Category Archives: for the wee-est of readers

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm

By Alice and Martin Provensen. Aladdin Books, 2001

Who lives at Maple HIll Farm? People live here. Two dogs and five horses live here. A pig lives here. Then there are — some geese, lots of chickens, a few cows, a few goats, several sheep, and four special cats…

I can’t imagine a better picture book for any animal-loving kid. On each page are illustrations of the dogs, horses, pigs, cats, chickens and goats who live (or used to live) on the author’s real Straatsburg, NY farm, followed by verbal snapshots of their unique personalities. For instance, the big rooster, aptly named Big Shot, doesn’t like children. Willow the cat “is very beautiful, but not very interesting.” And Whiney the sheep is always lost and never knows where the gate is. My kids can look at these gorgeous, simple drawings forever. We’ve decided we all want to live at Maple Hill Farm.

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The Bear With Sticky Paws

By Clara Vulliamy

Tiger Tales, 2007

There’s a girl named Lily and she’s being very grumpy, stamping her little feet and slamming the door. She says, “I DON’T WANT ALL THIS BREAKFAST!” and throws down her spoon.” “NO, I won’t wash my face. NO, I won’t brush my hair. NO, I won’t get dressed…” “NO! NO! NO!”

I could criticize many things about this odd little book, but the Lily in me says “NO!” The truth is, its luscious candy-colored illustrations and sparse,wackadoodle text tap into what all kids genuinely want: the love of their parent(s). Continue reading

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Dig Ivan Dig!


By Wendy Ann Gardner

Hyperion, 2002

Four o’clock on the fifth floor, life for Ivan was such a bore. He had space to roam and run, but nothing that he thought was fun. Though his loft was nice and big, all he wanted to do was…dig.

Continue reading

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Books for Car-Loving Kids

For the very young who already exhibit a fascination for things that move, these three board books are excellent choices. Both my son and daughter devoured them (literally — corners of each of their copies have been gnawed away), and I’ve gifted them countless times to friends’ kids.



Fire Truck

By Peter Sis, HarperCollins, 1998

Once there was a little boy named Matt who loved fire trucks. His first words in the morning were “fire truck.” The last thing he said before he went to bed was “fire truck.”  And one day, when he woke up, he was…a fire truck.

Peter Sis’s work, even here at its simplest, actually gives me goose bumps. He is just. That. Good. And so respectful of how children’s minds and hearts require a different sustenance than adults. This story pays tribute to a child’s powerful imagination and the very basic line drawings  — strategically splashed with fire-engine red — enchant.




B y Byron Barton,  HarperCollins, 1986

On the road, here come the trucks. They come through tunnels. They go over the bridge.

I basically gave away a third of the text above. This book is winningly uncomplicated. Basically, trucks deliver bread,  load up with garbage,  bring the newspapers, and so on. But the colorful illustrations pop off the page, and the people  are a cross between Lois Lenski’s Papa Small and Fisher-Price’s old-school Little People.  



Sheep in a Jeep

By Nancy Shaw, Illustrated by Margot Apple, Houghton Mifflin, 1986

Beep! Beep! Sheep in a jeep on a hill that’s steep. Uh-oh! The jeep won’t go. 

I was so taken with this book when someone gave it to my son that I promptly sought out all the other “Sheep” books at the library — “Sheep in a Shop,” “Sheep on a Ship,”something about sheep at Halloween, etc. Sadly, none of them came close to matching the easy charm of this one, the first and by far the best of the series. The gist: Five adorable sheep are out for a ride in their jeep, and are not only terrible drivers, but easily distracted. The rhyming is spot-on — fun to read aloud and listen to — and the illustrations, particularly the ever-changing expressions on the sheeps’ faces, never get old.

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Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly


By Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt

Puffin, 2003

Nick likes green and red and pink and orange and yellow and purple jelly. Sue likes everything blue.

Nick and Sue are so different. He likes green aliens, for instance. She, on the other hand, prefers green and yellow aliens. But the one thing they both like? Each other. Award-winning illustrators Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt (Nick and Sue, get it?)  divvy up the drawings so even the youngest of readers will immediately grasp (and enjoy) how differently these two kids see the world. My copy was bought in the U.K. so I always read it aloud with a spectacularly bad British accent, but that’s just me. It will probably be just as endearing with, say, a flat Texas twang. (Probably.)

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The Little Auto


By Lois Lenski

Random House, 1934

Mr. Small has a little Auto. It is red and shiny. He likes to look at it.

When my son was one, he asked me to read this book to him. Every. Single. Day. He loved everything about it, from the simple “Dick and Jane”-style text to Lenski’s trademark modest illustrations. On the surface, not much happens — basically, Mr. Small takes his car out of the little garage, drives to town, gets rained on, and returns home — but that’s the appeal of it. You feel dropped into Mr. Small’s calm, innocent world, where the worst thing that happens is a flat tire. (But it’s easily fixed and then the sun comes out.) If you need a book for a car-loving toddler, this is it. And check out the other fabulous books in the series — The Little Fire Engine, The Little Farm, Papa Small, and Policeman Small.  (He’s quite the Renaissance Man.) The only disappointment is The Little Airplane, which, quite honestly, reads like a pilot’s manual.

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