We Recommend: William Wants a Doll. Or at Least the Option of a Doll

Ah, We Recommend, where at least we have the option of someone commenting, as opposed to the empty barren wasteland of my last post. However! We're here to have you guys e-mail us with specific requests, which we then try to match up with just the perfect book, and then everyone else offers even better ideas in the comments. Or something along those lines. Now without further ado…

Today we have a request from a poor beleaguered parent who is hoping we can offer a book for her little boy that isn't only about cars, trucks, and footballs. I am reminded of when a somewhat-horrified friend of mine received a onesie with modified epaulets for her newborn, after having watch my girls get tons of small happy frogs sniffing flowers and the like. But I'll let the writer tell you.

I'm looking for some book recommendations for my 2 1/2 year child, who is a boy; whose gender I almost don't want to state so as not to limit his, as yet undeveloped, tastes.  Ok, he loves cars and trucks but he'll read most anything.  A good story is starting to trump a good picture-book.  His favorite picture book was "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," Richard Scary.  Now he likes "Sally Jean the Bicycle Queen," especially the part where she makes her own bicycle out of recycled parts.  He also likes "The Kissing Hand."  He loves music, dancing, cars, trucks, boats, trains, love and sweetness, animals, fairies, tools, adventures.  He does not like scary or sad subject matter.  I do not like books  which use the word "firemen" instead of "firefighter" and in which typically male jobs are only portrayed by males and vice versa (ie the old Richard Scary, and for that matter, most everything else).  

For sure, I can identify. As who can not? I remember the day a fellow parent of a kindergartner mentioned to me, "Someone just told me that when grown-ups talk to little kids, if it's a girl they almost always start with 'What a pretty…' or whatever, soemthing about what the girl is wearing, while with a boy, they say 'Hey, what are you doing?' And I've realized—I do it too!" And of course, I do it as well, try as I might not to. It's a tricky, boggy world. I mean, a kid come up to in a sparkly tutu with a boa and twirls: she wants you to notice it. But how do we remind them and ourselves that the world is much bigger than that, while still retaining a healthy respect for what a kick-ass tutu said child might be wearing?

But I digress.

I didn't have an idea when I first read this email, but in writing about something springs full-blown into my head, a gift to a nice, small four-year-old-Chestnut-that-was (from a boy, no less, whose mother said he LOVED this book):


It's a collection of small stories and poems, so not exactly a story story, it's still lots of fun and very good for a small young person, such as we are dealing with today. It also has the added benefit of being a really nice book to start to learn to read from, as nothing is too long, and they were very cheery illustrations to support you along the way. Altogether, kind of excellent. And something we went back to over and over, now that I think of it.

But I don't actually have a boy, and no doubt people have all sorts of different ideas of what would be just perfect. Do tell, in the comments.

16 thoughts on “We Recommend: William Wants a Doll. Or at Least the Option of a Doll

  1. I assume your title is a reference to the excellent picture book by Charlotte Zolotow, William’s Doll, so besides that one that I think is particularly good for a boy who dances is Oliver Button is a Sissy by the awesome Tomie de Paola about a little boy who loves to dance and gets flak from his peers about it. Good luck!


  2. At that age our son loved the Stanley books by Craig Frazier (Stanley Goes for a Drive, Stanley Goes Fishing, Stanley Mows the Lawn). Great graphics and simple stories with gentle humor and twists.


  3. I think there are a million picture books that are very unisex. Many of the great picture book authors are very unisex in their appeal. I don’t think anyone is out there trying to classify Mo Willems or Mark Teague or Patricia Polacco or Maurice Sendak as somehow being “girl” books or “boy” books. Also, I would say, let him enjoy the “girl” books too. My boys love Fancy Nancy and Olivia.


  4. My daughter’s favorite books as a two year old were Peter’s Chair and In the Night Kitchen. As a three year old, Miss Rumphius was a big one for a while. I loved all three of these because I thought the stories were great and none involved tutus nor trucks. I don’t have a boy though, so… Good luck!


  5. Well, I have one of each gender, and the happy news I have to share is this: it doesn’t matter whether you are reading to a girl or a boy – a good book is a good book and will be loved universally.
    Still, I can recommend any of the Robert McLoskey books (Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal). The Toot & Puddle books by Hollie Hobbie.
    The Story About Ping
    Pickle-Chiffon Pie
    perhaps the Babar books? (they may be too frightening)
    Just my 2 cents for today.


  6. Jane Yolen’s dinosaur series “How do dinosaurs play with their friends?” etc. are a big hit with the little boys and girls I know in that age range.
    Milo’s Hat Trick by Jon Agee is funny and uses both the words and illustrations to tell the story.
    Max and Ruby books are gentle and a lot of fun, though they do show Ruby doing “girl” things and Max being a “typical” little brother.
    My last recommendation would be the Tacky the Penguin series. It might be a little wordy for a 2 1/2 year old, but each child’s different so I recommend giving it a try.


  7. A very silly read-aloud book that my son loved at that age is Bearsie Bear and the Surprise Sleepover Party by Bernard Waber. A series of animals come in from the cold and ask to sleep over. Bearsie Bear’s bed gets very crowded. The mindlessness of the animals’ names is part of the fun.


  8. Mo Willems books are great for this age – the pigeon series, Knuffle Bunny, and Leonardo the Terrible Monster are particular favorites around here. Eric Carle makes some great books for older kids filled with his fabulous illustrations. Tomie de Paola’s Strega Nona books, among others are good. Jan Brett’s are fabulous for getting kids to pay attention to details. She puts so much work in to the illustrations, and my kids love them.


  9. At that age my son was obsessed with cars and trucks, but also loved characters like Maisy, Spot, and Clifford. Other books he enjoyed: Bear Snores On, Good Dog Carl, and most of the Sandra Boynton oeuvre. As I write this, I’m seeing an animal theme here! There’s also I Love You Stinky Face, I Love My Mommy/Daddy Because, and a bunch of Cat in the Hat-type books (Go Dog Go, Ten Apples on Top, Old Hat New Hat, etc.).


  10. I agree with all of Kate’s suggestions, and would throw in Where the Wild Things Are unless it’s too scary.
    Also, how about Corduroy, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, or Make Way For Ducklings. None of these are particularly gender-stereotype destroying, but they are all appealing to both genders and are just good stories. Oh! Are You My Mother was one that we loved as kids.


  11. Also, Go, Dog Go has lots of cars in it but is not actually about cars. It was a huge hit in my all girls house when I was little. I can’t imagine it’s gendered at all. It might be annoying for the parents, because it doesn’t have a plot. But it was fun.


  12. Just about anything by Kevin Henkes. For that age, maybe Kitten’s First Full Moon, but he has these great, quirky characters (both boys and girls).


  13. The Magic Hat by Mem Fox, Dinosaurumpus by Tony Mitton, The Wide-Mouthed Frog by Ana Martin Larranaga, Down by the Cool of the Pool by Tony Mitton and Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae. These are fun books that have great rhythm and rhyme all of my kids loved them (both genders). A Splendid Friend, Indeed by Suzanne Bloom was a favorite of my kids, and check out books by Cynthia Rylant like The Bookshop Dog and The Old Woman Who Named Things. Or more by Mem Fox such as Night Noises. Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming was good too. My new favorite, of course, is Chicken Cheeks by Michael Ian Black. It is about Butts. What kid wouldn’t like that?


  14. I think they are out of print, but the Obadiah books by Brinton Turkle–about a Quaker boy in colonial Nantucket–are wonderful. In Rachel and Obadiah, Obadiah loses a race to his sister, a nice touch of girl power in a book that centers on a male character.
    Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee might also be a possibility. It’s very kinetic, and the roller coaster would appeal to boys; however, the brave point-of-view character about to take her first ride is female.


  15. We got Owl Moon a couple of years ago for a birthday gift. I had read it two or three times, sure that the main character was a boy. My daughter asked a question that made it clear that she thought the main character was a girl. I realized it never specifies and because of the “wardrobe,” you can’t really tell. Also, a beautiful story with amazing illustrations.
    I would also suggest checking out the kids’ biography section of the library. There are great picture book biographies and that’s always where I go when I feel like Brynna’s buying into the gender stereotypes too much. A little Madame Curie or Amelia Earhart is bound to cure that ill.


  16. Yes, everything by Kevin Henkes – my 2.5 year old boy really like Old Bear right now.
    I also think Don and Audrey Wood are good authors to consider for books with broad appeal.


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