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“pigs, pigs, pigs!” And Other Recommended Children’s Books
As the proud aunt of three young nieces and two nephews, I remain on the lookout for diverting children’s books. Akin to my other reading material, I have certain biases. I’m generally not drawn to children’s books with obvious moral messages such as “Don’t lie” and “Treat all people kindly.” I also often enjoy more whimsical, fantastical stories—which involve crocodiles under the bed and the like—over more realistic ones. Finally, I look for humor and memorable language. The latter doesn’t have to include rhyming—though this can help—or unexpected words. My rule of thumb is: if I’m delighted when I read it by myself, the book in question is more likely to entertain any child I read it to.
“pigs, pigs, pigs,” a children’s book written by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Erika Oller is a charming, quirky tale. Erika Oller’s illustrations are marvelous. She offers enough detail to make them vaguely realistic. Also, by predominantly using subtle, soothing colors, the instances when she adds a bright yellow balloon or a pink convertible—which the pigs are driving—grab your attention. The premise of this book is the people in a town are busy preparing food because a bunch of pigs are expected to visit. How they are arriving deserves mention; these means include bus, train, plane, and hot-air balloon. The image of several pigs crammed into the basket of a hot air balloon would likely amuse most young children. The descriptions of the food they prepare for the influx of pigs is also amusing. Even more humorous is the images of sleepy, exhausted townspeople after the pigs have gone home. They don’t have time to sleep, however, because they must prepare for the arrival of sheep. This final detail made me laugh out loud. This book could amuse children as old as six or seven; however, I think the ideal audience would be children ages two to five.
Else Holmelund Minarik’s “Little Bear” is the second children’s book I recommend. This is illustrated by Maurice Sendak, the same person who illustrated the classic children’s book “Where The Wild Things Are.” This book is labeled “An I Can Read Book.” Not surprisingly, it’s clearly intended to be a “starter” volume for children learning to read. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t read this book to children who haven’t started reading. Originally published in 1957, this book may be unknown to 21st century parents unless someone once read it to them. I don’t remember being read this book as a child, and I didn’t discover this book until recently.
This volume contains four short stories. The first humorously describes Little Bear asking Mother Bear for warm clothing to wear so he can play outside in the snow. She indulges his wishes and, over the course of several pages, makes him a hat, a coat, and snow pants. Finally, after Little Bear comes inside claiming to be cold, Mother Bear wonders if he wants to wear a fur coat. He thinks this is a wonderful idea. Rather humorously, she instructs him to take off the coat, hat, and snow pants so he can play outside while wearing nothing extra at all—since he has a fur coat already. The second story, “Birthday Soup,” takes place on Little Bear’s birthday. He knows that his friends will be coming over, and, since Mother Bear is nowhere to be found, he decides to make birthday soup. His guests arrive one by one, and he asks them if they want soup. They do, and he has given everyone bowls of it by the time his mother returns carrying a birthday cake. This story delighted me because it’s amusing to think of a Little Bear making soup for his birthday guests, and it also highlights the tender relationship between Mother Bear and Little Bear. I’ve read two other books in the Little Bear Series—“Little Bear’s Visit” and “A Kiss For Little Bear”—and I’m told there are dozens more. I would recommend all three Little Bear volumes which I have read, yet I didn’t want to use all the space in my article talking about Little Bear.
“Mouse and Mole: A Winter Wonderland,” written and illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee, is another enjoyable volume. This book contains four stories: “Snug as a Bug”; “Sno-Mole”; “The New Friend”; “Sno-Mouse.” The colorful, inexact illustrations add to the text by showcasing what the characters are doing: Mouse putting on a pair of snow pants; Mole examining Mouse’s winter outfit; Mouse ice skating on a pond, and so forth. The text is full of wordplay ranging from Mole warning Mouse he could turn into a “Mouse-cicle” to using the word “thup” to describe the sound made when Mole puts on a pair of boots. As someone who grew up playing in the snow, I found the snow-saturated landscape as compelling as any interaction between Mole and Mouse. The short stories within this book are likely to entertain most children between the ages of two and six.
Another wintry-themed book worth recommending is “Arctic Fives Arrive.” This is written by Elinor J. Pinczes and illustrated by Holly Berry. Originally published in 1996, it’s possible this is an old enough volume it has escaped the notice of many new parents. The bold, thick-lined illustrations are initially what attracted me to volume. They bring to life the various arctic animals—which include ermine and polar bears—and add unexpectedness to the pages. Thankfully, the text also won me over. This is clearly a book intended to teach a child about counting and numbers, yet it does so in a way which is diverting. The premise of this book is relatively simple: arctic animals are situated on a floating piece of ice awaiting a display of the Northern Lights. In fives they arrive until there is virtually no any additional room any new arrivals. The adjectives used to describe the animals, along with the sing-song rhyming text, is worth mentioning. I like how the ermines are called “sly” and the Arctic hares are called “pert.” In addition, I enjoyed the bewildered reaction of the various animals as even more animals joined them on their icy perch. The question of “How in the world will we all fit?” adds a layer of enjoyment and mystery. I’d recommend reading this book to children who are between the ages of two and seven. While the counting theme may be lost on the very young, the compelling illustrations and plot twists make this a book worth reading.
Finally, I recommend Ingrid & Dieter Schubert’s “There Is A Crocodile Under My Bed!” The first thing I noticed about this book—once I was done admiring the title—is the realistic, colorful illustrations. There is a red-haired little girl named Sophie, and a big crocodile named Carl. Sophie, who is carrying a monster doll, immediately notices Carl sitting under her bed. Rather surprisingly, she isn’t scared of Carl; however, quite humorously, he is spooked by her and tries to hide on top of her dresser. Smiling broadly, she instructs him to get off her dresser. He does, and, not surprisingly, their fun begins soon afterwards. Their fun includes having Carl jump through a hoop and making pancakes. Their culinary adventures result in Carl requiring a bath to wash off the accumulated syrup. The image of Carl in the bathtub with a contended look on his face made me laugh quietly to myself when I read this book. Sophie is fast asleep—an event which didn’t happen until Carl tells her a story or two—and Carl is sneaking out of her bedroom door when this story ends. This is the fastest read of any book I’ve recommended in this article, and for this reason I would recommend it for children ages two to five. It is quite possible, however, that older children would enjoy this book—especially if they are learning to read.
I’ve selected these volumes based on my aforementioned biases. It is my hope that at least one of these books will rouse your interest, and that you will soon find excellent books to read to the young children in your care.