Although dishes from lunch are still in the sink, I can’t ignore the afternoon sun warming the living room couch – the invitation to come and sit a while. Can’t toss away those precious minutes when nothing truly important is pressing us and the girls burrow into the cushions with their favorites. Even the boys are beginning to discover what’s inside.
So I snuggle in between them – our shoulders crowding, knees tucked this way and that, and we read.
We go places we never could without words. We harness the imagination. We learn how to be brave, how to build, how to ask questions. They laugh at my funny accents and point out things I’ve never seen before. I notice the stillness of their bodies, the lengthening of their limbs, the soft twitter of their toes. The bounty of it warms me straight through.
We inhabit each book. Out of it grows a rooftop and walls. We step inside – transported – housed by the magic. This year I began reading chapter books to Eliza at night. We finished Little Women before Christmas and a few nights ago had our first peek inside The Secret Garden with Mary.
We can’t just teach our children to read. We must give them something worth reading. Books that will help them make sense of their lives and want to reach out to people whose worlds are different from their own.
So here are our favorite picture books from last year. Some were published in 2010, others are classics from my own childhood. Click titles for links.
Some made the list because I love them (maybe) more than the girls. Some teach excellent lessons. Some are artsy, poetic, or just plain fun. Believe me, it was tough to trim down the list.
Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion – by Mo Willems. I adore Mo Willems – love this whole series. The final saga of Knuffle Bunny was just as delightful as the first. Trixie’s last story is a journey of age and growing up with a charming turn of serendipity.
The Daddy Mountain – by Jules Feiffer. My girls laughed and laughed through this one. Just right for your kiddos who love to climb. There’s nothing like conquering the Daddy mountain.
Eloise Wilkin Stories – This collection of beloved classics is perfect for ages 2-5. Wilkin’s artwork of cherubic babies and toddlers will melt your heart – make you want to step back into the fifties. My girls pore over these pictures. It makes a sweet baby gift and you can find it on Amazon for a fabulous price.
Skippy John Jones: Lost in Spice – by Judy Shachner. Must read this one first. Skippy John has a magnificent imagination and reading with a spanish accent is way too fun. I’m gaga over this little fluffer-nutter of a kitty who thinks he’s a chihuahua.
Make Way for McCloskey – Robert McCloskey’s treasury became a favorite over the summer. Blackberry picking, ocean adventures in Maine, Burt-Dow the deep-water man and his pink and green double-ender, Homer Price and the donut making machine, and of course, McCloskey’s classic – Make Way for Ducklings. McCloskey’s stories are timeless, his artwork delightful, and he has the most spell-binding way of talking about life. Mostly I love that he takes us to the other side of the country, a place I pine for but can only share with my girls via books for now.
The Random House Book of Poetry – It’s taken us a while to grow into this one but the girls are asking for it now. Pick a topic, a holiday, a season, and this collection has a poem for you. I have enjoyed pulling it out as we celebrate a certain change of season or school starts, or christmas comes. It’s so good for small ears to hear poetry.
A Light in the Attic – by Shel Silverstein. Also great poetry. Doug introduced the kids to this one last month. They chortled and belly-laughed for a good hour. (The girls are still giggling over “exactly whats” and “me-whos.”) Sometimes Silverstein’s nonsense can strike just the right funny bone.
On Meadowview Street – by Henry Cole. This charmer was given to us by a good friend who happens to know Henry Cole. He wrote in the inset, “For Eliza… you can make a difference!” It’s about a little girl who moves into a new neighborhood and creates a wildlife preserve in her own backyard. I love the creativity and the concept that one person really can make the world a better place. (Thank you Soozi!)
Cookies- Sweet Little Lessons on Love – by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Fell in love with this one first. The entire series is exceptional – the way Rosenthal defines positive attributes through the world of cookies. Like how to get along with others, use polite manners, how to be gentle with another’s heart. My girls will flip pages on their own for a while, engrossed in the artwork. I bought this one for Valentine’s day last year.
Pete and Pickles – by Berkeley Breathed. A good friend gave this book to me soon after our boys were born. Pete, a perfectly practical and predictable pig, has his world turned upside down by the unpredictable, spontaneous, and rambunctious elephant (Pickles) who has escaped from the circus. Their kinship is a beautiful metaphor for the mother-child relationship. I can’t read the last two pages without getting emotional.
Library Lion – by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes. This charming story offers an elevated take on rule-keeping. It’s all about wisdom and knowing when it’s okay to break a rule. When people (or lions) might be more important than rules. Anything illustrated by Kevin Hawkes is a must-read. He is fantastic.
Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique – by Jane O’Connor. I’ve lost track of all the Fancy Nancy books we have on our shelves (you can get the cheap paperback versions at Target). Ali is especially fond of these. She’s our fashionista. And while Nancy tends to stroke all things materialistic, O’Connor never fails to teach a valuable social lesson that sends the message – people matter more than things. Two weeks ago Eliza turned our entire downstairs into a “boutique” – complete with signs, money jar, receipts, clothes on hangers, shopping bags. We had to call some extended family to come over and “shop.” The whole gig was inspired by Nancy.
The Yellow Tutu – by Kristin and Carin Bramsen. This one is also at the top of Ali’s list. We found it at the library one day. A sweet story that teaches the importance of standing up for a friend. It helps children learn that teasing isn’t okay and one voice can change everything.
Richard Scary’s Best Storybook Ever – This book is gloriously endless – packed with 85 darling stories for preschoolers and great word recognition for early readers. Remember Scary’s books from your young years? Richard Scary’s animals are still as magical and humorous as I remember them. No one at our house tires of this one – including me.
The Lion and the Mouse – by Jerry Pinkney. This Caldecott winner is stunningly unique. It is wordless – not a single line of text. Yet each page is so colorful and rich with subtle detail that children can figure out the story on their own. Ask a few questions and let the pictures do the telling. It’s remarkable.
Did you see any of your favorites? Do tell.
If not, please share. We’re always on the hunt for good reads.
Next up? My favorite books from 2010.