Before I start on the post, let me try and define a picture book. Very often, when I use the term picture book, people mistakenly think that I am talking about any book with pictures..like a lot of the vocabulary type books that one gets in the market. I am personally quite averse to those. They are good for perhaps introducing kids to names of things in a very matter of fact and unimaginative way. A hard cover book with Baby’s first animals…pictures with the names given under…sure..it can help the baby identify an animal with the correct name but can’t one do the same thing in a more creative manner? I am not being prescriptive..this is merely my opinion as a parent and an educator.
So, when I say picture books, I am referring to a book with text and illustrations – where the illustrations not only complement the text but also supplement it. The picture book is a literary form in itself. The text and the pictures are both equally contributing to the story…the images add to the text and there may be cues and elements that the pictures bring in that the story does not even state.
Picture books are great for collaborative reading, the fact that so much of the story is told by the illustrations helps the child be a co-reader/co-story teller as he looks at the images to co-construct meaning as the story is being read aloud to him.
My three boys absolutely love books and reading and it is an important part of our daily routine. We start and end our day with books and very often they feature several times along the way as well. We read and read and re-read the same book a zillion times and then they “read it” on their own or to each other as well.
When a friend asked me to put down a list of 10 picture books that I would recommend, I realized it was going to be a tough choice. Anyway, I have tried to put down the ones that came to my mind. These are all books that I have used with my boys when they were toddlers (one of them still is a toddler) and while at first glance you may feel they have more content than you expected, trust me when I say that they will learn to love the books in time. Start with simple ones that they can relate to easily and then gradually bring in the ones with more content matter.
A couple of the things to remember:
Make reading time special…create a small reading corner, get the child excited about a new book, pick something he will relate to or find interesting/funny
Engage the child – sit in a way that he can see the book, let him hold it, explore it in his way; ask him to find something in the picture or describe what he sees; don’t expect him to say what you want him to
make it fun and non threatening. make reading a part of your daily routine
there is no such thing as too early! start as early as you can!
Here is my list:
No David! (by David Shannon)
What is probably the most frequently heard word for a toddler? NO! No climbing on the sofa, no digging you nose, no throwing food…NO! And that is pretty much what this beautiful book is about. Simple, repetitive, hilarious and with absolutely stunning illustrations, No David has been a favorite with all my boys. (Other books in the same series are also great)
Moo Baa La La La (By Sandra Boynton)
Another hot favorite in our home! This book is super simple with lovely illustrations…a great starter for a nice long Sandra Boynton journey! I introduced my boys to this book when they were about 8 months old. With my third boy, he took to it suddenly when he was about 10 months old and it was his absolute favorite book for the next 3-4 months. In fact, even now (at 23 months) I catch him ‘reciting’ the book to himself as he plays. My kids enjoyed mooing and neighing and making whacky animal sounds as we went through the book. Boynton has a whole bunch of books for infants and toddlers..our favorites, in addition, to this one are: Belly Button Book, Pajama Time, Barnyard Dance, What’s wrong Little Pookie? There are many more that you can try and doscover!
Brown Bear Brown Bear What do you see? (By Bill Martin Jr. Illustrated by Eric Carle)
This is like a legend with the boys! The book is simple, repetitive and so allows the kids to participate in the reading almost instantly. It helps them recognize animals and birds, introduces them to colors in an absolutely stunning manner! Eric Carle’s artwork is beautiful and his style is one that kids enjoy and relate to. We have done follow up activities with my boys where they tried creating collages in a fashion similar to Carle’s. (This is of course something I have tried with my 3 yr olds…toddlers may not be able to do this but it is a a great exercise nonetheless). My youngest loves this book and knows it by heart. He even makes his own variations to the story, introducing his own animals and characters – something you can have your toddlers do. This is also great to use in a classroom. Eric Carle has a lot of books that you can aloud to your kids!
Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose (By Julia Donaldson)
I love Julia Donaldson’s books. Again, like with the other authors I put down, this is one of the many books we love by her. The book has a lot of animals, talk about table manners (or lack thereof) and has a nice rhyme scheme. The book is great for predictions while reading because each page has a part of the next animal on it and my kids loved guessing which animal was coming up next. Gorgeous bold illustrations by Nick Sharrat. (other books which are good for the infant/toddler age group – One mole digging a hole, Hippo Has a Hat). The books are available in paperback as well as in board-book version. Another hot favorite is Cave Baby by Donaldon…absolutely incredible book and pictures!
Goodnight Moon (By Margaret Wise-Brown)
This is a book that has mixed reactions from people…I love it…my boys love it. In fact we read it almost every night for almost 4 months straight. Yet, I see other friends have a very different reaction to the book. So I guess this one is up to you to try. It has been acclaimed as a classic in this genre and it is the simple process of a baby bunny saying goodnight to everything in his room before he falls asleep. Illustrations are simple yet there is a lot of meta-text to look for if you like. My boys turned the book into a ritual as they also started saying goodnight to the various things in their rooming before finally falling asleep.
Where the Wild Things Are (By Maurice Sendak)
“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind…or another…his mother called him Wild thing! And max said ‘I’ll eat you up’ “…and so his mother sent him to bed without his supper. “That very night in max’s room a forest grew…and grew” And so the story goes…getting more and more fantastic with each page….just like a child’s unbridled imagination. An absolute work of art, the illustrations and text are very intelligently juxtaposed…each holding a very important place of its own. As Max’s imagination grows, so does the size of the illustrations on each page, till finally the illustrations replace words altogether! And what i also like is the fact that Max’s supper is waiting for him when he is back from his ‘adventure’…His mother may have sent him to bed without supper but she loves him too much to really send him hungry! We LOVE this book as well as In the Night Kitchen by Sendak.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (By Eric Carle)
OK…I know I already put down a few books by Eric Carle earlier on this list, but this is one that needs a separate mention. Done in Eric Carle’s incredible illustration style, the book is a story of a very hungry caterpillar and in an early introduction to the process of metamorphosis. While the book can be read to a toddler, it works really well with first graders too as it looks at how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. It introduces days of the week, numbers, fruits and other food items, as well as the process of transformation. I still remember how one of my twins gasped in sheer wonder at the last page which had a stunning butterfly! You can engage kids in the reading, have them retell the story, help them create a variation using food and fruits of their choice!
A bit Lost (by Chris Haughton)
A heartwarming story of a baby owl who falls off his perch when he is sleeping and is now can’t find his mummy. A very helpful squirrel helps him out and the two set off to look for mummy. The illustrations are simple yet striking and complete the story. Each page leads to the wrong animal (who is only shown through the illustrations and not mentioned in the text) till finally the baby owl is reunited with a very worried mummy owl.
In the Bath (by Leslie Patricelli)
I recently discovered Leslie Patricelli – more specifically a book called In the Bath. Given how much my youngest likes books and bath-time i figured this would be perfect for him…and it is! Although very very simple in content and style the book takes us through bath time for a little baby (who could be any baby anywhere). The illustrations are fabulous and contribute well to the story. This is great for co-constructing the story while reading aloud and has a lot of space for kids to add their ideas and descriptions. My little fellow loves it and identifies with the story really well! Other books by the author are also great for this age group.
When Sophie gets Angry- Really, Really Angry (by Molly Bang)
We have heard of the Terrible twos and probably experienced them first hand too! Tantrums and getting really upset over small things isn’t something new in our house…and a year ago it was pretty frequent. With 3 boys under 4 that is hardly surprising. Fortunately, with the book, my boys are able to see that getting angry is an emotion a lot of kids may experience…and there are ways to deal with feeling upset. Sophie does not want to share and when she is already upset about giving a toy to her sister and ends up tripping over a truck it is the last straw. Sophie storms out of the room, slams the door and runs and runs till she finds a tree to climb. There she cries for a bit calms down, then comes back home where everyone is waiting for her. The artwork is beautiful and very clever. It is interesting to see how everything becomes tones and hues of red and orange when sophie is angry but then slowly moves on to cooler blues and yellows as she calms down.
So that is my list of top 10 books for toddlers. This is a starting point and there is so much to discover in the world of picture books. Good picture books are very cleverly done, the illustrations tell a whole story on their own and the books are great for read alouds, shared readings, story constructions, descriptions, re-tellings, predictions, etc. They can be used with different age groups in different manners and are wonderful for adults to read as well!