In the past few months, I have begun reading books that I would not normally read. While I am still tearing through my usual mysteries and non-fiction best sellers, I have added a number of books with very unconventional plots to my “read” list.
In fact, most of the books I have been reading recently are about animals that talk, or in one or two cases, type. If I am not reading about chatty llamas or a bird trying to locate his mother, I am seeing the world through the eyes of some truly amazing fictional heroines, namely Ladybug Girl, Little Sal, and Trixie (who experiences a near tragedy when she almost loses her friend, Knuffle Bunny). If these characters sound familiar, you are likely a parent.
Several months ago, my twin sister called and told me that I would become an aunt in late winter. I was over the moon. I immediately bought the only onesie I could find that had “a librarian loves me” printed across the front and started adjusting my reading accordingly. While I had studied children’s literature in grad school and I regularly enjoy reading books for older kids and young adults, my picture book game was a little rusty. So I sought the help of some of my favorite people in the library- the Children’s Librarians. This crazy bunch of ladies excitedly listed the modern must-reads that I had more or less ignored for the past 25 or so years. With my list in hand, I dug in.
I began by reading my way through classics that I remembered from my childhood, like H.A. Rey’s Curious George series, Robert’s McCloskey’s “Blueberries for Sal,” and “Make Way for Ducklings,” and Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Memories of my mother giving each character a different voice while reading P.D. Eastman’s “Are You My Mother” came flooding back. I couldn’t help but read the book to myself just the way she had, giving the cow a lazy, sing-song voice and the hen a clipped, high tone.
Thoroughly enjoying myself, I moved on to some of the newer books that my colleagues had recommended. The first one I picked up was “Ladybug Girl” by David Soman and Jacky Davis. I was floored. I got more enjoyment reading about the adventures of an imaginative preschooler and her dog Bingo than I had from the last adult fiction book I head finished. I was equally impressed by several other modern classics like Mo Willems’ “Knuffle Bunny” and Anna Dewdney’s “Llama Llama Red Pajama”.
Armed with a new-found knowledge of what to look for in a good picture book, I headed to a local book store to start building my niece’s personal library. I grabbed all the books I had recently read and loved and then I started to explore. In my wanderings, I found several books that I would recommend to anyone, young or not so young.
My first unassisted selection might be my favorite. It is called “Mother Bruce.” This one had me truly laughing out loud. It is the story of a black bear named Bruce who inadvertently becomes “mom” to a gaggle of goslings when his breakfast plans go awry and his recipe hatches. Like most picture books, this book is only a few dozen pages long. What it lacks in length, it makes up for in outstanding illustrations. A picture is truly worth a thousand words.
The same is certainly true for my other selections, “Ball” by Mary Sullivan, “Sloth Slept On” by Frann Preston-Gannon, “Mustache Baby Meets His Match” by Bridget Heos, “Click, Clack, Moo” by Doreen Cronin, and “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site” by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld.
While not all of these books are award winners, each one is already special to me because I selected them hoping that they will help foster a love of reading that will continue long after she has outgrown picture books. With a little luck, my niece might walk into her local library in 30 years’ time and stumble across one of these titles and laugh to herself as she remembers how her family read to her when she was small.