Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

IMG_6288

I was about to read this sweet story tonight when my oldest asked to read it to us (a first!). He did so with incredible fluidity and expressiveness and I’m so very, very surprised and delighted.

Although we haven’t read it very often, both of my boys really enjoy this book, which winds down a busy day of work and play by saying goodnight to big trucks one by one. My youngest noted of the picture above that the crane truck has a teddy bear to cuddle, a star for if he wakes up in the night, and that he looks very happy. Me too.

Author: Sherri Duskey
Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld

 

Scaredy Squirrel

IMG_5607

WARNING!
Scaredy Squirrel insists that
everyone wash their hands
with antibacterial soap before
reading this book.

Scaredy Squirrel, true to his name, is afraid of just about everything. He has an emergency kit on hand at all times, plans for emergencies, and never leaves his nut tree until one fateful day… Well, I don’t want to spoil the fun (and there is lots of fun to be had).

Like One Kitten for Kim, this is a great book to read with early readers and non-readers, due to the humor and repeated rebuses (pictures that take the place of words). Be ready to read it repeatedly.

Author: Melanie Watt
Illustrator: Melanie Watt

 

Sparky!

IMG_5596

The narrator of this bittersweet story (a special favorite of my youngest) really, really wants a pet, but her mother keeps saying no.

I asked her every day for a month, until she finally said,
“You can have any pet you want as long as it doesn’t need
to be walked or bathed or fed.”
I made her promise.

Then (with the help of the school librarian) she finds a pet that actually fits the criteria: a sloth. When he arrives, she finds the reality of “Sparky” doesn’t conform at all with what she thought having a pet would be like.

While kids seem to focus on humorous aspects of the situation, adults will notice there is a lot going on here about what happens when expectations don’t match up with reality. Come for the laughter; stay for the loss, grief, and love (or is it the other way around?).

Author: Jenny Offill
Illustrator: Chris Appelhans

Tails

IMG_5526

This book used to be very popular and (rather amazingly) survived the boys’ toddler years without significant damage. There are some cute bouncy rhymes, but the big attraction were the sturdy interactive features: textures, scratch-and-sniff skunk, pull tabs, flaps, and lots of fur.

Author: Matthew Van Fleet
Illustrator: Matthew Van Fleet

Home

IMG_5400

Where and what can a home be? Some of Ms. Ellis’ answers are conventional (for example, a nest), others are pure fantasy (see the picture above). Her drawings are deceptively-simple and peaceful–perfect for before bed. But what gives the boys the most pleasure is that every double-page spread in this book contains a dove. Sometimes the dove is easy to spot. Sometimes it is very well hidden. The boys always love finding it.

Author: Carson Ellis
Illustrator: Carson Ellis

Again!

IMG_5395

A little dragon is very excited about his favorite bedtime story. So excited that whenever his sleepy mama finishes it he has the same request: “Again!” When she finally falls asleep, things get surprisingly… heated.

The boys love yelling along with the little dragon (to the point where my husband came racing in recently wondering what was wrong). Channeling the dragon mother’s renditions of the ever-evolving (and shrinking) bedtime story is lots of fun, and there is a physical (die-cut) surprise at the end of the book that never fails to amuse us all.

Author: Emily Gravett
Illustrator: Emily Gravett

Architecture According to Pigeons

IMG_5391

This book purports to be written by a pigeon. And it is about architecture. (Let us accept from the beginning that it is deeply odd.) It is also jam packed with real information; while my oldest has read most (all?) of it, I have not read very much of it aloud. Instead, I’ve focused on the names of the buildings (human and pigeon) and the eye-catching pictures, which had the unexpected result of my youngest (already a huge pigeon fan) becoming sure he spoke fluent pigeon. About six months ago, he frequently approached pigeons asking them excitedly if the were going to see the Great Worm (also known as the Great Wall of China) and was very disappointed when they flew away without responding.

Author: Speck Lee Tailfeather (aided by Stella “Pigeon Whisperer” Gurney)
Illustrator: Natsko Seki

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

IMG_4836

In the words of my youngest: “I love this one! The tiger eats everything!” Charming, very British, and perfect for before bed.

Author: Judith Kerr
Illustrator: Judith Kerr

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

IMG_4831

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is another book that needs no introduction and is utterly wonderful. Though there are many hints of the darkness to come (gulp), the tone is largely playful and the story and setting are as imaginative as ever. And it is here that Ms. Rowling, through Dumbledore, quietly states a message that goes to the heart of the series: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

About a year and a half ago, after we enjoyed reading the first book in this series together, I read half of this second book to my oldest before he lost interest. Now a number of his friends are reading the series and he decided to give it another try. He raced through the rest of the book (mostly by himself) in a matter of days and then hopped straight into the third and fourth books in the series (more on them to follow).

Author: J.K. Rowling
Illustrator: Mary Grandpre

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

IMG_4726

I’m going to assume you know the plot of Wardrobe, given its status as an extremely widely-read, acknowledged classic of children’s literature. You may not know, however, that there is much controversy over which book in the Narnia series should be considered the first one. I started our journey to Narnia here, as Mr. Lewis did midway through the last century, because I think starting with the later-written prequel, The Magician’s Nephew, ruins the mystery and magic of Wardrobe.

I wasn’t sure how Wardrobe would work as a read-aloud and was pleasantly surprised to find it worked beautifully. Reading it aloud took much less time than I had expected and my oldest was very interested throughout.

First caveats:

Most adults know the Narnia books have a very Christian subtext, but most children (judging by my son and my childhood self) do not notice, at least with the early books in the series. A lion that dies to redeem the sins of others and then comes back to life? Carry on! It is no stranger than a magical chocolate factory staffed by oompa loompas or a father who goes out for some milk and is delayed by aliens, pirates, vampires, and space-traveling-talking dinosaurs. Whether you love that or hate the subtext, some familiarity with Narnia is is necessary for cultural literacy (for example, without Narnia, the excellent His Dark Materials trilogy wouldn’t make nearly as much sense). There is a bit of obvious sexism in this book, but it is not outrageous, particularly for the time period in which it was written.

Further caveats (with spoilers):

I’m not sure how far we’ll venture into this series together; I read Wardrobe early on as a child and really enjoyed it, but checked others in the series out of the library out of order and got deeply discouraged by The Magician’s Nephew (which I thought explained things that needed no explanation and just wasn’t terribly interesting) and then The Last Battle (which, among many other issues, has the Problem of Susan; nearly universally unsympathetic and one-dimensional characters; and an apocalypse, in every sense of the word, that destroys Narnia) and gave up on the series. But I recently read the third book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (which was sent to me through a shipping error), and think my oldest would love it (although it comes with some caveats of its own, which I’ll detail if it ever gets its own entry) so I’ve ordered Prince Caspian to see if we should read it before Dawn Treader.

Final caveat:

Make sure your child is old enough for this book and this series; when good and evil battle things out in Narnia (and they do at least once in each of the Narnia books I have read) the details are vivid and the outcomes can be very, very grim.

Author: C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes