2019 Gift Guide: For The Littlest Ones
December 3, 2019 § 2 Comments
The three and under set doesn’t get a lot of love on the blog these days, probably because my own kids are aging so darn quickly. But that’s no excuse. These early years are where we plant the seeds in our children for a love of stories. Plus, if you’re anything like me, these early years are when books sometimes feel like our only lifeline to sanity: no matter how much we’ve been spit up on or yelled at, falling under the spell of a story alongside our little one makes us feel like all is right with the world. If you do have a toddler, be sure to follow me on Instagram; that’s where I first reviewed many of these and where you’ll see more.
Speaking of books that make you feel like all is right with the world, if there was one new book I’d like to take back in time to when my kids were small(er), it would be Just in Case You Want to Fly, by superstar team Julie Fogliano and Christian Robinson. I can’t imagine a better sendoff to bedtime (or around the world). Forget clichéd read-alouds about parental love, here our affection is expressed poetically, indirectly, and enchantingly: “just in case you want to fly/ here’s some wind/ and here’s the sky…” Abstract notions (“just in case you want to sing/ here’s a la la la”) pair perfectly with the mundane (“here’s your toothbrush/ and your favorite giraffe”), and don’t think for a second kids don’t love random non sequiturs, especially when they sound so playful coming from you. As always, Robinson’s high-contrast illustrations have mad appeal for those who delight in their kid-centric world. (See my Instagram post for interior shots.)
And the prize for the most unexpected text and picture pairings goes to Roar Like a Dandelion, written by children’s legend Ruth Krauss—master of word play—and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier—master of the idiosyncratic. (Ruzzier also made an appearance in last year’s gift guide.) What does it mean to “roar like a dandelion?” To “look under the bed for poetry?” To “try and hug yourself in a puddle?” In quirky commands for each letter of the alphabet, young children are introduced to figurative language and its limitless potential for interpretation (all without even realizing it!). Plus, Ruzzier’s delightfully odd and warmly expressive animals are as endearing as ever.
One of my all-time favorite board books (tried and true from when my kids were wee) is Mem Fox and Judy Horacek’s Where is the Green Sheep? The rhythmic cadence, clever word play, primary color scheme, and playful silliness are perfection for the tot set. (Sometimes the phrasing still plays in my head, and I don’t even mind.) Well, happy day, because now there’s a new book I might like just as much! Red House Tree House Little Bitty Brown Mouse, by fellow Aussie Jane Godwin and Spanish illustrator Blanca Gómez, hits all the right notes. Its rhymes are an absolute joy off the tongue, its art bold and vibrant, it imparts color vocabulary and asks questions of the reader, and it celebrates a range of skin colors. “White rabbit/ gray rabbit/ Black rabbit/ Brown./ Floppy rabbit ears/ going up and going down./ “Yellow fruit/ Pink fruit/ Orange fruit/ Green./ Do you know the color/ of the berries in between?” (See my Instagram post for interior shots.)
I’m gaga over Raúl the Third’s ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market, which seamlessly interweaves English and Spanish words as it pays homage to the visual abundance of Richard Scarry. Little Lobo and his dog Bernabe lead us on a tour of the Mexican border-town Mercado, replete with bustling streets, culinary delights, traditional dancers, exotic masks, elaborate marionettes, and comic book stands. Raúl the Third’s signature neon palette dazzles the eye, as does the myriad of details on every page. This is one you won’t mind getting lost in.
A girl and a bear strike up an unlikely but exuberant friendship in Hannah E. Harrison’s Bear is Awake, a charming story about fun, mischief, and sweet partings, told entirely through single alphabetized words on each page. When a bear “awakes” prematurely from hibernation, he stumbles upon a “cozy cabin,” rings a “doorbell,” and “enters excited.” At first, the young occupant screams and orders him out (especially after he starts gobbling up her “food”), but she quickly realizes he’s just looking for companionship. What the bear needs is a “hat” and an “idea,” and the two are off across the snowy landscape to see what trouble they can get into in town. Harrison’s illustrations are reason alone to adore this story (love me a bear in a knitted tasseled hat), but the bonus is that kids will learn how they can be part of the storytelling process, too.
What better time for reflection than December, and what better way to do it than with this delightful, inclusive series now in board book form for little hands. Narrated in the second person, as a parent addressing a child, each of the three books—You are One, You are Two, and You are Three—celebrates a child’s milestones: from first steps to taking on stairs; from wearing food to choosing outfits; from clapping and peekaboo to waving goodbye and “call[ing] yourself by your own name.” We watch as curious, smiling toddlers play with blocks, share (or not!), sing-a-long with their parents, “form memories and make plans,” and begin to know their own mind. With text by Sara O’Leary, the books are warmly illustrated in mixed-media collage by Karen Klassen and showcase children with a wide range of skin colors and ethnicities. A wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on what a good job baby (and parent!) are doing. (See my Instagram post for interior shots.)
Aaron Becker’s award-winning Journey trilogy breathed fresh energy into the wordless picture book, so it’s thrilling to see him shaking up the board book universe, too! There has never been a board book quite like You are Light, an homage to light. Babies and toddlers and preschoolers alike will have fun discovering the play of light upon and through the die-cut pages and transparent vellum color circles, which positively glow at times. The sparse, poetic text—albeit abstract for littlest minds—alludes to the sustaining role our sun plays. It begins, “This is the light that brings the dawn to warm the sky and hug the land,” and goes on to describe the chain effect of “sipping the sea to make the rain,” “to grow the grain,” to “shade the earth,” and “light the moon.” The book concludes with a celebration of the light in each of us. (See my Instagram post for interior shots.)
If traditionally-styled board books are more your thing, let me sing the praises of this longtime winter favorite, released this year in board book form. Starting with “one small snowflake/ fluttering down,” a crew of bundled, rosy-cheeked children pile and pat and pack and roll to construct a snowman of epic proportions, complete with bottlecap eyes and woolly mittens (“in case his hands get cold”). Written in singsong verse by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Alaskan watercolorist Barbara Lavallee, All You Need for a Snowman reminds us why some kids find winter to be the greatest season of all.
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