Thursday, January 30, 2014

Evie Reads: Books for Toddlers II.

It has long been a dream of mine to write children's books, so I sent out on a quest to actually read children's books - a lot of them. I've found that I love outlandish, imaginative, quirky stories the best and that reading to your kid gets a whole lot more fun as they get older. A few months ago, I started this series with a list of board books that were best for a baby up to an 18 month old. A few of those stories are still favorites around here, mostly for the sake of nostalgia, but Ev has outgrown most of them. I had only intended on doing one or two posts in this series because then I though to myself, "How many good books for toddlers can there be out there?" It turns out, there's a lot. A whole new world of books has been opened up to me. It's probably strange to hear an adult so excited about children's books, but I don't remember there being stories like these out there when I was a kid, or at least I never read them. Like I said, I have this little dream growing inside of me and the flame gets a little bigger each time I find a new favorite. I've been tucking away little stories and characters and illustration ideas for a 'someday' when I get the time and courage to sit down and actually start this project. For now, I'll keep sharing our favorites that accompany us home from the library each week. As I write this, I have a stack of 20 or so more that we've been reading through and I can't wait to share them with you! This is quickly becoming my favorite thing to write about in this space, and I hope you all like this series as much as I do.

AN AWESOME BOOK BY DALLAS CLAYTON: When I think of the perfect children's book I think of something fun and quirky and imaginative and a story that doesn't make any sense at all and that makes you smile, because isn't that what kids are like? 'An Awesome Book' is full of these things and more. It's based on the simple concept of dreaming big - It's touching without being cheesy, inspirational but still interesting, and it's a story that can grow with your kids. When they're young and everything is possible, they can read of rocket powered unicorns and candy cane machines and magical watermelon boats - when they're a bit older they can be inspired by the reality that dreams really are possible. In a world full of children's books that have too many problems to be solved, too many children being bratty and 'learning lessons', and too much focus on learning your ABC's instead of using your imagination, this is a welcome book to our bookshelf. A big plus in my book is that the illustrations could make up an interesting book all on their own. They're childlike and hand drawn and Ev could look at each page for hours! This really is one worth buying.

THE KINDHEARTED CROCODILE BY LUCIA PANZIERI; ILLUSTRATED BY ANTON GIONATA FERRARI: This is the story of a crocodile, but not your normal story of a crocodile with sharp teeth and a scary demeanor - this crocodile is gentle and sensitive and dreams of being a family's pet. So he comes out of a picture book each night to perform all sorts of tasks, trying to please the family - he tidies toys and washes dishes and even fights away monsters in the kid's bad dreams. As you can see, the story is imaginative and heartwarming, and the illustrations are quirky and interesting. Ev giggles as she points at funny little things like the crocodile with an apron on, spreading jam on toast. If I'm honest, it makes me giggle a little on the inside too. She also loves to open her mouth wide and show me what a crocodile's mouth looks like on pretty much every page. This is a story that will be read and enjoyed for years around here.

BIG RED BARN BY MARGARET WISE BROWN; ILLUSTRATED BY FELICIA BOND: Almost everyone has probably heard of Margaret Wise Brown, but what I didn't know before finding this book is that she wrote a lot of children's books that are as good, if not better than her most popular ones (Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny). This is the number one best seller in 'children's farm life books' on Amazon and once you read it, it's not hard to see why. It's rhyming and simple and comforting like many of her other books. It goes through the cycle of the day's activities on a farm where families of animals peacefully play and sleep. The rhythmic quality makes for a soothing story, but illustrations keep Ev interested. This is my favorite book for teaching her about animals and animal noises because it isn't too simple (boring) or obnoxious like many others. It's a charming classic that we all love - bedtime stories really don't get any better than this.

CRICTOR BY TOMI UNGERER: This story has been around since the 1950's but it hasn't lost it's charm yet. It's quirky and clever and I love to read it as much as Ev loves to listen to it. The story is good on it's own (and reminds me a bit of Madeline), but the pen and ink type illustrations just add to the charming feel of this book. The story goes like this: An odd shaped package arrives for an elderly woman from her son that lives in Africa. She opens it to discover Crictor - he and the lady become fast friends and she takes him everywhere with her. He becomes a jump rope and a slide, he forms letters and numbers, she makes him a sweater and even builds him a ten foot long bed! Then Crictor becomes a hero, but I don't want to ruin the story for you, so you'll have to read it to find out how. This really is such a fun book - I'm really not sure why I hadn't heard of it before now or read it as a child! Tomi Ungerer has written plenty of other books that all seem equally as charming - I'm looking forward to checking them out soon.

I WANT MY HAT BACK BY JON KLASSEN: This book has a bit of mischeif and humor that is beyond a toddler's comprehension, but I think that's what made it so enjoyable for me to read. Ev giggled through it all, which shows that she did understand a bit of the humor, and she yelled out the names of all the animals on each page in excitement, especially the bear. The story starts with a bear looking for his hat. He approaches all types of animals to ask if they've seen it - at one point an animal asks him to describe it and as he does, he realizes he has seen his hat (on someone he's already talked to)! So he races back through the rest of the book to find the animal wearing his hat. The ending is clever and makes Ev giggle, but could be controversial if you examine it all to closely. Overall, it's a bit repetitive, but the illustrations are lovely and the first few times you read it, then ending will put a smile on your face. I'm really looking forward to seeing what other stories Klassen comes up with next.

HOW TO CATCH A STAR BY OLIVER JEFFERS: I have a confession to make - I have an obsession with Oliver Jeffers. It's a close tie between him and Patrick McDonnell, but I think Oliver Jeffers might win. He is everything I imagine a perfect children's book writer to be - clever, creative, quirky, imaginative. His stories are all so different from each other and I really love that too. I am surprised every time I pick up another one of his books, which is why I included two on this list. This is the story of an adventurous boy who wants to catch a star. He waits all day and night and climbs the tallest tree and tries to fish star out of the ocean (which turns out to be a reflection) until finally, he just gives up and takes a walk along the beach. As he's walking, the solution to his problem washes up onto the beach. This one might be a little over Ev's head, but I love to read it so much that I had to include it.

THIS MOOSE BELONGS TO ME BY OLIVER JEFFERS: This is the story of a boy and his moose. The boy has many rules for any pet of his and the moose is good at following many of them, except one: going whichever way the boy wants to go. Perhaps it's because the moose doesn't really belong to anyone? No, no that isn't it! You'll have to read to find out! Like any of Jeffers' books, this one is a winner - full of quirky and delightful illustrations with a clever story to match. If you're new to Jeffers, this is a great book to start with. Kids (and parents) are sure to giggle - trust me!

THE BEAR'S SONG BY BENJAMIN CHAUD: This is a story about two bears on an accidental big city adventure. Baby bear was distracted by a bee and followed it through the woods, all the way into the city without even realizing he had ran so far! Papa bear tried to keep up with his baby bear and they both ended up on a rooftop eating honey, but a lot of shenanigans happen in between! This book holds a special place in my heart because it taught Ev how to say 'papa bear,' which she turned around and called Alex and it's just melt your heart cute. Then she learned how to call me 'mama bear' and we became a little family of bears - everywhere we go she shouts 'PAPA BEHW! MAMA BEHW!' when either of us disappear around a corner. But before it taught my kid the cutest phrase I've ever heard her say, I was already in love. The story is heartwarming, the illustrations are lush and charming. In my opinion, it's one of the best modern children's books out there.

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