Chris Blattman

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What I’ve been reading. And reading. And reading. And reading.

More often than not I suggest novels and nonfiction. But the average book I read has pictures and comes with a 2- and 4-year old on my lap.

What follows are the children’s books that I enjoy the first and second time, and are slightly less maddening than average the 641st time.

  1. Wild About Books. The library truck goes to the zoo. It is amazing how many children’s books in verse get the meter wrong. It drives me completely nuts. This book is pitch perfect and fun to read.
  2. The Circus Ship. A menagerie stranded off the coast of Maine.
  3. Micawber, by John Lithgow. Better known for his theater and TV performances, Lithgow writes excellent books in verse, including this central park squirrel who learns to paint.
  4. A Sick Day for Amos McGee. A zookeeper gets sick. Strangely endearing.
  5. Mister Seahorse. A tale of different daddy fish who take care of babies. Ideal for yuppie parents who refuse to buy Barbies or toy guns. For now, the naive souls.
  6. Rosie Revere, Engineer. More non-gender-stereotypical fare. It is a great book. Even so, have I mentioned that we send out children to a daycare where they always sing “Baa baa white sheep” after singing “Baa baa black sheep”? My life is a caricature.
  7. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. A tiger in a prudish Victorian town decides to get all wild and naked. Our Grandpa thought this one was a little too risqué. I dig it.
  8. A Visitor for Bear. A bear who prefers to be alone is tormented by an obnoxious mouse until he finally relents and socializes. I don’t think it was intended as a parable about professors and PhD students, but…

Recommendations welcomed. Seriously. Because I am losing my mind. Thank goodness I think we are starting to move onto chapter books. Things suitable for a 4-5 year old will be especially appreciated.

33 Responses

  1. Kenneth Milne’s, “The Wind in the Willows” still engages children of the old-fashioned English. Kids just enjoy … You can, on the other hand, can read it as a text on revolution with Mr Toad representing the decadent aristocracy, Rat, Mole, Badger and Otter as the ascendant bourgeoisie, and the weasels and stoats of the Wild Wood as the revolutionary working class. There is even a revolution led by the unwashed denizens of the Wild Wood, and a successful bourgeois counterrevolution led by Mr Badger.

  2. There’s great poetry like “Casey at the Bat”, “Father William”, and the like, often in well-illustrated versions. Anything with a strong rhythm goes well. Even Bab Ballads are worth getting into the rotation.

  3. “iggy peck, Architect” same author as “rosie revere, engineer”
    “room on the broom”
    “The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth” by ian lendler (for slightly older kids)

  4. I love “Press Here” by Herve Tullet. It’s brilliant. I haven’t gotten to the 344th reading, though, so I can’t say how it holds up.

  5. the Francis books by Russell Hoban are great. The language is much less patronising, the stories are more grown up, better for 3-5 year olds, even pretty amusing for parents. All his stuff is great.

    And if you want chapter books – to my horror (because I had preconceptions about her) the Faraway Tree books by Enid Blyton are great for the first departure from picture books, because the language and story is very straight forward and I think well suited to the interests of 3 year old

  6. I second the Julia Donaldson (especially “Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book” – post-modern kids!) and William Steig. Our 4 yr old son (and his sisters before him) adored the Poppleton the Pig series by Cythia Rylant, as well as her Henry and Mudge series. I am also rediscovering Bill Peet’s books, which I loved as a kid (esp. The Wump World and Farewell to Shady Glen, and Big Bad Bruce). Finally, the Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad are simple but classic. We now make up our own Frog and Toad stories every night. One word of warning: do not EVER introduce Amelia Bedelia. It will make you go insane!

  7. Classic books like AA Milne’s Pooh and Alice in wonderland have much more sophisticated language than modern children’s books and are sooooo much less mind numbing to read (plus he puts jokes for the parents). Try AA Milnes poems too. A classic British book you might not know which I loved reading, Ivor the Engine (about a train that wants to sing in the welsh choir)–much much better than the reactionary Thomas the Tank engine stories. I found practicing putting on welsh accent kept me interested even at 500th rereading. Also, Wind in the Willows (try the shortened version).

  8. Anything by Robert McCloskey, but particularly “Time of Wonder,” which is positively lyrical to read out loud. Also, I was surprised by how witty A.A. Milne’s Pooh books were. They are classics for a reason.

  9. Mo Willems, especially the Knuffle Bunny series. William Steig has always been a big hit, even with the advanced vocabulary. Gruffalo. Dr Seuss, especially the longer books (500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, The King’s Stilts) – but some of them are a commitment. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. For early chapter books, the Ivy & Bean series are great, as is Roald Dahl, especially James and the Giant Peach and Danny the Champion of the World.

  10. I second Mo Willems. I especially love the pigeon drives a bus. The last Knuffle Bunny is incredibly touching as well. Also the books by Wiliam Steig are great too — especially sylvester and the magic pebble and dr. desoto.

  11. You haven’t discovered Mo Willems yet? The Knuffle Bunny series is great. And when the 4 year old starts reading, his Elephant and Piggie series are the funniest learning-to-read books out there.

    We also love Blueberries for Sal, which is ancient.

  12. The Piggins mysteries by Jane Yolen are relatively sophisticated and entertaining: Piggins, Picnic with Piggins, and Piggins and the Royal Wedding.

    My almost 4-year-old really likes “A Perfectly Messed-up Story” and “The Book with No Pictures.”

    As far as chapter books, she listened to almost half of James and the Giant Peach over the course of two days before abruptly getting tired of it–Would probably work for a 4-5 year old.

    Good luck!

  13. I don’t have kids, so not sure what they’re like from the parents’ side, but I adored all things Eric Carle or Dr Seuss when I was tiny. Dear Zoo was also a favourite.

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