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” C.S. Lewis