There’s a reason why Dr Seuss books have been popular with kids (and parents alike) for decades. They make for the ultimate storytime.
Seuss’ books hit all the key elements that make for great reading:
Repetition and rhyme,
Quirky and imaginative stories,
Bright and playful illustration,
Depth of character.
I’m willing to bet that there aren’t many book collections in english-speaking homes that don’t feature at least one Dr Seuss book. For those of my generation: our parents grew up with these stories, we grew up with them, and we want to share them with our kids too. They are enjoyable stories for the reader, as well as those being read to – a critical element to successful storytime. They have proven the test of time and are a fantastic addition to any home library.
I imagine that I’m not saying anything new here for most of you, but I think it’s important to take the time to appreciate the great work of Dr Seuss and the joy he has brought into so many families’ lives.
While I believe that his books will live in perpetuity, I also fear that they may get drowned out. As parents of young children in this current era, we have so many storytime options available to us (this is a good thing). We also have an array of fantastic books to choose from, but books also compete with the attention of digital media. We need to continually go back and appreciate some of these founding influential authors such as Seuss.
Seeing Dr Seuss’ stories being re-made into movies keeps them current in popular culture (and reminds us of their existence!). However, there is nothing like getting the enjoyment with your family in the manner that was originally intended – by reading the book!
Everyone has a favourite (mine is The Cat in the Hat), so make a family tradition out of it. Or, in the spirit of the upcoming festive season – grab a copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
If you haven’t already done so – top your child’s book collection up with at least one Dr Seuss book and you’ll have storytime covered for years to come.
I’m all about efficiency and effective organization.
I believe strongly in these principles because they give us the opportunity to get the most out of what we are doing, or wanting in life. When we are disorganized, we spend more time on trying to correct the situation, than if you put an extra couple of minutes into early planning.
Being effective and efficient also means being less wasteful. It does not mean having to live overly planned and rigid lives – quite the opposite really. A little bit of forward thinking means the ability to have control over a situation and, ultimately, more flexibility and enjoyment. This is something I try to practise in my both my professional and personal life.
I guess you’re probably a little confused at this point as to what this has to do with your child’s book collection? Well, with a little forward planning, you can have the “ultimate” library for your child that serves them well up until school age. Additionally, you can do this with minimal waste (ie books that just sit and collect dust) and have a more effective storytime each night.
My intent here with this post is not to provide you with a list of “best books” for whatever age. There are plenty of these floating around the internet (possibly with some ulterior motives for affiliate sales too..). Plus, every child has different interests, so a “best book” list may not work for your family. Don’t get me wrong, these lists are great for getting ideas for books if you really have none. I tend not to use these lists – I’d rather take my kids down to the library for a bit of trial-and-error. We pick a pile of books that has grabbed our attention, do a quick run through of each and shortlist what we want to take home (usually about 5x books). Once we get home, we read them. Some are hits, some are not.
The point of this post, however, is more a case of providing you with some ideas and tools to get longevity out of the books that you choose to buy. This point is also relevant to the reviews I post. I hope to empart some ideas to other families, but it is about adopting those ideas into what will work for you. Ultimately, if it doesn’t work, you won’t enjoy storytime as much as you want to.
The most important thing is that you and your family enjoy the books you are reading. If you don’t enjoy the books, then the frequency and quality of storytime will suffer.
I also believe that the collection you have at home does not need to be extensive (or expensive). There are so many opportunity for your kids to be exposed to different books (eg kinder, childcare, borrowing from libraries, etc) that your collection at home doesn’t really need to contain much, if done properly and cleverly. Plus, you will probably find that your child has a couple of favourites that they will just continue to cycle through (over and over and over again…).
Flexibility, I’ve learnt, is the number one rule for parenting.
Remember that what may work for your child one month, may not the next, so try be flexible in how you approach book purchases. You may not have control either on the quality/quantity of books in your collection, as many books you have may have been given as gifts. In all honesty, the bulk of the books in our collection are the result of gifts rather than purchases. Being effective in this circumstance, is a case of doing the best you can, with what you have, and while catering to the interests of your child.
A good way to road test books is to try them first at your library. If you find your child continues to want to read a particular book (or series), consider a purchase or even find someone who has it (and purchase or trade from them – this is a much cheaper alternative to buying new).
Inevitably, your child will grow out of some of the books. If you don’t have any younger children, it may be time to think about moving those books on. Consider donating them. Alternatively, a book swap is also the perfect opportunity if you want to update your library collection to cater to your growing family, while getting rid of older books.
Your Children’s Library Essentials
My recommendations for the ultimate children’s book collection that will hopefully stand the test of time:
Board Books: My number one tip. Wherever possible, get the board book version! This is especially true for baby and toddler books. Books will get drooled on, drawn on and ripped (see images below of our poor old copies of The Hungry Caterpillar and Cat in the Hat as an example). Even though these are a sign of a well-loved book, keeping them in as best condition as possible means that you don’t have to memorize the missing pages, and you can give them a second home when you are ready to move them on.Poor ripped pages…
Single-Worded Books: Books that contain simple graphics with a single word on each page are great books for babies, but also find a second life in toddler and pre-school years when teaching words, letters, and reading. Get a variety of these types of books that deal with different themes: animals, numbers, colours, etc.
Books for the Senses: Similar to single-worded books, books that combine the sense of touch and sound also make great books for childhood learning. The addition of touch (eg fabric, textured graphics, etc) and sound (noise buttons), enhance the learning experience.
Books with Motion: Pop-up and pull-tab books are great because they get the children involved with the story. They also add visual interest and can add a layer of suspense to the storyline. Some good examples include The Spot the Dog series, Elmer the Elephant, Look Out Leon! WARNING: these types of books get damaged easily, so try to encourage gentle reading!
Books with Rhyme and Repetition: Stories with rhyme and repetition are much more enjoyable to read. They also are a stronger language teaching tool.
Books with Photo Illustrations: See my earlier post – Illustrations Alive! for more information on the benefits of these books.
Classics: Build your library up with the classics – stories you enjoyed as a child and classic books your child will enjoy now. Think of the timeless books like The Hungry Caterpillar, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, etc. They’re called timeless for a reason – chances are your kids will also get a lot of enjoyment out of them too.
The Take-Away Message
Start small and build your way up. There’s no reason to go crazy with buying all kinds of books. Pick a few recommended ones to start with and build up from there. Let your child’s interest be your guide.
Think long term – which books could be good for babies, toddlers and preschoolers?
Make use of your local library! Stock your own collection with the favourites that are on repeat and borrow books for variety!
Stock your child’s collection with books that you like to read to them. There’s nothing worse than your child picking out stories and a) you try to push them to pick something else; or b) your story telling becomes luck-lustre! If you need to, store away books that are not age appropriate, or that you don’t really enjoy (maybe they were given to you as a gift). That way, every book your child asks you to read them is a winner for everyone.
Shortly after I wrote my post about how reading builds resilience, I received a message from my daughter’s childcare. The message was to tell parents that the centre is teaching the children about their emotions and self-regulation. An interesting coincidence since the acknowledgment and regulation of emotions is also an important part of building confidence and self-esteem.
After my son was born, my daughter made an interesting selection of books for borrowing at the library. It included When I’m Feeling Angry and When I’m Feeling Sad.
She was right in the midst of dealing with a whole array of emotions with the arrival of a new little brother. She had been the only child (and grand-child on my side) for nearly 4 years, so her world was being drastically shaken up.
I recall the first day I was able to start taking her up to kinder drop-off again after the birth (my husband had been doing this while I recovered) and her exclamation, “Everything is back to normal again, hooray!”… It wasn’t until she said this that it really hit me how much the new arrival was affecting her emotionally. I hadn’t really taken the weight of this into consideration until she said this. I did think, however, you poor thing, your life will never be back to “normal”…
The “When I’m Feeling” books by Moroney were an excellent support tool for my daughter during this time. They broke down some of the emotions to “child-size bites”, so that they were tangible and relatable. They identified the emotion, the cause of the emotion and ways of dealing with it.
The illustrations were also very sweet, using a bunny as the primary character.
The books in this series include:
When I’m Feeling Angry
When I’m Feeling Sad
When I’m Feeling Nervous
When I’m Feeling Jealous
When I’m Feeling Disappointed
When I’m Feeling Lonely
When I’m Feeling Happy
When I’m Feeling Scared
When I’m Feeling Loved
When I’m Feeling Kind
The books are best suited for toddlers and preschoolers. They can be purchased at book stores such as Dymocks and can be borrowed at the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!).
I wanted to pay homage to a children’s book institution – Spot the Dog by Eric Hill.
These books are so clever and engaging to children of various ages. A couple of Spot books are an absolute must for your children’s book collection (that is, if you don’t already have at least one!).
I grew up with Spot and am getting just as much joy sharing various Spot books with my kids. A real classic with timeless enjoyment.
We have a couple of Spot books at home which had fallen a bit out of favour. When I say “fallen out of favour”, I by no means meant that my daughter no longer enjoys them – they just got buried under the current favourites (ie Olivia by Ian Falconer mainly).
Some of the first books that I bought my daughter was a set of 4 Spot the Dog board books (colours, numbers, shapes and first words). They were very small, containing only one word per page, and just perfect for little hands. I picked these up at my local post office and they were fantastic for teaching her first words.
On a recent trip to the library, my daughter picked up two different Spot books – Spot’s Opposites and Happy Christmas Spot. When we got to reading them, I was reminded about how good these books are and why they have stood the test of time. She is now using these larger Spot books to learn reading and expand her vocabulary.
If you have never read any of the Spot books, they follow a playful pup (with his family and friends) through day-to-day activities. The illustrations are bright and depict objects/stories to which children can relate. The language is clear, direct and simple – making them a fantastic teaching tool for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
The Spot stories are gentle and story lines relatable for many everyday activities and situations. Even though most of the Spot books are appropriate for a wide age and learning variation, some of the books are tailored better for different audiences.
The beauty of the Spot of the Dog series is that Hill uses various techniques to engage with and teach language skills to young children:
Clear, simple and bright illustrations,
Direct and clear language,
Bold text, often high contrast too,
Relatable stories and characters,
Lift-up flaps and pull tabs,
Use of teaching language tools and reinforcement built in to the story (eg one page showing a single word accompanied with an illustration of that word, then use of the word in a sentence).
If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend getting a couple of Spot books for your children’s book collection. You can find many of these books in libraries and in bookstores alike. It’s great to see that stories I enjoyed as a kid are still as popular as ever.
I love the artistry of children’s book illustrations. They are engaging, skillful and an essential component to storytime. They give us the all important supporting visuals.
However, a good children’s book does not necessarily need drawn illustrations – photography is also often a tool used to convey a story.
I have found that books with photography appeal to a wider age group and engage on a different educational level than illustrations.
When my daughter was about 6 months old, I bought two books from our local discount book store. They were Splish Splash and Hop, Skip & Jump by Nicola Tuxworth. I didn’t think too much about the purchase at the time. The books cost me $3 each.
It was the best $6 I think I have ever spent. My daughter is now 4 and I am still reading the books to her. They are also getting a second run on my 4 month old son to whom I have just started reading.
Why are photographic visuals different from illustrations?
While drawn illustrations are great for capturing your child’s imagination, photography is highly appealing to:
Babies who are hard-wired to recognize and prefer faces.
Toddlers and pre-schoolers who begin to relate with the children/objects and recognize daily activities.
What to look for in photographic books?
Photography is particularly well suited to books that depict daily routines, activities, and experiences. Children can better connect and relate the story to the images they are seeing.
Good photographic books also have:
Bright colour schemes.
Simple images with white backgrounds for contrast.
Simple and direct language.
A diversity of representation.
Pictures of everyday objects as well as children and adults.
While the simple language may be better suited for holding the attention of babies and toddlers, it is a great introduction for teaching letters and identifying words for pre-schoolers.
An example of storytime with a photographic book.
I use either Splish Splash or Hop, Skip & Jump for joint storytime with both my son and daughter before my son goes off to sleep first (my daughter gets her own storytime before she goes to bed later on too).
During the storytime, my daughter often re-enacts what the children in the book are doing. This is much to my son’s delight, who has a good chuckle at his sister’s acting – jumping, hopping, dancing, etc.
I make sure to spend a bit of time on each page for the older child to talk about what they see the children doing and for the younger one to take in the colours and pictures.
I also get the kids (toddler and pre-school age) to count the ducks, buckets, cars, etc they see and identify the colours.
Photographic books are a great way to get both kids involved and interacting with the book and each other. They’ve also been a fantastic tool to teach words, numbers and colours.
There are a whole heap of different photographic books on the market – keep your eyes peeled at your local library or bookstore. If you interested in Nicola Tuxworth’s books (she’s published a range in addition to Splish Splash and Hop, Skip & Jump), they are also on sale at Dymocks.