Years ago, I was a member of the Mad Hatters, the Junior League of Chicago’s volunteer performance troupe. We would read, sing, dance, and act out children’s books and poems at various libraries and locations across the city.
Being part of a children’s literacy program is something else; seeing kids smile and engage with books during the great screen age of our time is quite incredible, really. As a member of that group, I reconnected with several children’s books that I had either long forgotten or never paid much notice. It also made me look forward to the day when I could read, sing, dance, and act out children’s books with my own kid. I correctly anticipated that it would be one of my favorite parts of parenting.
Within days of bringing Baby Bear home, Papa Bear and I made reading to the babe a nightly routine. When he was that young, it was much more for our own benefit since he couldn’t be bothered to stay awake during story time. Now, at nearly nine months, he is much more interested in what we are reading. Well, he’s at least interested in trying to grab and chew the books we are reading. But it’s a start.
The Short List
Here are our favorite children’s books so far.
C is for Chicago written by Maria Kernahan and illustrated by Michael Schafbuch
I have major hometown pride, and this book just fuels that fire. In fact, I love it so much that I will only read it to Baby Bear while he’s in his high chair because I don’t want him to tear the pages. (Note: I did see a board version available, but a smaller size would do this book an injustice.)
The illustrations are gorgeous. They are bold, bright, and really hold baby’s attention (which is no small feat). The rhymes for each letter are clever and do a wonderful job of showcasing some of my favorite things about this city. My favorite spread is, “H is for hot dogs on steamed poppy seed buns. With a garden full of toppings it’s hard to eat just one.” Imagine the artwork on that one or do one better and buy the book for yourself. I’m sure many of Chicago’s bookstores sell it, but I grabbed a copy (and a few for friends) at Enjoy, An Urban General Store.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
A classic, this was one of my favorites when I was in Mad Hatters. When kids are older, you can invite them to act it out with you. It’s especially fun when you come to the ending and have to open the door, rush up the stairs, go back downstairs, etc., because kids are great at capturing that hurried excitement.
When they’re little, kids are drawn to repetition and changes in tone and volume during the ‘noise’ pages (e.g., “Splash splosh!”). Plus, the variation between black and white and colorful illustrations provides a visually appealing contrast for all readers.
Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos written Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Dan Santat
As someone who was at one time fluent in Spanish but now needs to practice a lot more than I do, I’d highly recommend this book. It creatively mixes English and Spanish to tell the story of four brave firefighters (bomberos) as they are called to extinguish a fire.
This is one of my favorite books to read aloud because each line just rolls right off the tongue. For example, “Firemen raise the ladder high. ‘I’ll go. I’ll go.’ ‘Let me try!’ ‘Hey, compadres, momentito! Let me save that poor gatito.'”
The art really complements the treatment of the text; each Spanish word is bolded and there are several callouts. As a bonus, there’s a glossary of Spanish terms at the back of the book. For non-Spanish speakers, the glossary reviews pronunciation too.
Indestructibles™ illustrated by Jonas Sickler
These are perhaps the best books a baby can have. According to their description, “INDESTRUCTIBLES are built for the way babies ‘read’: with their hands and mouths. INDESTRUCTIBLES wont’ rip or tear and are 100% washable. They’re made for baby to hold, grab, chew, pull, and bend.” From my experience, this all true. They are made from a nontoxic, paper-like material and they can seriously take a beating. In fact, I’ve often wondered as Baby Bear is playing with these if I’m teaching him that it’s okay to treat books like chew toys, but I’ve learned that he’ll chew a book regardless. At least these are meant to be chewed.
If you’re like me and you couldn’t remember the words to these nursery rhymes (I wish I were kidding), you’re in luck because all of the words are printed on the back. Each line corresponds to a different page with its own dazzling illustration. The colors are vibrant and the images almost seem textured as the illustrator made use of many different patterns. As if all of these things weren’t great enough, each book is extremely lightweight and makes for a perfect diaper bag toy.
The Butt Book written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Mike Lester
Baby Bear’s cousin has given us several great books so far, including the INDESTRUCTIBLE set above, but this is my personal favorite. Very cheeky (no pun intended), this book talks all about butts, a topic that I’m sure will be endlessly entertaining to Baby Bear as he grows older.
The book starts off, “Eyes and ears are much respected, but the butt has been neglected. We hope to change that here and now. Would the butt please take a bow?” How could that not make you giggle at least a little bit? That’s what’s so great about this book: it’s delightfully funny for adults and kids alike. It’s hard to choose, but perhaps my favorite line is, “Some names for butts have foreign flair: tuchas, keister, derriere!”
Appropriately, all of the illustrations show different kinds of butts, from a mummy butt to a rhino butt to a teddy bear’s butt. I never thought I’d so thoroughly enjoy a book about butts, but I do!
God Bless You & Good Night written by Hannah C. Hall and illustrated by Steve Whitlow
This is the last book we read before bed every night. As I’m sure is the case with many parents and Goodnight Moon, both Papa Bear and I know each of the adorable ten stanzas by heart. The book is beautifully illustrated and shows a parent (hey, it could be a mommy or daddy) animal with its baby as they go through different parts of a bedtime routine. My favorite line to read to Baby Bear is, “You’re ready now to cuddle down. There’s one last thing to do. I’ll hold you near so you can hear me whisper, ‘I love you.'” I look forward to that little snuggle every single time.
As you may expect based on the title, there are a few God references in this book. For example, “Let’s settle down and settle in and close our eyes to pray. You’ve wrestled, raced, and run and chased. ‘God, thank You for this day.'” While I’m not a big fan of overtly religious text, these don’t faze me as it’s such a sweet book overall.
Goodnight Little One written Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Rebecca Elliott
Another charming bedtime book, this one from the author of Goodnight Moon also follows different kinds of animals as they close their eyes to go to sleep. For example, “Little pig that squeals about, make no noises with your snout. No more squealing to the skies, little pig now close your eyes.”
The text is cute and the use of repetition is great for little readers, but the illustrations are by far my favorite part of this book. Each little animal looks so sleepy and cuddly, I can’t help but lull myself to sleep along with my babe.
You’ll notice that, with the exception of C is for Chicago, which sends you to a different local shop, each link sends you to the Book Cellar, my local bookstore. As I mentioned in my recent board game post, I am a firm believer in “shopping local” and supporting my community’s small businesses. If you don’t want to go into the store, the Book Cellar will ship directly to you. If you’d prefer to support your favorite local bookstore, I’m sure they can order these books for you if they’re not already in stock. Help the little guys out!
I can’t recommend these seven books enough, but what are we missing? Comment and share your and/or your kid’s favorite books. We are always looking to grow our library.