My daughter turned two last month. She is obsessed with puzzles, farm animals, coloring, the aquarium, Moana, stuffed pals, and, of course, books.
Like most toddlers, she has strong opinions. If polled, she will gladly tell you if a book is a “good book” or if it is “not so good.” These are the books that currently reside at the top of the “good book” list:
Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire
Written by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville
Illustrated by Brigette Barrager
Ok, I’m gonna tell this to you straight: if you choose to get just one book on this list, this is the one to get. It’s a biography (yep, non-fiction) of Mary Blair, the artist responsible for designing the Disney ride “It’s a Small World.” (You can find out more about her and see samples of her art here.)
My daughter LOVES this book, and so do I. Mary Blair was a creative, successful, badass woman. She knew her value and didn’t let stodgy dudes stifle her artistic vision. The book celebrates these qualities.
And, as an added bonus, it is replete with color vocabulary. Thanks to this brilliantly colorful tome, my kid can identify cerulean, sienna, celadon, and cerise. Huzzah!
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Have you ever wondered how many words rhyme with “Nanette?” Mo Willems is here to tell you: a lot. Baguette, for one. And also: Tibet, beset, upset, Antoinette, clarinet, regret, Juliette, sweat, jet . . . the list goes on and on. The rhyming in this book is totally over-the-top, and, thus incredibly silly and fun to read.
But don’t let the ridiculous rhyming fool you into thinking this book is just fluff. It is actually a great book for early word recognition. There are lots of easy-to-read phrases in all capital letters (“NOT YET!”), sentence repetition (“The baguette is warm. The baguette tastes wonderful.”), and fun onomatopoeia (“KABOOM!”).
Silly and educational? YOU BET!
Little Explorers: The Animal World
Written by Ruth Martin
Illustrated by Allan Sanders
Can we all just agree that those blasted Karen Katz lift-the-flap books are as nightmarish to us as they are delightful to our kids? I can’t with those books. The illustrations are creeptastic, the books are not intellectually stimulating (even for a tiny tot), and, worst of all, the mom wears her shoes (pumps, obviously, because those are the shoes a good mom wears whilst playing hide-and-seek with her kid) under the blankets ON HER BED while hiding from her kid. No, Karen Katz. NO.
But there’s no denying that there’s something about a lift-the-flap book that is a true treat for a toddler. And who wants to deny a true treat to a toddler? Not this lady. So, I went on a quest to discover a good Karen Katz alternative. What did I find? These magical books! You’re welcome.
The Little Explorers books are detailed, informative, and interactive. Thanks to The Animal World, I had this conversation with my two-year-old yesterday:
Kid (pointing to a picture in this book): That’s a vulture.
Me: No, that’s an ostrich.
Kid: That looks like a vulture. That’s an ostrich?
Me: Yep, that’s an ostrich.
Kid: That’s an ostrich!
Ornithology 101. Take that, Karen Katz!
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons
Written by Eric Litwin
Illustrated by James Dean
Nevertheless, until fairly recently, my daughter thought that Pete the Cat was scary (to be fair, he is blue. And his eyes are yellow and kind of creepy), and she flat-out refused to look at or listen to any of his books.
Then, a few weeks ago, she suddenly changed her tune. She still calls Pete “scary cat,” but now, inexplicably, she’s a fan. And this is her favorite of the Pete the Cat books.
There are a couple things about Pete’s books that I like (in addition to the signature illustrations): 1) most of them have cute read-along tracks online that feature their super-catchy songs set to music (here is a link to the one for this book), and 2) each one focuses on some educational element. This book’s is basic subtraction (Pete loses his shirt buttons one by one). Groovy!
Bear Has a Story to Tell
Written by Phillip C. Stead
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
The husband and wife responsible for the ridiculously sweet and oh-so-lovely A Sick Day for Amos McGee are also the masterminds behind this tale of friendship, hibernation, and story-telling.
Bear has a story to share with his pals, but before telling his story, he helps them all prepare for the fast-approaching winter. The first snowflakes fall, and Bear hunkers down to hibernate without having shared his tale. When he awakens months later . . . he’s forgotten his story! Luckily, his friends help him create a new one.
In the wise words of my daughter: “Bear Story: so sweet!”
The Antlered Ship
Written by Dashka Slater
Illustrated by The Fan Brothers
Marco, a fox, joins a crew of deer and pigeons on an antlered ship. Their journey is met with rough seas, run-ins with pirates (including a ferret pirate, which surely has to be the worst sort of pirate), and a crew of animals who aren’t cut out for sea-faring life. But these things don’t get Marco down, for he is determined to find answers to life’s important questions (“Do islands like being alone? Do waves look more like horses or swans?”) from foxes on faraway islands.
All I have to say is this: wooooooo-weeeee, is this book a beaut! One should expect nothing less from the enormously talented Fan Brothers (who wrote and illustrated the absurdly beautiful The Night Gardener). My toddler likes this one because its protagonist is a fox. I like it because it’s a work of art.
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
My kid loves shapes. Meet her for the first time, and she will likely announce that triangles have three sides, while squares have four equal sides. It is appropriate, therefore, that she adores this book about a rascally triangle and a (perhaps?) equally rascally square.
If you’re not familiar with Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s other collaborations, you’re missing out. Go ahead and pick up Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and Extra Yarn, too. And, while you’re at it, you might as well pre-order The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse. It’s bound to be a delight.
Also, if you’ve got seventeen minutes to spare, check out Mac’s TedTalk about the magic of children’s books:
Written and illustrated by Scott Campbell
How can you go wrong with a book about a kid who is a self-proclaimed, pizza-fueled Hug Machine?! He hugs everything he sees–fire hydrants, porcupines, crying babies (“[S]oft things. Hard things. Square things. Long things!”).
The word “hug” appears in this book approximately one billion times, so it is no wonder that it was one of the first words my daughter could identify. #winning
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
When the little one’s grandmother (whom my daughter has lovingly nicknamed “Dot” for reasons unbeknownst to any of us) was visiting last month, she had the pleasure of reading this book aloud 784 times (give or take). My daughter does not tire of this tale about a bulldog puppy (Gaston) and a poodle puppy (Antoinette), who were switched at birth. Gaston is raised with his poodle sisters to be proper and prissy and tender. Antoinette is raised with her bulldog brothers to be rough and tough. One day, the two dog families cross paths in the park and realize there has been a huge mistake! Oh, noooooooo!
Spoiler alert: In the end, Gaston and Antoinette fall in love and have weird-looking poodle-bulldog hybrid puppies (that look adorably mutant-y in the illustration), and together Gaston and Antoinette teach the pups that they can be whatever they want to be. Awwwww.
Sleep Like a Tiger
Written by Mary Logue
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
It’s time for bed, but the little girl in this story announces that she isn’t tired. Her parents are super-chill (and a little tricky), so they’re all like (I’m paraphrasing here), “That’s cool. Just brush your teeth and put your jammies on, and you can stay up all night long.” Then they start talking about how other animals sleep (like tiny snails, who sleep curled up in their shells “like a cinnamon roll”), and eventually the little girl cozies down like all the animals and falls fast asleep. Parenting goals! Oh, and BONUS: the illustrations are absurdly beautiful.
Bunny’s Book Club
Written by Annie Silvestro
Illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
The Easter Bunny delivered this book (along with We’re Going on an Egg Hunt, which is also a HUGE hit at our house) this year, and we have read it approximately seven million times since. It’s about a bunny who discovers his love of books one summer while eavesdropping on a library’s outdoor story-time. When summer ends and story-time moves back inside the library, bunny realizes he can’t live without books. Mischief and mayhem ensue! This book features adorable woodland creatures who love to read, the word “swashbucklers,” and a wonderland of a library. What’s not to love?
Written by Angela DiTerlizzi
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
I have sung the praises of Brendan Wenzel before (both here and here). His gorgeous book, They All Saw a Cat, won a Caldecott Honor after I raved about it in my last kids’ book post. He’s a rockstar and, in this house, we hold him in very high esteem.
My toddler loves all of his books, but this is her current favorite. First and foremost, the illustrations are whimsical and beautiful. But the simple and repetitive text (“Some pets sit. Some pets stay. Some pets fetch. And some pets play!”) is also great for early readers. And it has taught my kid some adorable vocabulary (“Some pets nuzzle.”).
The Crown on Your Head
Written and illustrated by Nancy Tillman
It should come as no surprise that I am decidedly not into the schmaltzy kids’ books that stuff quaint messages down your kid’s throat. Arguably, this book is one of those. And, of course, my kid freaking loves it. She calls it “Zebra” (because: duh) and has proclaimed that it is a “pretty book.” I can’t argue with her there. There are loads of lovely illustrations of a crowned kid frolicking with random wildlife (“Elephants! Cheetahs! Penguins!” my daughter exclaims as we turn the pages). The message is a tad treacly for my taste, but it is decidedly positive, and, let’s face it, there are worse things in this world than a pretty picture book with an overly sweet message.
Beware the Kakamora
By RH Disney
Holy Moana, y’all. Long before my kid ever saw the movie, she was OBSESSED with Moana. (Disney, how do you do it, you evil sorcerers?!) She has five Moana books that have been read so frequently they have fallen apart and been “fixed” with packing tape.
If you’ve seen the movie, then you know that the best part is when Maui and Moana face-off against the Kakamora (the “coconut-clad bandits” who are “murdering little pirates”). Don’t get excited–this book provides no background, nor any additional details about the Kakamora (what actually lurks beneath those coconuts remains a true mystery). It is simply a retelling of the part in the movie when the Kakamora attack Maui and Moana and try to steal the heart of Te Fiti. But it does come with two sheets of awesome Moana stickers that you will find distributed randomly all over your house! So there’s that.
This is easily my favorite of the Moana books to read. There’s a lot of Hei-Hei squawking (which my daughter handles, adorably) and “angry war drum” noises (“BUM BA RUM DUM! BUM BA RUM DUM!”). And, look, this book makes my daughter very, very happy. And that’s good enough for me.
Important side note: two of our five Moana books are Golden Books. We own about twenty Disney Golden Books (everything from Tangled to Toy Story, as well as some oldie-but-goodies like 101 Dalmatians and Peter Pan). Hot diggity damn, my toddler loves these books. They are light as a feather and only set you back about $3 each on Amazon. I take a couple with us when we go to restaurants, I throw a few in the jogging stroller when we go for a long walk or run, and we always have a bunch in the car for road trips. Are these the kind of books that are going to win the Newbery Medal? Of course not. They are incredibly abridged (and, thus, frequently disjointed) retellings of the movies with fun Disney illustrations. But, even though they aren’t going to win any awards, they are toddler- and mommy-approved.
As always, if you and your kids have discovered any great picture books (old or new!) lately, I would love it if you’d share them in the comments below. Happy reading!