It's time for We Recommend, in which readers ask for suggestions, and we try our very hardest to come up with the perfect book in answer (and then you guys come up with even more amazing choices in the comments). Looking for a recommendation? E-mail us! We're very agreeable.
First, let me clear the air. My own air, I mean. I decided to go with this particular We Recommend because I have a bone to pick with it. And now that I've said that, I have to also admit that whenever I get on my high horse, something will usually happen that upends all my previous thinking and leaves me shamefaced and humbled and (we hope) having learned something. So I guess what I'm saying is, take this all with a generous pinch of the proverbial salt. Especially the excellent person who wrote in with this question!
But at the same time, when I get full of the righteous indignation, well, what else is a blog for, really?
Anyway. Here's what we got:
I'm wondering if you can recommend a chapter book for my son's daycare, which largely consists of three-year-olds. Is there such a thing as a pre-K novel? The kids just listened to Beverly Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and they enjoyed it just fine but missed a lot of the plot, as I discovered when I tried to re-read it to my son. I don't think they're quite ready for My Father's Dragon or The Fantastic Mr. Fox. So, I'm looking for something exactly between, say, the Frog and Toad books and Charlotte's Web. What have you got?
So here's what gets to me: why are we reading chapter books to three year olds? Of course they missed a lot of The Mouse and the Motorcycle. They're three! They miss a lot of why you shouldn't eat things off the airport floor! They're three—they don't know anything (in a good way).
Three year olds are the perfect—perfect—age for picture books. For fairy tales. For long silly stories about trains that will make anyone else want to eat their own brains, but to the three year old will seem like absolute heaven. Books like The Velveteen Rabbit, Amos and Boris, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel—the list is almost endless. And Beatrix Potter, now there's a crazy bloody mayhem of storyline there, perfect for reading to a (grisly-minded) three year old. We read Mrs. Tittlemouse about one million times when the kids were between 2 and 4. And this list is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the one that's made up of old books only!
At first I was put off by the implied dis to Frog and Toad. I, personally, love Frog and Toad. But she's right, they don't make sense here. The truth is, those books are simplified because they're for beginning readers to read to themselves. Picture books are going to be far more sophisticated, both in language and story, because they are made to be read by an adult to a little kid.
I remember happening upon one of my kids in her 3s class in pre-school, and the not-so-excellent teacher was doing Simon Says with them, and NONE of them got it, they got tricked over and over again and she, a silly, 20-year-old who'd maybe done some babysitting by way of preparation, was laughing at them (not that they minded) because none of them got what you were supposed to do. But they were three! They just didn't get it, that's all.The best possible thing I can imagine is to let three-year-olds be three.
And as far as I can tell, at three they're just not ready for most chapter books. There are some—the weirdly episodic kind, like All of a Kind Family, or better yet, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, in which each chapter is its own story, and you don't have to keep track long-term of a plot. Ooh, or maybe Stuart Little, which is bizarre and lovely. Most of these, though, aren't really written for three-year-olds. Truly, if I had a passel of three-year-olds here in my house clamoring for a story (and thank goodness I don't, now that I have that terrifying mental image), here's what I would read them:
The excellent story of a dentist and his wife who outwit a fox. It's funny. The adult will not be horribly bored. It's, as far as I'm concerned, great art.
So whew. I am spent.
And now, to the comments: help me out, who's got a book for these kids?