gen’s favorites (she’s the book expert):
We have obtained books from many sources- gifts, thrift stores, bookstore browsing, library holds. The books range in quality. We have Recreation Can Be Risky, which was purchased for a penny from a library book sale. It’s an unironic litany of different children’s activities with a quantification of their varying degrees of danger. It’s terrible. We also have a few beautiful picture books that Patrick has no interest in, despite the lovely illustrations. What’s interesting is that some of Patrick’s favorite books are also our favorite books to read. Maybe he is just picking up on our interest, but I prefer to think that he has sophisticated literary taste. In any case, I really believe that the best picture books are those that parents and children both love. C.S. Lewis wrote, “I am almost inclined to set it up as canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.” Yep. Here are some books that Patrick and I enjoy together regularly.
They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Repetition is a double-edged sword in picture books: it can be mind-numbing for parents, but it’s great for helping kids learn patterns for early reading. This book does repetition so well. Patrick can “read” almost the whole book using the beautiful pictures as cues.
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk
This is the first in a funny little series about the adventures of the food that lives in your fridge. The rhyme scheme is fun and done well, and the pictures are detailed and clever.
Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke
This is a sweet story about a little girl and her resourcefulness. She opens her home to creatures “of every description,” and they do all of her housework for her. I find it inspirational.
Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
Same author as the book above with the same style of illustration, but this story is an adventure story about friendship. My favorite part about both of these Hatke books is that I think they are the absolute perfect length for a picture book for toddlers.
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett
Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett are weirdos, and I love them for it. They make a great author/illustrator team, and this book has a subtly trippy ending that my husband and I both love.
Square by Jon Klassen
Patrick is a Jon Klassen completist, thanks to the book that started it all (I Want My Hat Back, a gift from my friend Emily). I LOVE when Patrick chooses a Klassen at bedtime because they are fun to read and rely heavily on illustrations to drive the plot (read: they are short). This one is one of his more recent books, but we love almost every one of them. The only one I don’t care for as much is The Dark, but Jon Klassen is the illustrator of that book and Lemony Snicket is the author.
Board Books- I’m going to do this category a little differently than the picture books. Instead of choosing individual books, I’m going to do an unscientific categorization of the different types of board books that we have and a favorite example of each. I’ve tried to place them in a rough leveling order of least to most complex.
Very First Books: Peek A Who
These books have only one or two words per page. They have simple illustrations. You could read one five times in a row in less than a minute. They are the beginning of a baby’s reading adventure, and they are probably falling apart. They are to be chewed and cherished.
Rhythmic Rhymes: Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb + Chicka Chicka Boom Boom + Anything by Sandra Boynton
Rhythmic rhymes are smile-inducing when done right. These books get asked for on repeat because they sound like songs. They’re great for the early stages of reading, and they’re just fun.
Lift-the-Flap Books: Dear Zoo
Dear Zoo features nice repetition that isn’t annoying, flaps which are relatively easy to raise, and lots of animals. This makes it pretty much a perfect book in this category.
The Narrative Arc: The Pout-Pout Fish
It’s hard to fit character development into a board book, but The Pout-Pout Fish is a fully-fledged redemption story about a grumpy fish. It’s a bit on the longer side, but Patrick asked for it so often that I actually had it memorized.
BabyLit gets a category of its own because it’s the series I wish I had invented. Each one features a different story from classic literature to teach colors, shapes, sounds, etc. This one teaches basic anatomy, and it’s Patrick’s favorite BabyLit. There are also BabyLit story primers which tell mini versions of the canonical stories.
Alphabet Books: C is for Castle
So this is technically a BabyLit book, but instead of a story from literature, it focuses on a time period and some of the words which characterize that time. For example, the letter D is for dragon. It’s a refreshing change of pace from D is for dog.
The Must-Have: I Love My Dinosaur
This category is for that book that you pick up sometime during your pregnancy while shopping for baby things. You open it, think of reading it to your baby, and start weeping in the middle of the store. I Love My Dinosaur is ours because it features a little blond boy named Patrick who has a dinosaur that looks exactly like the stuffed animal I bought Patrick before he was born. Patrick doesn’t actually care for this book that much, but I force him to sit through it often because IT IS JUST SO MAGICAL. I consider it adequate payback for the 4,011th reading of Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb.
Jon Klassen: We are also Jon Klassen fans in this house. We only have three of his books, but Miriam always requests at least one of them in her bedtime routine. I Want My Hat Back is the favorite, but This Is Not My Hat is also funny and cute. Gen told me about Extra Yarn (by Mac Barnett but illustrated by Klassen), and I love it for its simplicity and subtle feminism. It’s perfect for encouraging all kids to be true to themselves, but since the protagonist is a girl, it’s especially good for girls.
Lift-the-Flap: Miriam went through a big lift-the-flap book stage when she turned one, so we got tons of those books for her birthday. The one she is currently loving most is Winnie the Pooh’s Giant Lift-the-Flap Book. It’s adorable. It has all the sweetness of Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood combined with a million flaps that help kids learn things like shapes, time, and the alphabet. Miriam has memorized all of the gifts Pooh receives for each letter of the alphabet, and hearing her say Wellingtons for “W” is one of the best parts of my day.
Books about Louisiana/New Orleans: Since we live away from New Orleans, it's so much fun to introduce our favorite city to Miriam through literature. Some of our favorite books about New Orleans include Hello, New Orleans! by Martha Day Zschook (my favorite), Goodnight Tigers (Miriam’s favorite), and the Cajun Night Before Christmas. I want to get The Bourbon Street Band Is Back (it looks like a cute rhyming book), Trombone Shorty, as well as What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo. I also think a lighthearted way of introducing Hurricane Katrina (something nowhere near lighthearted) to our kids would be by getting and reading Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans to them. Hurricane Katrina was such an important part of both Jonathan and my upbringing (as well as Louisiana's history) that it's something we definitely want our kids to know about.
Alphabet books: One of the easiest ways to get a kid to learn the alphabet is through alphabet books. Miriam knows many of the letters of the alphabet because of her obsession with P is for Princess and the Star Wars ABC (another option here!) book. The best part about these books is that not only does she learn the alphabet but she also gets introduced to some of my favorite characters like Tiana and R2D2.
Song books: Gen got Miriam Broadway Baby: The Sound of Music, My Favorite Things for Christmas last year, and it quickly became a favorite in our house. We have never actually spoken it when we read it; we always sing it, which probably adds to its charm for Miriam. There is also a Do-Re-Mi version that we eventually want to get. The illustrations are as lovely as the melodies they accompany.
Catholic book: A great, easy board book for young Catholics is The Saints Are Watching Over Me, created by the minds behind Tiny Saints. It features a few really classic and some less known saints, and its illustrations are precious. Short and sweet, it's a great way to introduce your kids to the communion of saints.
Classic for Girls: Miriam has been asking for Madeline lately, and it makes my classical Europe-loving heart so happy. Little girls and Madeline seem to go together so well. Madeline is bold and cute and has a great support group in her little schoolmates. We love it.