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To say that my family is big on books is a laughable understatement. My dad is a university librarian, we didn’t have a TV for much of my childhood, and the circulation desk staff used to cower when they saw us approaching with our giant Land’s End tote of books every Friday afternoon. I am still extremely attached to many of my childhood favorites, and years ago I started collecting my own copies of many of them, along with great new books I stumbled across.
When we assembled the bookcase for the nursery I turned to the wall of books in the dining room with great anticipation, excited to pull out all the picture books and move them to their new home. And then I realized I had only collected books for older children—picture books and chapter books that probably won’t come into regular rotation for another two to six years! Oops.
This really sank in at the lake last week, when I watched the younger children flipping through/gnawing on board books while the 2.5-year-old listened to stories read from books with paper pages. I need to beef up the options, literally. All these lovely but flimsy books would be destroyed within minutes by the average baby! But they really are wonderful stories, so I thought I’d list a few that I’m particularly excited to eventually read out loud. And I’d love some tips from you wonderful people on board books that your children got a real kick out of. (Or at least drooled on with what appeared to be affection.)
Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney
As a little girl in a 19th-century city by the sea, Alice promised herself that she would travel the world and then settle down to live by the ocean. Her grandfather made her promise that she would also do something to make the world more beautiful. A bit of a tearjerker for me, but the illustrations have been lodged in my mind since I was about five (the hothouse with a lemon tree!).
Ox Cart Man, by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
A visual yearbook of agricultural life in New England in the “olden days.” A farmer goes to market to trade in all the goods he’s produced throughout the year, and in the process the reader sees how everything from maple syrup to yarn came to be. Another tearjerker (I’m a sap).
The Way Back Home, by Oliver Jeffers
I stumbled across this book on a work trip to London a few years ago, and bought a copy for my friends’ new baby and one for myself. A little boy blasts off into space only to break down on the moon, where he and a similarly-stranded martian help each other get back in orbit. (That new baby is now the toddler from the lake, by the way, and this is one of his favorite books!)
The Composer is Dead, by Lemoney Snickett, illustrated by Carson Ellis
One of the wittiest books (children’s or not) that I’ve read in recent years, and it comes with a cd featuring appropriate music and an audio version of the book. The “Peter and the Wolf” of the new millennium; a bumbling detective introduces kids to all the instruments of the symphony while investigating the death of “The Composer.” Full of snarky jokes that will keep parents snickering.
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson
The simple story of gentle Ferdinand the bull, who prefers smelling the flowers to stamping around and snorting, and who frustrates a star matador to the point of tears!
The Little House, Katy and the Big Snow, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton
Classics. The Little House illustrates urbanization and renewal through lovely, delicate illustrations, while Katy (a snowplow) and Mike Mulligan teach the importance of determination and stick-to-it-iveness.
Spoon, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon
Little Spoon is feeling, as he puts it, stir crazy! He’s jealous of his friends Knife, Fork and Chopsticks, and needs a reminder of all the great things he can do--dive into ice cream, relax in a cup of tea, and so on. We’re fans of the anthropomorphized around here, and fell for this as soon as we saw it.
Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, by Richard Scarry
You probably remember this one--what kid doesn’t love poring over the detailed and silliness-packed pictures as the Pig family heads off for a picnic through every kind of roadside chaos. Don’t forget to find Goldbug on every page!
I actually do own one lone board book, discovered on the same trip to London as, The Way Back Home. Vincent the Vain, by Sam Lloyd
You guys. This one is so funny, though I think the slight potty-humor turn at the end probably appeals most to older preschoolers who get the joke. Vain Vincent the gorilla loses his magnificent chest hair in a series of accidents, and his jungle friends make him a colorful feather toupee, but not for his front. How can you not love a picture book with the punchline: “So hooray for Vincent, he’s one of a kind,
with his bald chest and his hairy behind!” (There is fuzzy faux fur in play, too. Awesome.)
So tell me: What books do I need for the under-18-months set? Obviously Goodnight Moon for reading out loud, but clue me in on your other favorites.
Kate Flaim is a freelance journalist and food blogger based in Cambridge, Mass. When she's not cooking or writing, she is gearing up for the arrival of her first child this summer.