We Recommend: Tome Edition

And it's back to We Recommend, where my girls and I use our superpowers
to figure out the exact right book recommendation for whomever writes
in to ask. Just send us a description of the kid  you're talking about,
what he or she likes and does like, any other relevant (or irrelevant,
why not?) information, and we'll dip into our collective
unconsciousness and come up with the perfect book, which will
inevitably be overshadowed by the amazing and insightful
recommendations from the commenters. So go ahead, test us!

And now, we have a question about those transitional books, those longer picture books that are the excellent province of a certain time in childhood, complicated stories meant to be read aloud, because they're too hard for 1st graders to read to themselves, and then all of sudden everyone's too old. See here:

I have a three year old, and
besides what she reads at school, our time spent reading is one of the
last fun things we do before turning out the lights.  She selects three
books and we snuggle up for what usually ends up being way too long and
past her bedtime.  There really aren't any that she just loves right
now, and of course, they're all the pretty quick toddler fare — Little
Golden Books, Dr. Seuss (which she doesn't really like), Arthur the
Aardvark, some reading primers which are boooooring, Richard Scarry,
Madeline, Pinkalicious, things like that.  I try to vary things up a
little.  At what age do kids get into being read to, like, longer books
— a bit each night?  My husband reads Just So Stories to her quite a
bit, but it's usually just a piece here and there.  But, it's not the
type of thing where on Monday we just can't wait to get to Tuesday to
find out what happened…!  So, what books are the three year old/four
year olds into right now?  What age should we be introducing longer

The short answer here: I don't know. I mean, the age is so variable! Some kids are hearing All of a Kind Family at age three, and are perfectly happy, and other kids are going strong with Richard Scarry (whom I LOVE—no one on earth is better at creating the silly, crazy accidents that kids love with all their tiny zany hearts). It sounds like the mother here is bored, and I completely identify with that. So I would try something new, something longer, because why not? Especially if she is not in love right now. Nothing is better than watching a kid be in love.

I'm thinking of all the excellent options: older picture books (in my view) tend to be a bit more sophisticated. Things like the original Babar books, Chester the Worldly Pig, Make Way for Ducklings, are all really excellent, with longer more complicated stories. Also Mike Mulligan and The Little House…they're so many amazing books. Oh, and Dr. DeSoto and Brave Irene by William Steig! There's an amazing wealth to choose from. It's just a little tricky because we don't know so much about what the child's particular tastes are, but I would sample from the above.

You could even try more episodic novels—All of a Kind Family, for instance, which lends itself well to bedtime, and the Just So stories were very big for us back then. As for the cliffhanger from Monday to Tuesday, for my kids plot wasn't huge when they were 3. If there was plot tension it more freaked them out than anything.

But from my heart, what I recommend? Since we appear to be on a crying jag here, the one that always kills me

I love this book, it's so heartfelt and strange and complicated and moving. I would read it to anyone for bedtime (well, almost anyone). I think it achieves real greatness.

But is it going to help them out of their rut? Who knows? What would you guys recommend?


9 thoughts on “We Recommend: Tome Edition

  1. I’m going to back to Noisy Village here, which has delighted my daughter since she was 3 or 4. Each chapter is a self contained story, and most of them are about the right length for bedtime reading, but they are connected so it feels cohesive over time and like you’re reading a ‘big kid’ book.
    Also this week we started reading Beezus and Ramona, which my daughter is loving – she is insisting on going to bed EARLY tonight so we can have more reading time. It might be too much for a 3 year old, but you know your kid…
    Oh! And I really highly recommend Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey (of Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal fame). It’s absolutely lovely, and so soothing for bedtime. The pictures are gorgeous watercolors and the text is a wonderfully evocative poem about summer in Maine. I read it to my daughter starting at a *very* young age, though it went over her head for a long time.
    I’m also curious about when we can start reading a chapter of Wind in the Willows or something each night. I’ve tried a couple of times but she’s gotten booooored.


  2. I also think there is a multitude of good picture books out there for the preschool set. The problem may be that you don’t find them in the bookstores. I think the picture book selection in general is so narrow. Go to the library!
    But we did start our first chapter book read alouds at that age. My recommendation for best first read aloud is the My Father’s Dragon series. Good, short, fun, pictures on enough pages to interest the kids. The Dick King-Smith books also make good early read alouds in my opinion. Many of the things that people suggest as first read alouds (The Little House books, Charlotte’s Web, Wind in the Willows, and various other classics) my kids found too long and too difficult for an early read aloud.


  3. Our 3 year old (born in late March, as a few months still make a big difference at this age) is at a similar stage. I too had been wondering about when to make that transition to bigger-kid books. (We have a Frog and Toad book but I was worried that he might be a little freaked out by some of the stories. On the other hand that kind of material right on the edge of interesting/scary often becomes the favorite book.) We got him a version of Alice in Wonderland for kids (http://www.amazon.com/Alice-Wonderland-Usborne-Young-Reading/dp/074606781X/)–I think the recommendation came from a commenter of yours!–and have tried reading him a few chapters a night just this week. On the one hand, it’s a really confusing and weird book and the plotline is so random that I’m not sure he understood that the chapters are related. On the other hand, he was interested enough to stick with it for several nights. So maybe it’s something where they don’t “get” chapters at first, but can still appreciate the stories, and then slowly learn to understand how chapters are interrelated.
    My experience with Alice, anyway, has led me to think that I’ll definitely try to branch out; at the worst he’ll lose interest, but more likely he’ll enjoy having a bit more story.


  4. My daughter just turned 4 (May) and we’ve just gotten into real chapter books in the last several months. We’ve read The Wizard of Oz TWICE through – man, that is a weird book, but she loves it – as well as Stuart Little and, now, Charlotte’s Web. When she was 3-ish, we started Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books, which I find hilarious, and Frog & Toad. And we went thru a looooong McCloskey phase, complete with never-ending questions about when she would lose a tooth and be a big girl (One Morning in Maine). Another one she found fascinating at that age was The Princess and the Pea – the Lauren Childs version with paper dolls. It has far too many words, and I used to skip a lot of them but she LOVES the pictures and, now, all the words.


  5. Mine at 3 have been a bit young for nightly chapter books. One exception was Toys Go Out (author I can’t recall, and using dialup so not going to take the 15 minutes to look it up!) That is one funny funny book, and each chapter is funny enough that it kept my 3yo listening despite maybe not following all the deeper meanings.
    As for good picture books though, I’d try Kevin Henkes. All the Lily ones of course, but Chrysanthemum is my very favourite. And Sheila Rae the Brave is a good one too. Anything he has written that has a mouse on the cover is bound to be a winner.
    I second the recommendation of the library. You just can’t afford to keep your preschooler stocked with an appropriate variety of picture books. If you just go to bookstores, you will go crazy reading the same cheap trash again and again.


  6. How about the Little Bear books? A Kiss for Little Bear is very nice. They seemed like big kid books to me when I was around three. A House is A House for me has a lot of words but it all rhymes. Its a long poem. My 10 month old loves it. The illustrations are beautiful. I also liked the Beatrix Potter books at that age. Some of them are scary though!


  7. I love the Frog and Toad books as well as the Little Bear books. They’re great with recurring characters, all bound up together in a book so you don’t feel like you’re zipping from one volume to the next, and they have a gentle, appealing sensibility I love.
    But I also wanted to add a recommendation for the Uncle Wiggily stories, particularly the “Adventures of Uncle Wiggily.” It’s really old-fashioned, but the characters are wonderful, the pictures are bright and entertaining, and the stories are a little longer than an average picture book, I felt, making for a slightly longer attention span.


  8. It’s not a picture book but a simple chapter book. If you can stand sweetnees- Milly Molly Mandy (and its sequel). Very gentle stories, old fashioned each chapter is a stand alone.


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