Archive for Books for little kids (0-3)

Time for Bed by Mem Fox

Board books are generally pretty boring. Every so often you get a really funny one but for the most part, you have to read them so many times that even the best start to feel tiresome.

And then there are the bedtime books. My 3 year old still insists on hearing Goodnight Moon every night — so we don’t even read it anymore, it’s one of the “stories” he gets to hear when he’s in his crib (yes, he still sleeps in his crib — truthfully, I’d keep him in there until he’s 10 if it will keep him from getting out of bed!). So it’s high praise when I call a board book one of my favorite bedtime stories.

It's Time For Bed
Time For Bed

Time For Bed by Mem Fox is a perfect bedtime story. The words are lilting, there isn’t too much text and it’s sweet without being too sappy. It has this soothing rhythm that could honestly put my to sleep if I let it and Jane Dyer’s soft illustrations are a perfect complement. If you are dealing with a child who is too awake, there’s also a lot to look at in the book — you can point out all the animals and their animal parents, etc. And it’s the perfect message for the end of the day:

It’s time for bed little mouse, little mouse,
Darkness is falling all over the house.

It’s time for bed little calf, little calf,
What happened today to make you laugh?

Unfortunately, at the end of the day (for that’s what it is when you read this book), even a great bedtime book can’t ensure a great bedtime. Sad, isn’t it?

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Half a World Away by Libby Gleeson

Having moved a number of times in my life, I have often felt very far away from my very best friends. However, the worst was when my childhood best friend Rachel moved across the ocean to England when I was 13.

I think about that a lot these days now that Rachel and I are back in touch, more than 20 years later, and talked on the phone, still across the ocean from one another. It’s in that spirit that I want to recommend another delightful gentle book, Half a World Away by Libby Gleeson.

Half a World Away

Half a World Away

It’s a quiet book, beautifully illustrated in soft but vivid colors by Freya Blackwood. It’s the type of book that makes you sigh when you are done, that makes you feel peaceful — perfect for that last book before bed. In it, Amy and Louie are best friends — children who do everything together, who climb through the fence between their backyards every day, who call each other to play by calling: “Coo-ee Am-ee” or “Coo-ee Lou-ee.” But then Amy, like Rachel many years ago, moves with her family to the other side of the world (presumably from the illustrations, New York) and they are separated.

Louie is despondant and wants to call out “Coo-ee Amy” but everyone tells him that she won’t hear it, that when it’s day for him, it’s night for her. Finally, his grandmother says that maybe Amy would hear it and Louie takes the chance. And that night, in a dream, Amy can hear Louie calling across the ocean: “Coo-ee Am-ee.” Soft and delightful and hopeful — a wonderful bedtime read.

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Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Amy reminded me of one of my favorite monster books — Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems.

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster

There are a number of lovely books for children about monsters. Generally, monster books are great for helping children talk about fears since generally it turns out that monsters aren’t nearly as scary as they initally seem to be. So, that’s the standard monster book. Then there are books like Shrek and Leonardo that turn this model on their heads.

Leonardo you see, is a Terrible Monster. Not terrible as in very, very frightening but terrible in that he is very bad at being a monster. He’s not scary or disgusting or creepy, even though he wants to be. He desperately wants to scare someone, but he just can’t seem to be scary enough. Until he meets Sam. Until he makes Sam cry in fact. But it turns out, Sam isn’t scared, he’s just lonely and then Leonard has a big choice to make: continue being a terrible monster or focus instead on being a wonderful friend.

Leonardo doll

Leonardo doll

It’s such a lovely book — oversized with interesting type and fun for adults and children. And it’s sweet. And silly. And apparently, you can get a Leonardo doll as well. Again, who knew?

I think I have to add Mo Willems to my author crushes. Thanks Amy!

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Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

So, I have very mixed feelings about Hallowe’en. On the one hand, it was probably the most important day each year next to my birthday when I was growing up. I thought about it and obsessed about what I would magically transform myself into for months. I was really into Hallowe’en. As a parent though, I have to say that it’s really annoying.

First and foremost, it’s all about candy. And my kids would eat candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner and have room for candy snacks if they had the option. And even the costumes are a pain. I like to think of myself as pretty crafty but I really don’t want to be making Luke Skywalker costumes all night. I’ve been lucky for the past few years on Purim because my kids were still fine wearing Superman PJs and calling that a costume. It’s all changing.

Room on the Broom

Room on the Broom

All my baggage aside, one of my favorite Halloween books is Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson. The witch in this story is quite a lovely woman who keeps losing things (her wand, her hat, her ribbon) as she’s flying along. Every time she loses something, an animal helps her find it and asks if there is room on the broom for him/her. And each time, our lovely little witch says yes. Well, after a while, there are too many creatures on the broom and the broom breaks and that’s when trouble beings. But, it turns out, when you help others, they quickly come to your aid as well. Even when there’s a monster that thinks that “witch with french fries tastes delicious to me”!

Room on the Broom Activity Book

Room on the Broom Activity Book

Donaldson, who also wrote the marvelous The Gruffalo, is definitely an author to look for when you are looking for something new. This book is so much fun to read out loud that I actually used it for the read-aloud for my son’s 4th birthday party. In January.

According to Amazon, you can even get a Room on the Broom Activity Book or CD. Huh, who knew?

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Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers

Board books are not my favorite kind of book. They either seem to be too much text and content squished into small, relatively sturdy, pages; or they bore me from the first pages. At best, they are funny and the words make your baby laugh. But often you wonder — would my baby notice the difference if I was reading The Wall Street Journal, pointing to the pictures and making animal noises?

Everywhere Babies

Everywhere Babies

But then you have perfectly wonderful board books like Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by the fantastic Marla Frazee. it’s a delight to read and it has beautiful illustrations of babies of all shapes, sizes and colors scattered throughout. It actually reflects diversity without beating you over the head with it.

I read it to my babies, to my toddlers and now to my older kids (note: all the same kids — I only have 2). I could read it again and again and not grow bored. It’s sentimental without being saccharine which is almost unheard of in baby books. And best of all, if you look carefully, there are same sex parents all over the place in this book. Yay Marla Frazee for your illustrations! 

This is a wonderful gift for new parents and new babies and pregnant women, though it will probably make them cry. 

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Sukkot Books

I’m not sure what I’ll write about when these Jewish holidays are over. I feel like every other entry is holiday related. Then again, I also feel like every other day is a holiday …

Anyway, back to books. So, next up is Sukkot and we’re just going to go with a roundup on this one. Here’s what I see as the best books out there on the ole Festival of Booths.

Best for children ages 1-2:

Tamar’s Sukkah by Ellie Gellman

Tamar's Sukkah

Tamar

OK, the pictures are a little corny and old fashioned which gets points deducted in my book, but the story is lovey. Tamar is building her sukkah and each page, there’s something she needs help with, so she finds another child to help. But even when that task is complete, Tamar says that: “Something’s still missing.” It turns out that only when there are friends to share the sukkah is the sukkah really finished.

Best for children ages 2-3:

It’s Sukkah TIme by Latifa Berry Kropf & Sammy Spider’s First Sukkot by Sylvia Rouss

Sammy Spider's First Sukkot

Sammy Spider's First Sukkot

It's Sukkah Time!

It's Sukkah Time!

I’m giving this age group a tie. I’ve talked about both of the series before so I won’t dwell on them here. Younger kids seem to really like the “It’s [insert holiday name] Time!” stories which take place in a lovely looking Jewish preschool. In this book, the kids learn about sukkot, decorate the sukkah and create little miniature sukkahs. In terms of Sammy Spider, kids seem to love him, though adults grow weary of him (and his mother’s penchant for dwelling on all things spiders can’t do…). But, Sammy does learn all about Sukkot in the latest installment of Sammy’s adventures in the Shapiro house.

Best for kids ages 3-5:

Leo & Blossom’s Sukkah by Jane Breskin Zalben & Hillel Builds a House by Shoshana Lepon

Leo & Blossom's Sukkah

Leo & Blossom

So here, it’s not so much a tie as a split based on what kind of family you live in. Leo & Blossom’s Sukkah (which is sadly out of print) is great for children in a variety of different homes. Zalben, who has created two main series of stories about little animals that live in Jewish homes and celebrate Jewish holidays, here tells a lovely Sukkot story. The pictures are very small but it’s a nice story and there are many more where that one came from. The story is also anthologized in Beni’s Family Treasury where you’ll find many more stories like it.

Hillel Builds a House

Hillel Builds a House

Hillel Builds a House is also a lovely story (with very out of date illustrations) but it’s better for families that actively celebrate Jewish holidays on a regular basis (which does not just mean Orthodox folks). Hillel loves to build houses and wants to always have his own little house. Every holiday, starting with Hanukkah, he tries to have his own little house (at Hanukkah he builds it in the basement but he can’t light his candles in it; on Purim he makes a house costume but it gets rained on; etc. etc.). Finally, it’s Sukkot which is a perfect holiday for building a house!

Best for children ages 5-7:

Night Lights by Barbara Diamond Goldin

Night Lights
Night Lights

Night Lights is a great story by Barbara Diamond Goldin about sleeping outside in a Sukkah. While last year, Daniel (who you may remember from the Rosh Hashanah story: The World’s Birthday) was OK sleeping outside because he grandfather was there, this year he is scared to do it. Not making things easier, his big sister Naomi keeps telling him that he won’t be able to do it because he’ll be too scared. In the end, even Naomi is scared and they realize that being together, they can make it through the night. I like this story a lot, but I am a little disappointed in the re-illustration that was done when the book was re-released. So, on the one hand, I fully support buying the edition in print because then the money actually goes to the author, but on the other hand, the artwork in the original edition (by Louise August) is exceptional and I would advocate buying that edition, even though it’s used. The one other note I would make is that the new edition (published by UAHC Press/ URJ) is less scary than the old edition because the illustrations are less intense. So, decide on your own — or get both and compare!

Best for children  ages 6-9:

The Mysterious Guests by Eric Kimmel

The Mysterious Guests

The Mysterious Guests

The Mysterious Guests is a gorgeous new book that is new this year. According to the prologue:

It is said that our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, return to Earth for the harvest festival of Sukkot. Disguised as weary travelers, they appear at the sukkah, asking to share the holiday meal. If they are welcomed as honored guests, they leave a blessing. If not, they teach a lesson that is not soon forgotten.

The Mysterious Guests shows us how some people who have much to give, give so grudgingly, while those with little to give, give all they can. It’s a lovely lesson about tzedakah and a model of how to greet guests.

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Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds

Well, it’s almost Yom Kippur so my thoughts are already turning to … food. One day maybe they will turn to religious/ spiritual things but for now food is my main pre-occupation.

Chicks and Salsa

Chicks and Salsa

One of my favorite children’s books about food is Aaron Reynolds’ Chicks and Salsa. It’s just a fun and silly book about a collection of farm animals who get tired of eating chicken feed, slop, etc. and instead start farming the vegetables to make their own delicious treats. The writing is fun and zippy, the illustrations are hilarious (look out for the mice who are the “dealers” of the story) and maybe one day my sons will love to cook? Well, maybe that won’t be influenced by this book, but as a parent, I love reading it.

For those who are fasting, have an easy fast, and to everyone else, eat well!

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