Walk into any young child’s bedroom, anywhere in America, and you will inevitably see a collection of little-kid books that includes what I think of as The Staples. You know the ones: Goodnight Moon, The Giving Tree, Guess How Much I Love You, etc, etc. These books are classic for a reason, of course; they’re as familiar and comforting as a favorite lullaby, and are likely to be as beloved by parents as they are by children. But for every children’s book that’s earned the coveted status of Staple, there are a hundred more books that are equally wonderful but far less well-known.
Luckily, when I’m not at RoscoeBooks, I’m hanging out with a tiny and highly opinionated expert on children’s literature: my 20-month-old daughter, Caroline. She loves to “read,” and over the course of her little life, a few books have stood out as true favorites. Whether you have children of your own or are just tasked with buying gifts for baby showers/kiddie birthday parties/family friends, it pays to have a few foolproof book choices that are ever-so-slightly less obvious. So, without further ado, here are a few great selections from Caroline VanDam’s personal Hall of Fame:
Animalia (Graeme Base) – Every child, from 6 months on up, should own this book. Why? Because it’s a total feast for the eyes…and there’s always something new to discover upon each rereading. Each page of Base’s picture book highlights a letter of the alphabet, and showcases a marvelous scene filled with items that begin ONLY with that letter of the alphabet. From angry alligators and diabolical dragons to yodeling yaks, every single page is gorgeous, witty and fantastically entertaining for children.
Little Owl’s Night (Divya Srinivasan) – This new addition to the board book canon might be the Holy Grail of baby bedtime books. Friendly little animals with big, winsome eyes? Check. Whimsical illustrations, in a color palette that you don’t often see in board books? Check. A reminder that nighttime isn’t scary, and everyone has bedtime eventually? Check! Srinivasan’s sweet book follows Little Owl through the forest as he communes with other nocturnal creatures until the early morning, when he finally goes to sleep.
Penguin & Pinecone and Penguin in Love (Selina Yoon) – It’s hard to say what makes Yoon’s titular Penguin so endearing. Maybe it’s his generous heart, or the fact that he has a cool hobby (he knits!). Or perhaps it’s his gang of equally adorable friends. Whatever it is, though, it’s enough to keep a wiggly toddler still and engaged through an entire story (miracle of miracles!). And fortunately, Yoon has more antics in store for Penguin and his friends…a new Penguin story, Penguin’s Big Adventure, is coming out this fall!
Beautiful OOPS! (Barney Saltzberg) – What a terrific little book this is! Each page of this colorful, tactile board book illustrates an “oops” of some sort – a coffee stain, a dribble of paint, or a ripped piece of paper – and turns it into a tiny piece of art. The coffee stain becomes the outline of a fire-breathing dragon, and a blob of paint becomes a flock of birds. There are hidden surprises and cool things to touch on each page, and the book exposes a wonderful lesson: “when you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something.”
And last but not least – ANYTHING with liftable flaps. With these books, bigger really is better, and more flaps mean more fun. Caroline loves Priddy Books’ lift-the-flap books (especially First 100 Animals and First 100 Numbers) and DK’s Big Busy Books, but these are just a few of the many terrific options out there. Believe me when I say that THESE are the books that will get a young child through a meal at a restaurant, a longish plane ride, or time spent in a waiting room.
We’d love to hear from the parents, teachers, aunts and uncles out there…what are your favorite books for babies, toddlers and slightly older kids?