Little Bookworms

Lots of my friends without children (and some whose children are out of the toddler stage) often ask what to buy children for birthdays or dedications or christenings, or just for treats.  Here is the really easy answer:


Now, I know that some kids, when they are at a party or Christmas, will toss the books aside and go for other more "fun" gifts like toys and games that make noise or feature their favourite characters from television or movies.  I remember doing that.  But later, when I was already bored with the toys, the books were read with me, to me, or on my own.  Over and over and over.  As a parent of a toddler, I probably spend 10% of Ella's waking time reading to her.  It is the one activity that I am guaranteed to have a quiet, cuddly, and compliant child for.  Also, Ella's love language is most likely touch, so the physical act of being close to me while I read to her is part of why she loves it so much.

Books are great and enjoyable, but they are also beneficial in a way that no other type of gift can be.  You can be an AWESOME parent, godparent, aunty or uncle, grandparent or friend by buying them the newest piece of technological gadgetry, but if you want to impact the future of a kid in a real, lasting way, buy them a book.  Lots of studies of children in numerous places of all races and classes and income levels prove that the single best indicator of a child's future success in education (and probably in life due to that) is whether someone reads to them.  England believes this so much that there are amazing charities that actually give free books to all children under 5.  The first one we received "Peepo, Baby!" was Ella's favourite book for many months when she was small.

Also, books don't have to be pricey.  I can go to a secondhand bookstore or charity shop and get a stack of books for less than the cost of a Starbucks.

So, you want to get a book for a small person under the age of 4?  There are a couple of things you should think of:  

1.  A parent is going to have to read this MANY times.  Choosing books with amazing pictures and not too many words will be key.

2.  Books about farms seem to be a dime a dozen at this age.  Getting one with different animals, subjects or locations is nice for parents who are sick of asking what sound the sheep makes for the 300th time.

3.  Books that play songs are occasionally nice to learn to sing.  Books with puppets are okay too.  Books with a noise for each picture are quite annoying because the child will love the one sound that drives their parents nuts then only press that one until the battery dies.

4.  Books that have a medal or prize on the front have it there for a reason.  It is probably a really well written or illustrated book. 

5.   Conversely, no Barbie, Disney or Transformers books are going to be written well.  Ditto books with tv characters.  They will have pages of words and banal subjects that will make parents want to jump out a window at bedtime.  I remember one Strawberry Shortcake book owned by a child I cared for that filled me with dread.  There are some exceptions to this rule, but not many.  If you as an adult do not enjoy reading the first few pages, it's REALLY unlikely that a tiny person is going to be entertained by it.

6.  If an author or illustrator (or both) create a beautiful, funny, witty story, chances are, they've got more where that came from.  If you know a child likes one book by an author, get a few more.  Nick Sharratt, Sandra Boynton, Eric Carle, Rod Campbell, Emma Dodd, Georgie Birkett and Eric Hill are all great creators for small people, and I know if their name is on the cover, we will probably enjoy it.

That said, here are some of our favourite books at the moment, any of which would make great gifts:

Who's a Clever Baby Then? by David McKee 

The person who gave us this book freely admitted that she bought it from a charity shop, but it is still one of Ella's favourites by a mile.  Despite being published in 1988 and having quite dated illustrations, she loves the detail and story.  It's a doting grandma trying dutifully to get her grandbaby to say any word but "dog", with quite a funny result.  It does have lots of alliterative tongue twisters, so be prepared to say "the handsome happy humorous horse."  David McKee is also the writer of the Elmer the Elephant series which is quite popular.

Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett

This book literally has five words in repetition with precious watercolor pictures, so it is perfect for even the smallest kids with short attention spans, and the book itself is somehow riveting to Ella.  When we took it back to the library, she continued to ask for it for days.  I will probably end up buying it. Also, Matilda's Cat by the same author is also brilliant (per Rule 6).

Solomon Crocodile by Catherine Rayner

This book won the Kate Greenaway Medal, which is given by the guild of British librarians for outstanding illustration, and it is well-deserved.  This book is beautiful.  A splatter-painted crocodile causing trouble is right up our alley at home.  Ella actually had a proper meltdown after begging me for ten minutes saying "Cudd-o-dow!"  After I figured out she wanted this book, all was okay.  Her other books are beautiful too, and I've already reserved them at the library.

Llama Llama Shopping Drama by Anna Dewdney

This is another treasure from the library that we will probably end up buying.  A little llama, bored of shopping with his mama, throws a tantrum.  What toddler hasn't done that?  This is such a cleverly written book, and is instantly identifiable to both parents and kids with Mama's boredom and Little Llama's frustration.  According to the internet, in America, this one is titled Llama Llama, Mad at Mama, just in case you want to purchase it.

The Usborne Book of Bible Stories

Although my favourite children's bible will always be The Jesus Storybook Bible, this is the one that Ella always chooses.  She loves the stories about Baby Moses and Baby Jesus, and the stories are thoughtful and not too long.  The illustrations are clever too, as there are always little things to point out, like the little ducks in the Nile.  It was a dedication present for her from her grandparents and would make an excellent gift for a baptism or dedication from godparents.

The Bible Friends Storybooks by Scripture Union

This series are tiny board books with different bible stories, and Ella had liked them since we started reading to her.  They are basically photographs of puppets/dolls set up like a diorama, and they are short and concise enough that it only takes a few minutes to read them.  I don't know if they have them in America, but Amazon might?

Happy Reading!


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