We’re now in the great thick of summer, and our messes show it: sidewalk chalk on the deck, swimsuits drying nearby in the sun, little sandals unfastened by the door. Grimy knobs from gooey peaches and grubby handprints on the wall. Small smiling hands and faces, sticky from strawberry popsicles melting in the sink. It’s in the air too – heat on your skin, music on the speakers, the sound of shrieking laughter and running feet and the smell of soap from morning baths. It’s taken us a little while to find our footing this season, to spread the gap between the early sunrises and the late sunsets, to balance adventuring out versus staying in; but when we do stay in, it’s the classics that fill our hours -- art, music, baking, making, dress-up, pretend play, and the mother of them all: reading.
I have been a hungry reader my entire life, and there have been times I have considered myself a writer, so it has been wonderously lovely to discover the world of children’s books. My daughters Jane and Rose are four and two, and one of my life’s greatest joys is watching them “read” their books, both independently and to each other (they take turns pointing to the pictures and narrating each page, which is a guaranteed heart explosion each time). We often go to the library and the bookstore, and together we’ve curled up and done a lot of reading, from board books to lift-the-flap to look-and-find and more recently, longer picture books and even some books of poems (mostly Shel Silverstein) and chapter/early reader books (namely Frog and Toad and Winnie the Pooh). Over time we’ve figured out which ones stand up to the true test – the “again, mama” test -- so here follows a list of our current favorite storytime books, the ones that are a delight to read again and again (and again and again and again).
1) Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, about a hat peddler whose wares are stolen by a bunch of monkeys, and my girls love monkeys. The narrative structure is mostly call-and-answer, which makes it interactive and very fun to read (some of our other favorite fun books are Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond, What Do You Do with a Kangarooby Mercer Mayer and of course, The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss).
2) It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny by Marilyn Sadler. This one could be included in the “fun” category above but it deserves its own spot because of the grass-is-greener message: PJ Funnybunny decides one day he doesn’t want to be a bunny anymore, so he goes to live with the bears, and the pigs, and the birds, only to discover that he doesn’t want to be a bear or a pig or a bird – he wants to be a bunny.
3) Robert the Rose Horse by Joan Heilbroner and P.D. Eastman. Robert is allergic to roses (a fact that my Rose finds hysterical), which results in a series of sneeze-related shenanigans. We recently discovered this book and it became an instant favorite because it’s hilarious, and I love the message: Robert perseveres again and again to overcome his personal obstacle, and ultimately saves the day (we also love Cloudetteby Tom Lichtenfeld and The Little Gardenerby Emily Hughes for similar messages about hard work and believing in yourself and general adorable pluckiness).
4) Adventures with Barefoot Critters and Counting with Barefoot Critters by Teagan White. The girls love ABCs and 123s and the illustrations are pretty much a dream guidebook for the Instagram mom J
5) The Red Knit Cap Girland the Reading Tree by Naoko Stoop, about a girl who basically makes a Free Little Library with her forest friends. The moon helps.
6) This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad. Sadie has a huge imagination and transports herself anywhere she wants to go without ever leaving her bedroom. Dream Animals and Day Dreamersby Emily Winfield Martin are other favorites in this vein, along with Odd Velvetby Mary Whitcomb, which is about one girl’s wonderful strangeness compared to the rest of her classmates.
7) The Littlest Family’s Big Day by Emily Winfield Martin, about a family of bears who goes to live in the forest and gets lost but then gets found, and discovers a new meaning for home. It also features an adopted fox baby, which invites discussions about how different families can look (other home/family related books we love include Home by Carson Ellis, and of course Madeline, who teaches us that friends are family too).
8) Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi, about a little girl who stumbles upon a magnificent tea party full of woodland animals, who then accompany her on a parade through the forest to deliver a pie to her grandmother. I cannot overstate how much we love this book. Other party-related books: Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri; The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen; and of course, the original party-with-animals book: Where the Wild Things Are.
9) The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat, which is about an imaginary friend who sets off from his land to try to find his real-world counterpart. It’s wonderful and touching and sweet and sad and funny. Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brigette Barrager has a very similar story structure, and Wild by Emily Hughes is another great one about two cultures coming together and understanding one another.
10) You Belong Here by M.H. Clark and Isabelle Arsenault, in which every page tries its hardest to make you cry. Example: “And you are a dream that the world once dreamt and now you are part of its song. That’s why you are here, in the place where you’re meant, for this is right where you belong.” My heart!
Written by Kristen Dickson from @tojaneandrose, a bright-siding girl mom looking for that everyday magic.