Six Wonderful Books To Read To Young Children
As a child, I loved books more than almost anything. A few of my favorites included Popcorn by Frank Asch, a Mickey Mouse tale called The Haunted House, and a book about Cookie Monster from the popular television show “Sesame Street.”
Now that I am closer to being grown up, I’m not as exposed to children’s books as I once was. However, since I had two nieces and two nephews, as well as many friends and cousins with children, I am in the fortunate position to acquire children’s books to give away as gifts. An unapologetic bibliophile, it’s hard not to at least peak at—if not read in their entirety—these volumes before giving them away. Not surprisingly, I’ve stumbled upon a few books worth recommending.
The Dark is written by Robert N. Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko. Originally published in 1979, this is an oldie worth revisiting. Featuring rough, colorful drawings, it follows the progress of “a dark,” a mysterious object which feeds on the shadows of people and things. With playful, accessible language, this slim book tells about how this “dark” object eats shadows which come from people, butterflies, and even cars. It eats so many shadows that soon the entire neighborhood is dark, and it takes a clever move from Jule Ann, the little girl who first discover the “dark” in an otherwise empty cookie jar, to save the day. Fast and fun, this book should be a hit with most children between the ages of two and six.
Originally published in 1982, Frank Asch’s Milk and Cookies is another simple and imaginative story revolving around a little bear’s bad dream. This little bear, after seeing his Grandpa stock the wood stove in their basement, is convinced the stove is a dragon. While dreaming, he envisions the dragon stomping upstairs in search of a snack. What happens afterwards is not for me to share, yet it obviously involves milk and cookies. Written simply, yet with wit and the understanding of how terrifying nightmares can be for little bears, this is a lovely little book best read at snack time accompanied by milk and cookies.
Speaking of dragons, a tickled dragon is part of the adventure in The End, a fairy tale in reverse told by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Richard Egrielski. It begins with these lines: “And they all lived happily ever after. They lived happily ever after because…the soggy knight fell in love with the clever princess. The knight fell in love with the princess because…she poured a big bowl of lemonade on top of his head.” On and on this tale unfolds with increasing humor and laugh-out-loud details and drawings. The illustrations are simultaneously believable and exaggerated, and this adds to the building hilarity. Even if you can manage to read this story aloud to your child, niece, nephew, grandchild, or child in your care without laughing out loud, it’s difficult to imagine most young children not giggling when they hear about the tickled dragon or the enormous tomato rolling down the hill. A quick read, this book could easily be enjoyed by many children age two to seven.
In case you prefer to read about crocodiles, The Crocodile’s Christmas Jandals may be the place to start. Written by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by Deirdre Gardiner, this goofy tale begins with a crocodile who loves his “jandals,” a festive word used for the flip-flop sandals he wears. He isn’t the only crocodile in this story, however, for her joins three other crocodiles at a beach party (complete with sunglasses worn by one of the other crocodiles). While at this beach party, he loses one of his cherished jandals and finds a replacement jandal which doesn’t match. He is displeased, yet he cannot find his original jandal, and so he is forced to wear the replacement one. A few days later he is playing football with a group of children when he discovers a little girl is wearing his missing jandal and he is wearing hers. Delighted, they swap footwear and continue their football match. Precisely illustrated and full of easy-to-read prose, this book would probably be enjoyed be children age three to seven.
Published in 1977, Daniel Manus Pinkwater’s The Big Orange Splot is another older book worth finding. The theme of this book is how wonderful it is to express your individuality, and it all begins when Mr. Plumbean’s house gets a mysterious orange splot on the roof. Since before this splot arrived all the houses on his street were identical, this creates an uproar with his neighbors who like their “neat street.” He promises to paint over the spot. Much to the vexation of his neighbors, he decides to paint his house a wildly colorful mixture of colors and images which include two elephants and a lion. He even adds palm trees, a hammock, and an alligator to his front yard. By this time, his neighbors are alarmed and they insist that the man who lives next door talk some sense into him. This doesn’t go as planned, and soon this neighbor paints his house to make it look like a ship. Other neighbors tried to talk some sense in Mr. Plumbean. Mysteriously, every time someone speaks with him, they soon paint their house to fit their dreams like he did. All too soon their street is no longer “neat” as it once was, yet everyone on this street is much happier. The quirky text is adeptly accompanied by his brightly colored and inexact illustrations. This book could be read to children ranging in age from two to seven, though I suspect three and four year olds would most appreciate the zany plot and pictures.
Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse has more text than any other book I’ve recommended on this list. For this reason, this book is likely intended to be read to older children than the other volumes. However, the colorful and varied illustrations may make it an accessible volume for many children between the ages of two and eight. The main character is a mouse named Lilly. She loves school because she has an inspiring teacher named Mr. Slinger. In case you’re skeptical about Mr. Slinger’s likeability, please remember that he wears artistic shirts as well as a different colored tie for each day of the week. Is it any surprise the Lilly wants to be a teacher when she grows up? Unfortunately, Lilly hits a snag in his classroom when she brings a purple purse to class which played music every time she opens it. Overly excited about her new purse, she didn’t listen to Mr. Slinger and she opens it when she isn’t supposed to. He kindly takes this away from her for the day, and she is very angry with him. In fact, she is convinced she no longer wants to be a teacher when she grows up. In fact, she leaves him a mean note in his book bag. He also leaves a note in her purple purse, but it’s an encouraging one telling her that tomorrow would be better. Feeling wretched, Lilly confesses her bad deed to her parents. They help her apologize to Mr. Slinger, and the book ends on a happy note. The text alone makes this book an enjoyable read. Add in the many colorful, exacting illustrations and it is both a delight to read and to look at. Easily can I picture several little girls I know who would love this book—even if they didn’t have a purple purse to play with after it’s read to them.
I recommend these books realizing I am biased in favor of silly stories with fewer morals and less educational information. Nonetheless, I hope I’ve alerted you to a few children’s books you will want to read to the child or children in your care.