We Recommend: Words AND Pictures, Please, age 5.5 edition

Ah, another episode of We Recommend, in which we attempt, by hook or by crook, to find the absolutely perfect book for people who write in. Got a kid in your life who needs a recommendation? Write us with the age, reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant) information, and we'll give it a shot.

Why does it feel like about a million years since I have done a We Recommend? A quick glance at the record shows that's not true…and yet. I've been struggling with the whole idea of this blog of late: I am not reading any books for 5 year olds with my kids, I go to the book store and I see Pinkalicious and I know people are into it but I've never read it. I have nothing to say, no wisdom to convey (if I ever did).

But at the same time, I have this truly awesome group of readers, which so many excellent librarians and other book-lovers among them; it would feel somewhat evil to stop being a connection between them and those searching for books.

So, on to the questions that face us!

I was hoping you would have some suggestions for my 5.5 yr old daughter. Lately we have been enjoying heavily illustrated books with detailed stories. "Paddle-to-Sea" and other Holling works as well as "James Herriot's Treasury for Children" have been a hit. We asked at the library today but she didn't have many suggestions that were just right.
This is the sort of question that makes all the sense in the world to me. For one thing, great taste, kid! Paddle to the Sea is amazing. A truly great book, very strange in the way that all great things end up being strange and anomalous. But if it's anomalous, how do we find her something like it?
I am guessing, from the age, that these books are being read aloud, yes? And that she's got a certain earnestness, based on the two books she's loved. And she's cool with nonfiction, as long as it's narrative.
First, I thought of one of the greatest read-alouds of all time: Winne the Pooh. It is just the best. Sweet and interesting and delicious.
But that may not be what this girl wants. She seems to enjoy more things that are nonfiction-ish, about animals or nature if possible, narrative.
Hmmmm. Heavily illustrated. I would almost want Little House in the Big Woods for all of its nature and animals, but there aren't enough illustrations.
OK, it's probably something she's already read, due to its classic status, and it's not exactly nonfiction, but I think she might really like it:
FromChildrenBookGuidde
A lovely book, without question. Nature, earnestness, lots of text.
But I really wish my brain could have coughed up something even more perfectly aligned with her desires. If I were sitting in a library to write this, it would be a lot easier.
So I implore you, helpful people: send this girl some nature-girl nonfiction love in the comments!

24 thoughts on “We Recommend: Words AND Pictures, Please, age 5.5 edition

  1. How about Time of Wonder, also by McCloskey? You can see what Sal looks like in 5 yrs or so. That one is still a favorite at our house.
    Chris Van Allsburg may have some that fit the bill–his books tend to have lots of text. Maybe Kevin Henkes, too?

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  2. The first thing that came to mind was McCloskey. LOL. Our boy has really, really enjoyed Jean Craighead George books. Look at “Luck” or “Frightful’s Daughter meets the Barren Weasel” for picture book examples. George also has short chapter books like “A Day in the Tropical Rainforest” which are good as well. Finally, she has written books for older kids like “My Side of the Mountain.” My son has enjoyed those as well, although they are harder, slower reads than the picture and chapter books.
    One warning about her books. The author is a naturalist, she tells it like it is out in nature. There are predator/prey relationships and she respects them and wants the reader to respect them too.
    Almost tangentially, I’d recommend Bill Peet for a lighter story book author for this little girl.

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  3. This is my little girl in the question. Thanks so much for posting for us.
    I am reading aloud to her and she does love nature/animal stories. We listened to all of the Laura stories in the car and they were a huge hit but for whatever reason, at home, she wants something to look at.
    We are currently reading “Charlotte’s Web” but only in small doses between repeats of James Herriot. As for the realities of nature, the more the better. She loves my father’s hunting stories and doesn’t mind the sad parts of Herriot (I am the one crying when the cat dies.)
    We’ve read McCloskey in the past but haven’t tried recently. I’ll give it a try as well as all of the other suggestions. Thank you!

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  4. I can’t help myself. I just thought of another book. “Owl Moon” by Yolen (I think). Wonderful book–my son will be taking that book to college and reading it there again and again.
    Not as sophisticated as the Craighead George books, but lovely.

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  5. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton–a lot of pictures, a lot of text. It’s not about nature per se, but the natural world is prominently featured.

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  6. I checked out of the library a more illustrated/oversized version of Wind in the Willows for my daughter when she was almost 5. She loved it. There were enough drawings she gained the visual interest of a story book but more details of a more advanced book. And it was about nature but she loved the relationships that evolve and the story. She still asks to check it out again and again. She sees something new in it each time we read it.

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  7. Erika beat me to Time of Wonder – this is a wonderful (hehe) read with lovely illustrations and is all about nature in the summertime.
    Another picture book that might work is “The Caboose Who Got Loose”, about a train caboose who appreciates nature.
    Since she doesn’t mind sad too much and you’re already reading Charlotte’s Web, you could try The Trumpet of the Swan, also by E.B. White. I haven’t read it in a good many years, and I do remember some sad/scary parts (vivid descriptions of swan injuries) but it’s just as beautiful as you’d expect from E.B. White.
    Finally, how about Watership Down? It’s got lovely rabbits, excitement and adventure in the woods, and beautifully written.

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  8. I’d try her on some Dick King-Smith: short chapter books, about animals (he wrote the book on which the movie “Babe” is based), with illustrations.
    Also maybe “Catwings.” Again, it’s a chapter book w/lots of illustrations.
    Longer nature-y picture books: maybe Jim LaMarche. His illustrations are gorgeous and the stories are quiet and beautiful and full of the outdoors.
    And for a funny picture book about nature, you can’t beat “A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever” by Marla Frazee!

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  9. I second Wind in the Willows.
    Also, I highly reccomend Miss Rumphius, which is about planting flowers so there’s nature there. And Brave Irene by William Steig, in which Irene has to battle the elements. There aren’t all that many words per page on these, but they are certainly plot-rich and I remember that they felt like more advanced picture books that I loved well after I could read longer books to myself. None of these are non fiction, but they are wonderful, so there’s that.

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  10. I second the Catwings books by Ursula Le Guin. Not picture books per se but more illustrations than the Little House books.
    With all the other McCloskey recommendations I’m surprised no one has mentioned One Morning In Maine. It was a favorite of both my kids.
    In a different vein but probably my kids favorite read aloud picture book is The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman. The illustrations by Marla Frazee are fantastic (lots to look at) and the prose is fabulous too. As a parent, I’ve never gotten tired of reading this book to my kids which says something, I think.
    You might also want to look into books by both Elsa Beskow and Sibylle von Olfers. All have beautiful illustrations and are nature themed in one way or another. None is in any way realistic. We’re talking fairies and sprites and talking animals here, but the illustrations are lovely and my younger daughter (now 7) especially loved to look at these books when she was 5 and 6 years old.

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  11. Here’s the crazy thing: I meant to write One Morning in Maine, but the name came to my mind as Blueberries for Sal, which is never one we read much. One Morning in Maine, though, with the salty sand and the clams and the tooth—perfect. And yes to William Steig. So many excellent suggestions.

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  12. Oh I have to second The Seven Silly Eaters. Such amazing pictures that you never get tired of them. After three kids worth of it I can actually recite the whole thing, yet if my 5 year old goes and gets it off the shelf tonight, I’ll be happy.
    We have some old Rupert annuals that are also a hit at this stage. Lots of pictures, lots of words, lots of action.

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  13. My absolute first thought was Zoom- gorgeous illustrations and amazing story.
    At five, my daughter adored the Rosemary Wells schoolhouse series with Yoko and Timothy and Noisy Nora. Longish stories and lovely pictures. Also by Wells – Emily’s First 100 days of School. And Laurie Keller’s Arnie the Donut is a huge fan favorite around here – in addition to the main story, there are all sorts of funny “asides” from various characters.

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  14. Oh, I can’t believe I forgot Dick King-Smith! The whole Sophie series is wonderful (start with “Sophie’s Snail”), and another favorite is Lady Lollipop. Oddly, my girl didn’t like Babe or Ace as much–maybe b/c not as many pictures?

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  15. I was surprised by your recommendation because it sounds like the listener in question would really like something longer than Blueberries for Sal.
    I’m always recommending The Jamie and Angus Stories by Anne Fine as a gentle chapter book read aloud at this age. My Father’s Dragon is another good option. We loved The Wizard of Oz (as illustrations are needed, definitely get the WW Denslow edition!). And I thought Winnie the Pooh was a very good suggestion too.

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  16. Don Freeman (author of Corduroy) has some other books, most about animals, that are good longer stories with pictures. Not super detailed stories, but pretty interesting.
    Esther Averill’s Jenny and the Cat Club books – some are more highly illustrated than others, but all are awesome.
    There’s a series of highly illustrated stories from the Pippi Longstocking books (similar to the ones out now for Little House, but older I think) that my daughter liked at this age.
    Cynthia Rylant also has some relevant books: The Lighthouse Family series, Thimbleberry Stories. Some of them might count as early “chapter books” (can’t quite remember) but they were loved by my daughter when she was rebelling against chapter books.
    Mirette on the High Wire, and possibly other books by Emily Arnold McCully… some of her other books may be more for older kids, but my 6 yr old has loved Mirette for a few years now.
    And what about Doctor Doolittle? There’s sure to be some edition that is well illustrated.

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  17. Not much narration, but super-rich illustrations that might be enjoyed: David Weisner. I’m thinking “Tuesday” or “June 30, 1999”. “Art and Max” has more plot… I read them all as an adult, and my toddler adores “Art and Max”, so they seem to appeal across a broad spectrum…

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  18. How about The Owl and the Pussycat? My favourite edition is the Hilary Knight one, which has a ton to look at in the pictures, and features a little boy and girl slowly transforming into the owl and the pussycat and back again. Words do not do it justice.

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  19. We love your blogging – and here’s my “here here” to you keeping on doing it!
    Can I hijack the thread, or can you post a we recommend for me?
    4-year-old girl, we’re moving to our 4th residence that she will know during her lifetime (poor nomad girl!). And this place is also transitional… Any recommendations for a girl who can find “home” wherever she finds herself?

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  20. I second the My Father’s Dragon series. The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me, has illustrations, although not lavish. The Wind in the Willows, but you have to find the right one for the good illustrations. Dinotopia? It is heavily illustrated, and my daughter loved it when she was 5-ish. The Katurran Odyssey, might be too old for her, but give it a quick preread, because the pictures are out of this world. I’d also recommend the Catwings series (although they get a bit insipid as the series goes on). How about the Mommintroll books? They are awesome and have black and white illustrations throughout. good luck!

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  21. Something I randomly found at the library a few weeks ago: All Aboard! Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine, by Monica Kulling. Not really nature related, but a great non-fiction story with good narrative and lots of pictures, and it touches (very very very gently and tangentially, but it’s enough to maybe start a conversation if the kid is curious like my 9 yo) on racism and the Underground Railroad. You also get cool tidbits about how trains USED to work (I never knew they would go 30 minutes and then grind to a halt because they needed to be oiled, over and over again) and the origin of the phrase “the real McCoy.” If she’s not picky about subject matter then I think she’d enjoy this one.

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  22. I know someone already recommended The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, but she also has a book with amazing illustrations that covers the entire history of the earth. It’s simply titled Life Story.

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