We Recommend: Two-Year-Old Edition

Ah, yes, We Recommend, the part of this blog where we happily accept
readers' requests asking for book recommendations, try to come up
with something, and then ask all you excellent readers and commenters
for your own suggestions. If you have or know a child who needs a book
recommendation, e-mail us here with some information on the child, what
s/he likes to read, anything else you think might help, and we'll do
our best!

Today's child is just a little tiny thing. Here we go:

"…boy is 2 and three quarters.  He is very articulate, and LOVES
books.  Adores being read to, and will pick up just about any of his
books and ask us to read it to him.  Thing is, he has a fairly long
attention span, so all the picture books that are meant for his age
just have too few words per page to really keep us going (I'm thinking
The Gruffalo, Duck in the Truck, John Burningham, Maurice Sendak,
etc).  But, many proper books (here I'm thinking of things like Roald
Dahl, Paddington, etc) have too few pictures (he still does like to
have *some* pictures) and occasionally are just too scary or grown up.
 He loves "Jeremiah in the Dark Woods" by Allan and Janet Ahlberg (one
big colourful picture every few pages, and little line drawings on all
the other pages), and we have a lovely abridged and illustrated
version of Alice in Wonderland (the Usborne "Young Reading' Gift
edition) that he also really enjoys.  We have gone through the Alfie
and Annie Rose series (Shirley Hughes), many of the Robert Munsch
books. Oh, and Dr Seuss!  I have recently bought The Wind
in the Willows (but am saving it for a long train journey we're taking
in a couple of weeks). Sigh.  Basically it feels like I've found all
the things that hit the mark in terms of length of story and age
appropriateness (which seem to be in a bit of a conflict maybe?) —
but I'm sure there must be more out there."

Just
one thing really occurred to me, and it is so old-school, old-fashioned,
etc, that I hesitate. And yet: my kids LOVED these books when they were
little. They're strange and earnest and entrancing all at the same
time. They're lots of words, which this little guy will like, and so amazingly engrossing. And so:

7188W
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Oh how we loved them! They're also super-excellent when read aloud—there is so much tension! Sounds! Excitement!

They're not as long form as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or The Wind in the Willows, but they're awfully good. I would think, besides these, that a lot of old-fashioned books—Pippi and  The Little House on the Prairie books and All of a Kind Family—come in lavishly illustrated versions, and he's too little to feel the cootie problems of "girl books." But enough of our ruminations—what do you guys think?

24 thoughts on “We Recommend: Two-Year-Old Edition

  1. I love Virginia Lee Burton books and my children did too, even when they were toddlers. I believe there is one about a snowplow as well, but can’t remember the title. Also old-school, but equally loved were Robert McCloskey books such as Make Way For Ducklings, Blueberries For Sal, Lentil and One Morning in Maine. These are still favorites of ours only now my kids read them to the cat instead of sucking their thumbs and hanging on every word as I read them. Another author my kids liked at that age, which I thought was surprising, was William Steig. They loved The Amazing Bone, Zeke Pippin, Pete’s a Pizza and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble years before I thought they would. Now, at ages 6 & 8, they are intense readers well above their grade levels. Maybe William Steig was the secret all along 🙂

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  2. Wow, I’m impressed by this kid! My first thought was actually Milly Molly Mandy – if you’re right, and he won’t mind such a girly book?

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  3. Kate DiCamillo’s picture book, Louise: The Adventures of a Chicken might fit the bill.
    But I don’t know. Mine is 2 and one quarter and obsessed with A Boy and His Bunny and Big Bad Bunny. And Dinosaur vs. Bedtime. Low on words, big on funny.

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  4. My daughter is of a similar age and loves Mike Mulligan! We’ve a number of other Virginia Lee Burton books on hold at the library (there are ones about cable cars, a snow plow, and trains and more…) I’ll second the Robert McCloskey books. She’s especially fond of Blueberries for Sal. She also likes Roger Duvoisin’s Petunia and Veronica books although at times these veer into the too wordy… Although most of them are sadly out of print we (read especially I) LOVE just about anything written and illustrated by Stephen Kellogg – Can I Keep Him, The Mysterious Tadpole and (best book ever) The Orchard Cat!

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  5. Three suggestions, all of which (I think) have good pictures and enough story to satisfy:
    1. What about the Beatrix Potter books? Not just Peter Rabbit, but Jemima Puddle-Duck, Tom Kitten, Benjamin Bunny, etc. The original drawings are very sweet and the unabridged versions have a lot of story to accompany the pictures.
    2. Also I suggest the original Curious George series–full of adventure and excellent pictures but maybe a bit scary? (I read Curious George Gets a Job to my just-3-year-old. Many discussions of how he broke his leg ensued.)
    3.Maybe the Frances (the badger) series by Russell and Lilian Hoban? She is a little girl badger but the stories are great, not scary at all, very familiar to parents plus the drawings are very cute.

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  6. Would he like any Chris Van Allsburg books? (The Z was Zapped and Two Bad Ants) He is one of my very favorites. Tomie DePaola as well. We listened to the books on CD from 26 Fairmount Ave.and my kids LOVED them. We also love his Strega Nona series of books.

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  7. Maybe some of these?
    Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
    Bark George by Jules Feiffer
    Fairytale books by Paul Galdone: Three Bears, Gingerbread boy, Three Billy Goats Gruff, etc.
    Richard Scarry, but the books with stories not just the names of things (Busy Busy World if you can find it).

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  8. Forgot to say My Fathers Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, and the Mercy Watson Stories by Kate DiCamillo
    Tim Egan: Burnt Toast on Davenport Street, Dodsworth in New York, Dodsworth in Paris, Do Not get The Experaments of Dr. Vermin, unless you can preview it first and see if it is too scary…

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  9. My son was similar at that age. We were fortunate enough to receive a Burton treasury (including Maybelle the Cable Car and Katie the Bulldozer as well as the ones shown above) and it was LOVED. Still is.
    Also: When Pigasso Met Mootisse and Double Trouble in Walla Walla were gifts and huge hits.
    Not enough pictures, probably, but The Cricket in Times Square was our first chapter book.
    And the Magic School Bus series might work.
    Don’t forget the Mo Willems stuff. Knuffle Bunny, Don’t Let the Pigeon, and of course the elephant & pig books.
    Bill Peet has some good ones (mostly trains).
    And Dr. Seuss’s buddy (in my mind), PD Eastman, has some great ones–not just Go Dog Go, but also Danny and the Dinosaur, Sammy the Seal, I’ll Teach my Dog 100 Words.
    We went back and forth a LOT on “difficulty levels.” We wanted to stretch him (and were so eager to share our favorites) so we went with chapter books; but early reading mastery comes from things like the Eastmans and Gerald and Piggie. (And I figure, I love a good novel or the NYTimes, but I also enjoy a cheesy magazine every once in a while…why wouldn’t my kids swing back and forth too?)

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  10. And I forgot: A A Milne might be the ticket! We had some books on tape of three Pooh stories — still have– and the boys love them. They might have the pictures-to-text ratio that would work.

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  11. Frog and Toad! Read him those a few (dozen) times, and he’ll be reading them himself before you know it. The words are very simple (no contractions) but the stories are really hilarious and touching, and longer than a picture book.
    Other books by Arnold Lobel are also good. We like Grasshopper on the Road.

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  12. Lots of good suggestions here, for this age I’d add Harold and the Purple Crayon, any of the Kevin Henkes books, the Thornton Burgess animal stories….

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  13. Oh and we spent many weeks with daily readings of Mike Mulligan and Ferdinand the Bull, so I’d imagine that would be a good one, too

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  14. I have a suggestion, but it is out of print (although easy to find online) – Journey Cake Ho!, by Ruth Sawyer and Robert McCloskey. It is one of my daughter’s favorite books (and mine too, when I was her age). My daughter is similar to your son in wanting longer-worded books with pictures. I can also wholeheartedly recommend the McCloskey books, especially One Morning in Maine, which is very long and has wonderful pictures on every page. I think that there are more wordy picture books from the 1950’s and before; I’m thinking especially of The Little Engine that Could (original edition), the Sybelle Von Olfers books (still in print!), Elsa Beskow books, etc.

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  15. Norman the Doorman by Don Freeman is lovely. Gregory the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat (it’s hilarious). All Rosemary Wells books are hits at our house. Spectacles by Ellen Raskin is awesome! Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack. The Fourteen Bears (Summer & Winter, often packed as a single book) by Evelyn Scott. All have wonderful illustrations and just enough text/story for a kiddo that age who is a bit beyond those simple picture books.

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  16. I will definitely second A. A. Milne. My kid who was very similar to the description loved Pooh at that age, and is now revisiting them at age 8 in a very different way. She also liked a lot of the books that are meant as early readers – Owl at Home, Mouse Tales, and other Arnold Lobel, as well as the Mr. Putter and Tabby books. Also, to add to your Virginia Lee Burton collection, I recommend Katy and the Big Snow.

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  17. There are all those old-school Little Golden Books that might work–my 3-year-old loves Toodle the Train and Doctor Dan the Bandage Man and stuff like that. And I second Frances, who is also fun to read out loud.

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  18. The Burton snowplow book is Katy & the Big Snow. 🙂
    There’s an amazing wealth of longer picture books out there. Some that come to mind are:
    Lyle, Lyle Crocodile and others by Bernard Waber.
    Nate the Great and almost anything else by Marjorie Sharmat
    Click, Clack, Moo, and many others by Doreen Cronin
    The Mitten and others by Jan Brett
    Verdi, Stellaluna, and Pinduli, by Janell Cannon
    Have fun!

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  19. My son is just a couple months younger than the writer’s and is just getting into longer books–Dr. Seuss and the like. I am here not so much to recommend books but to thank you and your commenters for all their recommendations! I just added a huge number of them to my son’s Christmas list. My two favorites for the writer, based on what my son has enjoyed (and what’s just pushing the boundaries of length for him) are Robert McCloskey and Tomie DePaola. And how about the Anatole series by Eve Titus?

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  20. Oh my! I am the original poster — I was away from email for a while, and then when I did get back and saw all these wonderful recommendations, I and my son got knocked down by colds, and I haven’t had a chance to reply until now.
    I thought maybe I’d give you a bit of a follow-up — I know some of your readers have said they’d love to hear how the recommendations went over with the recommend-ees. My son is now three and is still devouring books at an incredible rate. By a complete coincidence, not long after I wrote in, but before you’d had a chance to reply, we went out and got a Mike Mulligan compendium (the one with Mike Mulligan, The Little House, Katy and the Big Snow and Maybelle the Cable Car), and that entertained us for many bedtimes (except I have to admit that I edit Maybelle, because I find it rather tedious) — so, you hit the mark with that one.
    I also have to especially thank the reader who suggested My Father’s Dragon — we read it on a long airplane journey about three weeks ago, and my son adored — a-DORED — it (and so do I, actually). It has been in constant rotation ever since (as in, we finish it, and we start right back at the beginning). We’ve also just finished reading the second and the third in the series, though he still loves the first one best.
    I also wanted to add a couple of other books that we discovered, in case anyone does a websearch and comes up with this page. Bob and the House Elves by Emily Rodda and Tim Archbold was recommended by a local children’s bookseller. It’s a gentle, funny story about a scruffy builder named Bob whose house gets invaded by — and, even worse, tidied up by — a whole load of elves. Bob then spends the rest of the book trying different things to get rid of the elves. We also found a collection of “Katie Morag” stories (Katie Morag Of Course by Mairi Hedderwick: Katie Morag is a little girl who lives on the island of Struay off the coast of Scotland and who has very gentle adventures, along the lines of “accidentally” eating all the sweeties [candy] that she bought to give her Gran for her birthday) that are written for slightly older children than the picture books that Katie Morag usually appears in.
    And finally, on the recommendation of someone who saw me buying My Father’s Dragon, I picked up the first in the series of Henry Huggins books by Beverly Cleary (I used to love the Ramona books). All was well until a story in which Henry accidentally loses a brand new football belonging to a bigger boy, and the bigger boy gets angry and slightly threatening — at that point my son asked me to stop, and has asked that we not read the story about the ball again. I would love to start the Little House series, or Pippi (and I think, given that he is fine with Katie Morag, there wouldn’t be an issue with the girly factor), BUT, having gone back and looked at The Little House on the Prairie, I think we might need to wait — there’s a crossing-the-raging-river scene near the beginning where the little dog is washed down the river, presumed dead. He shows up again in the next chapter, but I think even the thought that he might be lost for good would be too much for my sensitive reader!
    Thank you again so much. We are having great fun checking out all of the new titles that everyone suggested. This is a marvellous, marvellous resource — and you’ve created a lovely community here.

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  21. Adding my belated two cents, as I have a 2.5 year old daughter and we’re in the same sort of transition reading phase. She has recently read and enjoyed some Burton and McCloskey, and the Frances books have long been favourites, so it’s nice to see those mentioned. Also Milne and Potter. But what’s really turning her crank these days is Babar. There are some difficult moments – Babar’s mother is killed by a cruel hunter, for instance – but that doesn’t seem to bother her (and I’ve been pretty cautious about exposing her to the heavier stuff).

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