Have you ever seen preschoolers negotiate the boundaries of a play activity? "I'll be the mommy and you be the daddy," says a four year old. "No, you be the sister," says a playmate. On their own they work out the roles, and the story evolves. Have you ever seen a toddler pat the hand of a friend who is crying? These are examples of very young children learning and experiencing cooperation, empathy, respect, problem solving, and a sense of self. These are big and important topics that we usually discuss within the realm of adulthood or at least the teen years; however, children are mastering these elements of character at a very early age.
Children's literature can also promote guidance and understanding. "I'm sick", "I'm chilly", "I'm proud", "I'm happy" are all feelings that toddlers can see and hear in the engaging photos and rhymes of A Kiss Means I Love You. Each page is a potential conversation starter with even very young children. In Too Tall Houses, Rabbit and Owl's competitive nature takes them to a no-win conclusion – unless they can learn to cooperate. And Spunky, the thoughtful pup in Spunky Tells All, is faced with sharing his family with his worst enemy – a cat. But what will happen when Fiona gets into trouble? How will Spunky respond?
Character development isn't something that can wait till the teens or even the elementary years. Young children surprise us in their ability to care, and these lovely books can support that journey.
By Susan C. Brenner, EdD.
BOOKS OF EXCELLENCE
Spunky Tells All, written by Ann Cameron and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, School Age: Spunky lives with Julian and Huey and their parents, Michelle and Ralph, and he has a great life. His family knows all of his favorite things – like how much he loves to go on walks and to eat his favorite Nibbles. Huey knows what Spunky loves most, so every night he lets him sleep with him in his Blanket Cave. Spunky asks himself lots of good questions – like “Why are humans and dogs so different?” “Why are things as they are?” But quite suddenly, Spunky’s life changes. His family decides to adopt a snobbish, disaster-prone Balinese cat, Fiona. Apparently Spunky’s family didn’t understand him when he had clearly barked “no!” when asked what he thought of the idea. Fiona and Spunky develop their relationship through many adventures - including learning how to share the Blanket Cave. Ann Cameron has written a joyful book of love, loyalty, and friendship. She crafts a story filled with fun and meaning, highlighting that difference does not always mean discord and that friendship can bloom between even the most unlikely pair - a dog and a cat.
A Kiss Means I Love You, written by Kathryn Madeline Allen and photography by Eric Futran, Infant & Toddler: Crisp, clear photographs illustrate the many emotions of childhood. "A laugh means it's funny, a cry means I’m sad," are the kind of words in this read-aloud text that will help children identify and relate to their own emotions. The combination makes for a perfect bed-time choice, one that will appeal to both babies and toddlers.
Too Tall Houses, written by Gianna Marino, Preschool: Owl and Rabbit are neighbors and friends who enjoy the views around them. Rabbit loves to garden and his garden gets a bit too tall for Owl’s liking. Owl decides that building a taller house may solve the problem, but Rabbit becomes unhappy with that because Owl’s house is now blocking the sun to grow his garden. Rabbit decides his house needs to be taller and he can place his garden on the roof of his new house. Before long, Rabbit and Owl are living in two very tall houses and are no longer friends. Can they be friends again? Gianna Marino delivers a wonderful animal fable through beautiful illustrations and captures children’s attention with easy to understand words. Great discussions about friendship will develop from this engaging read.
One Special Day, written by Lola M. Schaefer and illustrated by Jessica Meserve, Preschool: This story, written for big brothers and sisters, is simple and beautifully illustrated. Spencer is a little boy who is strong as a bear, funny as a monkey, and wild as a tiger. He goes through his typical day only to find that something special awaits him in the form of a new arrival. Is Spencer ready for the new addition to his family? Lola M. Schaefer focuses on the big brother in this story, and while he is able to be strong, funny and wild, he can also be gentle. It is a lovely and informative story that is perfect for growing families.
NOTABLE CHILDREN'S BOOKS
Baby Bear Sees Blue, Written and Illustrated by Ashley Wolff, Infant & Toddler: Baby Bear explores his world with Mama at his side. She teaches him about the beautiful colors that abound in all his new sights and experiences.
Cradle Me, Written by Debbie Slier, Infant & Toddler: Lovely babies illustrate the Native American tradition of cradle boards which moms use to keep their children close and safe.
The Day Louis Got Eaten, Written and Illustrated by John Fardell, Preschool: When Louis gets eaten by a big Gulper and other unusual creatures, his sister, Sarah comes to the rescue. Join Sarah as she goes on an adventure to save her brother with the help of a hiccup frog!
All For Me And None For All, Written by Helen Lester and Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, Preschool: Toys, shoes, doughnuts, and even feathers plucked right out of his friend’s back; if Gruntly wants something he simply takes it! Will a treasure hunt cure him of his "hoggy" ways?
Lulu and the Duck in the Park, Written by Hilary McKay and Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont, School Age: Lulu is the hero of this young readers' chapter book, and she loves animals of all kinds. When she brings a duck egg to school, she makes an unexpected friend with her little hatchling.
Thing about Luck, Written by Cynthia Kadohata and Julia Kuo, School Age: Twelve year old Summer knows a thing or two about bad luck as her parents have to return to Japan and leave her brother and her in the care of her grandparents during the grueling harvest season in the Midwest. Summer learns about family bonds and experiences the worries of the tween years as she balances childlike concerns with new grown-up responsibilities. Will she ever find "Kouun", the term for good luck in Japanese?