When the boys were around 2 years old, this was one of our most popular books. We read (sang) this over and over and over and over again. Watching the people on Sylvie Kantorovitz Wickstrom’s bus go all through the (beautiful French) town was fun, even the 7th time in a row.
Sometimes we read the Paul O. Zelinsky version for a bit of variety and to enjoy the paper engineering. And the boys enjoy the video Scholastic made from the Zelinsky version. (Who knew Kevin Bacon could sing?) But it is the Wickstrom version that my youngest “read” to daddy tonight.
Illustrator: Sylvie Kantorovitz Wickstrom
This book combines two of my not-so-favorite things (non-fiction kids books and the Berenstain bears) to make something that is actually… good. Quite good. A nearly 200-page monster that contains three books from the 1970s–The Berenstain Bears’ Almanac, The Berenstain Bears’ Nature Guide, and The Berenstain Bears’ Science Fair—The Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature is informative, funny, and truly interesting for everyone. Which makes me quite thankful. Happy American Thanksgiving!
Author: Stan & Jan Berenstain
Illustrator: Stan & Jan Berenstain
One day, while his mother and father were out, George dreamt he was small, and when he woke up he found it was true.
This opening sentence essentially is the entire plot–the book’s appeal comes from the way George calmly but joyfully proceeds to fulfill his absent parents’ rather large to-do list under these unusual circumstances. George Shrinks works especially well for very young pre-readers, so the board book version is ideal–I particularly recommend the lap-sized version, if you can find it.
Author: William Joyce
Illustrator: William Joyce
I’ve always associated Quentin Blake with his illustrations for Roald Dahl’s books, but Blake has both written and illustrated over thirty books of his own. In his three-book Armitage series, a quirky character reacts to seemingly mundane situations in increasingly unusual ways.
In the Big Wave, the second Armitage book, the title character triumphantly turns a simple surfboard into something more akin to a flotilla, based on repeated discoveries of “what we need here” while waiting for the Big Wave with her faithful dog. In the other Armitage books, Mrs. Armitage seems a bit scattered and disaster prone. But the Big Wave shows Mrs. Armitage at her most creative, competent, and engaging. (Mrs. Armitage, Queen of the Road is also popular in our house; Mrs. Armitage on Wheels is not.)
Author: Quentin Blake
Illustrator: Quentin Blake
This book tells a quiet story. Three dolls are made by an old man and are happy for a time, but are then abandoned along with his house (implicitly upon his death) and left lonely for many years, only to be rediscovered and made happy again by a young family. When we read it, it captures the boys’ attention completely–sometimes I think it is largely because of the beautiful, dreamlike illustrations. But we’ve read a number of books with wonderful illustrations that never really caught their interest (sometimes much to my surprise). There is more here than meets the eye.
Author: Martin Waddell
Illustrator: Angela Barrett
Box and Cox is another story with a twist–two very different men seem to lead two very different lives, but they (unknowingly) live in the same room and plan to marry the same (rather flustered) woman. The mechanics of this story and the highly expressive pictures make us laugh every time. (And it turns out there are lots of “sight words,” which is very helpful right now for school.)
David Small has illustrated a number of our favorites; you’ll be seeing his name here again.
Author: Grace Chetwin
Illustrator: David Small
When a couple of farmers eat one turnip too many, it kicks off a truly unexpected chain of events. Bartering, knitting, a cow, and Christmas all come together to create a wonderful surprise that the kids are happy to see unfold time and again.
Most of our Christmas books are only brought out between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But we all have silently agreed that this one can stay out year round.
Author: Jack Kent
Illustrator: Jack Kent
This book is a pure pleasure to read aloud. The rhymes are clever and apparently effortless. My boys laugh and laugh at the ever increasing number of children in the family (the seven silly eaters of the title) and their ridiculously specific list of food demands. The pictures are absolutely wonderful–Marla Frazee is an amazing artist and her renditions of the goings on are priceless. My only qualm is that the mom seems responsible for just about everything (you see the dad in the background now and then, but he is barely mentioned in the text) and she spends a decade getting more and more frazzled before she finally lets the family know that she’s “a wreck.”
Sometimes we talk about how how the rest of the family could have pitched in more and how the mom could have put her foot down (much, much) sooner. But only sometimes. Most of the time we too busy giggling at the pictures and chanting along with the lines.
Author: Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
I began hunting down these books well before the boys were born. I stumbled on one (Fruit? Colors? I really don’t remember) and completely fell for their simple yet brilliant design–regular page, transparent page, regular page. For example, in The Rain Forest when you first open the book you see only lush, green plants. Turn the transparent page and suddenly the animals and birds that have been hiding behind the plants burst into view.
The boys really enjoy non-fiction books and I gravitate to fiction, so these have been a great way to balance the scales a bit. They are great for nap time and for paging through alone because their spiral bindings and very strong pages mean they are about as durable as board books. Plus, their constant surprises help non-readers fully engage in what is going on. We currently have (gulp) at least 35 books in the series (I can’t be certain I found all of them for the photo shoot) yet I still pick up more whenever I can. Many of the books in the series are out of print in English, but they are fairly easy to find online. Both my boys consistently prefer the Airplanes and Flying Machines and Castles books above all the others, although Boats has been a recent favorite.
A panda cake, a panda cake,
Mama is making a panda cake.
Panda Cake is, as far as I can tell, is Rosalie Seidler’s only book. (I hope I’m wrong and will discover another one someday.) It is quietly lovely, gently humorous, and makes me wish that I could somehow bake “that wonderful cake/That only a panda knows how to make” with my boys. Some combination of the lilting cadence, soft black-and-white pictures (perfect for pandas!), and gentle message always draws us in. Great for before bed, or any time at all.
Author: Rosalie Seidler
Illustrator: Rosalie Seidler