Wednesday, 10 December 2014

13 Toddler-Approved Picture Books

In Shabdita's first year, we read to her intermittently. She enjoyed it, and I bought a variety of books for her, but we were not able to get a routine going where we would read to her everyday. I started reading to her regularly in Canberra as a way of keeping her busy, and realised too late that reading aloud to her actually keeps me busy all the time. We've now settled into a routine that is no routine. Any time during the day, she will come up to me or Vipul holding out a book and saying 'wooooords'. She is ready to listen to 'words' any time and has firm likes and dislikes. Sometimes she listens to the entire story, rapt in attention; at other times, she quickly turns the pages and wants to finish a lot of books in a little time. Sometimes she says 'bye' to the pages that she wants to skim, seeming to know that she is just passing them by. I like most of these books, though reading them over and over again can rob them of their charm. On some days, I'm so 'read out' that I never want to see a book again. Without further ado, though, here is a list of those picture books that she returns to most often. If you have young kids or are looking to become a favourite uncle or aunt, this list may help. Some of these are books that you and I may not see the appeal of, but have the seal of approval from a two year old 'discerning' listener.
1. Where's Spot? by Eric Hill
This is the first book that Shabdita took to. She loves raising the flaps and saying 'noooooo' as loudly and dramatically as she can. She waits for the roaring 'no' and the hissing 'no'.
2. Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman (author) and Charles Vess (illustrator)
'Ladies of light, and ladies of darkness, and ladies of never you mind"... I love this book for so many reasons. For the fact that the Blueberry girl is not white, and she is different ages across the book. For the myriad creatures on its pages, from the owl that accompanies her everywhere to the whale on whose back she sits. For the line "Ladies of paradox, ladies of measure, ladies of words that fall". For the fact that when I ask Shabdita, "who's my Blueberry girl?", she points to herself proudly. For fans of Neil Gaiman, you can listen to the entire book, read by Neil himself, in this YouTube video.
3. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (author) and Clement Hurd (illustrator)
This one is a calming read. I like the fact that there is a moon outside the window, and there is a moon in the picture inside the room. One moon is waxing, and the other is waning. I think that this book can be opened up for conversations about the many different kinds of moons, about reality and representations, when Shabdita is older.
4. Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown (author) and Felicia Bond (illustrator)
This one has Shabdita all excited because it has two cows. There are horses and pigs too, but to her they are all 'cow'. There are also cats, dogs, geese, hens, field mice and even bats. And they all sleep in the night, except the bats, which means that the last few pages are whispered, and that adds to the excitement of the book. Honestly, this book does not exactly set my world on fire, but it is a good introduction to animals I guess. She really likes it and brings it to be read regularly. Seeing her excitement, I considered how to show her an actual living cow, and realised depressingly that I'll have to find a farm that takes visitors and take her there. Sigh. If we'd been in India she could have seen cows everywhere, and while that may have made them less exciting, it is not such a great thing that she should drink milk everyday thinking that it comes from the neighbourhood supermarket.
5. Little Green by Keith Baker
Shabdita loves watching birds and enjoys making marks, with pen or pencil, on whatever surface is available. This book brings together both these things, a bird and a boy who is painting the way in which the bird flies, and does it in the most gentle manner possible. I love it too and don't mind multiple readings, and Shabdita especially likes the part where she gets to turn the book around to see the bird hovering up in the air. Trying to find the earthworm on all the pages is a bonus.
6. There's A Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake by Hazel Edwards (author) and Deborah Niland (illustrator)
Its quite a mouthful of a title and features an older child, who invents an omnipotent hippopotamus friend who gets to do everything that she doesn't, like eating cake, watching tv and riding a bike. Shabdita absolutely loves this book right now, though I am doubtful of how much she actually comprehends. I think her obsession with the book may have a lot to do with the sound of the word 'hippopotamus'.
7. Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
Shabdita likes this book because she can already say quite a few words in it, unlike most of the other books she listens to.'Up, pup, cup' and so on. I prefer Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss, but that is because I like trying out the various tongue twisters in it. Or perhaps I've just read this one too often. I'm hoping it turns out to be a good way to ease her into reading for herself when she is (much) older.
8. Busy Birdies by John Schindel (author) and Steven Holt (photographer)
Unlike the other books on this list, this one is a collection of photographs and not illustrations. The various photos of birds are stunning, and have captured Shadbita's imagination. I am not too enthusiastic about the words, such as 'Birdies eyeing'... er, eyeing what exactly? The photo of the two owls that accompanies this text, however, is so powerful and evocative that the words cease to matter.
9. The Daddy Book by Todd Parr
There are all kinds of daddies in this vibrantly illustrated book. Some wear suits, some socks, some work at home and some far away, some are yellow and some are purple, some like to take naps with you... but all of them love to hug you, kiss you and want you to be who you are. Yes, I can roll my eyes at the 'be who you are' bit, but we need narratives and constructions to begin with so that we can begin to deconstruct them. Shabdita likes this book and screams 'Papa' at all the daddies in the book, and that is enough to make me all misty eyed.
10. Jamberry by Bruce Degen
I love this one! There is so much joy in this picture book, which reminds me that a book is so much more than the sum of its parts. Is the joy in the sheer exuberance of the rhyming lyrics or in the illustrations filled with berries on berries? Is the joy in the sense of freedom that comes from a day of picking berries? Is it the joy of saying words like razzmatazz berry and raspberry rabbits? For whatever reason, this book has made a firm place for itself in our repertoire.
11. My Truck is Stuck by Kevin Lewis (author) and Daniel Kirk (illustrator)
When I purchased this book, I did not realise that it was marketed at boys, which is silly considering how much Shabdita enjoys it. I am not too impressed with the language of the book (Rotten luck, can't go, my truck is stuck), but Shabdita loudly proclaims 'car' and 'bus' for every vehicle in the book, and seems quite excited about them. Pointing out that some of them are trucks, jeeps and vans has not made an iota of an impression so far.
12. Usborne Illustrated Nursery Rhymes Felicity Brooks (compiler) and Laura Rigo (illustrator)
This book begins with Humpty Dumpty and ends with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I bought this book mainly because I did not want Shabdita to think of nursery rhymes as "those songs on YouTube". This book has nice illustrations, is not too big for her to hold, and lets her take these songs with her everywhere. I re-discovered Solomon Grundy, who is taken ill, grows worse, dies and is buried at the end of the poem. Such a nursery rhyme written today would probably be criticised for being depressing and may be removed from books for younger children. I knew it as a child and while it did not lead to a deep meditation on the nature of life and death, it did not scar me either.
13. Words
This is not one book but an entry for many different books. What they all have in common is that they are not narratives but collections of pictures and words. Some are organised by categories (farm animals, wild animals, colours, birds and so on) and some are general in that they cover a variety of everyday words that a child encounters. The pictures I have here are not the ones that she has, because I could not find the same ones online and there are many generic variations. For a long time Shabdita was not interested in listening to stories, but preferred knowing the names of all sorts of things, some that she knew very well (car, cup etc.) and some that she had not seen till then (lion and giraffe). Even today, Shabdita will often bring up these books and want us to read the words rather than listen to a story. I guess she has to live up to her name and know shabd first.