Format: Picture book
Author: Annette Sheldon
Illustrator: Karen Maizel
Publisher: Magination Press (published August 2005)
Rare is the book that explains challenging topics to young readers clearly without talking down to them. Big Sister Now: A Story About Me and Our New Baby by Annette Sheldon hits the mark perfectly. Kate is not sure how she feels about her new baby brother, Daniel. (“I don’t know how to be a big sister. It feels all different.” “I feel like they forgot me.”) Daniel takes up her parents’ time and attention (the illustration of the harried mother when Daniel “cried and cried” will be very relatable for any parent who’s ever felt at a loss with a crying infant and a demanding toddler) and Kate is not impressed. With help from loving parents and Grandma, though, Kate learns to embrace her new role as big sister and learns that even though she’s not the only child anymore, she is still special and loved — and it still feels “warm and safe and lovey.” The back of the book offers some great tips for parents expecting a new addition; author Annette Sheldon is a storyteller, preschool specialist, and librarian with four children and ten grandchildren, so she should know!
As crucial as it is to make sure you’re reading wonderful books to your children, it’s also essential — and boatloads of fun — to tell stories to, and with, the little people in your life. Storytelling is an art as old as the hills and can be an immense gift to your kids, a gift of imagination and of memories they may hold with them their whole lives. But in this digital age, telling stories can seem old-fashioned and awkward. Storytelling is not something that comes naturally to everyone; if the idea of making up a story on your own paralyzes you with fear, you’re not alone. Check out this post over at Modern Parents Messy Kids on Storytelling 101 to get some great tips on how to share some homemade yarns with your littlies; there’s even a great activity with torn paper to get you started. What stories are you going to tell the kids in your life tonight?
Format: Picture book
Author: Hope Vestergaard
Illustrator: Valeria Petrone
Publisher: Sterling (published March 2010)
There’s a lot to learn for a young child attempting to master the toilet. Getting up there is a hard enough job, never mind remembering how to pull down all the clothes that need to be pulled down, whether the door is supposed to be open or closed, and that we must use soap to wash our hands. Potty Animals uses an engaging cast of characters — an eclectically named group of animals attending preschool together — to teach some of the finer points of toilet usage: knock before entering the bathroom, use the toilet before you go to sleep, and don’t forget to flush.
While the premise of the book is solid, and whimsical creatures like Helga the duck and Benji the lemur play their parts perfectly, the book comes off as preachy rather than reassuring to new toilet users. When a young rabbit is plagued by a common fear (“Freddie is afraid to flush. / He doesn’t like the sound. / He worries that he’ll get sucked in, and tossed and sloshed around”), the book simply exhorts “Don’t forget to flush, Freddie!” without any comfort or explanation. Similarly, Wilbur the hedgehog is told, “Wilbur, always wash with soap!” when he doesn’t want to, but no reason is given. The story might serve as a reminder for children who already know the rules, but doesn’t give much help to toddlers fresh out of diapers who don’t yet know the whys and wherefores of bathroom use.
Format: Picture book
Author: Margaret Mahy
Illustrator: Polly Dunbar
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (published May 2013)
Parents often underestimate their children’s ability to absorb new vocabulary. We might know that a word is considered difficult, but our children have no such preconceptions. While it’s important to choose books at an appropriate reading level for your child, it’s equally important — and piles of fun — to throw in some books with words beyond their current abilities. If the language is engaging enough and the illustrations sufficiently beguiling, your little reader will enjoy the book, learning some great new words rather than becoming frustrated. A great book to try this out is Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy. This wild linguistic romp concerns a baby who flies off, stuck in a bubble blown by his sister. Mother is terrified and the townspeople are stumped: how to get Baby down safely? As well as being a tongue-twister to read (“At the sudden cry of trouble, Mother took off at the double, / for the squealing left her reeling, made her terrified and tense, / saw the bubble for a minute, with the baby bobbing in it, / as it bibbled by the letterbox and bobbed across the fence”), Bubble Trouble is a great introduction to words rarely seen in picture books: this week, my two-year-old and I have been discussing the meaning of words like “quibble,” “cavil,” “grovel,” and “divest.” I think a preschooler might get more from the book than my toddler does, but she still loves reading it. Spoiler alert: the baby is safely caught in a patchwork quilt.
Format: Board book
Author: Susan Meyers
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Publisher: Harcourt (published Sept. 2004)
This charming book uses simple, rhythmic rhyme and delightfully detailed illustrations to draw young readers into the world of babies all over the world: “Every day, everywhere, babies are born — fat babies, thin babies, small babies, tall babies, winter and spring babies, summer and fall babies.” The everyday lives of babies are captured and celebrated lyrically and visually: toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy pointing out familiar items and activities. I consider this book to be a blow for The Powers of Good in the Mommy Wars: a gentle, positive reminder that babies are raised in different ways in different places and we parents are all just doing the best we can. The illustrations depict families and parents of all sorts, including what I think is a same-sex couple, feeding, transporting, and enjoying their babies in all kinds of ways. The message is a lovely one: “Every day, everywhere, babies are loved — for trying so hard, for traveling so far, for being so wonderful…just as they are!”
This would be the perfect gift for a new big sister or brother, who will love combing through the intricate illustrations and will find new pleasures with every read.
If you like this, you might like Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox.
I love children’s books.
But not all of them.
I search through the local library and cruise the internet like a beachcomber seeking the perfect seashell. I’m looking for the best books to read my kids. I want them to grow up surrounded by beautiful words, enchanting storylines, and unforgettable illustrations. I want them to read the best books for children that have ever been written in English.
I want your kids to read them too.
Not every parent has the time or inclination to read through dozens of books at their local bookstore or library to find ones that will make their children’s eyes shine. But every parent wants their kid to read great books.
That’s where I come in. If a book has received a recommendation from the Aardvark’s Apprentice, you can be confident that it’s a great pick.