November 1, 2020
Doing a simple search online for “Children and Literacy” will bring up ample research tracing the positive impact of reading from an early age.
Reading builds vocabulary, develops listening comprehension, and improves story telling.
According to Reach Out and Read, an organization that promotes families reading together:
“Children that are read to more often have improved language and listening skills, experience stronger emotional connections to their loved ones, and gain a lifelong love of reading.”
All of these picture books are great books to share and read together!
In "Frederick" (1967), five mice get ready for the winter. While four of the mice busily gather food and hay, the last mouse, Frederick, gazes at the field and dozes in the sun. He says he’s gathering colors and “sun rays for the cold dark winter days.” During winter, after the food is all gone, it’s Frederick’s poetry that sustains the mice until spring. This story points out that meeting spiritual and emotional needs is just as important as meeting physical needs like food and shelter. Frederick draws on the natural environment for this sustenance. It sends the message that you’re never doing nothing when you are contemplating nature! The author’s cut paper illustrations are friendly and unique. Lionni has many other picture books featuring mice; he is also famous for the books "Swimmy" (1963), "Inch by Inch" (1960), and "Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse" (1969).
"The Rose in My Garden" (1984) takes on the format of the nursery rhyme “The House That Jack Built.” Many picture books use this format, and it’s one that I love when done well because of the rhythm, rhyming text, and the way the story builds up from the bottom. In this case the story builds up from a rose into a tangle of plants, insects, and animals, eventually reaching the dramatic climax of a cat and mouse chase. The diversity of the flowers in the garden is emphasized by descriptions in the text and reinforced by the illustrations, while several active bugs and creatures are added in illustration only. You can practically see the flowers’ movement as they catch the breeze and when the cat comes crashing into the garden. Arnold Lobel is famous for his series of Frog and Toad books. (I could write up a whole other list of favorite easy readers!) He and his fellow author/illustrator wife Anita teamed up on other picture book collaborations including the Caldecott Honor-winning "On Market Street" (1982).
"Leave Me Alone" (2016) is a brilliant combined author/illustrator creation. A grandmother with a large family wants to get her knitting done, but there is always too much commotion around for her to be able to work in peace. She packs up and visits three different places where she is also bothered by local inhabitants until finally finding the most peaceful place of all. The story has a predictable pattern that listeners will be able to catch onto, making this book a fun one to read aloud. The shades and tones of color in the majority of the illustrations contrast starkly with the black and white of that other, quietest place. I enjoy the comic facial expressions on not just the human characters, but animals and aliens as well. If you like this one, be sure to also read "The Little Guys" (2019) by Vera Brosgol.
There are tons of children’s books featuring rabbits as characters—and I have a weakness for them! The entire text of "Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present" (1962) is a conversation between a little girl and Mr. Rabbit. In the exchanges between Mr. Rabbit and the girl, they decide what to get the girl’s mother for a birthday present. The girl is not able to afford anything very expensive, of course, but she knows that her mother likes color. The simple language follows a pattern which guides the story. The same objections and conclusions come up as each new color is discussed. Each time, the girl decides on a different colored fruit, but it’s really her thinking about the gift that’s the main focus. Maurice Sendak’s watercolor illustrations progress over the course of a day. By evening the girl has a lovely fruit basket to give her mother. Charlotte Zolotow has written over 50 books for children. Her texts are periodically accompanied by updated illustrations, recently "In My Garden" (1960, 2020) newly illustrated by Philip C. Stead and "A Tiger Called Thomas" / "A Tiger Called Tomás" (1963, 2018) illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns.
When it’s not rabbits, it’s cats! "Another" (2019) is a wordless story by Christian Robinson. In what seems to be a dream, a girl follows her cat through a portal into another world. She sees other children engaged in activities like drawing, reading and jump roping. Then she and her cat meet another girl and cat almost exactly like themselves. The girl ends up back in her bed, but was it a dream after all? Where did that blue mouse in her room come from? This dream experience is also about recognizing yourself in a book. Robinson said in an interview for Book Riot: “Children seeing themselves reflected on the page was the spark that motivated the story.” The illustration style uses a combination of paint and cut paper, giving the art a 3-D edge on the page. Christian Robinson has illustrated many other books, including winning a Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for "Last Stop on Market Street" by Matt de la Peña (2016). He has worked on some especially cute designs with Cotton + Steel Fabrics, too!
This list doesn’t even begin to cover all the great non-fiction picture books!
Two recommendations I have to start with are "The Frog Book" (2019) by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page and "Dark Emperor and other Poems of the Night" (2010) by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen. Actually, these two would make a great combination if you want to learn about frogs and then write a poem.
Enjoy your reading time!
image credit: https://picturebookmonth.com/promo-kit