Books for little kids: Catch ’em early and hook ’em for life!

Recently, Chuck Wendig*, writer and blogger about writing, asked for suggestions for books for his little one, who has recently had his first birthday.

I responded over at his blog, but since then, my brain has teemed with further suggestions and I thought it might make a good topic for a post.

(Especially since I have already told him that I have had a dream about reading books to his baby and if I keep going back and adding comments he may start thinking about the logistics of international restraining orders. ;))

I imagine that the readers of this blog are already fully aware of the benefits of reading to young children, but in case there are any who aren’t, let me just say that they are almost impossible to overstate.

Sitting with a child on your lap and reading to them creates an association in the child’s brain between your warm, loving attention and books, which will make them love books forever.  I’m not making this up – people have done studies (and no, can’t link to examples at the moment, but it’s true, trust me).

Reading books to the very young child steeps them in all the skills they need to begin reading.  They learn that books go from left to right (or whichever way your language dictates) and, as time goes on, that certain words go with certain pages, then that the black squiggly lines are the words, then that one particular shape of black squiggly lines makes a particular word.

It is possible to learn to read without stories, but why would you want to?  Knowing and loving the story gives the child an entry into understanding the words that is an immense advantage.  And it’s fun!

Hook a child on books when they are little and you have given them an incalculably valuable gift: one that will take them on magical journeys, inspire their imagination, help them make sense of the world and make their entire learning journey easier.

If you don’t believe me, read Reading Magic, by Mem Fox.  Just do it.

Now, without further ado, here are some wonderful books for little kids.  I started reading to my child when she was just home from the hospital and these are the ones we read often enough to know them by heart.

The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton.

This was a gift and we loved it so much that we immediately went out and bought whatever else we could find by Sandra Boynton. They are adorably drawn but also brilliantly written.  These books were loved, read over and over, were the first to be ‘really’ read by the child years later and are still on the bookshelf.  Get them.  There’s a list with links here.  (I have heard rumours that there is an app for it as well…)

Wombat Divine by Mem Fox, with beautiful illustrations by Kerry Argent

A gorgeous Christmas story featuring Australian animals.  We have many other Mem Fox books too and they are all wonderful.  You can find a full list here.

Anything – no, make that EVERYTHING – by Dr Seuss.  Dr Seuss was a bona-fide genius and no home should be without his books.  Do not be deceived by their apparent simplicity; they are masterpieces of children’s literature.  Never will I forget the dreaded pant-eating plant, from Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? or the hapless mother from the much lesser-known, Too Many Daves.  And yes, those are memories from my own childhood!

The luminous Lynley Dodd has provided uncounted hours of delight with Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy and all his furry and feathered friends.

Another Australian author and illustrator whose books feature on our shelves is Pamela Allen.  One of our favourites is Who Sank the Boat?

A gorgeous book with an adorable trick in its tail is The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and The Big, Hungry Bear, by Don and Audrey Wood.

Where the Wild Things Are, by the late, lamented Maurice Sendak and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by the brilliant Eric Carle are almost too well-known to need mentioning, but I will mention them anyway!

The world of Beatrix Potter, with Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Peter Rabbit and co., should have a place in every child’s repertoire, as should Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs and The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay.  (The latter two are Australian classics and much-loved in our house.)

A. A. Milne is also wonderful, not just for Winnie the Pooh, but for his poetry.  I still have my own copies of When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six and can recite many of the poems.

I urge you to include some poetry in your child’s literary diet.  If you don’t feel confident, start with the stuff designed for kids and learn along with them.  Poetry is experience made into magic; it’s lightning in a bottle; it’s the essence of expression.  It will enrich your child’s life and, on a practical note, if they ever have to study it, or Shakespeare, or Chaucer, they will thank you for the introduction in childhood!  Keep an eye out for anthologies for children – the kids imprints of the big publishers do them from time to time.

UPDATE: I have come back to add this, because I can’t believe I left them out before: for those who love the wacky, as well as the poetic, you must, must, lay your hands on Spike Milligans Milliganimals and Silly Verse for Kids and Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts.  You haven’t lived until you have met the Bald Twit Lion or seen Quentin Blake’s fantastic illustrations of the Dirty Beasts.

I could go on about this subject for days, but I will stop now, with just one more suggestion.  The BBC make a magical program called Bookaboo, which showcases picture books.  If you can get it where you are, watch the show, but failing that, check out the website.  It shows the books they have featured in recent episodes and it’s a great source of recently published books for little kids.

I hope you have found the list useful: what are some of your favourites?

PS – This is not a picture book, and not for the toddlers, but for slightly older children, but I am including it because I am sure it will appeal to Chuck – and I did, after all, start this list with him in mind.  Cautionary Tales for Children by Hillaire Belloc.  The Story of Jim, the little boy who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion is still one of my party-pieces.

*Please note that Chuck’s blog is not for children.  By his own admission, it isn’t always suitable for adults.  Perhaps the best way to describe it is to say that Chuck is to blog posts about writing what Billy Connolly is to stand-up comedy: really, really good, but not the show you should take your gently-nurtured Great Aunt Prudence to.  You have been warned! 😉

6 thoughts on “Books for little kids: Catch ’em early and hook ’em for life!

    • I think you have just defined irony for the blogger, Resa… but yes, do! He’s very good value on writing and funny (in spite, or perhaps because, of his strange ideas about appropriate uses for urine…)!

  1. I am convinced that reading to my son from day one healed his tiny brain and made him the strapping, snarky teen he is today (literally, he had to stay in the hospital’s NICU for a week because of a seizure at birth and I went everyday and read to him as he lay in the isolette). His favorites were: Goodnight Moon, The Big Red Barn and The Noisy Book by Margaret Wise Brown. Books are magical gifts for kids of all ages…

    • Oh, Sahbina, what an amazing story! I’m sure the sound of your voice sharing stories helped him. As a storyteller, I have seen over and over the power of storeis to move and heal, even in the very young. Even if those wonderful books just soothed YOU and gave you a way to be there with him without freaking out and interact with him in his isolation, what a wonderful gift to both of you! I hope the authors and illustrators of children’s books know how much they give to the world with their art.

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